Hello, my name is Loren Jan Wilson and I am a musician. (The customary greeting at my "Musicians Anonymous" 12-step meetings.)
I spent a while in denial. For the first 5 or 6 years, I was careful to never refer to myself as a musician. I'd say it was only a hobby, or that the word "musician" did not properly define me as a person. I thought that I didn't have the right to call myself a musician because I never got particularly good at any instruments. Eventually, though, I got over it.
Life has a way of taking you down different paths from the ones you meant to travel. The actions that I take come from obsessions and addictions more than anything else; my analytical brain fears the unknown and tries to plan everything out, but over time, general trends of my behavior prove that I veered sharply away from those plans.
It was never my plan to make music, originally. I might have been much happier not doing it. But as far back as I can remember, I imagined myself singing on a stage in front of people. As a child, every time I heard a song that I really liked, I sang along and dreamed about the days I would be able to sing on stage; that was just the way I grew up. There never seemed to be another option.
It humbles me to compile and present this discography; I feel a lot of strong emotions about it, and the associated nostalgia stings. This collection of music is the product of an addiction that I could not escape, and together it accounts for the largest amount of passionate effort that I ever put into anything. It spans over 20 years, cost tens of thousands of dollars, and along the way, introduced me to tons of close friendships (most of which are sadly not part of my life now). It is not the complete story of my life, but it is one of the most significant parts of it. Here is the place I put many of my hopes and dreams.
I am able to post my music up here because I still own all the rights. I never signed a recording contract or publishing contract with a label, never had a manager or lawyer, never did funded tours or associated myself with bigger names or clawed my way up the popularity ladder. I never went to a real studio or used a producer, either; everything here was recorded by me at home, for budgetary reasons. This was not by choice—I always had bigger dreams and wanted my music to reach larger audiences. I just couldn't figure out how to make it happen. I had to make this music no matter what, but I would have liked to reach a larger audience, to attain some level of legitimacy, to have a career of sorts.
This music tells a story, then, of how I spent 20 years and a whole lot of effort doing something I felt driven to do. I don't think this story necessarily has a happy ending. This is not the kind of story that would go viral on your favorite social networking site or inspire a Hollywood movie. It's not the kind of thing people like to hear about. But in my case, I hope you understand. Sad movie but at least it ended up with a pretty good soundtrack.
This is also a document of many close friendships over the years. And if you are part of this story, if you show up on one of these tracks, please know that I sure do miss you a lot, and I wish we could go back to that time and see each other again and write the songs we never had time to write.
I started playing the guitar in 1993 and started releasing homemade recordings in 1995. This is not a complete discography because a lot of the things from the first several years are rather embarrassing, but I tried to post all of the interesting things, and the majority of the songs I wrote after 2001 are included.
Click a tab above to go to that page, and click a song title to play it in the player below. The volume is normalized somewhat, and many tracks are remastered. Enjoy.
As a recording musician, I spent about 5 years experimenting with various things and getting my bearings. My dad bought me a used drum machine in 1993 or so, as a birthday present, which really got things started at home. (It was an Alesis HR-16.) Most 14 year olds in 1993 didn't have access to drum machines.
My first release was made with my best friend from high school, Chad Flahive. We have a ton of cassette demos from around this time, but we made only one finished "studio" track with our first band, which is the song here. We recorded it by bouncing back and forth between two cheap cassette decks. Please note that there is a synthesizer used on this song (thanks to Suzanne Prescott); please also note that there are samples of Brad Pitt's voice here, well before I could afford sampling technology.
That's me singing; it sounds to me now like a combination of Henry Rollins, Kathleen Hanna, and Ministry, which makes sense considering that I was listening to a lot of them at the time. Please forgive us for any creative indiscretions—we were 16 years old.
Catalysis was a duo of myself and Justin Gerst, another friend from high school. We were heavily influenced by Skinny Puppy and Depeche Mode and Front 242. At first, Chad and Justin and I were a trio and we played a show together, but after that show, we split into two different bands (the other being the more rock-influenced Valve, below).
Justin and I shared singing duties; the tracks above are some of the ones that I sang on. We played a bunch of shows in coffee shops and student centers and such, and when we played, we carried all of our synthesizers and drum machines and computers and sequenced everything live, and it was a total pain in the ass. I'm shocked at how well it went, considering how much gear we had.
Justin and I wrote about 20 songs during the two years that we worked together. We released two homemade cassette EPs as well as a cassette single, 50 copies of each. We also recorded a full-length CD but became less active after that. It was too hard to keep working on music and also keep from failing out of school. I also got the bug to write and record solo material, which took me in other directions.
Valve was formed during summer break, 1997. Chad Flahive and I were both home from college, and Chad met a fantastic guitar player named Phil Hunger that he wanted to work with; the three of us formed Valve and wrote four songs in order to play them at a coffee shop fundraiser sometime around the 4th of July. (The show itself was outdoors on a real stage with a real soundsystem, quite a treat, although it was so hot and we were so sleep-deprived that I don't really remember it at all. I wish we had a recording of it.)
Chad and I spent the rest of the summer recording our 4 songs using primitive digital multitracking software and whatever gear we could borrow. We recorded it in my parents' living room, setting up there for a few months. It obviously sounds kind of dated and homemade, but we were happy with it at the time compared to other things that our friends were making. I did not own studio monitors or a nice stereo system until 2003, so we couldn't really tell what we were doing in the mixing process.
My lyrics here are absolutely terrible, but I didn't realize that until fairly recently, which is proof that you do keep growing and maturing artistically in your 30s.
Coaster was an electronic improvisation project that my college roommate Chris Jeris and I started together. We pulled in our friends Ben Recht and Phil Hunger to join us. We played two shows, both at the same venue (the University of Chicago coffee shop concert series, also known as "The Flow").
The track above is the first piece we played at our first live show, which we recorded live on my computer and released on CD-R as "coaster live june 3 1998".
Between 1998 and 2000, I wrote and recorded three albums of material on my own, using some new loop-friendly audio multitrack software. I didn't include all of the songs here, but here are the highlights from those years. There are some early examples of me trying to find my "pop" voice (especially on the first track above).
At this time, I was broke and was constantly begging at the Bursar's office for them to give me extensions on paying my college tuition bills. Sometimes, Chris fronted me money for my half of the month's rent, and I would pay him back later (Don't think I forgot... thank you, Chris). I had my eye out for sales, though, and bought a couple of rack synthesizers for cheap prices, which I used to make most of the sounds on these songs. At the time, it was still impractical to use in-computer software to make sounds, especially on the PC computers that I was able to get my hands on. (I was able to make a few computer music pieces on the music department's swanky Macs though... I wish I still had copies of those recordings.)
I played several solo shows around the University of Chicago campus and would sell homemade copies of these CD-Rs at my shows (for $3 or $5, I can't remember). I remember feeling like I wanted to be a part of something but I didn't know how to meet other musicians, and my neighborhood felt musically dead... no music reviews in the local papers, no band fliers, kind of just a lull in the action.
In November 1999, I set up an email list/forum for musicians called "email@example.com" and put up a bunch of fliers around Hyde Park encouraging people to sign up. I put a bunch of energy into making "personal profiles" for each musician that I met... it was sort of an early social networking site, a few years before things like Friendster existed. The people I met through that experience pulled me through the next 8 or 9 years of my musical life.
Planethrower was the first band that I put together using musicians that I met through my "Hyde Park musicians" email forum. I wanted to have a band to play the shows around campus that people on the list were putting together, something more than a solo project, and it seemed like making experimental improvisational music would be the easiest way to achieve that goal. I had just become a DJ at WHPK and was listening to a lot of experimental music, so it made sense for me.
The lineup was:
Mio Alter and Slava Balasanov also played with us from time to time, and experimental musician Vertonen played with us during the show pictured here.
When we played shows, I would give everyone a compositional cue before each piece, such as "Play a sine wave-modulated tempo that starts out at a narrow modulation and ends using large, wide tempo shifts" or "Play quietly, and when I wave my hand, go crazy with loud noise; then when I wave my hand again, get quiet again." We had a few of these types of rules that we would organize into a setlist at each show. All of my vocals and lyrics were improvised on the spot, just whatever would come to mind at the time.
These recordings are from our live on-air session at Pure Hype on WHPK 88.5 FM, recorded sometime in 2001. John Dunlevy and Mike Shecket engineered the session and they did an incredibly good job taming the chaos.
The photos above are of Planethrower playing our last show in May 2001 which was at an outdoor festival called Lollapalivingroom, behind the University of Chicago student center. They were taken by Alec Wood.
It's difficult for me to talk about Starlister. I'll try to outline our history and avoid getting emotional about it, but Starlister was my first true love, the first thing I did that people really responded to. I put everything I had into it, for better or for worse.
Starlister began accidentally in December 2000, as I was putting together a few songs for this EP which served as a Christmas present for some friends. Mio Alter left his bass at my apartment and this was the first time that I was able to use the bass guitar as a writing tool. I was listening to my friends' bands Vitesse and Boyracer at the time, and I had come across The Pastels at the WHPK record library.
I can't remember what else was influencing me to make pop music—I just remember naturally moving in a pop direction. Maybe the contrast from Planethrower's experimental/noise jam nature helped its appeal. I took a week of vacation from work to finish these four songs.
Over the next year, I kept playing in Planethrower and made a few copies of this EP for friends, putting these songs up on my Hyde Park Musicians webpage. I didn't think much of it, but over time, people kept telling me how much they liked the EP. When Planethrower died off over the summer of 2001, it occurred to me that perhaps I could start a new band to play this material live.
Sara Johnsen, my girlfriend, also knew how to play keyboards, so the two of us built a band. I recruited Becky Stark from the band Drexel as drummer, and we tried out a couple of bass players. Robert Voyer (of Millimeters Mercury) joined the band for a bit as our bassist, but for reasons I can't remember, he dropped out, and Becky's roommate Emily Bernstein joined us instead. None of us were great at our instruments; every practice was a struggle at first.
I booked two shows for the end of January 2002 and I brainstormed the name "Starlister" for the band. Right before our first two shows, I finished two more songs so we would have 6 songs to play in our set.
Here are some photos from the first lineup of the band. A couple of them were part of a photo shoot with Paul Martinez from Galaxy of Mailbox Whores, and a few are from our very first show in the basement of Pierce Hall. I was surprised to find that I didn't have more documentation of the first lineup—if you're reading this and you have photos or audio recordings, please send them to me.
There is something really stimulating about being in a brand new band with shows booked. I'm not sure what it is—it's that bootstrap energy, you know? You don't have enough material for a full set and you're forced to write new songs by a particular deadline. It doesn't always feel good and you don't always end up writing the best things, but it's a productive atmosphere, for sure.
Between the last two songs and the next four songs, we played 11 shows, almost all of them in Hyde Park. By the time we played Lollapalivingroom II on May 14, 2002, we had a new 4-song EP to give out to everyone.
As many Hyde Park groups did, we became inactive between May and October, over the summer break. (Everyone leaves campus during those months.) We booked a particularly hard-to-book venue on December 29, 2002, the Empty Bottle, and for that show I wrote and recorded 2 more songs which we gave to the people who came to that show as a thank-you for attending in the cold over the holidays.
We played a bunch more shows through May 2003, 29 shows in total with this lineup. Both Emily and Becky moved away and we took another summer off. When friends offered us a show at Lyons Den in November 2003, Sara and I recruited Robert Voyer again on bass guitar and we got Brian Sulpizio (of Health&Beauty) to play drums for us. We played about 10 shows with this new lineup over the next 7 months.
In the meantime, I was trying to help run a compilation record label called Mr. Hyde Records, so I wrote and recorded a couple of new Starlister songs for our compilations. We also recorded new versions of some of our older songs with our new lineup, recorded with the whole band playing at once in my bedroom, and I sent the new versions of the songs to venues and booked some bigger shows.
Here are some photos of this second lineup of the band. The photo shoot is with Patrick Woods (the bassist of P1xel and the Chronic Network), and the good live photos were taken by John Dunlevy.
In all, Starlister played about 40 shows, and I wrote 14 songs. I can't quite remember now exactly why I broke up the band, but I remember feeling sad about my breakup with Sara, and not knowing how to take things further creatively. It felt harder and harder to write these kinds of songs alone and I didn't know how to involve other people in the writing process. It was always a difficult time moving things along, booking shows, trying to get people to come out to the shows, scheduling band practice around everyone's other projects, and I felt tired and needed a break. I was not that great at leading a band, and we had hit the ceiling of my own limitations.
At our last few shows, we tried out a couple of people on second guitar, Nilay Patel (who later joined the Heaven Seventies) and Nick Hudac (from The Goddamn Shame). I have video footage of both of those shows and maybe someday I'll have a way to digitize it and post it here.
Some people that we met along the way were incredibly supportive and I will always be thankful to them... John Dunlevy (WHPK Pure Hype sound engineer and Loud Devices records owner), Shelly Steffens (sound engineer at Empty Bottle), Neptali Figueroa (manager of Scotland Yard Gospel Choir), Chris Baronner (booking agent at Metro and Double Door). Our last show as a band was at the Empty Bottle in June 2005.
Below are some alternate and live versions I found while I was going through the archives to build this page.
I love the ambient ending on this studio version, and the live drum sound. I constructed the ending by hand in an audio editor.
This version of the song is almost punk rock. We recorded it live in my basement bedroom at Everett. Sorry about the claustrophobic drum sound, that was entirely my fault.
Starlister inspired a lot of love, and you can feel it when the chorus kicks in and everyone in the room sings along.
I occasionally played some blistering guitar solos and this was definitely one of my best.
This song used to have a totally different chorus before we recorded the studio version, and here's the original version. This was also the first show of the new lineup.
Here's an entire live set on Pure Hype. Starlister played Pure Hype twice, once in May 2002 and again in January 2004. John Dunlevy and Ben Edmonds engineered and did a fantastic job; I believe Pat Reisinger was assisting that night, too.
A discussion of Starlister's history is not complete without a mention of our experimental side project Retsilrats. (Yes, that's Starlister backwards. So mysterious!)
Even though I was in a pop band, I was still spending most of my time listening to much more experimental music. Occasionally, one of our friends would offer us a show booking where a straightforward Starlister set wouldn't be appropriate, and in that case, we would perform a Retsilrats piece instead.
Retsilrats was kind of a "fluxus"-style performance group, in that we would perform pieces that were written out in advance as a basic set of instructions. At one point, each of our pieces was written out in text on a dedicated Retsilrats website, but I never sent out or promoted the URL, so it was something that people had to search for in order to find.
We did four live performances as Retsilrats and released three recordings, one of which was never performed live, for a total of five separate Retsilrats pieces. Sometimes audiences would be amused, sometimes they would ignore us and talk over us, and sometimes they would respond harshly (a couple of thrown water bottles hit me during one of our performances at The Mutiny.) Here is a listing of the Retsilrats pieces in order, including recordings where applicable.
Instructions: Acquire food that you would like to eat. Eat the food. Record or amplify the results.
We performed this at Tim Aher's "Festival of Marginalized Subgenres" in November 2002. We put a dinner table on stage, Ben Edmonds put microphones all around it, and we ate dinner for 15 minutes in front of confused noise musicians and experimental music fans. If I recall correctly, Geoff Guy and Chris Sienko, both of the band Gays in the Military, came up on stage and ate our food with us. The track below is a studio recording of this piece by just Sara and myself which appeared on the comp CD that Tim put together for this show.
Instructions: Play a song. Switch instruments. Play the same song again. Repeat until every person has played every instrument.
This piece was never performed live, but this studio recording of it was the third track on our "Several Hearts Stopped/Sweetest Possible Decline" Empty Bottle EP.
Instructions: Perform using only toy instruments.
We performed this piece at The Mutiny in March 2003, opening up for Gays in the Military and IQ32. Each of us played a toy instrument, and I processed the toy instruments using a tape delay. We then recorded the show on toy cassette (a microcassette mini recorder). At some point during this recording you can hear this exchange:
Chris Sienko: "They're pretty good, huh?"
Unknown female: "They're pretty cute."
Chris: "I think so, also."
Instructions: Stage a rave in protest of the "RAVE Act".
For this piece, performed April 2003, the United States had just passed a new "Illicit Drug Anti-Proliferation Act" (previously known as the RAVE Act, which stands for "Reducing Americans' Vulnerability to Ecstasy", no shit.) This act used some fuzzy wording that could make concert promoters legally liable for any drug use happening at one of their events, and specifically named "glow sticks" and "bottled water" as things which could be used as evidence that a space was specifically being used as a "drug-using space". Joe Biden wrote it and attached it to the AMBER Alert bill so it got passed without a debate or a vote.
We protested this by putting on a 20-minute "rave" during a show on the UChicago campus, complete with "dance remixes" of Starlister songs. We put on some raver clothes, set up some quick dance lights, sang live, and encouraged the crowd to dance. We also handed out a few different pseudoreligious tracts made by Sara which promoted dancing as religion. The metal band Astomatous played right after us, which I'm sure was a fun contrast.
Here is a studio recording of this performance. It's the track we played at the show, with studio-overdubbed vocals on two of the songs instead of the live vocals that we sang at the time.
Instructions: Pretend you are the band playing right after yours.
In May 2003, we opened for Gays in the Military and Hair Police at The Mutiny. GitM went on right after us; they were a band known for playing in nothing except their (camouflage!) underwear. We took off some clothes, got on stage, picked up their instruments, announced ourselves as Gays in the Military, and played through four GitM songs from memory (very, very badly...we didn't practice this or anything). I thought we were at least hilarious. No recording of this one, unfortunately.
While Starlister was active, I worked on a lot of other music, too. Here are my favorite side projects from that era.
I continued making solo music during Starlister, exploring the more experimental parts of my music taste. I am particularly proud of "Flower & Mimicry", which uses a fretless guitar that I built to "mimic" a vocal collage of my own singing that happens later in the track. "Skin Glows" was intended to be an ambient interlude for the Starlister full-length album that never materialized.
The Pubes were a collaboration between me and Brian Sulpizio from Health&Beauty. Nikhil Nadkarny was also a member at first, and as a trio we wrote and recorded this four-song EP which we finished in December 2002. Jon Douglas joined us on second guitar after that and we played a single show at Prodigal Son on March 2, 2003, after which we disbanded.
I am particularly proud of this record because of how different it is from the rest of the things I've worked on, and how good it is considering how little time we spent working on it. Brian and I both sing; we wrote the music first by playing together all at once, then added vocals after that. The songs came from improvisational jamming and aren't built into pop song structures. Also, I play drums on a couple of these tracks.
In order to graduate college finally (5 years overdue!) I did a project called Pitchformula where I wrote some computer software to analyze Pitchfork music reviews and then wrote and recorded songs based on what the Pitchfork critics might like. Those two songs are here, along with a radio interview on WLUW where I explain a bit about the project. The songs were written in May 2004; I did four demos, chose the best two, and spent about a month in total writing the songs and producing the recordings.
Some small recording notes: the drums on Kissing God were originally played by Brian Sulpizio in my bedroom and then sampled and edited by me. The violin and cello on Kissing God were played by Sarah Powers and Deirdre Kelly.
J. Niimi (of Ashtray Boy & John Huss Moderate Combo) interviewed me and wrote an article about Pitchformula for the Chicago Reader and it landed right on the front page, which you can see here.
For the 5th compilation CD on Mr. Hyde Records, released April 20, 2005, I recorded and produced a ton of tracks by Hyde Park musicians. I'm very proud of the recording work I did at that time, it was some of the best work I ever did for other people. I made the following two songs in the beginning of 2005 and they appeared on the compilation.
"If I Leave Without You" was credited to Starlister but it really wasn't a Starlister song, although we did play it live a couple times in 2005. It sounds more like The Heaven Seventies which came into existence the next year. We played this song live at several of the Heaven Seventies shows and it fit much better with that aesthetic.
"Chokejackers" were a punk band that Alexis Becker and I created. For this recording, Chris Vlasses played drums and Nick Hudac played bass guitar. We wrote the music as a group and Alexis wrote the lyrics and we overdubbed the vocals together. We tried to write one more song with Brian Sulpizio on drums but we couldn't get it to come together, and we broke up shortly after.
After I stopped writing Starlister songs and before I started the Heaven Seventies, there was an 18 month period where I was not leading a band. After my experience with Pitchformula, it was hard for me to justify making music for public consumption. It was a time of transition in general—many of my music friends left Hyde Park for one reason or another and I felt a bit lost in the shuffle. There was some upheaval going on in my personal life during this time, too, which provided motivation for me to write songs again.
I wrote and recorded these using an old acoustic 12-string guitar that I found on Craigslist. Sometimes a piece of music equipment can inspire songwriting and I'm sure that guitar inspired these songs.
I wrote this song with Robert Voyer for a one-off show that we played at a party at Ruthie Hansen's house on my birthday. It was my first attempt to make candy pop music, and I just let myself write something very quickly without worrying about how it might come across. It still gets stuck in my head from time to time, even though this live recording is the only place it was ever recorded. If you want to get a sense of the vibe at this show, Ruthie Hansen posted a bunch of photos of it on her flickr account.
This was the first of these acoustic demos. The line "I'll love you 'til the end" was later changed to "and hold me close again" which is much better in my opinion.
Lixian and I wrote part of this song in January 2006 while we were recording "Rachel's New Apartment" for the 6th Mr. Hyde compilation, and finished it in May 2006 for the comp release show that we played as a duo. We also played a version of "Won't Go Back Again" at that show, as well as a couple of Lixian's songs. Here's a photo from the show:
I had the idea that we could make an electronic production to go along with this song but I didn't really like the result at the time, so I didn't finish it. I thought it sounded too corny and I didn't know how to fix it. I really like it now that I listen back to it, though.
I wrote this the same week that Lixian and I wrote "When All We Have Is Gone". A lot of my songs were inspired by a secret or unrequited crush, and this was certainly an example of that.
I wrote this song after a tough breakup. It really trashed my self-esteem, and this song was one of the things I had to say about it. It didn't come out perfectly and if I went back to play this song again today, I'd change a lot of the less-important words.
This song was also about my breakup and this one never really felt finished to me, like it needs a bridge or something.
Another unrequited crush lead to another song. I really like the line "Am I better when I'm just a friendly face and a struggle not to mention?" Sorry about the vocal performance on this demo.
I wrote this for someone's birthday after we started dating and I really like it. It doesn't quite go with the rest of these because the Heaven Seventies were in full swing by this time, but thematically it certainly fits.
There are two versions of the story of the Heaven Seventies; the short version and the long version.
The short version: starting in late 2006, I put a new band together of the best musicians I knew. We did a bunch of things correctly, and in about two years from our first show we burned our way to the top of the Chicago club circuit. We never got a recording contract or a manager or anything like that, but we played a bunch of fantastic and memorable shows at the best venues in town and drew a few large crowds. We also got our music played on Q101 and WXRT, the two major Chicago rock radio stations.
If you're new to this story, we released our songs a single at a time and never made an album. Here are our best recorded songs, my version of an H70s album after the fact:
We accomplished all of this in Chicago, a city that lacks strong local music support. If we had done it in Los Angeles or New York, maybe my life would be different now. Bands that get started in Chicago don't tend to work with record labels, don't tend to have managers, don't tend to hire publicists; it's not that they wouldn't, but they usually can't find them. There are lots of bands and relatively few people supporting the bands. So we hit the Chicago ceiling, and once we did, where else could we go?
I've never been comfortable treading water—if I were, I couldn't have made this music in the first place. But I still love Chicago, no matter what. I just don't know if I could start another band there.
So that's the short version of the H70s story. What follows is the complete history. I'll try to tell the story as best I can.
In late 2006, I wanted to start a new band, and I had been playing around with making dance beats for quite a while. I really wanted the new band to be more of a songwriting democracy, with the hope that we would make music that would surprise me in some way and pull me out of my post-Starlister stagnation. And honestly, I missed singing on stage.
I invited a couple of people over to my studio space (also known as my bedroom) to brainstorm and demo ideas. The "dream team" that I had in mind for writing songs consisted of Gabe McElwain (of P1xel and the Chronic Network & Millimeters Mercury) and Will Long (of First Coat & The 68s). Gabe, Will, and I started meeting up for writing sessions starting in October 2006.
Working with Gabe and Will was creatively stimulating for me. Two or three times a week, Gabe and I would get slices of pizza from the place down the street and work from 5:30 pm until 1 or 2 am. On separate days, Will would come over and we'd work on our own demos, too, and sometimes all three of us would join up and work on the songs. I couldn't have asked for a better team of people.
In about a month, the three of us came up with instrumental ideas and melodies for our first four songs. Here are the earliest demos of our first set of songs:
We worked hard to write great melodies before we ever tackled writing lyrics. Here are our original melody demos for these songs:
I set up a wiki for the band, and we used it to have a lot of conversations about the aesthetic choices we needed to make while working on these songs. At the beginning, we decided on this general approach:
I found myself incorporating influences into this material that had always felt taboo to me before, things like major label pop music and hip hop. I had always liked those things but felt like it wouldn't be cool or proper for me to show it. So the Heaven Seventies helped me be myself as a songwriter, to be more honest about what I liked and fight my fear of embarrassment.
Production of our first four songs happened very slowly, because we didn't know exactly how we wanted to sound and we didn't have much experience when it came to "producing" tracks. I was learning a lot of techniques by trial and error, and we threw a lot of ideas away and kept going back to the drawing board.
Our friends in the band Cola Wars offered us the opening slot at Elbo Room on April 25, 2007, opening for Jose Ayerve's band Spouse. We took it and used the show date as a deadline to get our act together. We recruited Nilay Patel (of The 68s) and put him in charge of live visuals; he and Gabe made videos for each of our four songs, and Nilay and Will built a DiY rear-projection screen. Nilay also got us our second show on May 25, 2007, at The Hideout for the Gapers Block blog anniversary party.
A fantastic little detail: We went out shopping with a fashion artist named Alicia Elliott before our first shows so she could help us buy "stage clothes". These are the skinniest jeans I had ever purchased at the time, although before the end of the band, my jeans got even skinnier. But I just want to say for the record that Will looks great here, doesn't he?
Here are some photos I found from this first phase of the band.
We also posted live videos from both of these shows on YouTube. As I watch these now, I'm surprised at how good these sounded even though we didn't have any studio recordings finished yet.
After our first two shows, Gabe left the group because of some silly arguments I insisted on having. To make a long story short, I sacrificed things that were important to my present and future in order to retain control over something in my past, and I deeply regret that. I'd get into more details here but it would only end up making me look even worse than I already do. (It wasn't about a girl, though, in case you were wondering. At least that would have landed us in the tabloids.)
So, over the rest of 2007, the remaining three of us finished and released some of our studio recordings. Here are the best available studio versions of our first four songs (our studio version of "Seventeen" was never completed):
Another thing that I did around this time was directly engage some dance-minded musicians in Chicago, sending them remix stems of our tracks. We were able to release a "CDY Remixes" EP the week after releasing CDY itself, which is pretty amazing and, you know, professional-looking. (Looks are very important in this game, trust me.)
Beginning in July, Will and Nilay and I started writing another song ("In the Morning Light"), but Gabe was my main writing partner and the loss was quite evident. That's not to say that Will and Nilay aren't talented musicians, but I felt like we spent several months getting into the groove and then pressed the reset button. I also started a new day job in July which was more stressful and required a longer commute, and in hindsight, that probably contributed to the issue as well.
Whatever the reason was, it was really hard for me to sit down to write and I just didn't feel very inspired. Also, I didn't want to bang out songs on my own out of desperation and risk alienating the rest of the group, or worse, come up with something bad. Our previous songs set a very high bar and we felt like we had to meet or exceed it—the classic "sophomore slump" conundrum. "In the Morning Light" didn't end up getting finished until May 2008, almost 10 months later.
A piece of trivia: while I was looking through the archives, I found out that the verse of "In the Morning Light" was based on a guitar demo by Nilay back in 2004. Here's that demo, and also the first version that Will and Nilay made in 2007, where Will first came up with the iconic post-chorus guitar/bass hook.
As a trio, we played 3 shows in the rest of 2007. Our first was a daytime set in early September during the UChicago student orientation festival, which was pretty great; they gave me a wireless microphone and I ran all around the quad while I sang. We played later in September at Subterranean in Wicker Park, and Alex Kramer (the guitar player of Welcome to Cambridge at that time, and later half of the duo A&R) did a photo shoot of us before we played. Here are my favorite photos from that shoot:
And here are some photos that Alex took during our set later that night:
Our third show was at Subterranean again on December 30, 2007, also known as Will Long Day (which is another long story). My sister Kaytee joined us on backing vocals for the first time, and the house was completely packed, sold out in fact. Unfortunately, we ran into some equipment issues that night and things went extremely poorly. We always ran the visuals and the audio on the same computer so they could play in sync, which seemed like a good idea at the time, but a cable problem to the projector caused the video—and also the audio—to stop repeatedly during our first song. I don't remember exactly how we got through the show, but I think we had to turn off the visuals entirely. I was pretty torn up about it.
The Heaven Seventies kicked a ton of ass in 2008.
After feeling humiliated by our last show in 2007, I felt like I had something to prove. The first thing I did was create a finished acoustic demo for "In the Morning Light". The lyrics were written by me; I came up with the chorus first, and then wrote a bunch of different lines for the verse. Will and I got together and made little pieces of paper with each verse line on them and assembled the best lines into a song structure.
Later in January 2008, I produced a couple of hot dance beats (one of which would later become "ITML remix") and handed a CD-R of them to a few Chicago rappers at a hip-hop night at Subterranean, where we met Platinum, Tek, and Khalfani. That same month, I also indulged in a guilty pleasure that's a little harder to explain... I wrote new lyrics and re-recorded the song "Shawty Is a 10", originally by The Dream.
In rap music, rappers will take beats made popular by other rappers, rap their own verses on top of those beats, and release them on their bootleg mixtapes. I thought it would be really great if a rock band did that, too. So when I had "Shawty Is a 10" stuck in my head one day, I found myself writing new lyrics for it in my head, wrote some of them down, and finished this new version in about two days. Then Will came over and put a guitar solo on it, and in a fun twist, Nilay spent a couple of days making a fan-style lyrics video for it:
It seemed like an unlikely place to pull inspiration from, based on the things we had all done in the past, but it worked and people responded well (it got tons of views and positive comments on YouTube).
I invited Khalfani and Tek over to record a couple of their songs in my bedroom at the end of February, and we ended up with two tracks by April. One of the songs, "Bang Until You Pass Out", I remixed into an "H70s Juke Remix", and the other song, "Make You Famous", was built around a beat by Tek. I engineered and mixed these, sang the hook on "Make You Famous", and did a guest rap verse on "Bang".
Meanwhile, as a band, Will and Nilay and I spent the next few months finishing up "In the Morning Light" and we released it in May 2008:
Will and I also made an acoustic video of ITML in my bedroom on June 3, 2008 to help promote the song online:
Right after that, Nilay and Will and I did another pop song rewrite, this time of Mariah Carey's "Touch My Body":
Our talented friend Kyle Kramer shot a video of us goofing around in our new practice space on our cheap camera. It took us about four hours to shoot. Afterwards I was completely exhausted and took a nap, and when I woke up, I had this "oh my god, what did I just do?" morning-after realization moment. The video turned out great, though, thanks to Kyle and Nilay:
Around this time, I sent some CD-Rs to major Chicago radio stations, and the rap and pop stations wouldn't touch us, but the local rock stations responded very well. In the latter half of 2008, we got played on Q101's "Local 101" local music show, and also on WXRT's "Local Anesthetic Capsule":
Our first show in 2008 was July 24, 2008 at the newly-reopened Bottom Lounge. For this show, we pulled Brian Sulpizio into the group on live drums (he didn't end up playing Bottom Lounge due to a schedule conflict but he played the rest of our 2008 shows), and we pulled Tek and Khalfani on stage with us to play "Make You Famous" at the end of our set. Kyle Kramer shot a really great video of the Bottom Lounge show but the audio was so trashed that we never released it...hopefully the tape is still sitting at Nilay's house somewhere.
Our friend Sarah Powers (violin player in The Soft Addictions and on my Pitchformula songs) did a photo shoot with us before this show and I invited Gabe to take part in it, too. With Tek, Khalfani, Kaytee, and Gabe in our photos, the Heaven Seventies transformed from a trio into a big, hot-looking crew. We got a lot of mileage out of this set of photos...I sent them to every music media contact in the city.
Nilay got temporary tattoos printed up for this show, a totally great promotional tactic, and you can see them on Will and Khalfani in a couple of the shots.
And here are a few live snapshots from that Bottom Lounge show:
We played five total shows in the latter half of 2008—the aforementioned show at Bottom Lounge, a Lollapalooza afterparty at Reggie's Rock Club, two shows at Darkroom, and one at Abbey Pub just after my birthday on a particularly wintry night. Our friend Rudra Banerji directed a multi-camera video of our entire Abbey Pub show, and we never finished mixing and editing it, but maybe someday we will. Here is a rough version of Coldest Day of the Year from that show, recently improved with a new audio mix by me:
I also finished two more tracks in the last half of 2008. The first one, "Just Let Me Love You", was a song I wrote for our friends Conor and Deirdre, who put together a compilation of songs written by their friends for their upcoming wedding. I finished this on August 24, 2008. We never officially released it, but we played it at a lot of our shows, with a rap verse by Wattson. (I rapped the verse on this studio demo version.)
The second song I finished during the last half of 2008 was this "rap remix" of "In the Morning Light". I had this idea that the same chorus could be used as the hook for a rap song, and one of the beats I made back in January worked perfectly for it. The extremely talented Ill Legit, Wattson, and Khalfani came by and recorded fantastic verses and I spent quite a while getting the mix right. We finally released it on October 6, 2008.
At the beginning of 2009, our plan was that we would make a full-length album and do some regional weekend tours. We ended up doing neither of those things, but we did play Double Door in March and Metro in July, two personal milestones for us. We also got some blog love and got interviewed in the Chicago Tribune's Redeye magazine.
Our friend Kyle Kramer was working with an unbelievably talented photographer named Kevin Banna around this time, and he hooked us up with a photo shoot backstage at our Double Door show. I can't stress enough how good this photo is.
Right before the Double Door show, I wrote this electro house track called "I Wanna Fuck". I produced a beat, did a couple of rapped verses, then had my roommate Jessie Rodnick do the chorus with me. I had been following the whole electro house thing ever since I heard it late night on Chicago radio, and of course I had been going to a lot of clubs to promote the band, too, and it was just a sound I was really excited to try on. I wrote it in about four days, and I sent it to my girlfriend for her birthday.
Just to test the waters, I sent the track to one blog, the famous electro house blog "310 Electro"... and to my total surprise, they actually posted it, along with a very nice writeup about how good it was. Then one of our friends sent it to a friend at Chicagoist...and they posted about it too. Our first taste of blog love! (And hate. Tons of blog comment hate. That's how it goes, I guess.)
Speaking of love, we also got interviewed in Redeye magazine as promo for our Double Door show. I had been sending them demos for quite a while but I guess "local band headlines at Double Door" seemed like a big enough deal to actually write about us. Here's a scan of the article:
The story of how we booked Metro is a funny one. Back in 2007, Nilay met a guy named Joe Hall who said he was interning at Metro, so he sent them a CD and emailed joe@metro to find out what he thought of the CD. But it turned out that joe@metro is the email address of the legendary owner of the Metro, Joe Shanahan. Nilay did not know this. Joe Shanahan wrote us back to say that Nilay had contacted the wrong Joe, but also that he heard our CD and liked it and would find us a date at Metro. Holy shit, right?
It took us from 2007 to the middle of 2009 to get that date at Metro, and when they gave it to us, it was a Saturday night. A band called "I Fight Dragons" played right after us that night and got signed to Atlantic Records not long after that...and their album flopped. We might have done better but alas, Atlantic never got in touch with us.
We pulled out all the stops for our Metro date. I called Gabe back into the lineup on bass guitar, because come on, the Metro. How could he say no? I also called up every rapper who had ever rapped with us and got them all to be part of our lineup. Brian couldn't play drums at the gig, so we recruited our friend Dan Siakel to fill in on drums, who did an absolutely incredible job. He learned all the songs on short notice and if you watch the videos below, he plays like he's been in the band for years.
I ran into one problem, though... a big problem. To promote the Metro show, I took to the streets. I printed up 2500 3x4" handbills with an awesome flier that Gabe designed on the front and Nilay designed on the back, and I handed them out at every club night I could find. And then I picked up H1N1 flu after a night at Debonair Social Club. I guess that's a risk you take when you go to a million club nights in a one-month period. The flu totally destroyed my voice and I could barely sing. Things seemed to be all right in practice, but then on the day of the show, I lost my voice.
Here is our full show at Metro, in order, shot on Will's camera from the back of the venue. My voice sounds weak because of the flu, but the rest of the band played really well. This was our live performance peak, and one of my fondest memories from this band.
The Heaven Seventies played one more show a couple of weeks after our Metro show. We played at LaSalle Power Company as the opener for Hey Champ. And then we broke up. More specifically, I quit.
Why did I quit? As I go back over these archives it's harder for me to answer that question for myself. But I know that I felt like we were underappreciated as a band. Chicago did not seem prepared to support us, and our audience didn't seem to be growing, and we were getting passed up for opportunities that newer, less-established musicians were getting. That didn't make sense to me, and I felt hurt.
It's so much more difficult and expensive than you'd imagine, both psychologically and physically, to put yourself out there as a musician, especially when you organize and lead a live band. With the Heaven Seventies, we put something together that I really believed in and that some people really seemed to love, which is exactly what every musician hopes to attain. But managers didn't seem interested, and labels didn't seem interested, and we were still mostly playing shows for our friends. My efforts to promote and meet other musicians and contacts and build a fanbase in the city left me feeling pretty hopeless. (Not to mention the fact that my promotional efforts gave me a terrible case of the flu.)
From a creative standpoint, I was pushing us more in an R&B and rap direction, which wasn't a direction that all of the other members felt comfortable going in, and that put me in a strange place, where I didn't know what to do. At the same time, it was becoming clearer to me that our lives as bandmates were becoming less 20s-and-carefree and more 30s-and-responsible. It was harder to come up with fresh-sounding ideas, harder to get everyone on the same page, harder to find time to get together. That tends to be the natural progression of a band without external pressure, and I was hoping that we'd land some sort of label development deal or something that would provide some of that kind of pressure and get us excited to push forward the next chapter of things, but that didn't happen.
Being in a band takes up as much time and money as you let it take. If you have the hunger for success, like I do, you eventually have to bite the bullet and get on the road in order to be taken seriously. The members of H70s could not really afford to do that; we were busy with our day jobs and aspirations in other parts of our lives. It's rare to find people who are willing to drop everything and tour based on a hunch, without at least a little industry support or at the very least some fan-based groundswell. We had neither of those things at a time when we really could have used them.
That said, I regret breaking up the Heaven Seventies. I believe it was the wrong call, and if my leadership skills had been better at the time, things would have turned out differently. I really miss the project and I miss everyone involved with it, especially Gabe and Will and Nilay.
There are a few songs-in-the-making that we never finished producing into Heaven Seventies tracks. Gabe and I had begun writing together again in the last half of 2008, and we came up with two new songs. Here are the latest demos of those two songs. They're both great and I wish we could have finished them.
Here is a video of us playing Hey DJ in my living room in Pilsen. If you look really closely, the cat walks by during the song.
Also, I wrote and quickly demoed this song over a weekend in January 2009, which would have ended up on our album if we had finished one. The lyrics never got to where I wanted them, and the vocals were done in one take, but it's pretty catchy and would have made a good H70s track.
Lastly, we really should have finished our studio recording of Seventeen, it was one of our best and catchiest songs. In lieu of that, here is a great rehearsal recording of Seventeen that Nilay and Ill Legit made in the beginning of December 2008, at our practice space. Enjoy!
I found a bunch of old show fliers while I was searching around my archives for photos. These should bring back some memories if you were around at this time and went to any of our shows.
After the Heaven Seventies, I moved from Chicago to Boston, and didn't release much music. I have a ton of partial demos of songs that I never got around to finishing, and several songs that I finished but never recorded at all.
Here are the things I did record, some of which I released and some of which I didn't.
This track was a collaboration between me and Darren Hanson, a musician that I met through a mutual friend. He made the beat, which was originally used for a Justin Bieber remix (no shit), and I wrote the song on top. Later there was another version with a great verse by Ill Legit, and there's a Khalfani verse on my hard drive too, but this is the original vocal demo with just me. I always wanted to do my own version with a different beat but never got around to it.
I wrote this song for Lixian Hantover and never shared it with anyone else before now. It's good though, right?
This was written in 2010 around the same time as the last song, but I didn't record it until 2012. I could write a book about these lyrics and what they mean but I'd rather not get into it here.
I took a week off work for my birthday in December 2011 and made this to prove that I could do it. I wanted to mix shoegazer guitars with wobble dubstep bass and I almost succeeded. The song itself didn't come together until the very last moment. I'm more proud of it than I expected to be.
This is something I've never released before, a song that I finished right before I started in on the Væpors material. It's a good song but didn't quite fit the Væpors aesthetic, so it stayed on the shelf.
This music project is very recent, maybe still ongoing, and as such, I don't want to add it to this archive page yet. You can experience it at vaepors.com if you want to hear it.