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Geronimo! interview with Kelly Johnson

When will Chicago stop and take a second to breathe?  It seems like everywhere I look in Chi-town there’s some amazing new sound, some fuzz fueled, reverb, guzzling fanatic with a guitar, drum and bass making some of the most bad ass music I’ve ever heard.  The only downside to that is that it’s nigh-impossible to standout in that kind of environment.  And I say nigh because believe it or not there are bands that stand out from the myriad of competitors.  Bands like the pop, punk lo-fi psych scientists Geronimo.  They will pop into a studio every few months, effortlessly record a cassette, release the thing and six months later are on to the next, bigger and better thing.  It might not sound like anything too amazing in itself but this has been going on since 2010 and has produced some of the best slice-of-mind or moment in-time documents of a band I’ve ever heard.  Not only is these guys sound killer, crafting songs and giving plenty of thought to where they need to end up, but they’re also at the top of their game creatively and musically.  Teaming just the right amount of serious punk, shoegaze and traditional garage attitude with honest to god, balls-to-the-wall psychedelia, Geronimo is proving a unique and prolific voice in the chocked concrete jungle of Chicago.  Click the link, get yourself some music from their Bandcamp page, go ahead do it…  Are you done yet?  You are?  Excellent!  Now you can read on and learn everything I ever wanted to know about Geronimo!

What’s the band’s lineup?  Is this your original lineup?

Kelly Johnson: Vocals/guitar, Ben Grigg: Keyboards/synth, Matt Schwerin: Drums.  It’s always been us three bozos.

Are any of you in any other bands at this point?  Have you released any material with any other bands?  If so can you tell our readers a little bit about that?

No other bands at this point.  We have been in other bands in the past, but for the past three years or so it’s just been Geronimo!

Where are you originally from?  Where’s the band located now?

Forged in the fires of Rockford, Illinois.  We all relocated to Chicago for various reasons and currently all reside here.

How would you describe the scene where you are located at?

Well it’s Chicago.  It’s splintered into a lot of scenes.  There are so many talented bands playing for various reasons.  The reasons for DIY bands might differ from bands frequenting the clubs, it can be competitive and challenging to stick out but that keeps us on our toes and doesn’t let us stagnate in my opinion.

Has it played a major role in the history or development of Geronimo?

I guess I sort of answered that in the previous question regarding the competitive nature of Chicago.  Because there are so many places to play and scenes to explore it’s allowed us to find our strengths and preferences as a group.

When and how did you all meet?

Ben and I know each other from high school.  We went to college and lived together there for a few years at a place called The Purple House.  Matt met Ben in Rockford and introduced him to me when they got together to jam.  We started out a whole lot different with me on bass, Ben on piano and Matt on drums.  That didn’t last very long.

What led you all to form Geronimo and when was that?

We formed the band because we all had such a good rapport together.  That was sometime in early 2008.

How did you select it and what does the name Geronimo mean or refer to?

It refers to the exclamation when jumping out of a plane or off a building or cliff.  Matt suggested it at the beginning and we didn’t think it sucked so bad.

I’m extremely interested to hear who some of your personal musical influences are, there are some really interesting and unique sounds in Geronimo and I wonder where they came from?  What about influences on the band as a whole rather than individuals?

I can really only speak for myself: Fugazi, Smashing Pumpkins, Pixies, Archers of Loaf.  As a band we can all agree we like Radiohead, Guided by Voices, Magnetic Fields and Madonna.

I loathe labeling or classifying music myself, can you describe Geronimo’s sound to anyone that hasn’t heard you before?

Loud fuzzy rock.  Sometimes it’s angry, sometimes pretty, sometimes sloppy; always loud.

Can you describe Geronimo’s songwriting process?  Is there just a lot of trial and error jamming or does someone approach the rest of the band with a more finished idea to flesh out?

It’s happened both ways, most of the time we all work on a jam together that we structure.  We try and leave parts that make sense for me to sing over.  It’s very much a collaborative effort and not individually based.

You released your first album Fuzzy Dreams in 2010, can you tell us a little about the recording of that album; who recorded it?  Where was it recorded?  What kind of equipment was used?  Who released it?

That was self-released.  We recorded it in Ben’s parent’s house in Rockford over a few weekends.  No one was living there at the time so we set everything up in the living room.  It was all hardwood floors and it sounded really nice.  It was an experiment with sounds, production and effects.  It’s something we’re all proud of but we were definitely learning.  Our friend Josh Miller who recorded great records by Kid, You’ll Move Mountains and Ghastly Menace was there to show us what to do and he also mixed the record.

What does the name Fuzzy Dreams mean or refer to?

It was something that popped into my head while walking one day.  It felt appropriate for the feel of our sound and the abstract approach I take to lyrics.  Most people think of a “warm, happy” image when they hear the phrase so I liked the flipped meaning idea.

You followed up Fuzzy Dreams with the first volume in the Buzz Yr Girlfriend tape series in August of 2011, now first off what does Buzz Yr Girlfriend mean?  I love it, there’s something catchy as hell and yet somehow nonsensical about the title.

It’s from one of the greatest films of all time, Home Alone.  Kevin is rifling through his older brother Buzz’s room and he finds a framed picture of a goofy looking girl, to which he quips “Buzz, your girlfriend. Woof”.  We were joking around in practice about interpreting it as a command to give your girlfriend a buzzcut.  It felt apropos to the spirit of what we wanted to accomplish which was have fun and not put too much stress into the recording and creation of the tape.

Where was the Buzz Yr Girlfriend Vol. 1 tape recorded?  Who recorded it?  What kind of equipment was used in the recording?  Who released it?

It was recorded by our friend Joe Robinson on his 4-track at our practice space; that was-released again by us.

Was the Buzz Yr Girlfriend series always intended to be a multi-volume series of releases or has it just naturally grown and progressed to that point?

It was always intended to be multi-volume.  We write pretty quickly and build up a lot of songs, not all of them fit to be on albums.  It’s a way for us to records those and to have fun.  I actually stole the idea from the Boredoms who have a series called Super Roots.

Was Buzz Yr Girlfriend Vol. 2: The Burden of Genius recorded and released in a similar fashion to Vol. 1?

Totally different.  We did it at our friend Matt Arbogast of The Gunshy’s recording studio, 8AM.  It was a way for us to try it out and give him a guinea pig as well as his studio is still pretty new.

You released your second full-length album Exanimate in October of 2012, and it’s an absolutely stunning piece of psychedelia!  Where was Exanimate recorded?  Who recorded it?  What kind of equipment was used?  Who released Exanimate?  Was it a very different recording experience than the Fuzzy Dreams and Buzz Yr Girlfriend sessions?

Thanks!  Exanimate was recorded a lot like Fuzzy Dreams.  It was done by our friend Josh Miller over about a year and a half period of time.  We recorded it in Josh’s basement at his house here in Chicago.  We did it in chunks months apart and mixed it in very much the same way.  Thus the length of time we spent on it, which ended up being a lot longer than we wanted it to be due to scheduling conflicts with all of us.

The word exanimate means lifeless: deprived of life; no longer living; "a lifeless body", why use that as an album title?

It was a word Matt stumbled upon and suggested.  We liked the word and it fit with the artwork that we had done for the album.  My lyrics deal a lot with death and the afterlife, especially on that album, so it all seemed intertwined.

The third installment in the Buzz Yr Girlfriend series was released in March of this year, The Metal David Byrne.  Are there plans for continuing the Buzz Yr Girlfriend tapes for the foreseeable future?

Absolutely, as long as we can keep coming up with stupid titles.  As such, we have about 150 more tapes to create.

Can you tell us a little bit about the recording of The Metal David Byrne?  Who put the tape out?

Again we recorded it at 8AM with Matt Arbogast.  It was recorded quickly in about three or four sessions.  This time we were lucky enough to have Exploding in Sound Records put out the tape.  We met Dan, the label owner, a couple years back after he said nice things about Fuzzy Dreams.  We stayed in touch and met a couple of times.  We got to know some of the other bands on the label and they’re all way better than us so we figured we had to get involved with him.

Are there any plans for another full-length or any other recordings at this point?

As of right now we are taking a “hiatus” (relative to what we usually do) this summer and early fall.  We are playing one-off shows here and there but are focusing on writing our next album.  We are going into our friend Daniel Good’s studio, Chrome Attic, sometime this fall to record.  We’re hoping to spend about a week there and track everything we write this summer.  Right now we have about four songs and about fifty ideas.  It’ll be our first “official” studio album.

What do you have planned as far as touring goes this year?

Nothing yet.  We are just focusing on the album at this point and then are going to see where that all ends up.  Ideally we’d like to go on a big ass tour after we finish it, but one thing at a time.

You have played with some of my favorite bands going right now, who are some of your personal favorites you’ve had a chance to share a bill with?

Most of my favorite bands at the moment are ones we’ve been lucky enough to play with.  Bands that we love in Chicago are Meat Wave who put out my personal favorite record last year, T’Bone, Truck or Dead Horse, Hospital Garden, Predators, My Dad and DEN.  As for bands we’ve played with on the road, a lot of Exploding in Sound artists.  Pile is on constant rotation when we are on the road as well as Ovlov and Speedy Ortiz.  There isn’t a band we don’t listen to on Exploding in Sound so we really can’t say enough about the label.  Motherfuckers got it goin’ on.  I’m sure there’s a ton I’m forgetting too.

Do you have any funny or interesting stories from live shows that you’d like to share with our readers?

Usually the most embarrassing stories end up being the funny ones.  The first one that springs to mind is a show that we played in Buffalo that was to be a benefit for a woman’s shelter.  We ended up being the only band and at the last second it got moved to a sports bar called Yings Wings ‘n Things.  I think two people showed up?  The rest were regular patrons of the sports bar who stayed at the bar on the other side of this giant room.  One guy kept yelling for us to play Wonderwall.  Finally, fed up that we hadn’t satiated his drunken request, he and his friend approached the front of the stage, effectively becoming the only audience members with more requests for Wonderwall.  We got out of it unscathed, but it’s pretty funny to think of a couple of drunken meatheads insisting that we play the song Wonderwall.

It’s awesome to have a digital copy of an album to listen to on the go or whatever, but there’s something magical and irreplaceable about a physical release.  Having something to hold in your hands, artwork to look at and liner notes to read makes the listening experience more complete, at least for me.  Do you have any such connection with physical releases?

I think we all feel the same way.  A lot more people are feeling the same way as well so it’s nice to be able to have something physical to present to people again.  CDs have become the middle man for iTunes so most people aren’t going to shell out ten or fifteen bucks for that when they can just download it.  Records thought are a different breed and a lot more attention and love goes into creating them.

Do you have a music collection at all?  If so can you tell us a little bit about it?

I used to take great pride in my CD collection until I moved to Chicago and didn’t have a job and was super broke.  I sold a lot of the good ones so I could eat and buy beer.  I’m amassing a record collection and it’s going much faster now that most bands have vinyl for sale.  The other dudes are the same way.

Like all things to do with technology there are upsides and downsides to it, but I’m always curious what artist’s opinions on digital music and distribution are?

I can only speak for myself when I say, download our shit whatever way you want.  Free, for some money, great!  Get it from a friend if you want.  Of course I’d prefer to see some money so we can pay for practice space, rent, gas and whatnot but to me the idea of having our music in someone’s library is more important.  I’ve downloaded stuff for free so much over the past seven or eight years and found great bands.  Now I see those bands when they play live or buy their records when I see them in stores.  I like to hope others would do the same for us.

In hopes of keeping up with never ending tide of amazing music out there right now is there anyone from your local area or scene that I should be listening to that I might not have heard of before?

See the previous question about my favorite people we’ve played with but DEFINITELY Meat Wave, DEN, T’Bone and RUNNING; all from Chicago.

What about nationally and internationally?

Nationally I’d suggest Pile, Ovlov, Roomrunner and Speedy Ortiz.

Is there anything that I missed or that you’d just like to talk about?

That’s all I can think of…  You touched on a lot of things!  

(2010)  Geronimo – Fuzzy Dreams – digital, ??? – Self-Released
(2011)  Geronimo – Buzz Yr Girlfriend: Vol. 1 – digital, Cassette Tape – Self-Released
(2012)  Geronimo – Buzz Yr Girlfriend Vol. 2: The Burden of Genius – digital, Cassette Tape – Self-Released
(2012)  Geronimo – Exanimate – digital, 12” – ??? (Hand Silk-Screened Covers Limited to 200 copies)
(2013)  Geronimo – Buzz Yr Girlfriend Vol. 3: The Metal David Byrne – digital, Cassette Tape – Exploding in Sound

Interview made by Roman Rathert/2013
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