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Slushy interview with Chris Kramer and Brent Zmrhal

© Bobby Hussy

Slushy are a band with one foot firmly planted in the present and another somewhere in the mid-60’s, amongst the discovery of fuzz and distortion, rebellion and its connection to harmony.  It’s not often you find a band that rocks as hard as Slushy does that seems to draw as much inspiration from The Beach Boys as they do The MC5 or New York Dolls.  It’s an interesting combination, add to the mix the fact that the material for the early releases were done in a one-man-band fashion turned foursome, turned two-piece and you have one of the most interesting combinations in music right now.  Reverb drenched vocal harmonies echo through the haze of tambourines and infectious guitar.  Slushy is not a band to hide their flaws but rather one that embraces them thereby turning them into some of their greatest assets.  While the two-man system would be a constraint to most people Chris and Brent “have [their] own special charm that [they] couldn’t replicate if [they] added more people into the mix”.  The fact that I thought Slushy was from somewhere in California when I originally heard them should probably speak to the fact that they do indeed sound markedly surfy but there’s a hidden aggression, a driving force behind the music that could only have been bread in the Windy City, perfected in the dingy basements and bars of Chicago’s concrete jungle.  After several years of self-releasing their own material their first cassette sold out almost instantly and has been followed by a hot new single on the Randy Records label.  With another cassette tape on the way any day I was lucky enough to track down both founding members of the band, Chris Kramer and Brent Zmrhal, and grill the hell out of them!  What follows should be everything that you need to know about Slushy, that awesome new band you were just talking to your friends about.  You know?  Your new favorite band!  Remember?
Listen while you read:

How did you two meet and when was that?

Chris:  We met the same way most people who end up playing music together do, at a show; this at The Mopery in the summer of 2010.  Brent was playing bass in Mickey and my old band Kramer Versus Kramer played, as did The Yolks and Lover.  Brent asked us to play a party in his backyard, and we started hanging out after that.

Brent:  Our friend Steve from the Catbuglars was surprised to hear that I didn’t know Chris and suggested I see his band.  I booked a show at Mopery and Chris e-mailed me about getting Slushy, then Kramer vs. Kramer, on the bill, like day of, and finagled his way on the show even though there was like four bands already; Lover, Mickey, Yolks and Church Of My Love.  The show went super late and the touring band played to like no one even though there had been four hundred people there.

 © Andrew Martin

Why a two-piece rather than a traditional trio or something?               

Chris:  We were kind of forced into the duo out of necessity.  We first started as a four-piece, evolving out of my old band Kramer Versus Kramer.  Like most bands just starting out, we had a hard time keeping a fixed line-up.  At one practice, our bass player Max quit and our drummer at the time was his buddy, so he was out too.  Brent told me he had a one-man-band setup he could do, which I was dubious of at first, but after a whole lot of practice, and a couple of bad shows, it worked.  Now we’ve gotten it to a place where we have our own special charm that we couldn’t replicate if we added more people into the mix.

Brent:  I’ve always been a fan of multi-tasking.  I wanted to do something new (play drums).

What’s the best thing about being a two-piece?  What about the worst?

Chris:  We only have to coordinate two schedules to practice and play shows and go out of town, which is great.  We have a decent amount of gear, but it packs up nicely and it’s easy to hit the road without being crammed in with four sweaty dudes.  The only downside is the non-music part of being in a band, schmoozing.  I’m an awkward dude so Brent has to do all of that.

Brent:  The fact that you only have to deal with one shithead instead of two plus, loading and setting up gear. 

Are either of you in any other bands?  Have you released any material with anyone else?  If so can you tell us about it?

Brent:  I played bass in the glitter punk band Mickey.  We had a full length on Hozac and a handful of singles.  I play lead guitar in Thing, we recorded but do not have any official releases yet, and I pal around with the Party Bat Dudes.  We recorded an LP that will be out on Tic Tac Totally soon. 

Chris:  I play guitar in The Lemons, which is like a local pop super-group.  We have a tape out on Tripp Tapes.

Was your household musical growing up?  Where either of your parents or any of your relatives professional musicians or extremely interested in music?

Brent:  My family doesn’t listen to music so I really sought out and found the music myself.  My Uncle had some Black Sabbath and Hendrix records on his farm.  I think one of my great grandparents played a harmonica but I didn’t know them.  All we had was the oldies station in the car.

Chris:  My dad would play guitar around the house, and still plays some today.  He has a 12-string acoustic and a giant handwritten songbook for stuff like Paul Simon, CSNY and The Beatles.

What was your first exposure to music?  When did you decide that you wanted to make your own music?

Brent:  I played Saxophone in middle school band, I wanted to play banjo but they wouldn’t let me.  My friend’s mom took us to our first concert at the Kane County Fairgrounds, it was a country band.  I ended up playing in a middle school band with him.  We listened to Q101 and they played a lot of terrible shit like Kid Rock and Linkin Park, but then they started playing The White Stripes and Strokes and that was cool; I still like that music. 

Chris:  I grew up listening to classic rock and oldies, and even though I have older siblings who listened to top-forty stuff, I dug the old stuff.  My brother was given a half-size Stella acoustic guitar, but he never learned how to play.  So I took it when I was maybe fourteen and taught myself barre chords and started coming up with really bad songs.

Who are some of your personal musical influences?  What about the band a whole rather than as individuals?

Brent:  Johnny Thunders, Nuggets, Timmy Vulgar, Thee Oh Sees, The Ponys.

Chris:  I started writing songs in my head because of The Beatles, I learned how to play guitar because of The Who and I wanted to be in a band because of Weezer.  Those three are still my favorites.  There’s also Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, Tommy James, Tommy Roe and Jonathan Richman.  Influences on the band are mostly just our friends’ bands, Uh Bones, Magic Milk, Today’s Hits, The Sueves.  The little corner of the Chicago music scene we all cohabitate in is really supportive and enthusiastic, and all these dudes help us to make better music.

What led you to form Slushy and when was that?

Chris:  I moved to Chicago in 2009 and didn’t really know anyone here, so I started playing along with a sampler loaded with drum beats.  After a while I met some cool people and asked them to join the band, which is the band that played that Mopery show.  The next time I saw Brent he said he could get us gigs at this liquor-store-bar he booked at, but that we needed to change our name so we changed it to Slushy.  We didn’t really come into our own until Brent joined and the other guys quit and we were forced into doing the two-piece thing, which was the end of 2011.

What does the name Slushy mean or refer to?

Chris:  Slushy is a feeling you get inside when you’re nervous but excited at the same time, like when you’re trying to work up the courage to hold a girl’s hand for the first time.  It’s also the name of a Vaseline’s song.

Can you tell us about Slushy’s songwriting process?  Does one of you approach the other with a somewhat finished product to finish out or is there a lot of jamming?

Brent:  Chris usually does a demo of it and then we’ll fix it to make it our song.  Or I will come up with a song and Chris won’t like it, then we’ll change it.  I’ll give him some lyrics and he’ll finish the lyrics. 

Chris:  I’ll usually either come up with a chord progression or a lyric idea and try to build a skeleton of a song around that, and if it’s a good skeleton I’ll record a demo of it and send that over to Brent, or Brent will come up with a riff or some lyrics.  Then we’ll work on it until it turns into a real Slushy song.  Simple as that!

What about the typical recording process?  Do you do a lot of preparatory work before heading into the studio or prefer to play things more organically an off the cuff?

Brent:  Nothing has been consistent with recording.  The lyrics to Pocket weren’t even finished when we recorded it. 

Chris:  Nothing we’ve released has been recorded in a studio.  Our new single was recorded in Randy’s garage on a really hot summer day.  All The Rad Dudes actually ended up being a collection of demos that turned out sounding really cool, so we just ended up releasing them.  The songs were written and recorded over two days in my basement apartment in Logan Square where we practice.  We have another tape coming out soon that we recorded at our buddy Shimby’s house that’s more hi-fi which is a result of off-the-cuff experimentation.

© Joe Montanaro

Do you enjoy recording?  Some bands love it and others get cold shivers running down their spines and erupt in cold sweats at the mere mention of heading into a studio ha-ha!

Brent:  Sometimes more than others.  It usually takes place when you’re super hungover or not feeling well.  Chris gets really weird when we go to studios.  I think it’s better for him if we do it at home.

Chris:  I love recording but hate going into the studio.  I’m much more comfortable recording on my own or with a pal where there’s no pressure and we can mess around and get a good, goofy sound because you don’t know what you’re doing.  Recording studios just have a weird vibe for me.  You have to wake up at ten in the morning and haul all your stuff into a cold room, then wait three hours while a dude sets up all the mics and then all the takes sound bad because you’re bored and tired, but the creative act of recording is one of my favorite parts about making music.

Let’s talk a little bit about your back catalog a little bit.  You have self-released several albums at this point, which are all differentiated by colors, the first of which was Red from 2011, then Green and finally Yellow.  Can you tell us about the recording of that album?  When was it recorded?  Who recorded it?  What kind of equipment was used?

Chris:  The three EPs are a mix of demos recorded over a few years, mostly on my laptop at my kitchen table in my old apartment in Logan Square.  There’s no real theme that binds them or sets them apart.  RED one is the one I would burn to give out at early shows, and it has what I thought at the time were the best songs.  After a while I wanted to have something new since the same people kept popping up at shows, so I made GREEN.  I actually drew a blue sea monster on those but used different art online.  YELLOW is basically the leftovers.

Brent:  Yeah, Chris originally gave me the Red one but when I joined he sent me like twenty-three tracks that were all super rad, lots of Beach Boys harmonies and such.  He has a bunch of different versions of songs too.  A quarter of them were instrumentals, and some he doesn’t like to play. 

Was there a lot of recording and or songwriting progression with the release of those albums in such rapid succession?  Was all of that material written around the same time?

Chris:  The songs were written over the course of a few years, mostly 2009 to 2010, and they aren’t sequenced in any order that makes any sense.  Most of the recordings are from when the band was just me and a sampler.

Why choose colors for titles rather than traditional titles?  Is there any significance to the colors assigned to the albums?  Several of my favorite bands have done the same thing and I’ve always wanted to ask them about it.

Chris:  To me, the drawings on the covers are the real album titles. I drew the monster that graces the RED album based on a dream I had and decided to use that as the artwork.  I slapped the name “SLUSHY” over the top in Photoshop in red to make it more fearsome.  For GREEN, I did a self-portrait and changed the name to GREEN.  For YELLOW, I drew my guitar, whose name is Ralph, which was the only other member of the band at the time.  I was planning on doing a fourth with the drum sampler on the cover, but ran out of demos.

How were those albums originally distributed and released?

Chris:  CD-Rs burned on my MacBook and distributed at shows and on Bandcamp.

All of those albums are available for purchase on your Bandcamp page digitally all day, any day but are there any plans to make them available via cassette, CD or vinyl?

Chris:  We thought about making a record with them for our first tour but it didn’t happen.  If someone really wants to put them out for us physically we can talk.  A lot of the songs have been re-recorded since then while others have been left to collect dust.

In 2012 you released the All The Rad Dudes cassette tape through Manic Static, one of the coolest labels out there in my humble opinion.  How did you guys originally get hooked up with Philip over at Manic Static and how did the release come about?

Brent:  Phillip and Jesse have always been super nice and cool to us.  So we asked them and they put it out in a heartbeat. 

Chris:  We had played with The Funs a couple of times and had a song on the Manic Static mix tape that came out earlier in the year.  We ended up playing a show with them the day after All The Rad Dudes was recorded, and so we asked him if they wanted to put out the tape.  They were excited, we were excited, so it all worked out.  It was a limited run of 100 copies which is now all sold out.

Can you tell us about the recording of All The Rad Dudes?  When was it recorded?  Who recorded it?  Where was it recorded?  What kind of equipment was used?  Was the session(s) much different than for your early self-released albums?

Chris:  All The Rad Dudes was recorded in my living room, which is where we practice, over the 4th of July weekend.  I had planned on recording it onto a Tascam 4-track, but the record head stopped working on it so I plugged the mic into the 4-track and used that as an interface into my computer and recorded in Garageband.  It was all done with one microphone with some overdubs.  The songs on the old EPs were recorded one at a time so they all had a different vibe.  We did All The Rad Dudes all over the course of two days, so it’s a much more cohesive sound.

Brent:  I don’t remember.  It was a very raw recording. 

All The Rad Dudes was your first album that wasn’t self-released, did you approach the release any differently than your previous recordings songwriting, composition or construction wise because of that?

Chris:  Nope, we had everything written and recorded before we talked to Manic Static, then handed Philip the final mixes and that was it.  He did the artwork for it as he does for all the Manic Static releases.

Brent:  We were sick of dwelling on the same old songs and getting pushed and pulled by labels that would never end up putting it out.  We were recording the same songs a billion times.

You’re getting ready to release your debut 7”.  Can you tell us about recording that?  When was the material recorded?  Who recorded it?  Where was it recorded?  What kind of equipment did you use?  What tracks are featured on the single? 

Chris:  We recorded “Candy” and “Pocket” on a very hot day in Randy’s garage on an 8-track reel-to-reel and Joe Montanaro mixed them on a separate reel-to-reel, so they’re all gooey with analog vibrations.  “Candy” is the A-side and it’s a ballad, “Pocket” is the B-side and it’s a rocker.

Brent:  It was last summer, on an extremely hot day and I was very ill.

When is it scheduled for release and who is releasing that?

Chris:  The official release date of the “Candy”/”Pocket” single is September 17th, but they might be available sooner at  Randy Records is secretly the best label in Chicago right now.  In the last year he’s put out 7 inches from Uh Bones, Dead Ghosts and Vacation Club, and there’s some really cool stuff coming later this year, so we’re in great company.  It’s limited to 300 copies and 50 of those are special edition colored vinyl with artwork by Goons.

Other than what we’ve discussed does Slushy have any other music available?

Chris:  There’s another version of “Candy” that we performed on Chica-Go-Go last year, which is an awesome public access music/kids show.  If you’re good at searching the internet there’s another dozen or so demos that we’ve made available online for curious listeners.

Do you have any other releases or a full-length follow-up planned?

Chris:  We have a new tape called Five Little Leaves being released by Tripp Tapes this fall but it’s streaming on our bandcamp page already.  We’re in the planning stages of releasing a LP with a new Chicago label called Grabbing Clouds.  Slushy will be their second release, the first will be a Moonhearts LP that reissues two of their cassettes on vinyl.  Look for it early 2014.  We’re also planning another 7” which will probably be out around the same time.

Where’s the best place for our U.S. readers to pick up your music?

Chris:  If you’re in Chicago, you can find our records at Bric-A-Brac records and Saki Records among other places.  If you can’t make it to Chicago, you’ll wanna hit up Randy himself at

Brent:  Reckless still has copies of our sold out tape.

With the recent international postage rate increases where’s the best place for our international readers to get copies?

Chris:  Order from Randy, or petition us to do a tour through your country.

Brent:  Bachelor in Austria. 

You played with several other local Chicago musicians including members of Heavy Times and Magic Milk for the Chicago Sonic Coalition as Cabin Cruiser for a one-off show.  How did that come about?  Can you explain exactly what the Chicago Sonic Coalition is?  Was the set recorded, if so are there any plans for releasing that material?

Chris:  John Yingling is a brilliant documentarian who’s about to set off for China to film rock bands there as part of a project called The World Underground.  Last year he had the idea for The Sonic Coalition, which is a variation of something that other cities and scenes have done where you put a bunch of musicians’ names in a hat and then randomly put people together to write songs and play a show.  I got put together with Matt from Heavy Times and Maggie from Magic Milk.  Then we snuck Bo and Brent in.  We wrote six songs and covered a Jesus and Mary Chain song.  John recorded the whole thing and has plans for releasing it as part of The World Underground series.

© Alison Eden Copeland

Brent:  That was fun.  We spent a lot of time rehearsing to end up playing only one show.  We didn’t get paid and a fuzz pedal went missing. 

 © Gabbie Bam-Bam
© Kendra Keyes

What do you have planned as far as touring goes for the rest of the year?

Chris:  Hopefully lots.  E-mail us and we’ll try to play your town/house/townhouse.

You have played with some totally killer bands including some of my absolute favorites, like White Mystery who were my very first interview!  Who are some of your personal favorites that you’ve had a chance to play with?

Chris:  The one I’m still most excited about is Question Mark And The Mysterians!  They played “96 Tears” twice.  I used to do that song at karaoke, so it was wild getting to see them do it.  It was most of the original lineup from 1966.  We also played one of our first shows opening up for Ty Segall which was great.  Woollen Kits, Colleen Green, Real Numbers, King Tuff and The Eeries are all good times and our local homies Twin Peaks, Today’shits, Uh Bones, Magic Milk, The Bingers, all of ‘em.

© TJ Superfan

If you could have your choice of anyone, like in your dreams, who would you be on tour with?

Chris:  The Modern Lovers or Weird Al.

Where’s the best place for our readers to keep up with the latest news like upcoming album releases and shows at?

Chris:  Probably Facebook because it’s the one social media outlet we actually use regularly.

There’s something irresistible, magical, almost intoxicating and most definitely addictive about physically released music for me.  Having something to hold in your hands, artwork to look at, liner notes to read, they all serve for a more complete and comprehensive listening experience for me.  I love feeling like I’m getting a glimpse inside of the bands head with the little details that they pepper throughout their releases.  Do you have any such connection with physically released music?

Chris:  Yes, totally. There’s a degree of synesthesia there.  I started buying records in high school, mostly from thrift stores, so they all had a musty aspect to them and I’d have some sort of connection with them and be able to remember where and when I got it every time I pulled it out.  Then a few years later I started discovering music through Mp3s and gained exposure to a ton of cool stuff but lost any sort of intimacy with it.  Then my hard drive crashed and I lost all the music too.

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

Chris:  I probably have a few hundred records at this point.  Last year I went on a real bender picking up just about every early rock’n’roll, doo-wop, rhythm’n’blues and bubblegum compilation I could find.  Brent’s collection is bigger and cooler.

Brent: I have over 1,000 records. 

© Nathan Jerde

There are so many options out there as far as release mediums go for artists these days it’s fantastic!  From a consumer standpoint in can be a little bit confusing and arduous to decide which release to pick up sometimes though, especially when someone is releasing the same title in several different mediums separated by some time and done by different labels.  Do you have a preferred medium of release for your own music?  Do you have a specific medium that you prefer when purchasing music?

Chris:  Tapes are cool because they’re pretty cheap even when you do a short run, and you can get a cheap boombox and start a block party with some good tapes.  Plus my car only has a tape player in it.  Records give you a little more cred and they look great.  I usually buy records first, but will pick up a tape if it’s something I couldn’t find otherwise.

No matter what anyone thinks it seems like music is becoming more and more inescapably linked to digital music.  What’s your personal opinion on digital music and distribution?

Chris:  There’s a real subset of music fans who like the artifacts of music that we call records.  Some people just enjoy the tunes and that’s cool too!  Online streaming definitely makes it easier for people to find you who wouldn’t have otherwise, and if you want to download our songs and listen to them on your Gameboy, go for it!

I try to keep up with as many good bands as is humanly possible!  Who should I be listening to from your local scene or area that I might not have heard of?

Chris:  Chicago rules!  There are so many, here are the ones I can type in sixty seconds: Soft Candy, Today’s Hits, THING, The New Originals, Hollow Mountain, Skymaul, Bleach Party, The Sueves, Son of a Gun, MTVGhost, Spike and the Sweet Spots, Ye-Yes, Negative Scanner, The Hecks, Nonnie Parry, any other band I already mentioned, and that’s time.

What about nationally and internationally?

Chris:  Whatever Burger, Gnar or Trouble in Mind puts out.  Raw McCartney, Faux Ferocious, Los Beets, Eric & The Happy Thoughts, LAZY, Jerome & The Psychics, Fire Retarded, The Bam Bams, Woollen Kits, Straight Arrows, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera…

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

Chris:  Be nice to everyone all the time, especially when you don’t feel like it.  If you are having a party, we will play it.

© Nathan Gregory

(2011)  Slushy – Red – digital, CD-R – Self-Released
(2011)  Slushy – Green – digital, CD-R – Self-Released
(2011)  Slushy – Yellow – digital – Self-Released
(2012)  Slushy – All The Rad Dudes – Cassette Tape – Manic Static (Limited to 100 copies)
(2013)  Slushy – “Candy” b/w “Pocket” – 7” – Randy Records (Limited to 300 copies)
(2013) Slushy – Five Little Leaves - Cassette Tape – Tripp Tapes (Limited to 100 copies)
(2014) Slushy – TBA – LP – Grabbing Clouds
(2014) Slushy – TBA – 7” – GloryHole Records

Interview made by Roman Rathert/2013
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