By: Eric Schelkopf
Chicago band The Future Laureates is a band that is committed as much to social justice as it is to presenting adventurous music.
The band will perform Friday, Aug. 19, at Beat Kitchen, 2100 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago, as part of a show to benefit the StreetWise organization, which aims to help and empower the city’s homeless population.
Bassel and the Supernaturals, Tree and The Hand Grenades also are part of the bill. The show starts at 9 p.m. and tickets are $8, available at www.ticketweb.com. Fifty percent of the proceeds will go directly to the Streetwise organization.
I had the chance to talk to The Future Laureates frontman Danny Surico about the band and its latest activities.
Q – The band will be headlining a benefit show for Streetwise. How did you first hear about Streetwise and what do you like about the organization?
A – We actually were asked to do a StreetWise benefit fundraiser last February by some friends of ours who were on the junior board of the organization. The night was a blast and quite successful – we raised $1,000 for StreetWise simply by playing a rock show. Since that time, we’ve been strong supporters of the magazine and the vendors who sell them. It’s pretty smart what they’ve been able to do. They basically have created a constructive way for people who are homeless or low-income to work for a living and receive a variety of social services. And the fact that it’s a magazine makes customers who would otherwise be hesitant to give money much more at ease about doing so. Pretty much a win-win.
Q – I understand public service is a priority for the band. Is that much of a priority for the band as its music? Did your education at Loyola University Chicago shape your views?
A – I think our goal is to be known as a band committed to social justice. That doesn’t necessarily mean that every song we write has to be about social issues; in fact, that’s certainly not the case for our band. But the idea that we can use our love of music as vehicle to serve others is
something that has stuck with us since our Loyola days.
Q – How did the band get its name?
A – Well, while we were studying abroad we formed a “secret” Facebook group that we used to communicate with one other about different ideas related to the band. Some of the things we talked about in that group were potential band names. I think we narrowed it down to three names: The Future Laureates, I Sung Armada (based on a friend who misread an “i-snug armband” Apple product because the box was upside down; and Hot Vinyl. We ultimately settled on The Future Laureates. We dig it, and once new fans figure out what it means and how to pronounce it, they usually dig it, too.
Q – The band played only one show before going on hiatus for a year. That’s kind of an unusual beginning for a band. Explain.
A – The first show we played was kind of on a whim, to be honest. James (our bassist) and Matthew [ukelele] played in a duo throughout college called One Pound Burrito. John (our original lead guitarist), and I played in a duo at open mics as well, so we knew each other’s music but weren’t really good friends at that point. James and Matthew invited us to jam one night and we wrote our first song together: “Hit It and Quit It.”
We played it that weekend at a charity contest that Loyola was putting on for “Hunger Week,” with the goal of raising money for different organizations committed to alleviating hunger. We came in second place and won a gift certificate to Flat Top Grill – ahh, those were the days.
After that, I studied abroad for a semester in Chile and upon my return, James, Matthew, and John studied abroad the following semester in Costa Rica, New Zealand, and France. So we kept in touch over the course of the year and when we got back to school that final semester of our senior year, we were focused, writing some songs and recording our first full-length album. The band has been going strong ever since.
Q – The band has been compared to such groups as Guster, Simon and Garfunkel to The Avett Brothers. Do you consider those bands influences? What band or act would you say is the biggest influence for you guys?
A – Absolutely those bands are influences. We’re influenced by many other bands as well, honestly too many to name. Probably Guster is the biggest influence on our music. I’m the primary songwriter for the band and I’ve been a fan and student of them since I was in junior high school, so a lot of our vocal harmonies are inspired by stuff they do. But there’s other influences that sneak in there, too. The Decemberists, Our Lady Peace, even R. Kelly – they all find ways to seep into our writing and arrangements.
Q – You guys just wrapped up your first East Coast tour. How was that experience? Where else would you guys like to play?
A – It was a total blast. Five dudes crammed into a Toyota Yaris – mmm mmm, sexy. Other than the less than stellar travel arrangements the tour was actually a big success. We got to see a whole bunch of friends and family who hadn’t had a chance to catch the band live, and played some excellent shows to receptive crowds. We’ll definitely do it again. Next year we’re aiming to get down to SXSW in Austin; we’d love to do New Orleans, too. And in time, we’ll head out west to Seattle, San Francisco, Denver. We’re just starting to get our feet wet with the touring thing, but these are goals of ours to tour out more within the coming years.
Q – Eddie Vedder just released an album featuring songs he played on the ukulele. It seems as though the ukulele is an essential instrument for you
guys. Why did you like the instrument so much?
A – I think the short answer is that was the instrument that Matthew grew up playing and was most skilled on. Ukelele is definitely a part of our identity, though. It’s not a gimmick in our band, as we feature it on every song we’ve written together. Matthew rocks out pretty hard on it for a number of our songs – most notably, “Hanging.” Also, you can’t not smile a little when you hear the dulcet tones of the ukelele.
Q – How hard is it for a band to self-manage, self-book, and self-promote itself? Do you prefer doing all that yourself rather than someone else handling those duties?
A – It’s hard in the sense that it takes a lot of time. It’s easy in the sense that it saves a lot of money and teaches you a lot of valuable skills.
Most notably, you’re in control of your own destiny by learning how to do those things. Also, it kind of makes you appreciate the shows you play a bit more because you busted ass to book and promote them. Playing House of Blues last September was an example of that. We worked really hard to book and promote the hell out of that show, and the end pay-off was playing for a packed house at one of the premier venues in Chicago. That show was definitely the highlight of our careers so far, made even sweeter by the fact that we worked really hard for it.
Q – What are the band’s short-term and long-term goals?
A – Short term, we’d like to record another album and tour out in the Midwest over the coming months.
Long term, we’d like to live as self-sufficient musicians. While that could mean being signed to a label, we definitely aren’t holding our breath for that. We want to be more involved booking shows in the college market and getting our music licensed in TV and film. Our recent EP, “Rethink the Recession,” was licensed by a variety of shows on MTV, Showtime and Discovery Networks – which oversees TLC, History Channel, Discovery Channel, Oprah Winfrey Network, Animal Planet and many others. We’d like to continue expanding our reach in those two arenas. That, and continuing to hone our craft and become a better live band with every show.
The reality is that music is so subjective, and the vast majority of people aren’t going to like your music, so we simply want to focus on connecting with the fans who do. And thankfully, we’ve got some pretty great families, friends, and fans who really want to see us succeed.
So in time, we’ll get there. It’s just a balance of patience and ambition.
The Future Laureates Biography
Fans know The Future Laureates for their fun and aggressive live shows. Student programmers and concert promoters know them for their professionalism and passion.
The band’s upbeat, dynamic sound combines influences of artists ranging from Guster to Simon and Garfunkel to The Avett Brothers—with a ukulele. “And it’s not just a gimmicky thing; he jams the livin’ crap outta that uke!” (DailyLimerick.net)
Self-managed, self-booked, and self-promoted, the band has played over 80 shows in the Midwest and along the East coast. Highlights include weekend performances at Chicago’s Double Door Lounge and Lincoln Hall, DC’s Rock and Roll Hotel, the main stage of Chicago’s House of Blues—and the Congress Theater for the 3rd annual Chicago Bluegrass and Blues Festival. This summer and fall, The Future Laureates hit the road in support of their new EP, “Rethink the Recession.” The album has made it into rotation at 140 college and community radio stations across North America.