1.0 – What songs or artists did you really connect with as a kid?
Jim (Drake) and I rocked out to David Bowie “Diamond Dogs”, Dire Straits “Tunnel of Love”, Queen “Bicycle Race”, Bruce Springsteen “I’m on Fire”, The Waterboys’ “Room to Roam” (the whole album) and our beloved The Might Be Giants’ “Flood” in its entirety. That Waterboys record really struck a chord in me and is actually the inspiration behind that ad I put on craigslist when I set out to build this big scrappy band. The Springsteen records were also an important piece of the puzzle. The E Street Band, Blood Sweat and Tears, Dire Straits, and even Sly and the Family Stone were gigantic parts of my early musical education on account of my dad. In the car on the way to the cabin, along with routine family squabbles and threats to stop the whole f***ing thing and turn around, we listened to The Beatles, Pink Floyd, and all the Motown hits you can think of. “Put on your seat belt!” …I love my mom.
2.0 – When did you start writing/singing songs and what is the first tune you ever wrote?
Jim and I first wrote a killer punk rock song called “Idiots for Spring.” Jim was on drums and I was on a super distorted crunchy guitar my dad bought, running through an absurdly huge solid state amp. We recorded it on a four track reel-to-reel recorder that our Uncle Walter gave us, through two shotgun condenser mics leftover from 1973, and we overdubbed the vocals with the speaker next to the mic which gave it the coolest slap back delay I’ve heard to date. The lyrics were simply “Idiots for spring! Idiots for spring! I don’t know what I’m doing! Idiots for spring!” I remember being shy when I did the vocals, so I faced the wall like a proper angsty teenager. We were 14 and 12. The song has long since been lost in the shuffle of living, moving, and purging. Damn I wish I still had that reel-to-reel.
The album will be called either “The Declaration of Ulysses” or “Dear Ulysses”. Which one do you like? We packed up three cars with a studio, and engineer, four musicians and our gear, then hit the road for Galena, Illinois where the elusive and sometimes drunk Ulysses S. Grant retired. Our gang of bandits included engineerer Joe Gac (Elephant Gun), drummist Dan Dorff, basser Matt Wilson, guitar and keyboarder Joseph Mietus, and myself on bathroom scratch vocals and booze consumption promoter. We set up our studio in a cabin in the hills and worked twelve hour days for five days straight. Ellis Seiberling (tromboner and co-producer of “Ulysses”) showed up on the second day and worked through each night with us. We layed down our music the best we know how fueled with booze, love, burritos, soup, pizza, and zero drugs. We decided to forgo a click track long before we set foot in our cabin (with no running water) in the middle of the stark cold winter. I have dreams of buying out a week in a top notch studio in Nashville, but nothing will ever compare to our sessions in Galena. We played ELO records, PJ Harvey records, Stacks records, Motown records, D’Angelo’s “Voodoo”, and a bunch of tunes from all our old bands we used to play with. Working with Joe Gac was a real pleasure. He works hard, has a great ear, and most certainly “doesn’t give a f***.”When we got back to Chicago we went into Nick Broste’s studio Shape Shoppe to track horns, strings, vocals, and my guitars. The horns and strings tracked live as sections, we did quite a bit of group vocals with hollers and hand claps, and I did a few versions of each tune on vocals before deciding on takes. Working with Nick was a pleasure and we became great friends. After tracking, we got into mixing. At this point in my life I had been pouring every ounce of my time and money into finishing the record. I lost my job, there were days I didn’t eat in order to afford transportation, we worked endless hours. There was on night we were tweaking out over mixes at 6 in the morning. I hadn’t slept in maybe two days. Nick stayed with me till the end. The key to our mixing success was this: Nick and I mixed as best we could, then Ellis Seiberling would go in with a fresh ear (without me) and have free range to make any adjustments he saw fit to the songs. I trust Ellis implicitly and his ear for music, sounds, and mixes is akin to non other. He’s my brother.Making a record is hard. It is not unlike climbing a mountain. It ebbs and flows, and eventually you can see the summit in sight. Once you finish, turn the page and get drunk. When you wake up there’s 1000 more things to do. Such is being a band.
4.0 – Do you record live as an 8-piece or do basic tracks first and then build it piecemeal?
Our next project is a low-fi live EP with all eight of us in a room.
5.0 – How do you guys approach writing as a band?
The reality: writing is hard. Each time I write a song it is as if I’ve never done it before and I have absolutely no clue what the hell I’ve gotten myself into. Writing is full of doubt. It is a massive, unmovable stone slab. It is not until the block gets chipped away that anything takes form. It takes sweat and determination. I get drunk. I pour all my hopes and fears into a guitar, mandolin, or banjo. I hit record on a tape deck. Fingers to the fret board, pick to the strings, open mouth… something comes out. It begins to take form.At this point I’ve usually finished a pint of whiskey and begin tracking the tune with garbly distorted bass parts, hilarious and swaying drum lines, and five or six vocal parts. Whatever, it’s a tune. After a smoke break full of self doubt and fleeting melodies I listen to the monster and voila! It lives and breaths! It speaks!I toss it off to Ellis, he nods in approval, and arranges the horn and string parts. We bring it to the band and as a whole, abandon most of what the demo had, and in the end deconstruct the thing and write our own parts together. It’s wholly collaborative and very cool.
6.0 – You’re shooting a video for the new song “Charlie”, how did you decide on that one as the ‘single’ and will it be a concept video?
Isn’t every music video a concept video?
7.0 – You have been doing some touring, how does the audience reaction impact you in the moment?
It’s this great thing were we pour our love into our music, which makes the audience high and happy and in turn they pour love and applause onto us. It makes us high for days. It’s the best ever and I want to do this for the rest of my life with this group of amazing musicians.
8.0 – Is there a Jon Drake & The Shakes elevator pitch when promoting shows to ‘the man on the street’?
Cute girl at the counter who overheard a few Shakes talking: “What’s your band like?”
Jon or Shake: “We’re an eight piece folk/pop band from Logan Square (Chicago). We’ve got horns, strings, mandolin, keys, guitars, and the like.”
9.0 How do you like playing to strangers on the road versus your Chicago hometown fans?
Chicago is the best city on earth. Our fans are our friends. We love it here. But let’s not forget that each show is separate and unique no matter where you play. It’s a fragile existence that could fall apart at any moment. We rely on our faith in each other to keep it together. Strangers tend to be the most excited, not unlike the best first date ever, and Chicago fans seem to simply be happy that we’re doing what we’re doing. Either way, both are entirely supportive and amazing.
10.0 – What are you guys listening to in the van?
Heartless Bastards “The Mountain”, lots of punk rock, lots of soul, Ben Folds, Ohtis, Elephant Gun’s new record, and countless others. At some point Evan put on some cookie monster metal- to which Drew rocked out.