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Mountain Bus interview with Bill Kees, Ed Mooney and David Solomon

There was pretty much nothing known about Mountain Bus until Gear Fab Records reissued their album and at the same time managed to conduct really nice liner notes with history about this little known Chicago band, that had something special to offer, but powerful music corporations prevent their signed record company (Good Records) with innovative and generous, not greedy philosophy to distribute new artists. There is a whole story behind their label and all the problems, that sadly and unjustifiably came to realization back in the early '70s, when big record companies tried to rule the world of entertainment business (nothing changed). Thanks to Roger Maglio we came in contact with members of the band, that will explain their stories in the following interview.
(Bill Kees / Guitarist, Ed Mooney / Guitarist, David Solomon / Manager)

This is (from left to right), Craig Takehara, Steve Krater, Ed Mooney and Lee Sims on the floor at Streeterville Recording Studios, Chicago. 1971.

First of all I would like to thank you for taking your time to conduct this interview with me. I have been a fan of your album for years now and I'm really happy, that we will return and re-open your memories about Mountain Bus.

Let's start with a question about your growing-up. When did you first come in contact with music, and how did you decide to pick up an instrument?

Bill: When I was a kid, my parents would play classical music on the record player, which I loved, but never imagined playing myself.  I suppose, like so many kids back then, that it was seeing “A Hard Days Night” at the movie theater, that really stoked my interest in playing.  I knew nothing about pop music really, but I could see myself playing electric guitar.  I fell in love with the sounds one could squeeze out of the strings.  I talked my parents into buying me a guitar and amp and I was off.  From that point onward I studied every guitar sound I heard on the radio, and the stuff I really liked, I got the records.  I would move the stylus to the beginning of the track I liked, over and over again and would play along until I got it right.  At least, that was my goal.  I was very taken by B.B. King and somehow talked my Dad into getting me a Gibson ES-345, the guitar that B.B. King played.  We had a neighbor who worked for CMI, which owned Gibson at the time, and he got my Dad a deal on a factory second which I played in high school bands and right through Mountain Bus.

Ed: Growing up, there was always a radio on in our house. We watched all the variety shows on the TV. At 10 y/o I got an accordion that I took lessons on for 3 years. At 13 y/o a friend introduced me to guitar and within months I got an acoustic guitar, he would show me chords and we’d play Elvis, Gene Vincent, Jerry Lee Lewis for anyone who would listen. At 17y/o I traded my old accordion and some $$$$ for a 1960 Gibson Les Paul Jr. and a Silvertone amp.

Besides the fact, that you were in a couple of bands before the formation of Mountain Bus I don't know anything else, so I would suggest if you could tell us about bands ‘Fantasy' and 'Hearts of Soul'. Was there anything recorded and released?

Bill: The “Fantasy” band was my first band in high school.  We were doing covers of “Yardbirds” songs like “Heart Full of Soul” to “Over Under Sideways Down” but more importantly to me, jam tunes like their take on “I’m a Man”, a “Rave Up” as they described it, in other words, a forerunner to “psychedelic” jams soon to come.  I was mesmerized by Jeff Beck’s lead guitar work (and still am).  I think we were the first band in the area to cover Jimi Hendrix songs from his first LP like “Manic Depression” and “May This be Love”. “Hearts of Soul”, the other high school band I was in, played R&B hits for the most part, which I also loved.  There was so much great music in those days.  There were a few demo recordings of those bands, all lost now.

Ed: Moons and the Stars, was formed with other students while I was living in the dorm at Loyola U. in Chicago in 1961.  We played fraternity parties and parties after basketball games. I sang and played lead guitar. We did mostly early rock tunes by Elvis, Dion and the Belmonts, etc. In 1964-65,  I noticed a few other people on campus with long hair. As it turned out, they were musicians too with similar interest in the Rolling Stones and the Chicago blues sound.  This band became Rhthyms Children. We were together playing for Chicago high schools and colleges playing Stones, Van Morrison, Muddy Waters and R&B tunes. The band broke up in 1967 when the bass player had to move to Canada to avoid being drafted. We recorded in the studio twice, mostly blues covers and I think two originals by Steve Titra, the other guitarist. The tapes have long since disappeared.

Let's discuss how did you guys came together and where did the rest of the band played before? 
Ed Mooney, Tom Jurkens, and Steve Krator were in a band as students called 'Moons and the Stars'. This was from 1962 to 1964. Jurkens was also in another band called 'Jurk & The Bushman' (1965) and out of this' Rhythms Children' were born, which was a blues rock group. In 1967 everything stopped for awhile due the Vietnam war. Did those bands record anything? What was happening with your life?

Bill: Ed Mooney knows the early Mountain Bus history, so I’ll defer to him answer these.  I was the last member to join the band, except for our second drummer, Lee Sims.

Lee Sims

Ed: Craig Takehara was recruited to replace bassist Joe Wildersen.  As I recall we had an outdoor gig at Loyola U. and Bill Kees was invited to sit in with us. We discovered we hit it off fantastically and asked Bill to join. Shortly, Steve Titra decided to go on his own to write and perform more of the English folk style he was into. The rest of us were decidedly more into the psychedelic jam experience.  Lee was a temporary replacement for Steve Krater while Steve went on his honeymoon.  When Steve returned we jammed with both drummers at and found that they complemented each other and added a new dimension to our sound.

Steve Krater

Where all did you play and with whom did you share stages?

Bill: At the point that I joined the band (I was eighteen or nineteen I can’t remember which), we were playing local clubs and rental halls for the most part.  We often jammed with pals from other bands, and shared the stage with bands like Heartsfield, the Siegel-Schwall Band, Harvey Mandel, and others.  Our manager, David Solomon, got us a gig as the opening act for Black Sabbath at the Auditorium Theater, a rather large venue in Chicago at that time.  We did pretty well as I remember, considering we were just some local band.

Ed: As I recall, the promoter was so impressed by our show with Black Sabbath that an opening slot was in the works for the Jefferson Airplane tour. The lawsuit put an end to that.

What would you say was the Chicago scene in the '60s for a hippie freak?

Bill: I remember a thriving counter culture.  The civil rights movement, which in 1968, blended into the anti Vietnam War movement, coalesced into massive anti war demonstrations during the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago. The reactionary police riot that then ensued made headlines around the world.  I was there with some of my pals, and I can say that we “got our fair share of abuse”, but that’s another story for another time.  For those of us “flying our freak flags high”, we were under constant threat of arrest for smoking pot and such, but for the most part, a good time was had by all. There was a building where Mountain Bus and a couple other bands rented rehearsal space on Clark Street just north of the Chicago River.  On the corner, was a club called “The Baton”.  I remember Craig and I going in there one night to get some cigarettes and we both noticed there were some very tall women in the place, really dressed to the nines which, seemed a bit odd.  We were somewhat slow to realize that the place was a transvestite club.  One time, when we were rehearsing in our space, the Chicago cops descended on “The Baton” with their billy clubs out and their badges off and beat the shit out of the customers.  That was the cop’s idea of having a bit of fun.  I’m happy to say that the Chicago police have really changed for the better over the years.  But back then it was pretty bad.  Still, we had it pretty easy compared to what was going on in Czechoslovakia, and some other countries in those days.

How did material for "Sundance" come together?

Bill: A lot of our material started out with someone coming up with a guitar pattern or melodic idea, and we would jam on it, developing ideas, some of which would stick, and others discarded.  Tommy came up with most of the lyrics as I recall, and by a kind of group consensus, songs would start to emerge.  This is why the LP song credits for original songs, are given as “Mountain Bus”.  It was a group effort.  We used this same process in the recording studio although it was somewhat truncated as studio time costs money.  A lot of our songs involved free form jamming, which could vary quite a bit, and was always evolving. The “Sundance” recording sessions were a reflection of just that. The LP track “I Know You Rider” is, I think, the best example.  The guitar solos were always improvised and evolving each time we played them.  I took the first solo on the song, and Ed took the second.  The jam at the end starts with me playing a solo verse then we go into an arranged transition. The tag at the end of it is a segue into “Apache Canyon”.  I overdubbed two “backwards” guitar tracks on that and our engineer, Jimmy, added some other background effects.  “Hexahedron” is a straight ahead jam, that was recorded as it happened.

This photo was taken through the control room window as we were recording.  From left to right, Lee Sims, Bill Kees, Steve Krater, Tom Jurkens, Craig Takehara.

What's the notorious story behind lawsuit, because of your name, which resembled the name of famous rock group. This lawsuit was a great plan for bigger corporation, that didn't like the idea of Good Records selling albums for affordable prices and you were captured in crossfire as a sacrificial lamb.

Bill: ll I remember is that we had our band name before “Mountain” existed.   The idea behind “Good Records” is as follows: (From our manager, David Solomon who owned “Round Records” a local record store on Chicago’s north side.)

David:  “These numbers may be off, but:
Let’s say a record store, such as mine was paying $3.00 for a record at a one stop (they were probably paying $2.50 from the studios).  Good Records would sell to the record stores direct for $2.00 and still be able to make a substantial profit.  The manufacture cost of the record was spit, add in the artwork and studio time; Good Records could make money and sell at a substantially lower price than a studio.  The whole deal was a utopian “hippie” ideal to bring the peoples music to the people for cheap.  Power to the people, music for music’s sake, not profit.  Oh well, you can see where that got us.  By the way, I really bought into that. I was into it for the music and the feeling and feedback from the audience when we were “ON”.  Some of the best and worst times of my life, and I would not trade the experience for anything.”

Bill: I remember that Good records got a small article in Billboard Magazine, which talked about its business strategy, and, as I recall, it was very soon after that the shit hit the fan.  We will never really know what was really behind the lawsuit, and I don’t go in for conspiracy theories as a rule, but this whole thing really smelled like skunk.  Mountain Bus certainly posed no financial threat to anyone, but someone might have seen Good Records as one.  It’s a bit hard to imagine now, but there was revolution in the air back then.  The anti war / anti establishment demonstrations were starting to peak then.  The murders of 4 students at Kent State by the Ohio National Guard was less than a year before, and people, especially young people facing the draft, were really pissed.  It was in the news all the time, and it was in the music of course, and not only on underground stations, it had gone mainstream.  The “counterculture” was real, and growing by leaps and bounds. Community co-operatives (food co-ops and such) were on the rise, effective boycotts were more common, and the “establishment” was freaking out.  The suits in the offices of Windfall/Columbia Records may have thought Good Records could really take off and start signing big acts.   Whatever the motivation may have been, it was stupid, petty, and for the members of Mountain Bus and our friends at Good Records and especially for our manager and pal, David, it was devastating and unforgivable.

Good Records was a short-lived Chicago based independent record label run out of business by Windfall and Columbia in 1971. (Scanned by 'Babylon Falling')

How did the lawsuit ended?

Bill: As I understood it, Good records had no money to fight the lawsuit.  They had gone all in on the project and could not cover the lawyer fees that would be required.  The same was true for Mountain Bus.  That was a shame really, because it was pretty obvious that this lawsuit had no merit.  But, you know, this is a classic tale of…  They had deep pockets.  We had empty wallets, end of story.

David: Since I was the only one with any assets “they” came after me (Round Records). On my attorney’s advice, (even though he said we would probably win, but it would take years, which meant I would lose everything) I agreed not to fight it. The band got together and voted to disband to save my ass (one of the terms of the lawsuit) and Good Records were to destroy all masters and records

Bill: This brings up one happy ending to this story.  The master tapes were never destroyed.  Instead, they were given to me by Al Krockey (of Good Records), a few years after all of this went down.  Many years later, we made a deal with Gear Fab Records and the CDs and LPs have been available since then.

Let's go deeper into the details about production of the album. Where was it recorded and what kind of equipment did you use?

Bill: It was recorded at “Streeterville Recording Studios” on a 16 track machine.  I don’t remember what mics were used or any of that stuff.  I think this was the first time any of us had been in a big studio, and we were pretty green really.  This was a small budget affair.  We didn’t have the luxury of unlimited takes and mixing.  Ed Mooney and I both had Fender Super Reverb amps as I recall, and Craig had a Sunn bass rig.
Tom Jurkens during recording.

Ed: We got a deal to record 60 hours for recording & mixing for $3500 plus tape cost. We used 7 reels of 2” tape at $65 each and 3 or 4 reels of ¼ tape. I think the whole thing cost around $4500. I played my Guild Starfire through a Fender Super Reverb.  Sometime after the album was done Bill and I both got two Fender Twin Reverbs. I would have one on his side of the stage and he would have one on my side. This was so we could hear each other, which was tough with two sets of drums between us.

What can you say about the cover artwork?

Bill: A dear friend, and high school mate of mine, Karen Goodpasture, did the calligraphy.  As far as the rest of it, I don’t quite recall, but it is a photo of Ed Mooney on the front cover.  The original LP credits album design to, Craig Takehara, Frank Treadwell, and Mike Gold.

Ed: The cover photo was shot by, Frank Treadwell.  We all ate some mushroom or peyote and went out to the forest and romped around. He got a great shot of the sun shining through my hair.  It pretty much captured the whole peace, love hippy thing we were all into.

I would appreciate if you can comment each song from the LP.

Bill: I’ve already mentioned something about the 2nd half of the LP.  The last track on the first side of the album is “Sundance”.  It, like the other songs, was recorded in one or two takes.  We took the best track and added vocals and other tracks.  We put a lot of work into this track as well as the following tracks “I Know You Rider” and “Apache Canyon”.  As I mentioned before, these songs were all recorded live in studio and all of the instrumental jams were done on the original recording.  The vocals recorded during the original session were considered “scratch vocals” and were all overdubbed during later production recording as is normal procedure in multi track recording.  We were under pressure to get this project done, so we put the most work into these few tracks we thought were our best.  At any rate, we worked our collective butts off doing the best we could with the resources available.

Craig, listening to playback.

Ed: Except for the jams on side two, what I recall is that all the songs resulted from us just jamming.  Bill would usually bring in some cool riff and we’d jam it for days, then Tom would take it and write some lyrics.

What influenced you the most to record this material? Some people connect your music with Grateful Dead…

Bill: I remember a couple of my band mates were really into the “Dead”, and I did like the band, although I was more into bands or artists such as Procol Harum, The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Quicksilver, Marvin Gaye, and others.  I think we were into everything really.   I also liked Koto music, and I loved Julian Bream.  I would have to say we were all on paths of new musical discoveries, and as I said before, there was so much great music back then.  Free form jamming was the thing I loved the most, (which the “Dead” were so great at) and I was really into pushing the envelope.  I had just turned twenty when we recorded “Sundance”, and I was working as hard as I could to improve my playing chops and my ability to improvise in a group environment.

Ed: It’s always felt great to be mentioned in the same sentence with Dead.  We never were trying to emulate them, but we really enjoyed the freedom that this form allowed musicians.

"I Know You Rider" is probably the best version I ever heard. How was it to play this song on stage?

Bill: It’s a funny thing about “I Know You Rider”.  So many times on stage, it would be the standout song of the night.  It became a standard part of the sets of my next band “Sky Farmer”, and when we had reunion gigs 25 years after, Ed sat in with us, and we jammed on it once again.  It was one of our favorites still.

Ed: It was always a lot off fun. You’d never know where you would end up. Many times we’d segue into another song or two and then end up back with Rider. It was not unusual for it to go for 30 min. or more.

The CD reissue contains a few bonus tracks.  Can you comment those tracks?

Bill: I’m not quite sure how much of a “bonus” these tracks were.  They are pretty raw, low fidelity recordings.  They are in stereo however, and Ed and I are on reverse sides of the stereo mix compared to the Sundance recordings.  I should note that my next band, Sky Farmer, continued to play “I Don’t Worry”, “Six Days on the Road” and “I know you Rider”.  “Meet me at the Bottom” has Tommy singing and playing harp, and I’m playing bottleneck guitar.  Oh yes, I should add a correction. The names of tracks 11 and 12 are reversed.  Track 11 should be “Young Man’s Blues” and Track 12 is “Ticket In My Pocket”.  Sorry about that.

Is there anything else out there?

Bill: I don’t know this for a fact, but I’ve been told that there were bootleg re-issues of the “Sundance” LP in Europe years ago.  I’ve never seen one, but that’s the story I heard.

You were in the times, when hallucinogenic substances were around the next corner if you were interested in rock music. What's your opinion about them and what do you think about their interaction with your creativity and perception?

Bill: Well, that is an interesting question.  I can tell you that we did smoke pot on a regular basis when playing (ok, pretty much all the time), but in my opinion at least, trying to play on stage while under the influence of acid or other hallucinogens is a bad idea.  We did, of course, do that stuff offstage.  Looking back, it seems pretty careless.  By that I mean, who the hell knew what was in the stuff?  There was no quality control. No one knew how or where it was manufactured, and there were many cases of bad acid and bad trips.  Having said that, I must say that my “Doors of Perception” were blown wide open.  It seemed at least, that I could perceive nuances in music that I missed otherwise, but perhaps that was an illusion.  I remember one time I was practicing guitar playing a wah wah pedal for what must have been hours, while tripping.  It was a hot summer day and I was sweating and decided to take a shower.  I got in the shower and I heard the shower in full wah wah effect.  That was rather amusing.  A girlfriend of mine and I had a “mescaline” summer during those days.  We would listen to LPs like one would watch a film in a movie theater.  We would just let the music flow through us, and our imaginations would fill in the colors.  Looking back, I do believe I derived some creative benefit from the hallucinogenic experience, but I don’t want to romanticize it. Hallucinogens are very powerful, and can be very dangerous.  We were able to handle them, just barely sometimes, but some people did not, with tragic results.

Ed: Getting high before a show was part of the experience. I’m guessing a large part of our audience was also high so there was a shared energy that would fuel our shows.

Bill: I can testify to the fact that just about everybody was high on one thing or another.

Bill in studio, playing his Gibson ES-345.

When was the last time the band played together and what happened next for the members?  Did any of you play in any other bands during the 70's, 80's until the present day and what currently occupies your life?

Bill: Our last gig was a farewell concert at “Amazing Grace” in Evanston (just north of Chicago) it was also recorded for WXRT radio for broadcast later.  I had a couple of musician pals who were living in Southwest Wisconsin way out in farm country at the time, and I went up there to start a new band. I was the youngest member of Mountain Bus, and I was really fired up to keep on playing, and that’s what I did.  Craig Takehara soon joined me and later, so did Lee Sims.  The rest of the band went on to other bands.  In the late 1970s, Ed, Craig and I were playing together again in another band in Chicago called Kiddo.  I kept playing in bands into the early 1980s, and then in the mid 1990s.  But with the exception of a few reunion gigs in the late 1990s and some duet gigs my wife and I have done since then, that’s it.  Our buddy Ed just keeps on trucking though, he’s playing gigs still, bless him!

Craig Takehara, Ed Mooney.

Do you think you could make it "big" if there weren't any problems?

Bill: Well, I don’t know if we could of made it big, I would have been happy, to have made it small, or even medium.  But, Like David said, “I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything”.

Interview made by Klemen Breznikar/2014
© Copyright

Papercuts - You Can Have What You Want (2009) review

Let’s face it, the Papercuts are/is Jason Quever, an artist who hands out lyrics that are occasionally decipherable, nearly always dealing with an internal depression of self-worth and his ability to function within any society ... as if he’s forever stood behind the proverbial shaded window, attempting to make sense of all that passes in front of him through a sonic palette of off kilter emotions, detached melodic melodies, repeated musical progressions, and heart breaking vocals filled with diaspora.  And all of this is delivered in such a manner, suggesting that by sheer force of will, he might become something more pleasing to himself, yet in the end, forever retaining his sense of being through eyes he believes reveal all.

The music delivered on any Papercuts album is lush and softly romantic, like sleepy bears gathered ‘round an abandoned campfire on Quaaludes.  The songs never stagger far from their starting point, take no unexpected turns, and feel like warm breath on the nape of your neck.  Having said this, let me assure you, all Papercuts songs are not created equal, and within the context of their catalog there are very few that live larger than life. These are the ones I keep coming back to, letting the rest drift off like dust kittens to hide beneath my bed, leaving ...

You Can Have What You Want
-Once We Waled In The Sunlight
-Dictator’s Lament
-Future Primitive
-You Can Have What You Want
-The Void

Fading Parade
-Do What You Will

Can’t Go Back
-John Brown
-Found Bird

... to lay over me like a warm blanket on a chilly October evening.

Review made by Jenell Kesler/2014
© Copyright

The Baby Magic interview with Mary Beth Brennan

© C.B. Linsey

The Talking Heads are alive and well.  Oh, you hadn’t heard?  Yeah, they retooled the whole scheme, got some balls and kicked shit into hyper-gear…  Okay, so that might not exactly be true, but as Mary Beth states in the titular track to The Baby Magic’s latest album “Rent A Place In Hell” “it might as well”.  This is some seriously nihilistic, experimental, far out there, new (or is it no?) wave, insidious oblivion.  All that said, being bad has never been so good!  Taking some serious nods from the new wave scene of the 80s and putting it into a trash compactor with insane minimalist punk, garage rock and a healthy dose of fun The Baby Magic probably aren’t quite like anything else you’ve ever before, except they’re a lot like everything you’ve ever heard before.  It’s a strange dichotomy, and I suppose one could take that statement as a compliment or an insult, depending on how it was read so let me elaborate.  The Baby Magic use their razor sharp wit to extract everything that they care about, everything they perceive of value from what they’ve heard before and paste it back together into this twisted Frankenstein monster of their own creation.  Hammering drums and sinister sounding distorted bass guitar gang up with the relentless guitar, Mary Beth Brennan’s shrieking vocals and twisted keys to create an unstoppable juggernaut of minimalist sound, and while things may sound really dark, there’s an underlying and unstoppable sense of fun to The Baby Magic’s music.  Brennan often tackles some pretty heavy imagery, the guitars get murky and fuzzy, the keys dark and ominous, but all the while, there’s this sense that everything’s going to be okay at the end of the movie, the hero will rescue the girl and stop the bad guy, despite what Brennan may tell you in songs like “Hold On Extremely Tight”.  I think my favorite thing about The Baby Magic is that they genuinely sound like they don’t give a shit what anyone thinks about them, though.  They’re making music because it’s what they love to do, because they feel like it’s something they need to do.  I’m not sure if it’s for them or an imagined audience, but I do know I hope that The Baby Magic keeps doing what they’re doing and never changes.  I’m dead serious, the world needs bands like this.  People who are taking the lessons that they’ve learned from everything that they’ve hear and moved forward with it, creating something vividly original and personal in the process.  Long live The Baby Magic. 
Listen while you read:

© Shana East

Who’s is The Baby Magic and what do you play?  Is this the original lineup or has there been any changes as far as that’s concerned since you all started playing?

The Baby Magic is Mary Beth Brennan (lead vocals and keys) Patrick Coleman (Guitar and back up vocals) and Santiago Guerrero (drums).  Oh, and believe me that Santiago is not our first drummer.  The first drummer was a guy named Ron.  Then it was me (Mary Beth), then it was Patrick’s younger brother Jimmy, and now it’s Santiago.  Hopefully, we’ll stop here ‘cause we all feel very close and committed to each other musically.

Are any of you in any other active bands or do you have any side projects going on at this point? 

Yes!  Santiago’s the drummer in Georgia O’Quuef.  They’re an awesome hardcore band.  I drum in a band called Dead, Death, Die, which is an indie rock band, and I also have a solo project called Baggy Time where I play acoustic guitar and sing all kinds of fun songs.

Have you released any music with anyone else in the past?  If so, can you tell us a bit about that?

Nope.  Other than a new single coming out, everything has been self-released.

How old are you and where are you originally from?

I’m thirty five and I’m originally from Brooklyn, New York, but I’ve spent most of my childhood in a town called Williston Park on Long Island, New York.  Patrick’s thirty three and has spent his early childhood in Baltimore, but grew up mostly in Batavia, Illinois which is a suburb of Chicago.  Santiago’s twenty seven and was born and raised in Chicago.

What was the local music scene like where you grew up?  Did you see a lot of shows or get very involved in the local scene there?  Do you feel like it played a large part in forming your musical interests or shaping the way you perform at this point?

There was a really great punk ska scene on Long Island when I was a teenager.  There were a lot of places that had all ages shows.  It wasn’t a scene fully on surface, so I depended on my friends that were all in the scene to tell me where to go.  I would dance my ass off at every show.  It certainly showed me how much fun dancing is and that’s something I still incorporate into our shows.

What about your home growing up?  Was there a lot of music around the house when you were a kid?  Were either of your parents or any of your close relatives musicians or extremely interested or involved in music?

When I was a young child my dad would make sure we listened to classical music while we ate.  He was really into composers and would quiz me on them.  My mom and my dad would play lots of music from the 50s and 60s, as well as Broadway musicals.  My sister and I shared a room, and she loved listening to Broadway musicals as well.  She was also really into George Michael.  My brother would listen to a lot of Morrissey.  I mean a lot of Morrissey.  Everyone in my house loved listening to music.  As far as playing music, my sister was a great flute player in school but never went pro with it.  My dad and my brother both tried to play piano for a bit, and I’m pretty sure my mom has never picked up, or wanted to pick up, an instrument in her life.  

What do you your first real exposure to music?

Probably listening to They Might Be Giants for the first time ever.  When I was a sexually confused teenager I understood nothing about love and I really didn’t want to focus on it at all, secretly knowing that I was hiding something.   They Might Be Giants were talking about taking a “rocket to the moon” and I really connected with that.  They would have a surf breakdown in the middle of a song just for the hell of it!  Every song was one weird party after another.  Listing to John Henry for the first time was probably my first real exposure to music.

If you were to pick a moment, a moment when everything seemed to change for you and you became aware of all the amazing possibilities that music presents, what would it be?

It was after my first Modest Mouse show at the Bowery Ballroom in 1998.  At this point, it was a band my best friends were very into, so I went to the show.  I bought one of their CDs and I listened to This is a Long Drive for Someone With Nothing to Think About as I went to bed.  It opened my mind to being truly honest with music.  I had no idea that you could do that.  It was like someone breaking the rules, but not getting in trouble because the laws weren’t made yet. 

When did you decide that you wanted to start writing and performing your own music and what brought that decision about for you?

I started writing songs about poo-poo and tin cans my sophomore year in high school.  My friend Maryann played the guitar and I really thought it be fun to sing with her.  She played and sang along, and we do some takes on tape.  But I got the serious itch to perform, jumping up on stages where I wasn’t welcome and dancing to the band playing.  At the time, I really didn’t think it was a rude thing to do and it felt great.      

What was your first instrument?  When and how did you get that?

My first instrument was the alto saxophone.  My family rented it from the school.  When I got to high school we had to find a way to get our own instruments.  My old neighbor in Brooklyn who was a jazz musician had a Yamaha alto sax and he said it was the Chevy of cars.  He sold it to me for exactly what he bought it for, one hundred and forty dollars, and in great condition.  Now that’s how people should sell musical instruments.  If you listen to “Gas Station” on our last album Whoopsy Daisy you’ll hear that baby sing.

How and when did the members of The Baby Magic originally meet?

Patrick and I met at the Columbia Chicago dorms.  He was in the dorms and I had moved out of the dorms the previous year, but I would come back for parties, or rather searching for parties.  We went to a lot of parties all around Chicago.  Patrick was a laid back cool party dude and I was an intense party animal.  Not much has changed for us.  When he moved out to an apartment I went to a small barbecue he was having.  I wasn’t invited, but he was happy when I showed up.  He was playing guitar and I was singing a song about rape.  The repeated line in the song was “I don’t want to rape you tonight”.  It made people feel very uncomfortable, but he stayed with me.  After that, we started our first band called The Fucks.  We met Santiago when we played a show with his old band The Vatican Junkies.  We thought he was a great drummer and he was a lot of fun on stage.  When we needed a new drummer, Santiago was the first on Patrick’s list and Santiago was very interested.  He gave a special touch to our songs that we were missing, and he had the right attitude that we were looking for.

© Derek Quint

What led to the formation of The Baby Magic?  When was that?

Patrick and I had a band called Firecrotch that started in 2003 or so.  It was just him on acoustic guitar and me singing.  We then got a drummer but kicked her out.  We couldn’t quit resurface.   I moved to Los Angeles for six months to become an actor and Patrick visited me.  I told him how bad I wanted the band back and he shared the same feelings.  I also was not a Los Angeles girl.  I moved back to Chicago and we named ourselves The Baby Magic.  That was in 2008.

Your name is extremely fitting and while it’s pretty memorable and stuck in my head right away, I haven’t quite put my finger on what it means.  What does The Baby Magic mean or refer to in the context of your band name?  Who came up with it and how did you all go about choosing it?  Are there any close seconds that you almost went with you can recall at this point?

As much as we’d, The Baby Magic, like to say the name implies a deep significance, it’s just a name we picked from a list of many possible names.  It seemed to fit the nature of our songs at the time and provides us with a template for future songwriting.  Some of the names on that list were Mommy + Tits, Tits + Mommy and Please Don’t Hate Us.

Is there any sort of creed, code, ideal or mantra that the band shares or lives by?

Yes, and it’s simple.  We always try our best to be nice and respectful to people.  We have been tested and we have succeeded.

Where’s The Baby Magic located these days?  How would you describe the local music scene where you’re located at these days?

We are, and always have been, in Chicago and we’re usually on the northwest side.  Chicago’s scene is bursting right now.  There are so many great bands playing all the time and the crowd that comes out is so much fun.  Art is at a high here in Chicago!  House shows and art spaces are better than ever.

Do you see a lot of local shows or do you feel like you’re very involved in the local music scene?  Are you involved in booking a lot of local shows or anything?

We all definitely go to a lot of local shows.  I personally feel pretty involved in the music scene, but definitely not as much as some people I know.  I would love to get more involved, actually.  Santiago is really into the house show scene and books a good amount of shows. 

Has the local music scene played an integral role in the sound, history or formation of The Baby Magic?  Or do you all feel like you could be doing what you’re doing and sound basically like you do regardless of where you were or what you were surrounded by?

Absolutely!  I’m not exactly sure how, but I know it’s true.  You go out and hear something, or see something that you think is super cool, and you can’t help but sublimity try to sprinkle it on yourself in your own way.

Now you all have a sweet conglomeration of sounds going on that seems to kind of bend and drift across genre lines, picking and choosing what you want from a number of places.  I’m curious who you would cite as your major musical influences?

We all come from very different musical backgrounds.   I’m really into early 60’s pop and 90’s indie rock.  Patrick prefers noisy feedback laden no wave and big guitar rock.  Santiago’s really into metal and hardcore. 

What about influences on the band as a whole rather than just individually?

I’d say most of our collective inspiration comes from other bands we play shows with.  We’ve been lucky to play with many amazing performers over the years.  As a collective though, we do all love Ween. 

How would you describe your sound to our readers who might not have ever heard you all before?  Whenever I do these interviews I have to describe a band’s sound into words and I always feel like I’m putting way too many of my own thoughts and perceptions about things into there.  I’m interested how you would describe The Baby Magic in your own words?

We also find it very hard to describe our music!  If I had to say anything though, I would say we try to deliver unpretentious songs that can inspire you to dance, think about life, and have fun.  We try to blend the dynamics of our personalities into our music and hopefully create a unique experience for the listener.

What’s the songwriting process like for The Baby Magic?  Is there someone who usually comes to the rest of the band with an idea for a song or maybe a riff and then works it out with the rest of you all as a unit?  Or, do you all just get together and kick ideas back and forth kind of coming off of the cuff and letting things grow and evolve until you have an idea or something that you’re interested in working on and refining from there?

Lately, we’ve been jamming out a lot and recording ourselves and reviewing parts we thought were awesome, and then playing them again from memory.  But before that, I would bring in lyrics first, and we would work through the songs part by part, changing things over and over again.  Sometimes, the songs come out really quickly and sometimes songs take a super long time.  Everyone comes up with their own parts, but we’re definitely always giving each other ideas of what direction we think would work in certain places. 

What about recording?  I mean, I think that most musicians can appreciate all the time and effort that goes into making an album when you’re finally holding that finished product in your hands.  But getting to that point though and getting things recorded and sounding the way you want them to, especially as a band, can be extremely difficult to say the least and has torn more than one band apart.  What’s it like recording for The Baby Magic?

We know how limited money and time is to record, so we go in super organized and excited.  Of course, we can bump heads here and there, but being in a band of three people, our voting system’s real easy.  Also we never talk to each other disrespectfully.  Raising your voice or using a rude tone isn’t our style.   Although time is limited, we always do our best to work on a sudden idea that may come up.  If it doesn’t work out, at least you tried it.  When recording Rent a Place in Hell Brian Fox was our engineer.  He came into our practice space beforehand and we played and talked about every song and what we wanted from it.  That was very helpful.

Do you all like to take a more DIY approach to recording where you handle the technical aspects of most things on your own, so that you don’t have to work with or compromise with anyone else on the sound?  Or do you head into a studio and let someone else handle that side of things so that you can just concentrate on your music and getting things to sound as good as possible?

We’re not the most technically inclined bunch of musicians, so we definitely require an engineer at this point to assist with the recording.  For our first record, Whoopsy Daisy, we had a producer, Jack Armando, help us refine our music and teach us the all important lesson of self-restraint.  We had great songs, but sometime they carried on longer than necessary.  He also coached us on how to get the most emotion out of each take while recording.  On Rent a Place in Hell, we went without a producer and had more freedom with the structure of the songs.  We appreciate any input we can get in any recording process and hope to avoid self-indulgence.

Is there a lot of time and effort that goes into working out every little aspect of a song, with all the arrangements and compositions locked down and airtight before you go to record and album, or do you all get a good skeletal idea of how a song’s going to sound, while allowing for some evolution and change when necessary during the recording process?

Our songs are constantly evolving.  We do crunch the songs before going in to record just so we don’t waste studio time, but we keep an open mind as we go along in case a better idea emerges.  The songs from Whoopsy Daisy sound pretty different live now.   We try to constantly tweak our music for the better.

Do psychoactive or hallucinogenic drugs play a large or important role in the songwriting, recording or performance processes for The Baby Magic?  I don’t mean that in a negative respect at all.  People have been tapping into the altered mind states that drugs produce for the purpose or making art for thousand of years at this point and I’m simply curious about their usage and application when it comes to the art that I personally enjoy and consume.

What a fun question.  I would definitely have to say that we all smoke weed; some more than others for sure.  I wouldn’t say it’s important in the songwriting process, but it certainly doesn’t hurt.  We’ve all messed around with a lot of different drugs, but other than weed, it’s nothing we do during band time. 

Your first release that I know if was in 2012, the Whoopsy Daisy album.  Can you share some of your memories of recording that first material?  When and where as it recorded?  Who recorded it?  What kind of equipment was used?  Was that self-released or who put that out?  Was that a fun, pleasurable experience or more of a nerve-wracking proposition for you all at that point?

We recorded that album at Strobe, a recording studio in a neighborhood in Chicago, Humboldt Park, in the winter of 2012.  Our producer was Jack Armando from the Chicago band, My Gold Mask.  Balthazar de Ley was our engineer.  They’ve both been working together on Jack’s projects for a while, so they were very familiar with working together.  We mostly used our own instruments, but we did use this awesome old organ that they had on the song “See Means Yes”.  I would like to talk more about the fancy equipment that the studio had, but I can’t.  It was self-released.  We had a lot of fun, although moments of frustration hit us from time to time.  Working through frustration and keeping focus was an important lesson that we learned from this album.  I also learned that I suck at whistling.  We recorded the album in three days total, so we really didn’t have anytime to waste.  We were very happy that we got everything we wanted done in the time we had.

Earlier this year in 2014 you followed up Whoosy Daisy with your sophomore album, Rent A Place In Hell.  Did you all try anything radically new or different when it came to the songwriting or recording of the material for Rent A Place In Hell?  What can our listener expect from the new album?  When and where was it recorded?  Who recorded it and what kind of equipment was used?  Who released Rent A Place In Hell?

With Rent A Place In Hell the listener can expect some of the flavors of Whoopsy Daisy, such as a rough sexual song and a deep song about an animal.  But the similarities stop there.  We wanted a theme to the album.  Putting it shortly; it’s about the freedoms we have, working too much, and the everyday fears that we carry.  Patrick took a lot of time picking out the perfect blend of pedals and structuring the different sounds for each song.  And as for drums; it’s a completely different drummer, so you’ll definitely hear the difference there.  Expect to dance more and not have a moment of boredom.  It was recorded in February of 2014 at Electrical Audio in Chicago.  Brian Fox was our engineer.  He was Santiago’s roommate at the time and our personal lifesaver.  Sorry to disappoint you about not knowing more about the equipment we used.  I will tell you one fun fact though, we got to use tympanis! 

Does The Baby Magic have any music that we haven’t talked about yet, maybe a song on a compilation or a demo that I’m not aware of?

We will be on a compilation called So Fly to be released via Berserk Records with My Gold Mask, Swimsuit Addition, and Absolutely Not by the end of the year.  We have a brand new song on it called “Control Freak”.

With the release of the Rent A Place In Hell album not too awfully long ago at this point, are there any other releases in the works or on the horizon for The Baby Magic at this point?

We’re currently working on new songs and expect to have a new album out as soon as musically possible.

Where’s the best place for our US readers to pick up copies of your music?

We’re in record stores all over Chicago.  As far as the rest of the US goes, we’ve dropped our record off in a lot of cities such as Cleveland, Ohio Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Brooklyn, New York Ashville, North Carolina and Louisville, Kentucky.  We’re planning on reaching out to more places very soon as well.

What about our poor international and overseas readers?  With the completely insane international shipping rates that just seem to keep going up and up, I try and provide our readers with as many possible options as I can for picking stuff up when it comes to imports!

I ’m going to do my best to get some to England soon.  Check out Vinyl Boutique Camden.  Also, if anyone has ideas on what countries might be interested in our music, please let us know and we’ll try our best to send some over.

And where’s the best place for our interested readers to keep up with the latest news, like upcoming shows, tours and album releases at?

As of right now, Facebook.  We understand a lot of people don’t like being dependant on Facebook, but as far as looking good to certain venues it’s an important site to keep up.

Are there any major plans or goals that The Baby Magic is looking to accomplish in the last of 2014 or in 2015?

We would love to get bigger shows with bigger bands.  More listeners would definitely be amazing!

What, if anything, do you all have planned as far as touring goes?

We just came back from a two-week tour and it was awesome.  We plan on touring again the summer of 2015 for sure.  But this coming fall/winter we plan on playing Milwaukee and Madison, Wisconsin, and Minneapolis, Minnesota.  I think we’ll call it “The Short M Tour”.

Do you all spend a lot of time out on the road?  Do you enjoy touring?  What’s life like on tour for The Baby Magic?

We just started really getting used to the road.  We love touring, but money and jobs are an issue.  We all get along really well and enjoy the time that we spend with each other.  Sure, we have shows with packed crowds and sometimes, not so much.  For the most part there are a lot of great bands and old friends that treat us amazing when we are on the road.  I feel like on our last tour certain people pulled out the red carpet and were really amazing.  There were some other nights, though, that were hard to deal with.  One night, a big fight broke out in front of us and we all faked sleeping.  Another night, the band we were supposed to stay with left us and said they forgot their phone in their merch box, luckily for us a girl that lived upstairs from the bar gave us a great place to sleep.  In general, we love tour and wish to do it more.  We love eating food in different places, meeting new people and hearing new bands.  We love drinking different craft beer from all around, and honestly, at the end of the tour, even the struggles become fun stories to talk about on your way home.

Do you remember what the first song that The Baby Magic ever played live was?  Where and when would that have been?

The Baby Magic played our first show at Quenchers in Chicago in August 2008.  Our first song I’m not sure of, but I know that we played a lot of our album Whoopsy Daisy at that show.  Just not as tight, of course.  It was a great show, though.

Who are some of your personal favorite bands that you all have had a chance to play with over the past few years?

Big Freeia, Swimsuit Addition, The Cell Phones, My Gold Mask, Blood Planet, Girl Group Chicago, Waxeater, The Rutabega, and Doomster.

In your dreams, who are you on tour with?

For me, Modest Mouse, but I wouldn’t mind taking Patrick and Santiago’s first choice of Ween.

© Josh Fontenot

Do you all give a lot of thought to the visual aspects so the band that represent the band to a large extent, stuff like flyers, posters, shirt designs, cover artwork and that kind of thing?  Is there any kind of meaning or message that you’re trying to convey or get across with the visual aspects of the band?

Oh, yes!  We love a band art project.  We find it hard to keep with one piece of art and just run with it, though, so our art can seem very jumpy.

Is there anyone that you usually turn to when it comes to your visual needs fro the band?  If so, who is that and how did you originally get hooked up with them?

We’re always changing that up.  We do a lot of the work ourselves as far as the local shows go, but as far as an important artwork such as some of our band photos, record covers and record release show posters, we always look to our expert artist friends. 

With all of the various methods of release that are available to musicians today I’m always curious why artists choose and prefer the various mediums that they do.  Do you have a preferred medium of release for your own music?  What about when you’re listening to or purchasing music?  If you do have a preference, what is it and can you tell us a little bit about why that is?

Our last album Whoopsy Daisy came out on CD, but I really wish we had enough money to put it out on vinyl.  I think vinyl’s a great way to listen to music.  Also, it’s easier to sell since it’s more collectable.  Lately, I’ve been streaming most the music I listen to.

When I was growing up my dad would take me around and he would pick me up random stuff from the local music shops on the weekend and I developed this whole ritual, man! I would rush home, snag a set of headphones, start feverishly reading the liner notes and then just stare at the cover art while the music carried me off on this whole trip!  Having something physical, something concretely connected to the music that I was listening to, always made fro a more complete listening experience for me.  Do you have any such connection with physically released music?

I do at times.  I love album art, but I’m not even close to where you are with it.  Growing up, I listened to mix tapes and the radio mostly.  I did love buying albums here and there.  And in my teenage years I always enjoyed stealing something from time to time.  Security wasn’t too tough in the oldies section at Tower Records…

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

I’m just starting a vinyl collection.  So far I have six.  I have a lot of CDs, but I don’t play them so much right now. 

Like it or not, digital music is here in a big way right now.  I mean there are ups and downs to anything and I think it just depends on how you look at things and utilize them, but when you combine digital music with the internet, well then you have something crazy on your hands.  Together they’ve exposed people to the literal world of music that’s around them and it’s allowed them for the first time to really reach out and talk to those people.  It’s eradicated a lot of geographic boundaries that would have crippled bands even a few years ago.  On the other hand though, while people are aware of all this new music, they’re not necessarily very interested in paying for it.  It’s harder and harder to get noticed in the digital jungle these days, and while I think that people’s relationship and interaction with music is constantly evolving and no one was getting rich from record sales on an indie or local level, digital music has really altered people’s perceptions of what music should cost and how it should be consumed, and I’m not sure that digital music has done any of us any favors in those regards.  As an artist during the reign of the digital era, what’s your opinion on digital music and distribution?

On one hand, it’s great to know that anyone can hear it.  If it wasn’t for digital music would I have this interview?  Sure, maybe the money situation would be different, but at the end of the day, more art is out there at your fingertips and I love that factor.  Also, we’re realizing how many people that make art are out there, and can we pay them all?  I hope one day we can.  That’s why my favorite music site is Bandcamp.  You can hear any band that wants to be there and everyone gets paid a fair price.  I really do wish that music paid like it used to and hope for the best.

I try to keep up with as many good bands as I possibly can but with so much good stuff out there it’s hard to know where to even start sometimes.  Is there any from your local scene or area that I should be listening to that I might not have heard of before?

Rat Hammer, Absolutely Not, The Cell Phones, Swimsuit Addition, TOOFUNCHILD, there are a lot of great bands here in Chicago but this’ a good start.

Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me about the band.  I know this took a while, but I swear I’m done, no more questions!  As you were so generous with your time though, I’d like to open the floor up to you for a moment.  Is there anything that I could have possibly missed or that you might just want to take this opportunity to talk to me or the readers about at this point?

Patrick and I started a band before The Baby Magic.  We started out of the pure love of wanting to perform.  We still play together with those same ideals along with Santiago.  Together, we’re all so grateful for people like you that care and spread the word.  So, thank you very much and keep up the great work!

(2012)  The Baby Magic – Whoopsy Daisy – Digital, CD – Self-Released(?)
(2014)  The Baby Magic – Rent A Place In Hell – Digital, 12” – Self-Released(?)

© Carrie Shemanski

Interview made by Roman Rathert/2014
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