By his own admission, Thomas Dunning is not a trained musician, but he plays one on the stage. And in the studio. And as a producer. And so on. He is the perfect example of becoming what you need to become through an unstoppable desire to share your passions with others.
Like many, Tom claims a flirtation with choral singing during his “skool daze.” In high school he appeared in JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR and GREASE. Who didn’t? Regarding music at the university level, he had this to say: “The only thing about my college career that’s interesting is that I went to three different schools. At one I was introduced to revolutionary feminist theory, then I got arrested (I was one of the DeKalb 79), then I got kicked out. I sang at the other two.”
That auspicious beginning nothwithstanding, Tom the Performer is now possessed of a gift that most pros beat themselves up trying to achieve: an ability to be “in the moment” during a piece, which is why he and Kate Bush are so compatible. His antics, his storytelling, his life on stage appear rehearsed, planned, orchestrated. Then he’ll dismount and say “Oh, I had no idea what I was doing.” It’s a sweet edginess — wherever he’s headed, the audience begs him to please, take us with you. He connects.
His high school counselors would call Dunning, Tom a “people person.” Attending the Gay/Lesbian Pride Parade with him was a little counter – productive, since most of the float participants would empty onto the streets and into Tom’s arms at the sight of him. Wherever he is, he’s the goodwill ambassador for that particular 500 square feet – the Sovereign Mobile State of Tom. However, while politicians press the flesh and record execs schmooze the room, Tom just says hi to his friends.
So here’s our Tommy, a friendly, Irish Catholic choirboy. Now meet TOM, the subtle, self-assured street urchin/entrepreneur –Dodger and Fagin in one. His e-mail handle is “stunning.” His business cards report “Brown Star Records…Don’t Ask.” And his “band” – which is to say Tom plus the vast array of musicians he works with at any given time, equals “Tom Dunning and Your Boyfriends.” This sly little tip asserts that our Tom-Tom has appropriated your men for his own agenda. Then to finish his fantasy: while hosting an evening of gender-bender music, he became one of “Your Girlfriends.”
Tom is fourth generation Irish by way of the O’Neils of County Tyrone and the Owens of County Mayo. He seems very connected to his heritage, peppering his speech with words like “dinna,” as in “Your band sounded great! I dinna have to pay to get in.” Fittingly, the first song he ever performed live as a solo artist was “The Emperor’s New Clothes” by Sinead O’Connor, presented on Barbra Streisand’s birthday (April 24th) in 1996. Add Madonna to round out the diva trio, and you get a little closer to “stunning.”
But most of all, he wanna be Kate. On his must-sing list, “……”‘Houdini’ because I can scream the big parts really well, or ‘Under The Ivy’ – but I only want to sing the harmony on that and it’s about 5 seconds long.”
Meanwhile, back at the studio, Tom decides to bring it all home by positioning his contribution, “Not This Time,” as the last track of the pack. The lyrics implore “…what chance do I have here? Put an end…to every dream…” No pressure — this simply MUST be Tom’s finest hour. He remembers this: “…I was becoming very stressed out because I couldn’t get the endings to FEEL right. I was in the recording room with the headphones, while Liam Davis, John Ridenour, Dave Trumfio and Kenny Sluiter (the engineer) were in the the engineering room. After I finished a bunch of takes, I heard Liam through the headphones tell the others that he was going to go talk to me. I was terribly nervous singing this really emotional song in front of these men.
He came in the room and got me focused, reminding me of the whole project, and of why I chose to do this Kate song over all the others. I did some breathing, checked my picture of Kate I brought with me for inspiration, and thought about how absolutely elated I was to be free of the painful psychic burden of a particular boy (or so I hope, they’re always in there though, aren’t they?). I was pretty much just crying by the end of the song and that was the take we used.”
That is “stunning.”
– Jacqueline Krupka
Tom Dunning & Your Boyfriends
Tom Dunning & Your Boyfriends, like Brown Star Records, simply doesn’t exist. Thomas Dunning took over Chicago’s Hoot Nights from Susan Voelz and Michael Hall after two blistering drag performances with his friend, the comedian Steven Roberts, as Your Girlfriends. Dunning’s take on BBD (Big Business Dyke) and Roberts’ high Kabuki drag were deliriously out of sync and the show was effectively stolen. Taking over hosting/MC duties – but not being a professional musician, Dunning needed to get some friends together to perform the obligatory opening number. That first manifestation of TD & YBs on Barbra Streisand’s birthday, April 24th 1996, included Nora O’Connor and John Ridenour. Dunning sang with a band in front of an audience for the first time in his life performing Paisley Park by Prince and The Revolution as well as The Emperor’s New Clothes by Sinead O’Connor.
Over the years, Your Boyfriends have come and gone. I’ll just leave that right there.
Where’s Tom Dunning? He’s over there, with Your Boyfriends.
That period reached a peak with the release of I WANNA BE KATE: The Songs of Kate Bush in 1998. Obsessed with music and records since infancy, Dunning realised a lifelong dream of being a recording artist…even if it was just for those 5 minutes and 1 second.
For Kate Bush, Not This Time seems to be a throw away pop song relegated to a b-side not worthy of including in 2018’s remastered collection of her almost-entire cannon. Very few songs were not included and NTT falls into that 1%. Neither was it included in her first book of published song lyrics HOW TO BE INVISIBLE in 2018. Dunning refuses to believe that Kate has orphaned this track. Rather, he likes to think that she’s left it to him. In her thank you letter to Dunning after the release of the IWBK CD album, Kate wrote “I WANNA BE THOMAS.” Maybe she didn’t leave it to him, but isn’t that why we have the gift of imagination? Bless his cotton socks!
On Not This Time, Thomas found support in Chicago’s late ’90’s shit-hot indie music royalty. John Ridenour of Spool and The Aluminum Group, Eddie Carlson of The Aluminum Group, Poi Dog Pondering and Rockets Over Sweden, Liam Davis of the Moviegoers, Frisbie and Justin Roberts’ Not Ready for Naptime Players, JHNO on piano and loops, and Nora O’Connor, Catherine Smitko and Victoria Storm on backing vocals – not once repeated. The track was produced by Dunning and Ridenour with Dave Trumfio of Kingsize Sound Labs (but more important for Dunning was that this was Dave Trumfio of The Pulsars!). Trumfio engineered with Kenny Sluiter who mixed the track. To say Dunning’s head was spinning would be an understatement. The generosity of everyone involved was overwhelming.
“In the years immediately following the release of I WANNA BE KATE (IWBK), my friendship with Sean Twomey in Ireland became one focused on the sharing of music – I would ask Chicago’s indie bands to give me two copies of their new CDs so I would have an extra copy to send to Sean, I wanted to build a library for him of IWBK-artist-related music from Chicago’s indie music scene. I guess I wanted him to appreciate that these excellent covers of Kate’s songs weren’t happy accidents, but rather that the artists with whom I was surrounded were actually this brilliant all the time. At the same time, Sean was sending me music from his two favourite Dublin bands, Settler and The Plague Monkeys. Little did I know how profoundly each of these bands would change my life. The Ballad of Thomas and Settler is a story worthy of its own novel (or preferably a rock opera). Settler featured Sean’s friends Mike Stevens, Derek McCormack, Tim O’Donovan, Fiona O’Connor and Wil McDermott. In many ways, they reminded me of my friends The Baltimores, a five-piece band teeming with talent, songwriters, intelligence, love, warmth, and wit! My friends in Settler are the reason I left Chicago in 2002. Mike Stevens took the lead for me on organising the song “Nocturn” for these new recordings on the expanded edition of IWBK. As for the Plague Monkeys, Sean sent me a mix tape of their greatest songs. This tape is now a legendary artifact, a talisman of my globe-spanning journey (just like everyone’s). I drove around Chicago listening to that tape constantly for more than a year and fell in love with one of the most gorgeous voices I’d ever heard in my life, Carol Keogh’s. When I finally moved to Dublin, the Plague Monkeys had already dissolved, and a new band had emerged called The Tycho Brahe. Sean and I went to see one of their very early shows and I brought candy to put on the stage for Carol. I was beside myself with anticipation. I spent many hours alone in my car with this woman’s ethereal and evocative voice and now I was going to get to see her and hear her sing live. I couldn’t believe my fortune, and I was properly happy that I had moved to Ireland – even if it was only for this opportunity. A few months later, in April 2003, I opened the Dublin Hoot Nights. Dare I ask Carol and her band to play the Hoot Night? Fast forward to 18 years later. Carol has sung at practically every Hoot Night in Ireland, both Dublin and Galway, and I have been honoured to be invited to share the stage with her as a back-up vocalist many more times than I deserve or am qualified to have done. When I think back to my favourite moment’s on stage performing at the Hoot Nights, singing ‘Time To Pretend’ (by the band MGMT) with Carol at a Dublin Hoot Night is one of my proudest and happiest moment of my life. Her guidance and support always helped me deliver when I didn’t know I could: like performing an epic Tom Dunning & Your Boyfriends’ cover of Abba’s “Dancing Queen” when Carol sang back-ups for me! Musically, Carol and Mike always create safe space for me to create and take risks and try things – whether on stage or in the studio. They always look after me, working with my strengths, protecting my weakness, while gently challenging me to push myself into growth as an artist and musician. I love them both very much; they have truly shaped my experience in Ireland I’m truly grateful. Music aside, they are two of my dearest friends in Ireland who give me much more than I have ever given them. Remember this the next time you give someone a mix-tape. It might just change their lives forever. Thank you Sean Twomey!” ~ Thomas Dunning, 2020
Carol Keogh and Mike Stevens
Over the past two decades Carol Keogh, possessor of one of this country’s most stunning and distinctive voices, has produced innovative, original sounds with acts such as The Plague Monkeys, The Tycho Brahe, The Natural History Museum and her own band the City Fathers, with whom she recorded her solo album Mongrel City in 2014. All this as well as collaborating with Autamata, Jerry Fish and Colm Mac Con Iomaire.
For the past two years, Keogh has been developing a double suite of songs and sounds as an entirely solo venture in The Wicc. The result of months spent in the Wexford wilderness with a mic, a MacBook, some kitchen utensils and whatever dark imaginings have stirred from her intuitive creative processes, The Wicc is fast evolving into a multi-media project, incorporating film and other visual elements.
Michael Stevens is a musician, writer and songwriter who lives in Dublin. A key part of the seminal alt-folk band Settler, he went on to form the prog-country band Groom and the visceral punk-pop band Lie Ins, and latterly has been melting nines with the grotty fuzz-pop outfit Skelocrats. He was a co-founder of the influential Popical Island collective. A new album from Skelocrats, “Boy Bitten By a Lizard” is out in October 2020.
Joe Cassidy’s career as a singer, songwriter, producer, composer and front-man spans almost three decades. Cassidy moved from Belfast to Manchester, then London, and then Chicago—finally landing in Los Angeles in 2007. Cassidy’s career is a study in duality: his projects have been picked up by hot indie labels Rough Trade and H.ark!—and major giants Arista/ BMG, Hit It!/ Tommy Boy, Dedicated/ BMG, RCA, and Universal. Cassidy has written scores for string quartets made up of members of the Liverpool Symphony and the Chicago Lyric Orchestra—and for films like “Bettie Page Uncensored”, “Stan” and “Hollywood”. Cassidy also worked on the 2011 Sundance Grand Jury Prize Winner “We Live In Public” and the 2011 Emmy winning documentary “Hold At All Costs”.
His band Butterfly Child is known for its symphonic love songs; his band Assassins is known for its electro-pop dance tracks—both have devoted fan bases. Cassidy even had the honor of producing song writing legend Jimmy Webb with Glen Campbell in the room.
He has performed across the USA and Europe including Lollapalooza and has supported New Order, Muse and Duran Duran to name but a few.
“I usually work with people who have a very open mind about what they are looking to achieve with a song, an arrangement or the type of production necessary. Artists or clients who are not “boxed in” to a genre are the ones I usually find knocking at my door,” Cassidy says. Perhaps Cassidy demonstrates success across genres and continents because of what Rolling Stone called “his mastery of the simple pop song.” At the heart of every one of his compositions is a melody infused with deeply satisfying musical—and narrative—resolution. As was said of Cassidy’s style, “If you’ve ever been drunk in a pub, staring at someone beautiful, just watching them move, in a blur, this was probably the music in your head.”
Zapruder Point is a Cincinnati-based sad bastard songwriter with a pretty voice. www.zapruderpoint.com
By design or by accident, Zapruder Point (Cincinnati’s Dan Phillips) has been compared to Colin Meloy and Elliott Smith, but his stories are sung distinctly, with an observant eye and a yearning voice. Despite its austerity, his latest album Unnamed Stars is rich with sympathetic people and their many lingering echoes.
At the turn of the millennium, Dan Phillips created Zapruder Point, writing and recording under that band name for over 15 years in Chicago where he was a favourite performer at the legendary Thomas Dunning’s Hoot Nights. Now in Cincinnati, Dan presents the haunting E.P. Unnamed Stars, and other heart-clenching gems over at zapruderpoint.bandcamp.com
Over the years Dan Phillips has shared bills with Bill Fox, Jason Molina, Bowerbirds, Shelley Short, The Rutabega, Anders Parker, Franklin Bruno, Canasta, Scrawl, Whitehorse, Coed Pageant, Flat Duo Jets, Terrible Parade, Earwig, and Benjamin Francis Leftwich.
Dan currently lives in Cincinnati’s Northside neighborhood with his partner, Amy Stewart, and their son, Archer. He’s releasing both solo and full-band recordings in 2020 while playing as a solo act whenever possible.
Though technically on Facebook, he encourages you to join his email list, as he gets a bang out of writing occasional newsletters. To find out if you like his music, cruise around his Bandcamp page. And of course you can really get a load of this guy on YouTube.
The history of brothers in pop music is as old as the history of pop itself: Brian, Dennis and Carl Wilson (The Beach Boys), Ray and Dave Davies (The Kinks), John and Tom Fogerty (C.C.R.), Neill and Tim Finn (Crowded House), Michael and John Head (The Pale Fountains), without forgetting numerous brother-enemy collaborations such as Lennon/McCartney or Morrissey/Marr. You would have noticed at least two missing brothers from the list: Liam and Noel Gallagher (Oasis). This is not really an oversight as it would be hard to imagine Guillaume (guitar, vocals) and Bertrand (bass, chorus) making the news with their brotherly escapades like the two rogues from Manchester…
Yules is made up of Guillaume and Bertrand Charret. It is a family story, one of brotherly love and lineage, as the parental record library was the original source of inspiration. Yules should be pronounced “Youless”, the Hispanic tone is a mischievous false lead. Without ever turning into musical stereotypes, the universe of Yules is first and foremost Anglo-American and reflects what the two sides of the Atlantic were able to produce with the most inspired songwriting from artists like Leonard Cohen, Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell…
Another main difference with the Gallagher brothers; Guillaume and Bertrand would feel terribly embarrassed to be considered the equals of their prestigious elders. Nevertheless, listening to their two first albums (The Release, 2007, and Strike a Balance, 2010), it is difficult not to contemplate that their subtly of writing might take them down the same path.
Followed in 2014 by I’m Your Man…Naked, reworking of Leonard Cohen iconic abum I’m Your Man. An album composed of great songs but released at a time where the arrangement choices were not that great, with a predominance of synthesizers that does not do justice to the beauty of the melodies. Therefore, the songs have been totally stripped bare (that explains the ‘naked’) by the two brothers: a folk guitar, an acoustic bass and a string quartet.
In 2019, Yules returns to its first love with A Thousand Voices, a collection of ten elegant songs released on their own label Marjan Records. More electric and atmospheric than their previous opuses, the two brothers reconnect with their original sound by calling on electric guitars and the old Juno 106 from their debut.
If Yules’ closeness to giants such as The Apartments, The National or Future Islands is obvious and claimed, it is not a simple rereading of these worlds. There is in Yules’ music a particular density, more experimental textures, and an almost impressionistic look at the passing of time and seasons. It’s a truly endearing album.
Tristan an Arzhig
Tristan has been a fan of Kate Bush for as long as he can remember, starting when he made his parents play their “Wuthering Heights” 7″ single over and over before he could even talk.
As a non-professional musician, after many years slacking off on the violin at the conservatory and playing in classical orchestras in France and Québec, he has been a member of several bands: alternative rock Gwen Mezcal, post-punk Peterhöff, Celtic rock Transpher, Irish trad Scoil, and now Celtic trad Puffin. This included accompanying pianist Anne Queffélec, playing in Lorient during the Interceltic Festival, and opening for Breton legends Tri Yann during their 40th anniversary tour.
Tristan also makes solo music, which mostly consists of folk songs from around the world. He has explored many instruments, genres and languages, but always revolves around Celtic.
Grimeland is the surname of Gaute Grimeland, and also the name of the farm in western Norway where the artist’s paternal grandfather grew up. Grimeland himself grew up in the area of Telemark, a place famous for being the birthplace of skiing, and also the scene for heroic actions during World War Two. More importantly, it is an area with a rich cultural heritage in many forms, such as traditional music and dance, storytelling and fairy tales, arts, crafts and architecture. The heritage of the traditional music from his home country has become an important part of Grimeland’s work recently, as he has formed the vocal group Grimeland Trio together with two other singers from Norway.
Grimeland’s childhood and youth was filled with singing, dancing and playing the piano. However, at one point he placed all his energy into the art of dancing. He graduated from the Norwegian National School of Dance, and made his professional debut as a dancer, singer and actor in West Side Story. The following years, he pursued an active and successful career as a contemporary dancer. Later, he was trained as a classical singer, and became an all round performing artist, working in dance pieces as well as musicals, operas and concerts. He was recognised as a songwriter in 2017, when he won a prize in a hymn competition in memorial of the Lutheran reformation in 1517, for his hymn “When Ardent Love Fades Into Empty Talking (Three Days of Easter).” Today, he lives in Copenhagen with his partner and their son, and divides his time between his work as a singer and songwriter, and his studies in theology.
Michael Ross studied with Richard Wilson and Todd Crow at Vassar College where he graduated cum laude with a degree in Composition and Piano Performance. During his time there, he won the Jean Slater Edson Prize in Music Composition, and his senior recital included Janacek’s In the Mists and Copland’s 4 Piano Blues. After completing his degree, Michael moved to Chicago and spent eight years teaching at The Old Town School of Music. He was an instructor for private piano lessons and Music Theory, teaching adults and children. Michael also co-created and taught the Beginning Kids Group Piano curriculum, now one of the most successful programs at Old Town School. Upon his return to New York Michael started his own Piano program, joined the faculty at Lucy Moses School, and continues to compose and perform in New York City.
The Aluminum Group
Brothers John and Frank Navin have always played music together, leading to the inevitable formation of The Aluminum Group in 1989. They released their first CD, “Wonder Boy”, in 1995. Described by Chicago Tribune rock critic Greg Kot as “Chicago’s lounge-pop band of the moment,” The Aluminum Group will release their new album, “Plano,” in August of 1998. The album comes from a small town outside of Chicago where there is a house called the “Farnsworth House.” The Aluminum Group appreciated it so much that the
house became a theme for the CD. With unmatched harmonies and some of strongest musicians in Chicago, The Aluminum group stand poised to become “Chicago’s lounge-pop band of all time.”
They report that they “are over the moon” about being included on I WANNA BE KATE!
“Officer Donna, that’s not funny. I can’t find my car.” – Johnny Navin, New Year’s Day morning 2000.
“Sounding like Nico and John Cale fused into one (somewhat sweeter) being” (Musician Magazine), Susan Voelz (pronounced Velz) has pioneered the violin in rock as an original member of Poi dog Pondering, punk poet Alejandro Escovedo, British rock legend Ronnie Lane and John Mellencamp.
“One minute her violin sounds like the sweet voice of angels, and the next minute it is a twisted cacophony inspired by demons,” (Deadboy blog) or as one Chicago radio host described it: “a bat with butterfly wings.”
A staple in Steve Albini’s studio and also John McIntyre’s Soma, her violin and arrangements can be heard on many recordings.
As an artist, she creates “powerfully atmospheric music” (Trowser Press), playing through guitar effects and triggering samples from sources as varied as the opera Madame Butterfly, the Velvet Underground or from her own three records. She often collaborates with video artist Marco Ferrari.
I was raised in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin – the name is Menomonee for “little firefly”; you can find this in Longfel- low’s poem “Hiawatha’s Childhood” – born into a family of French/Irish and German/Russian ancestry, big band jazz records, symphonies and operas. (Think Stan Getz’s “Girl from Ipanema”, the Tommy Dorsey horn sec- tion, and Puccini’s Madame Butterfly). When I was nine years old my grandfather’s violin appeared from some- where up in the attic. (I later had it converted to a five -string and still play it today). The Christmas Band was formed: my dad on jazz bass, my mom playing the pump organ, my brother transposing the trumpet, me on violin, my grandmother humming, later there were nieces on jingle bells. We were cheerful and awful.
Summer camp: The coolest thing was hearing a Buffalo Springfield record for the first time, consoling a 15-year-old Baptist violinist who was conflicted because she couldn’t go to the dance, and seeing the Northern Lights over the lake.
High school: Discovered the song “White Bird” (by the band It’s a Beautiful Day, with violin as a rock instru- ment), wearing go-go boots, a short white skirt and red sparkly top while marching in the Pasadena Rose Bowl Parade, twirling fire baton at high school football games, buying a beat up Stella guitar for $25.
Higher Education: Double major (Violin and English) from renowned music school Indiana University – Bloom- ington. Fell in love with a songwriter who wanted me to play in his band. Still managed to graduate.
Gypsy Life #1: He and I moved to California and lived on Christmas Tree Lane in Alta Dena up next to the mountains. Worked at RCA Records by day. Boyfriend died. Back to Bloomington (recovery) and on to New Orleans (recorded songs on an X-15 Fostex tape recorder at night).
Moved to “Slacker” era Austin: Met and played with Alejandro Escovedo and British Rock Legend Ronnie Lane (Small Faces/Faces) in a brief and glorious outfit called the Seven Samurai. The night of the first show, met members of the traveling Hawaiian band Poi dog Pondering who asked me to play some fiddle on their debut record.
Gypsy Life #2: Touring the U.S., Europe and Japan with Poi dog, all the while writing in a journal to sort out the unpredictable moods, ridiculous hours, extreme alcohol intake, and the love-hate social unit within the van or bus. John Mellencamp called about now to have me play in support of his Big Daddy record.
TV appearances with various bands include “Saturday Night Live,” “Late Show with David Letterman,” “The Tonight Show,” “Late Night with Conan O’Brien,” “Austin City Limits,” and “The Today Show.”
Recorded Solo Records: 13 ribs and Summer Crashing were well reviewed in major press including Rolling Stone, Musician Magazine and Trouser Press.
Alejandro Escovedo: Much touring of the U.S., Canada, UK, France. Impressive stages: Carnegie Hall, Austin City Limits Festival, TransMusicale Festival (Renne, France), the Democratic National Convention. Tour High- light: Hearing Tammy Wynette sing “Stand by Your Man” in Nashville the night Conway Twitty died.
Charlie Sexton Sextet Tour Highlight: Seeing a grizzly bear on its haunches out the bus window one morn- ing near Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
Theatre: Cast in Frank McCourt’s long running “The Irish & How They Got that Way” and “The Devil’s Sonata” a play about Giuseppe Tartini’s dreamed violin sonata. Robert Cornelius auditioning advice: “Just show them who you are.”
Composing: Peabody Award winning Frontline “Children of Conyers County” and its follow up “Merchants of Cool” which Rolling Stone called “well, kinda cool.” “In My Room,” “Prince in the Projects,” and two long-run- ning PBS educational documentaries “Getting your GED,” “Workplace Essential Skills.”
In the studio: Played on many recordings with producers Steve Albini (Nirvana In Utero), John Cale (of the Vel- vet Underground), Joe Boyd (Nick Drake), John McIntyre (Tortoise), Tony Visconti (David Bowie). Recorded for theatre sound designs, some short films including arranging and recording music for the 2006 Oscar for Best Documentary Short Subject, “A Note of Triumph: The Golden Age of Norman Corwin” and improvising music for the Jonathan Demme movie “Jimmy Carter: A Man from the Plains”.
Poi dog Pondering: Seven studio albums to date. Worldwide touring, (Roskilde, Montreaux Jazz Festival, Lollapalooza, Red Rocks, Ravinia). Symphonic collaborations: “Poi in the Park” with the Grant Park Symphony, “Fantasy and Remix of Themes for Dvorak’s New World Symphony” and “Carmen Re-Mixed” performed with the Chicago Sinfonietta at Orchestra Hall. Sound track: composition and live performance for the 1932 Brazilian silent film “Limite” at Sonotech in Chicago.
Author: The Musicians Guide to the Road: An All Access Backstage Pass to Touring published by Billboard/ Random House in December 2007. (See Gypsy Life #2 for source material).
Recent string performances include playing with Broken Social Scene, Vieux Farka Toure, Sufjan Stephens, Ray La Montagne, and Belle & Sebastian.
Current SMV Recording: Completing the Monarchy Treasure Trilogy: The Prince Record, The Originals, and the Triple Crown Quartets.
Current SMV Performance: Influenced by the ballads of the Big Band Era and touring with punk poet Ale- jandro Escovedo, the show is awash with strings played through guitar effects and triggered samples from sources as varied as the Velvet Underground, Madame Butterfly and original recordings. Often joined by video projectionist, Marco Ferrari, Liam Davis on guitar and vocals, and Ryan Murphy drumming.
www.SusanVoelz.com + Susan@Octavia-Music.com
The Moviegoers were formed in Chicago by Worth Wagers and Liam Davis, who shared a disillusionment with popular music’s particular posturing in the late 1980s, and wanted to achieve some measure of transparency in songwriting—the kind they’d been responding to in the work of Jonathan Richman, Loudon Wainwright III, The Dead Milkmen, et al.—they released several underground recordings and 2 full-lengths, toured the US and Europe, and were absolutely delighted at the opportunity to record something for I Wanna Be Kate. They still can’t believe “Hounds of Love” wasn’t already taken.
Along the way, The Moviegoers have been featured on Network Television (reenacting the real-life near-electrocution of guitarist Worth Wagers and playing two of their songs on RESCUE 911 (CBS); been the subject of an article in a national literary magazine (the upcoming Summer; 1998 Music Issue of the Oxford American- published by John Grisham); garnered front page Entertainment feature stories in both the Chicago Sun-Times (July 7, 1996) and the Columbus Dispatch (August 9, 1997) and been favorable reviewed by most every publication in Chicago.
The Moviegoers recorded output includes two full-length CDs, and 8-song EP, and a 7″ vinyl single. They have played all over the states and in Europe, and their songwriting has been praised by Ray Davies and Jonathan Richman. They were a most requested band on the best college station in the country (according to the National Association of College Broadcasters), 89.7 WGLS Rowan University in NJ.
Vocalist, singer/songwriter, and guitarist Syd Straw first made a name for herself as part of the Golden Palominos, a band led by Anton Fier that enjoyed a cult following in the 1980s. Her Capricorn Records debut, War and Peace, was released in 1996, and since then, her unique blend of folk-rock and blues-rock has found a home with Triple A (adult album alternative) radio stations and their audiences around the country. Straw released Surprise in 1990 to good reviews. That recording chronicled Straw’s emergence as a songwriter; she had thought of herself primarily as a song interpreter before that. OnSurprise, Straw was joined by Michael Stipe (R.E.M.), John Doe (X), Ry Cooder, Daniel Lanois, Don Was, Richard Thompson, and Marshall Crenshaw.
Straw was raised in Los Angeles, the daughter of Hollywood film and TV actor Jack Straw, best-known for his starring role in The Pajama Game. She was drawn to the life of a performer, and after high school, she headed straight for Manhattan, arriving in New York in 1978. Shortly after that, she landed her first job singing harmonies for Pat Benatar, and later joined the Golden Palominos’ ever-changing lineup, which also included Michael Stipe and Matthew Sweet. Straw can be heard on the Palominos’ Visions Of Excess and Blast of Silence albums. She also toured the U.S. and Europe with the band, performing at the Montreaux Jazz Festival one year.
In the midst of promoting and touring for War and Peace, Straw has kept up her profile as a scenemaker, sitting in at clubs and lending her gifted musical sensibilities to records by Vic Chesnutt, Wilco, Rickie Lee Jones, David Sanborn, and Evan Dando. A version of her song “Howl” served as the title cut for a film by Eric Stoltz, Sleep with Me. Straw was the first female singer signed by Capricorn, a roots rock and blues label based in Nashville. On War and Peace, she’s accompanied by a gifted bar band from Missouri, Lou Whitney & the Skeletons, and she recorded the album without a lot of extras at their studio off Route 66 in Springfield, MO. On the album, Straw addresses themes ranging from love and the lack of it on a track by the same name, “Love and the Lack of It,” as well as loneliness, as on “All Things Change.”
Straw is an enormously gifted vocalist and songwriter who has her own distinct musical vision, as evidenced on her self-produced War and Peace. That vision is a rootsy one, with lots of country and blues influences. The 14 originals on the record prove it. Although she didn’t set out to, she also plays rhythm guitar on many of the tracks on the album. Straw says with the biography accompanying War and Peace that she doesn’t see the album as a “comeback” at all, “because things have been constantly busy and changing for me since Surprise came out. But I really threw myself into the new record in a way that I haven’t been inspired to do for a long time.” Great records and a wider following are in the offing for this unique, multi-genre vocalist and songwriter. She released her third album, Pink Velour, in 2008.
In between and during all of this, Syd has maintained an acting career (Pete & Pete, Tales of the City), and continued to collaborate with a slew of other artists, including: Freedy Johnston, Phranc, Chris Stamey, The dB’s, and Loudon Wainwright III, just to name a few.
You can also find Syd’s voice on these recordings with other artists with whom Syd has collaborated:
Chris Stamey: Christmas Time
Victoria Williams: Happy Come Home
The dB’s: The Sound Of Music
Eric “Roscoe” Ambel: Roscoe’s Gang
Face to Face: One Big Day
Mark Bingham: I Passed For Human
Marshall Crenshaw: Good Evening
Van Dyke Parks: Tokyo Rose
Peter Blegvad: King Strut & Other Stories
Jon Jaz-Was: Are You Okay?
Peter Blegvad: Meantime
David Halley: Stray Dog Talk
Phranc: Positively Phranc
David Sanborn: Another Hand
Barkmarket: Vegas Throat
Freedy Johnston: can you fly?
James McMurtry: Candyland
Loudon Wainwright III: History
Marc Ribot: Requiem for What’s-his-name
Dave Alvin: Museum of Heart
David Halley: Broken Spell
The Jim Carroll Band: The Best of…
Rickie Lee Jones: Traffic from Paradise
Tony Trischka: World Turning
Chris Stamey and Friend: Christmas Time
Harry Shearer: It Must’ve Been Something I Said
Vic Chesnett: Drunk
Leo Kottke: Peculiaroso
Grant McLennan: Horsebreaker Star
Dave Alvin: King of California
Kevin Salem: Soma City
Boo Hewerdine/Darden Smith: Evidence
Syd’s songs have also appeared on these other ‘Various Artists’ Compilations:
Red Hot + Country (with Wilco)
Luxury Condos Coming To Your Neighborhood Soon
Stay Awake (Disney tribute)
Virgin Mega Hits Vol. 3
The CMJ Prisoner
Rutles Highway Revisited
The Edge of Rock
Downtown Does The Beatles
State of The Union
Fathers and Sons
Beat the Retreat–Songs by Richard Thompson
A Different Kind of Christmas
Live From Mountain Stage, Volume 8
Just Can’t Get Enough: New Wave Xmas
Party of Five (television soundtrack) Heathers (movie soundtrack)
The J Davis Trio
Chicago’s very own all-live, martini-flavored, hip-hop. Consisting of 4 members, they have found the correct formula for live hip-hop. Flav-r-ice, who plays bass has been playing in the Northwestern symphony since age 8 (he’s now 14). After having a really bad acid trip, he’s now out on a furlough and feeling great! Ron of Japan, in charge of trumpets, bells, and over-ripe produce, stays in his box and doesn’t say or do anything ’til we need him. Lead vocalist Stuart, an excremeditation 3rd degree grand-master, feels your pain, man. Aim 1 on drums and rice pilaf, has been known to take in wayward transients, bathe, feed and “re-orient” them, if you know what I mean.
They’ve played the House of Blues, Metro, Elbo Room, Kenny’s Rib Shack, Max’s 8th Birthday party, Double Door, Empty Bottle, and many, many more.
J Davis co-wrote and performs a track called “Berry” with Poi Dog Pondering on their album “Natural Thing.”
Update 2020: The J. Davis Trio is an all live hip hop/jazz group based in Chicago. Led by Emcee and vibraphonist Julio Davis, the group has expanded to eight members with instrumentation including congas and female vocals.
We love sunsets, ice cream, and we don’t trust people who don’t like animals.
Nora has a rich, soulful voice that evokes Patsy Cline’s sweet dreams and Emmylou Harris and Gram Parson in their Fallen Angels Days and showcases her natural beauty and charm ~ New York Press
Nora O’Connor is a Chicago-based musician whose vocal talents are the secret weapon behind some of the city’s best performances and recordings. Nora performs solo and curates duo, trio and small group performances with long time local friends and collaborators. She also tours with Neko Case from time to time. She spent the last four years touring internationally singing and playing guitar with The Decemberists. When off the road, Nora is very happy to be in the studio with her band of 18+ years, The Flat Five recording a second record of songs by Chris Ligon—coming soon. In 2019, she joined Iron & Wine for a string of orchestra shows celebrating their acclaimed release “Our Endless Numbered Days”. For much of 2013, O’Connor toured internationally as a singer in Iron and Wine. O’Connor also plays bass and sings back-up for Kelly Hogan (supporting Hogan’s release “I Like To Keep Myself In Pain” on ANTI- Records) and in 2010, Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy enlisted O’Connor and Hogan as primary vocalists on gospel legend Mavis Staples’ Grammy Award-winning album “You Are Not Alone.” In the studio and on the stage, O’Connor has backed (among others) Andrew Bird, Neko Case, The New Pornographers, Jakob Dylan, Archer Prewitt, Robbie Fulks, The Aluminum Group, The Blue Meanies and Alejandro Escovedo. Though she may be primarily known for her signature honey-sweet vocals, O’Connor is also revered among her musician peers for her chops and versatility. She’s a solid sender on guitar and bass, an enthusiastic and inspired collaborator, and always ninja-nimble and professional to a T — just a few of the reasons why this lady’s phone never stops ringing.
Justin Robertsis truly one of the “all-stars” of the indie family music scene. 3 time Grammy nominated musician for nearly 20 years, Roberts has been creating the soundtrack to families’ lives, helping kids navigate the joys and sorrows of growing up while allowing parents to remember their own childhoods. Along with his band, The Not Ready for Naptime Players, Justin has travelled the globe, from Hong Kong to New York, and Miami to Seattle.
His latest album, Wild Life, is his 14th album for families and his most personal project yet. Joined by an eclectic group of instrumentalists including pianist Lisa Kaplan (Eighth Blackbird) baroque cellist Anna Steinhoff, percussionist Gerald Dowd (Robbie Fulks), and vocalist Nora O’Connor (Flat Five, the Decemberists), Wild Life was inspired by the birth of Roberts’ first child. It includes songs about anticipation, uncertainty, unconditional love and advice for a life well-lived.
In the tradition of Schoolhouse Rock and Harry Nilsson’s The Point!, Justin Roberts has joined a very short list of modern songwriters whose children’s music crosses most every generational boundary. His songs are by turn humorous, educational, and poignant yet never lose the wide-eyed naïveté of childhood.
Influenced by James Taylor, Bob Dorough (Schoolhouse Rock), and Randy Newman, Justin favours live acoustic arrangements that include tuba, violin, and knee-slap percussion framing Justin’s acoustic guitar.
Justin Roberts lives in Chicago and is a former member/founder of Minneapolis modern-folk legends, Pimentos for Gus. His stint as a preschool music teacher inspired Justin as he sought to evoke fond memories of his Midwestern childhood and, in doing so, has created a much more resonant body of work.
Jenny McNeilly – Guitar, Vocals
Jackson Wilson – Guitar
Eddie Carlson – Bass
Mac McNeilly – Drums
Mouse was formed circa 1993 at Cafe Express in Evanston, Illinois. Jackson and Jenny were reprimanded and permanently separated from working shifts together for talking too much, but not before arranging the fateful first practice. This practice would also include their co-workers, drummer Alan Eberhardt and Swedish-American bassist Eddie Carlson, who rounded out what quickly became a writing and recording machine.
The group was dealt a serious setback when Alan moved to Alabama to fix knees, but not before they released a single, “Caesar Salad,” on Worry Bird Records, and contributed to two compilation albums. Mouse then went on a two-year hiatus in order to be reborn from the ashes of themselves, but not before Jenny married Mac, who would become the next Mouse drummer, but not before they had two children. She forced Mac to quit the Jesus Lizards, and they proceeded to call Jackson and Eddie to ask if they could play. The rest is history. Rock history.
Mouse went on to write and record a vast library of as yet unreleased material with the generous help and expertise of Steve Albini, which in due time will ensure them a prestigious seat in the Rock pantheon, but not before someone decides to release some of this music.
In the meantime, Mouse put an end to a self-imposed six-year silence with the release of its Bob Weston-produced cover of Kate Bush’s “Coffee Homeground” for I WANNA BE KATE: The Songs Of Kate Bush. We hope that you enjoy it and that you now want to give us a lot of money, no strings attached, and put a lot of workers to the task of promoting us tirelessly while we continue to do what it is we do best – write songs about ill-fated military expeditions.
Catherine is a Chicago-based musician, cabaret performer, and Jeff-Nominated stage actor with occasional films and television in the mix. She has been singing in front of bands since she was fourteen (including Blue Meanies and Jinx Titanic and The Ladykillers) and performing in live theatre since she was five. She is a proud union member of Actors Equity and Sag-Aftra.
Victoria Storm reflects fondly on her days in Chicago’s music scene where she met Thomas Dunning and became a regular performer at his “Hoot Night” at Schuba’s Tavern. In 1996 she recorded her first EP to cassette with budding producer Jim Becker, and played in venues large and small until 2003 with a variety of musicians including Glenn Kotche, Keith Moller, Jim Becker, Joe Adamik, Mark Anderson, Jacquie Krupka, Francis Limoncelli, Tommi Zender, Nora O’Connor, Aras Buntinas, and other friends who appeared on the Kate Bush tribute album. Members of the Blue Turtle Tea Party were generous in sharing their talents on “The Kick Inside.” Being included on “I Wanna Be Kate” was a great honor.
Victoria’s 25-year career serving others through music includes doing so as a board-certified music therapist, program developer, advocate, departmental leader and small-business owner.
In 2017, Victoria released her five-song EP “Hidden,” which can be found on all major streaming platforms. Several of these tunes recorded/produced with Rim Buntinas have been featured on streaming radio shows. She is now writing and performing with her band Kettlestrings based in Oak Park, Illinois. They enjoy a residency at The Friendly Tap in Berwyn’s vibrant Veltway arts district and can be found on other stages and at events in the area.
Victoria’s 16-minute presentation, “Sing it Loud, Sing it Proud – Music Can Transform Your Life” on the TedX Oak Park Women stage in December 2019, was a professional highlight. Samples of her talk were used by London-based EDM artist Nathan Roberts for his track “Oxytocin.”
Victoria continues to enjoy a full-time career in music therapy while balancing the deep desire to write, record and perform original music. She looks forward to getting back on stage post COVID19 but has been busy with FB lives and professional presentations online. She anticipates releasing a series of singles as a solo artist, an EP with her band Kettlestrings, and a podcast about the healing power of music.
Please see www.VictoriaStormMusic.com for links and bookings.
From the Illinois Entertainer, December 1997.
Baltimores, Plastico Del Mundo (Kingsize Platters)
If you found a bunch of musically accomplished five year-olds, let them pick their favorite instruments from the toy chest, force-fed them chocolate milk and Snickers Bars, and then let Chuck Uchida record the whole mess, you might get close to the effect of The Baltimores. Plastico Del Mundo is a fittingly quirky debut release for Pulsar Dave Trumfio’s record label Kingsize Platters. The Baltimores, make up of personnel from musically eccentric bands like The Howards, The Blue Meanies, Flavor Channel, and Chia Pet, are to pop music what worm holes are to the Starship Enterprise. The ultra-nerd rock of “Dance Pants” is all spiky metallic needles of sound, driving totally distorted vocals that sound like they were recorded through a Jack-In-The-Box drive-thru speaker. “Chicken Had A Dream” is a breezy, Latin-tinged lounge tune that sounds like updated Martin Denny, with a killer/kazoo/guitar solo and lyrics that include references to a Jacques Tati film festival. Beneath all of this weirdness lies some rather impressive playing and musical notions. With the passing of outsider geniuses like Zappa and Sun Ra, it’s heartwarming to find a band that is not afraid to try and pick up the freak flag. Wave on.
– Murray M. Coffey
From the CMJ New Music Report, Issue 555, Feb 2, 1998
Baltimores, Plastico Del Mundo
We’re fairly certain that at the heart of this warped five-piece there lurks a perfectly normal, if somewhat dysfunctional, ska/punk band band waiting to get out. However, considering the psychotic weirdness evident on Plastico Del Mundo, its imminent escape ain’t likely. The Baltimores are way too whacked to allow their music to be squeezed into more traditional formats. Instead, they have surrendered to their madcap creative instinct, letting the party come tumbling from their skulls at top speed. Banjo, Farfisa, theremin, Stratocaster, sax and bike horns all combine to form a churning, funky sound that heads straight for the feet after tickling the funny-bone. Songs like “Dance Pants” and “Gravity” showcase the Baltimore’s Ween-like ability to turn silly nonsequiturs into muscular, potent imagery. “Your Sorry Ass” floats on a groove akin to, believe it or not, early Chicago — all ’70s cheese and smooth — but the tune’s goofy vocals and strong bass accents forge an undeniable intensity. Maximum lunatic potential is achieved on “Thunda Bug”, “Northern Lights” and “3 Martini Lunches”, a fire-breather about the trial and tribulations of psychiatric lockdown.
– Greg Corrao
Diamond Jim Greene
Diamond Jim Greene received his blues baptism as a child from one of Chicago’s most legendary street musicians, the late Blind Arvella Gray. Inspired by the passion of Gray’s music and the reaction of his street-corner audience, as well as the blues he heard emanating from clubs near his south side home, by the mid-80s Greene found himself living in Virginia. There he began to get club gigs and was soon on his way. Well versed in the acoustic blues tradition from the hard-driving Delta blues to the airy, finger picking Piedmont style, Greene has absorbed his mentors’ lessons well: he’s an internationally- renowned instrumentalist, regularly touring Europe, who carries on the acoustic blues heritage with dedication and deep-hearted spirit.
When I was about 7 or 8 years I saw Blind Arvella Gray playing a National Steel resonator guitar on Ellis avenue near 63rd Street on the south side of Chicago. This was around 1958 or ’59. There was a large crowd of adults around him and when he finished the song he was playing, the adults begged him to play it again. Mr. Gray told the crowd ” I cain’t keep playin’ dis stuff fo’ nuthin’ now, dis is how I make my livin’!.” The adults around him could not get their hands inside their pockets fast enough. Arvella had a tin cup clipped to the lapel of his jacket pocket which the adults filled up with half dollars and quarters. Some of the coins spilled onto the sidewalk. Me being the closest person to the sidewalk, began picking up the overflow of coins and stuffed them inside Mr. Gray’s jacket pocket. Of course, I was taking my little cut for my labor, after which Mr. Gray launched into the tune again. I have not been the same since. After that day, I made it my mission in life to see and hear every guitar player who came into view on the streets and taverns in Chicago and there were plenty. My sound today is a combination of those guitar players, singers, harmonica and piano players. My Biography:
“Diamond” Jim Greene
I was born and raised on the south side of Chicago until I was 12. My family moved a lot spending time in Alabama, Georgia, Ohio, Kansas and West Virginia. I have performed in numerous blues band configurations over the years including with the Southern California-based, all acoustic, “Blues Ambassadors” during the mid 1980’s. Even while with the Blues Ambassadors I performed gigs solo or with just a harmonica player.
For the last 25 years, I have pretty much performed unplugged and solo, or with a harmonica player and/or upright bass and sometimes piano and tuba. The late John Cephas with Phil Wiggins, the late John Jackson, the late Archie Edwards, Paul Geremia, Roy Bookbinder, all of whom I had the pleasure of meeting and playing with during the mid 1980’s, remain constant influences as does fellow Chicagoan, the late “Honeyboy” Edwards.
I have toured extensively throughout Europe since 1995, spreading the good news about acoustic blues on major festival stages in the U.S. and abroad, including multiple years in the Chicago Blues Festival; the Long Beach Blues Festival and several years in the International Blues Festival at Lucerne, Switzerland, to name but a few.
My instruments of choice are prewar National Steels and 12 string guitars. At most of my gigs I play my Nationals plugged in or in front of an SM-57 Microphone. I have had the unbelievable pleasure of opening shows for James Cotton, Buddy Guy, the late Ike Turner, Otis Clay, the late KoKo Taylor, John Hammond, Duke Robillard, the late John Cephas & the still alive Phil Wiggins, Saffire (the Uppity Blues women), Sherman Robertson, Joe Louis Walker, Mississippi Heat, Lonnie Brooks, and a host of other well-established blues performers.
At the present time I am based out of Chicago, and I am looking forward to playing engagements both large and small all across America and the world just as I have done for over 20 years.
My Scarlet Life
“If the Dali Lama and the Marquee De Sade met for dinner at the Restaurant At The End Of The Universe….or Timothy Leary and Morticia Adams vacationed at the Pleasure Dome Zanadu, My Scarlet Life would be the live soundtrack of choice.” – Aaron Lanterman, St. Louis Night Times
You can almost picture the room Big Hat used to create their music–full of thick tapestries, candelabras, dead roses, burning joss sticks, maybe even the odd eye of newt. Not hard to picture, since that was the over-riding look–and sound–of the act’s live show, a rich, dark mixture of electronics, hand percussion and flowers. Ditto the look of My Scarlet Life, though you can figure that they open the curtains once in a while now, letting in a little light to pierce the haze of Big Hat’s general seriousness. No matter how glum, Big Hat’s sound had gotten popular.
This, of course, is My Scarlet Life, a four-piece band from Chicago featuring Preston Klik, the heart and guts of the long-running, four-album Big Hat. Joining him in this new incarnation are percussionist Paul Fini, bassist Amy Spina, and vocalists Julie Schreiber and Christy Cameron Smith. The latter two, along with Klik, write the music, a more skittery blend of sound than before. In short, it’s simply happier, free of the deep, dark melodicism of the other band.
Preston Klik has worked with MINISTRY on their Twelve Inch Singles (trumpet) and the SMASHING PUMPKINS on the Red Hot Organization’s No Alternative CD (melodica). Preston has also played numerous times with the Drovers and Sister Soleil, and is a member of Juniper (which includes Stella and Grey of Sister Soleil).
www.PrestonKlik.Bandcamp.com and http://www.patreon.com/PrestonKlik
The Plunging Necklines
The Plunging Necklines started as a trio in 1995, first heard on WLUP’s Sunday Funnies Show with Brian McCann. They were guilty as charged for invoking THE RAP OF THE EDMUND FITZGERALD© (which due to its length is still being performed as you read this). Their next affront played out at Tom Dunning’s Hoot Night with, among other things, a paean (sounds like “pain”) to the quintessential 70’s bummer ballad, WILDFIRE.
As a duo, jiggling…er, juggling gigs with their alteregos, lost Spice girls “Old Spice” and “Spice Rack,” The Plunging Necklines were nothing if not eclectic: exploring, as the PR blurb states, “Folk, Rock ‘n’ More” – Shakespeare to Springsteen, The Ink Spots to XTC, with stops at tunes a little bit country, a little bit celtic, more than a little Kinksy and often guilty of great poignancy…
They specialized in the medley, in queer juxtapositioning of songs serving a specific theme, celebrating a certain artist, or spawning high levels of goofiness. Again for a Hoot Night entitled “Neil vs. Stevie,” TPN created the first Stevie Nicks/Stephen Foster medley, legal ONLY in Illlinois (if you sing CAMPTOWN LADIES to the tune RHIANNON, you’ll know why every banjo player in the South shuddered when TPN hit the stage).
The ‘Necklines sing not only original songs they wrote, but also original songs written by others. Jacquie Krupka (guitar and vocals) penned music to Robert Frost’s THE ROAD NOT TAKEN and to Willie the Shakes’ VER/HIEMS from “Love’s Labours’ Lost.” Pretty heady stuff — so for the sake of balance, Meg Guttman (vocals and percussion) is working on her first Neckline oeuvre, THANKS FOR THE LOBSTER. Together they create the swirling, jazzy, heaven-and-hell harmonies that are their raison d’etre — their whores d’oeuvres — the je ne sais quoi but I don’t know what it is…
Sometimes a visual, always an attitude — The Plunging Necklines
‘Tho TPN is no more, their devotion to Kate Bush lives forever. As does my reverence for the amazing artists of this anniversary celebration. And to the stunning Tom Dunning – – thank you for being a musician’s best friend.
Trinkets of Joy
Trinkets of Joy was formed in September, 1997 by multi-instrumentalist Tommi Zender and drummer Larry Brown. Both hail from the southwest (Arizona/New Mexico) although Zender spent his grade school years in Evanston, Illinois. The group is augmented in performance by friends, most notably 16 year old multi-instrumentalist Jonah Kraut, a former student of Zender.
Zender has been doing music since he was “knee-high to a grass-hopper!” Tommi’s parents put headphones on him to keep him from crying at 2 months…first stereo at 3 yrs…piano lessons at 4 yrs…first ukelele at 5…you get the picture. Tommi got a 4-track cassette player in the early 80’s and it lasted until the making of ‘Love and Anger’.
Larry Brown’s father played drums and young Lawrence got his first set early on, although he didn’t take lessons from Dad. Larry was in marching band and jazz combos during his teens. Larry’s other hobbies include billiards, cycling, and collecting hot sauces.
Trinkets of Joy are currently recording their first album, tentatively title ‘Just Like Mom Used To Make’. It’s release will be late summer/early fall of 1998. They can often be found butchering the classics at Thomas Dunning’s Hoot Night at Schubas Tavern in Chicago.
Update 2020: www.tommizender.net & www.guitarworks.com
Photo Credit: Vin Reed
Thomas Negovan was born in Chicago and is the author of numerous art history books documenting rare work from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He has curated exhibitions and collections of rare and important Art Nouveau, Symbolist, and Expressionist artworks, lectured on the Vienna Secession and German cabaret during the Weimar Republic, and written the definitive monographs on artists Gail Potocki, Clive Barker, David Mack, and Michael Hussar. As a photographer, his work has been published in Condé Nast travel publications, and in the field of music worked as orchestra director for R. Kelly and recorded an entirely analog album on wax cylinder in 2011. In that year, Negovan gave a TEDx talk “By Popular Demand” on his experience in creating the first music recorded and released without the use of electricity in over a century. Aurora (2018) is his first film. ~ IMDB Mini Biography
The first notes of “And Dream Of Sheep” fall, and you listen. Intently. Orchestrated strings help define Thomas Negovan’s work on this track, but his scoring talents represent only one facet of his musical leanings. Other songs, such as those found on his 1995 debut CD with collaborator Enrique Vilaseco and band Three Years Ghost, bring his classical-mindedness in song writing to melodious, multilayered rock songs. And Negovan credits some unlikely masters with influencing his musical course in life.
“I wanted to be a Shelley or a Keats, but the role the Victorian or Romantic poet had in past societies doesn’t exist now,” says Negovan. “Our closest modern equivalents are people like David Bowie and Mick Jagger.”
Other musical influences range from T. Rex and The Church to Frank Sinatra and Mel Tormé. Count in the music of Nina Simone and “anything with a hint of mysticism,” he says. Disparate literary works have made their mark, as well, including turn-of-the-century occult literature; horror, crime and superhero comics from the ’50s; and the writings of Oscar Wilde, W.B. Yeats and Lord Byron.
Negovan’s debut release, Sidhe (1995), fused the artist’s penchant for linear orchestration with his drive to create smart, sexy and thoughtful rock songs. The result is a collection that laments lost love with a resignation that makes you feel as though you’ve stepped into a rock-and-roll-style Merchant and Ivory film.
In the years since this release Negovan has performed at The Bop Shop and other Chicago venues, on his own and with Three Years Ghost. He’s spent the last two years, in particular, refocusing what he and the band are doing: developing a richness in music that broadens the definition of rock. “We’re trying to approach our songs as soundtrack pieces instead of three-minute pop songs,” Negovan says. “I like music that’s cyclical but not repetitive, music that’s epic in the way it builds.”
And that soundtrack-style approach is paying off in other ways. Negovan’s been called on to score the soundtrack for Walter Did It, an upcoming David Lynch-style indie film by Drew McWeeny and Scott Swan, writers for Xena: Warrior Princess. He and band members are also completing Titan, a CD set dealing with mythological, cultural and spiritual themes.
– Jennifer Hicks