THE NEW ZEITGEIST

——- Duo musical couples seem to be rarer and rarer these days, was the potential to work together on music part of what brought you two together? 

Eddy: The first night we met was at a singer/songwriter open mic in Wrigleyville. Jen was expecting to meet a friend. That friend never showed and I eventually offered her my guitar so that she could perform after she noticed me performing and turning her way from two feet away over and over. After some good conversation, I offered her a ride to the train station downtown since I lived close to there. I mentioned that we should make some music together sometime and she gave me her MySpace card. The rest is history.

Jen: Strictly…at 1st J Eddy also possessed the alluring quality of a man of culture. I wanted 2 things in a man that were not easy to find:  1.) Finding a rock star to do music with 2.) Marrying the musical rock star

—————- Your personal musical influences seem as incongruent from one another as possible yet they find a comfortable balance with The New Zeitgeist, did it take time to develop its cohesion or was it immediate? 

 Jen: Ha, really?  There was immediate chemistry, yet as we explored places we had never been between his twangy-blusterous grit and my tailored velvet, our songwriting individually wandered untested roads, and our sound became more intimately entwined.  I suppose what helped our unlikely and risky launch is the somewhat later exploration in my 20’s of my personal music taste and, therefore, probably the largest genre evolution out of the two of us.  For me, mostly Church Gospel songs to uh, rap and punk in middle school, then indie folk, and finally, what we identify loosely as roots/Americana now.  I was definitely at a point in my music where I wasn’t being challenged creatively and feeling a musically plateau as a solo artist just before we met.

Eddy: Jen had such a remarkable natural ability to sing amazing harmonies. When we met, I was asking her to accompany me on my old material and she made it ten times better! She was working on her sound at the time and wasn’t sure she wanted to abandon that and start a new band. We started the first album in the summer of 2103 and released it in December of 2014. That was The New Zeitgeist. We met as acoustic artists but she had encouraged me to return to playing electric guitar and, I couldn’t have been happier getting back to my rock roots on our second album which was released in summer of 2017.

————— How does the writing process work for you? does it vary song to song? 

Jen: I’m really great at listening for arrangement and structure (Evaluating Eddy’s songs), but Eddy’s also greatly improved the musical riffs of my songs. I’m currently trying to expand my writing process beyond waiting for the inspiration of that flaky muse, but traditionally it’s very lyrically dominant for me and the melody drives the song.  The voice creates the music and the instrument, many times comes later.  Since my main instrument is my voice, I feel if you have a strong melody you have a strong song.  We’re also opening up our songwriting experience to collaboration in smaller ways, but not necessarily co-writing.  We’re both very dominant songwriters and I think it’s an intimate and personal experience for each of us.

Eddy: I am not at all disciplined as a songwriter. I listen for the music in my head. Either I will find a hook or a riff that I like, or stumble across one while practicing guitar. It may be a thought or an idea. I think choruses are meant to connect with. If I find one, then I try to write a song around it. I do enjoy using a word processor, using word documents to create a poetic structure, and then filling it in around the hook. I still will write down a phrase on a piece of paper if it comes to me. When I was at NIU in the late 80’s, I had the privilege of attending a poetry workshop with the legendary Gwendolyn Brooks. I read a song of mine to her and she responded with something I have taken to heart until this day. ‘Revise, revise, revise.’ I try to practice that.

————— Is there a tune of yours that you feel is the quintessential representation of who and what you are?   

Jen: Definitely “Desert Rose,” since it’s the most original on lyrics and music, and a classic sappy love tune. I never wrote a personally real or convincing love song before that, and also pushed myself to write outside my genre zone of comfort—an ode to classic country. 

EddyOf my songs on our recent album, “Myths and Mortals”, I have a difficult time choosing one.  I think it has to be “Lack of Linear Thought”. It is my 60’s dream pop song. The cast of characters playing on this track includes Alton Smith on the Farfisa, whom I think takes it over the top! I was playing though a sweet little vintage Supro amp on most of the album and made the most of it on this track, too!

—————- The New Zeitgeist has a lot in common with the late 60’s folk movement in terms of lyrics and messaging: were your parents hippies? What did you grow up listening to in the house? 

Jen: My Dad was definitely a “Jesus Hippie”!  Definitely no for my mom!  They were opposites musically as he would have the oldies playing in the car and he was especially a lover of classic folk like Dylan while my Mom preferred Italian opera.

EddyMy dad was definitely not a hippie, but he did appreciate the pop music of the 60’s era. His favorite groups were The Everly Brothers, The Righteous Brothers, The Ventures, and The Animals. He would say that once The Beatles went to see the Maharishi they became too “out there” for him. I remember my parents having Elton John’s Greatest Hits, Jim Croce, and the red and blue vinyl Beatles Greatest Hits. The blue album, which included “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, was my favorite, of course! My mom and dad listened to the radio with us a lot throughout the 70’s and the 80’s. My mom wasn’t a hippie, either. She liked to dance to good music and we would watch American Bandstand. Her favorites included Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band. On a further note, my grandfather was an accomplished accordionist and he performed with my father on drums at VFW halls around the SW suburbs. We would hear them practice often and that would include hearing a lot of polkas and waltzes. I loved it! Hearing that made me want to make music, too!

—————- Would you guys ever consider expanding the presentation to include a full band and, if so, what would be your instrumentation wish list?   

Jen: Oh, yes! The recent album Myths and Mortals (2017) was the real creative impetus for our dream instrumentation at every turn.  The opportunity to work with some really great Chicago musicians, including Gerald Dowd (drums), John Abbey (bass), Alton Smith (organ), Nora Barton (cello), and Austin pedal steel extraordinaire Lloyd Maines, strengthened us to be tighter musicians and more intimately entwined as a duo.  A lot of those songs inspired Pedal Steel, Bass, and Percussion to be added to our duo’s mandolin, acoustic, and electric, but I can see also stripping it down to an even more simple roots package with an upright, chains/rattles, and dobro.

EddyFor me, there is nothing like playing in a great band situation. Jen was very conscious of the different sounds she wanted when planning ‘Myths and Mortals,’ and those included a rhythm section. She insisted on the pedal steel and after hearing the initial takes in the studio, I was convinced of almost every idea she had. Playing with the truly great musicians that performed on “Myths and Mortals” was a dream come true and I would wish to bring them together again in the future if possible.

——————— What were the first 3 albums (for each of you) you purchased as a kid? Which is the best? 

Jen: I probably didn’t purchase my own music until I was 12.  My very 1st, ahem, (cassette!) was The Beach Boys’ “Surfin’ USA” with the cartoon cover…I mean, hey, I grew up in Florida. J Then to CD’s, Grammatical Revolution (1999) by Christian hip hop group named Grits, and definitely my most memorable album, The Anatomy of the Tongue in Cheek (2001) from punk-rock band Reliant K, which is very worn and whose several albums really motivated my learning of guitar chords.

EddyThis has been challenging to remember. My parents were in the habit of occasionally purchasing a new album. I remember receiving as a gift the album ‘Double Vision’ by Foreigner in what must have been the Christmas of ’78. In the following year with my own money for the first time, I must have wanted to buy a Kiss record, but my parents “encouraged” me to buy something else first, so I bought the first Foreigner album and then the Ace Frehley solo album! I think the third album I bought was ‘Double Platinum’.

——————– What do you guys like to listen to together these days if you are going to pop on an ‘album’?

Jen: Hmmm…it’s not that easy!  It depends on mood, flexibility, and activity—like driving, or…other things!  I think Zep has done us no harm, some Johnny Cash, some Neil Young, or even U2, but usually it’s nothing newer than the 80s or 90s. J  I’m embarrassed to admit how much we just listen to our album!

EddyIn the car, Zep is our go to, or 93.1 WXRT. At home, it’s U2.

—————- What’s the best thing about Chicago and ‘our scene’? 

Jen:  I’ve found that it’s sometimes the less appearance-driven and smaller profile neighborhood dives that have the strongest music influence because they operate more at a community grassroots level and are not caught up with ticket sales or official advertisement.  While we greatly respect some of the finest names in Chicago’s music scene, some of the best recent times for us have been the meaningful connections we make up-close like Lizard Lounge’s 2017 Ugly Sweater Party singing ‘Silent Night’ to be followed by an outstanding woman just from Ireland jumping on stage to belt a cappella a traditional tearjerker.

EddyI really enjoy all the different little bars and the different music scenes at each one, especially those places that haven’t changed much since the 90’s or at which no more that ten people regularly attend! Also, the Old Town School of Folk Music and the singer/songwriter scene there has been really important for us, and we really appreciate all the great people and musicians that we’ve had the pleasure to get to know there. We attend a lot of shows that the people we’ve met at the Old Town perform.

A new show bubbles up in which musical duo couples compete for the affection of millions of young Americans. In the finals, you are forced to dress up like and perform a couple classic couple duo number by Donnie & Marie, Captain & Tennille, Sonny & Cher, Paul & Linda McCartney, John & Yoko, Stevie & Lindsey, Ike & Tina or any other of your choice, what songs do you chose and which do you think you could pull off best?  

Jen: That sounds like loads of fun…well, my 1st instinct is to be our real-life heroic couple, Piggy and Kermit.  However, there’s a history behind the song “I’ve Got You Babe” by Sonny and Cher being played at a party in our pre-dating hangouts which really sparked the idea of getting romantically involved with Eddy.  We also walked up the aisle to that song. J

Eddy: It was at my long-time buddy Jeff’s birthday party singing karaoke in the summer of 2011 at which Jen and I sang “I’ve Got You Babe”. I think that would be the one!

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MATT FEDDERMANN

FeddermannHow did your love affair with rock & roll begin? As a kid listening to Buddy Holly, The Beatles, Elvis, Jerry Lee and more on 104.3 the oldies station in Chicago. My Dad was/is a big oldies fan and that radio station was all he ever listened to. “Smoke on the Water,” “Wild Thing” or “Iron Man” are the first songs most guitarists learn. Mine was “That’ll Be The Day” and “It’s So Easy”.

What were the first three albums you ever purchased and which of those holds up best today to you? Michael Jackson’s Thriller, Run DMC Raising Hell and Motley Crue’s Dr. Feelgood. Thriller holds up best to me, hands down.

When did you start writing songs and how do they ‘come together’ for you most often? 7th/8th grade with my very first band, Vertigo. Songs come in many ways. Sometimes I’ll be driving a melody with pop in my head, or, I’ll hear a phrase that I like and will write a song around it. Sometimes, I’ll be jamming with other musicians and we write the music and then lyrics will follow.

You’ve managed to carve out a nice niche on the north shore by being a respected ‘jack of all trades’, how has your business model evolved over the past few years ?  My business model hasn’t changed all that much. With the internet and all of the social media resources as my disposal, communicating with fans is much easier on one hand and on the other takes three times as long. I literally work all day to book shows, promote shows, create content to increase my brand awareness, etc..

What advice do you give to young bands trying to build a following and, in turn, get better gigs? A few thing. The BIGGEST thing is to be friendly and outgoing. I try to meet as many people at gigs as possible. Anytime someone gives me a tip, a compliment, a thumbs up, a high five, anything, I make sure to introduce myself and ask them their name. A 30 second engagement can mean a new long term fan. Your fans can be and are your biggest promoters. The more people that come to your shows, the better the bigger the gigs will grow, the more opportunities will open up along with making more money.

Do you have to become Facebook (say hey to Matt) exhibitionists to play the game?  If you are not on social media, you are at a severe disadvantage. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, etc.. Ever walk into a bar to play a gig and everyone is staring at their phones and not you. Chances are they are on one of the previously mentioned sites. Get your “b(r)and” in front of as many eyeballs as possible. A large number of the population spends hours a day staring at their electronic device.

Years ago it seemed as if the Chicago music media shunned artists / bands that came out of the north shore as if they didn’t deserve the coverage; in fact many bands sought to hide the fact so they weren’t labeled as ‘rich brats: does this hold true at all today? Ya know, the scene is so much different these days. Music oriented local Chicago media has shrunk considerably in the last 10 years. Local Anesthetic on WXRT is only 30 minutes on Sunday nights (does anyone listen to terrestrial radio anymore?). Illinois Entertainer only seems to cover the south and western suburbs. Cover bands are a PLENTY these days.

In Chicago, much as in NYC, often musicians get put in one category or another: either your a working musician or an artist…. Is one the dream job and the other vehicle? I’ve been struggling with that for YEARS and I think I’ve finally found a balance. I have two very different song writing styles. One of very acoustic based and the other electric guitar/keys/synth based. I market them differently. I do my acoustic singer/songwriter originals and covers thing in the suburbs where you can make money and use some of that money to pay for my “original artist” project called Monsoons. I keep specific email and facebook lists that are geographically based. I rarely send updates regarding my acoustic covers thing to gatekeepers and decision makers in Chicago and abroad, I send them Monsoons updates. It’s not an easy thing to do and it takes a lot of time, but, it’s doable. My gigs at local restaurants and bars in the burbs has paid for the recording sessions & music video first few Monsoons songs. In fact, producer/mix wizard Sean O’Keefe (Fallout Boy, Plain White T’s) is mixing the first single. – Matt Feddermann

MICHAEL McDERMOTT

Are you happy with how your new release Hit Me Back (Rock Ridge Music) has turned out?  Couldn’t be happier. Took a wee bit of a different approach than the prior albums….for example….there were certain artists we couldn’t reference….it was out of bounds so to speak…to reference some of the artists that most singer songwriters. Mkight refer to …you know a  ” you know how on that Dylan record they did that thing with the keyboard?” Those types of statements were forbidden….. you know the line….”.if you always do what you always did, you will always get, what you always got .” That was kind of our launch pad.

Who is it for?  The whimsical, the unwanted, the mourners, the isolated, the desperate, the devilish, the defeated, the kick-starters, the matador’s, the penniless poets, the dogged, the lovers on morning trains, the searchers, the seekers, the outcast, the count, the clown, the mistress, the widowed, the forgotten.

Where did you record it? with whom?  CJ Eiriksson …who is fucking brilliant! I worked with him a few years back. Then on tour in Italy, I was in the back of a car and leafing through the U2 record liner notes and noticed CJ”s name all over the place…..I was thrilled for him. I figured he had graduated to a different level and would no longer work with low lifes like me…My wife Heather told me if i didn’t write him, she would…i still had his email address and i wrote him….and he was on the road with U2 for the 360 tour but it was wrapping up soon and I pitched him….

How does it relate in your mind to your previous record, Hey La Hey?  It’s quite a departure. Songwriting is songwriting…at least mine is……but it’s really just what colors you use from your palette. We approached that record (HLH) with a band in the studio……this one…..it was me and CJ for the most of it.

With so many records under your belt, does one develop a philosophy when it comes to going into the studio, or is that called ‘the budget’?  HA….well that certainly is a factor in the equation….truth be told it’s as confusing as ever…..we did this record with the help of Kickstarter so we did have it planned we had a certain amount of time and come hell or high water…..it had to be done….so our philosophy was…….work quickly !

michaelmcdermott_hitmeback_cover-2Did you have sound or general attack in mind going in for Hit Me Back or did it evolve as the material took shape?  I think the songs really dictate what you do. I had a batch of songs that I thought were ready and then I sent them to CJ and he started working on loops from Texas and we kind of molded the record over the internet……then he came to town and we did it in 8 days.

Is it all new material or did any older, previously unrecorded songs bubble up to the surface as well?  There was one song, ” She’s Gonna Kill Me “, that we recorded for Hey La Hey and weren’t quite happy with it……so that one kind of stuck around…..another song ” Scars From Another Life” was a few years older….and one we would play live…..but when I sent CJ 40 songs or so…..he gravitated to that one…..he rearranged it and it came out amazingly well……it’s really having trust in your producer that he knows what he’s doing…..and you gotta be willing to walk the plank with him.

Do you have a favorite track (or tracks) on the disc or should we assume that’s the ‘titled cut’?  That’s certainly one cuz it’s probably the most ” fun ” song I’ve ever done……we thought we could hide it on the record and start it with more serious stuff but, wanted to come out with a smile…..I wrote that song in the car on the way to and from the hospital to see my dying mother….worst time in my life…..so for the sheer sake of my sanity i wrote a pretty funny and light hearted tune.

Any new influences reflected on the disc that you hear as the author?  Being referential to an earlier question…….we tried to use female influences more than male references……we put to rest all the old ” Gods ” the old ” Legends” and would be more influenced by Sinead, Dido, Florence, Sarah, then say Dylan, Bruce, Waits, Van, U2

Is ‘Hit Me Back’ a threat? kinky chatter? the facts of life or just a text message? what does it mean to you?  Great question…..well it was strictly a lyric in relation to my hangover that my head was hurting so bad it felt as if the bottle literally hit me back. But just those three words have a very ambiguous connotation which i love……it’s the masochist the fighter, the lover, the loser……all things which I know quite well.

 Are your earliest musical influences the most pervasive or do others break through along the way?  The early ones in the formative years are still the Mount Rushmore for me of songwriting….but there certainly have been people that have shown up in recent years that can influence you. Things constantly influence me……the train outside my window, to the man at the counter in a diner…..songs are everywhere….you just sometimes go looking for them in different places.
Where do songs arts for you, with the lyrical content or the music?  Totally varies, sometimes it’s a riff on guitar or a piano melody. Otherwise you get a lyric idea and then try to meld that into a song or melody. They are just different colors, and you need all of it to make a great painting so it matters little which comes first.  You’re going to need all of it if you want the song to sing on it’s own.
What is the first song you ever wrote, do you still like it? did it resurface anywhere else down the line?  The first song I wrote was in high school, and we named the band after the song – “Missing In Action / MIA”.  Nothing of that song ever reappeared, for good reason LOL.
How does “Hey La Hey” differ from your past releases?  It’s a far more restrained album. Which i like. The songs breath in a completely different way. Part of me misses some of the frenetic energy of the past albums, but i think it was a big step with not getting in the way of the song too much. Sometimes you try and do too much with a song and you end up kind of choking the life out of it……this album each song breathes on its own.
How did you approach going into the studio for the record?  I never usually have an approach….i’ve learned whenever i go into the studio thinking its gonna sound like one thing….it ends up sounding nothing like i thought it would. i’ve learned to let the song take you….and i just go along for the ride.
What is your favorite song on it?  That’s a tough one……if i had to have Bob Dylan hear one song….i’d pick Forgotten…….its a song thats spooky and has elements that make me uncomfortable. Its a song i havne’t heard in quite sometime…..because of the way it makes me feel. There’ something other worldly about it…..and i’m not sure if its a world i’d wanna be in.
If you had to make an “Introducing Michael McDermott” EP, what 3 songs would be on it?  Forgotten, Charlie Boy, The Silent WIll Soon Be Singing (unreleased song).
What’s the best part about playing Europe?  The people are the best thing. Besides my fascination with Europe as a whole…..the people and how they listen to music is the most inspiring thing. Europe has taught me about myself, its taught me how to love and approach life in a different way. I love it.
What advice would you give to young artists getting ready to tour for the first time?  I had a blast as a young man on the road. But maybe too good of a time. I’d say be moderate on the partying. That time of my life nearly killed me and i still have the scars to prove it. Have a great time….but ” dyin’ ain’t no way to make a livin” ( Clint Eastwood)