Chicago band North By North Interview
By: Eric Schelkopf
On its debut album, the sprawling double album “Something Wicked,” Chicago band North By North channels the energy created by bands like The Black Keys and Queens of the Stone Age while creating a sound of all its own. North By North, comprised of Nate Girard on vocals and guitar, Kendra Blank on vocals and keyboards and Dylan Andrews on drums, will celebrate the release of “Something Wicked” by performing Jan. 23 at The Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western Ave., Chicago.
To commemorate the release, the band has brewed its own beer, Mole Negro Stout. The Ivorys and Aktar Aktar also are on the bill. The show starts at 9 p.m. and tickets are $8, available at http://www.ticketweb.com. I had the chance to talk to Nate and Kendra about the new album.
Great talking to you. Releasing an 18-track album for your debut album seems like a daunting task. Why did you want to make your first album a double album?
Nate – Well, there are two major factors in the decision to release a double LP. Kendra and I had been ready to record a standard 10 song debut album more than two years ago. Unfortunately, the plans just kept falling apart in terms of finding the right drummer to bring into the studio.
It was frustrating because there was a lot of backtracking and bringing new members up to speed, only to see it fail to work. We probably went through five different drummers over the course of those two years.
We kept playing live consistently and had a great buzz surrounding our live show, but it just was not in the cards to get into the studio during those first two years.
Kendra – By the time we found Dylan, we had continued writing well beyond the original 10 songs. We were talking to the guy who would later become our producer for the album, Don Bates, and we mentioned that we actually had 15 songs completed.
He was very excited with the prospect of tracking all of them, and we had made a lot of fans who had literally been waiting for years for this music, so we just said, “What the hell, let’s just put everything on the table!”
We ended up finishing all the principal tracking in 40 hours, which was crazy in retrospect.
Nate – The other factor was an artistic decision. We could have stayed with 15 songs and been done with it, but we had also gone into this project knowing specifically that it would be pressed on vinyl.
Taking advantage of the mechanical aspect of flipping a record over, I wanted to establish something that (I hope) will become a beloved feature of our recordings.
Because each side of an LP is, in a way, it’s own collection of songs, I decided to write four low-key intros to begin each side of the record. They were intended to act as a pallet cleanser between sides and break up the straight-forward rock sound of the remaining songs.
Three of these intros ended up having their own track numbers for the sake of flexibility, but they were written to specifically introduce and set the tone for the song that follows.
Kendra – We also ended up keeping the intro for the title track, Something Wicked, attached as one song, feeling like both disks should be symmetrical with 9 songs each.
Q – In sitting down to record the album, what were your goals and do you think you accomplished them?
Kendra – Because of the sheer amount of material that we had to cover, there was a lot of premeditation regarding what our goals were for each song. We went into this project wanting to make a ‘studio album’ that captures the power and energy of our live show and builds upon that with little bells and whistles throughout.
We definitely feel like there’s a different (and totally equal) experience that a person takes away from hearing a recorded sound versus a live performance and, while we feel like we were pretty modest with regards to post production, we definitely wanted those nice little extras to really make the album a different experience.
We tracked 18 songs in 40 hours. We did everything we could think of in the studio.
We released 60 minutes of music on vinyl for our debut. Given all of those factors, I definitely feel accomplished.
Nate – We definitely had to go in as prepared as possible because we had a strict budget. I remember we had an entire spiral notebook filled with notes and things that we wanted to experiment with on a song by song basis.
Everything was carefully orchestrated to get the most bang for our buck.
Q – I understand the late Ray Bradbury had a great impact on your writing, and even the album’s title, “Something Wicked,” is based on his 1962 novel, “Something Wicked This Way Comes.” How would you say he has influenced your writing and the songs on the album?
Nate – Bradbury’s work is something special to me. I’ve always been a fan of Gothic mystery and science fiction short stories, and his have always been especially noteworthy in my opinion.
When we formed this band, one thing that was clear from the outset was that I would try to combine his whimsical, yet macabre style into my own work. Because the resounding theme behind our music is this necessity to reconcile popular rock music with narrative, dark subject matter, it made a lot of sense to take cues from a man who made an early living as a writer for pulp mystery and sci-fi anthologies.
Q – It seems like there should be a story behind the band’s name. Is there?
Kendra – There’s a couple different angles we each took with the name. Nate is originally from Texas, I spent a solid chunk of my childhood in South Carolina and our drummer at the time was originally from Southern Ohio.
Because each of the members all happened to migrate ‘North’ to meet in Chicago, it was as if fate had ordained that we had only one direction to travel and were destined to form this band here.
Nate – When I first heard the name North by North, I immediately latched on to it because it reminded me of the film, North by Northwest, which tied in strongly to our lyrics’ subject matter. Her explanation made a lot of sense too, and was much more meta.
Q – How did North By North come together? What do you think the different members bring to the table?
Kendra – Nate and I had met in high school, shortly after each of our families had relocated to the Chicago area. We had performed in several other bands during the year following graduation, and eventually decided to split off with our own project to pursue our creative and artistic direction.
We started out as a two-piece, as was the trend of the moment. I was playing drums and Nate was on guitar and vocals, but eventually we decided to fill out the sound by moving me to keyboard and seek out a drummer to fill my place.
Two years and five candidates later, we happened to find Dylan’s ad on Craigslist, and have been working with him swimmingly ever since.
Nate and I have such a strong musical rapport and artistic vision, so we really needed to find a drummer who was versatile enough to just go with the flow and let us have creative control.
Nate – Kendra and I are definitely the creative engine behind the band. Our roles work very much like an assembly line.
I will have a loose idea (like a riff or a chorus progression) and will bring it to Kendra who will then brainstorm to find the missing pieces. She’s classically trained, which comes in handy by helping us decide which direction a song should go based on her knowledge of music theory.
Once we have the principal parts written, we’ll basically bring the song to Dylan and let him bounce different rhythmic ideas around the framework. Once all that is solidified, Kendra and I will decide on an idea for a story based on the tone of the composition.
Then we write the lyrics.
Q – I am sure you have heard the band’s sound described in a number of ways. How would you describe North By North’s sound and who are your biggest musical influences?
Nate – I love when people use adjectives to describe our music. It’s definitely not an insult to be directly compared to another artist, but it doesn’t really do us justice.
What I tell people is really just a collection of my favorite adjectives that people have bestowed on us over the years: heavy, angular, frantic, possessed, energetic, narrative, bombastic, intense and riff-tastic. I definitely think we should look into copyrighting “Riff-tastic.”
Kendra – We have a ton of influences! Immediately you will notice echoes of classic arena rock staples like Zeppelin and Sabbath, but we also try to channel some rhythmic elements from late 60’s hard-bop jazz.
It might seem like we’re snobs for the classics, but we definitely feel like right now is one of the best eras for music.
Nate – True, there are quite a few current bands and artists we dig on. We’re big fans of Jack White, Queens of the Stone Age, Arctic Monkeys, The Strokes, The Black Keys and many more.
Q – Tell me a little about Mole Negro Stout. Is it the perfect beer to serve at your record release party?
Nate – We’ll find out soon enough! I think it’s pretty darn tasty. We also jar our own salsa, which has become a beloved staple at our merch table.
One of the rotating flavors we offer is a chipotle mole salsa, so when we decided to brew a stout, it was a logical step to infuse it with some south-of-the-border flair. Other rotating flavors have include mango, cranberry, tomatillo verde, blueberry and apple salsa.
Kendra – One thing we try to focus on is having fun, quirky merchandise for our fans. We want to bring things to the table that will make us stand out from the crowd.
That also played a big role in our decision to release the album exclusively on vinyl and digital formats. We wanted this album to be something different from just your run-of-the-mill CD.
Q – What do you think of the Chicago music scene and where do you see North By North fitting into it? Do you have any favorite venues to play?
Nate – I think the Chicago music scene is a double-edged sword. Outwardly, it can be pretty difficult for a new band to penetrate into the right clubs and the right circles… but once you’ve cracked the code, there’s a very dedicated base of Chicagoans who still value music.
There are plenty of great venues and plenty of talent, but it does take some time to really find your niche.
Q – What are the band’s short-term and long-term goals?
Kendra – I guess our short and long term goals are one in the same. Our plan is to stay busy, stay relevant and keep putting out as much content as possible.
After the vinyl release show, our next big project is to begin work on a music video for Run / Burn it Down. After that, we’re planning to have a brand new album written and ready to start tracking this summer.
For now, we’re not planning any official tour, but we’ve got some out-of-state shows in the works and that will be something we want to focus on in the new year.
Hailing from the land of brutal winters and deep dish pizza, North by North brings their own brand of spastic, yet finely-honed rock and roll. They seamlessly toe the line between 3 minute garage pop anthems and your dad’s favorite “prog-rock deep cuts” mixtape, with plenty of hooks to spare.
North by North began in Fall of 2011 in Chicago, IL. Originally a drum and guitar blues-punk duo, Nate Girard and Kendra Blank spent the winter of 2011-2012 in a converted warehouse writing material that would later be rearranged around their current lineup and released as their debut, double LP, “Something Wicked,” almost 3 years later.
Bringing on various members to fill out behind the drums and shifting Kendra’s role to keyboardist allowed North by North to delve into more intricate song-writing to couple with the raw power of their previous incarnation. Their sound has been meticulously crafted to feature the juxtaposition of infectious melodies, haunting lyrics and bombastic live instrumentation, all of which have been lauded by audiences and critics throughout the U.S.
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