Elephant Revival - “Quill Pen Feather”
See them at Lincoln Hall on April 3rd. Tickets available now.
Guest Mixtape: Jonathan Wilson
Cheers to Jonathan Wilson for providing our latest guest mixtape, including tracks from Jackson Browne, Bill Fay and Jenny O.
See Jonathan at Lincoln Hall on Saturday night. Tickets still available.
Yellow Ostrich ‘Any Wonder’
Enjoy the latest single from Yellow Ostrich here. Enjoy them live at Schubas on March 31st. Tickets available now.
Welcome to our new series, the Flannelmouth Sessions, where we’ll take you behind the scenes with different artists coming through Chicago.
The Flannelmouth Sessions: Tall Walker
The night before Tall Walker plays at Lincoln Hall, I visit their practice space in the chilly basement of City Church. The band is set up on the stage of a mini-theater in front of a semicircle of seats, but they’re facing each other, not the imaginary audience.
The local trio—Nick Bays on guitar and vocals, Chris Hershman on bass, and Ben Johnson on drums—has two other friends, Derek Schwartz and Joel Charboneau, on guitar and keys to give them a fuller sound on stage. They aren’t new to Lincoln Hall, but it will be their first performance there since releasing their self-titled EP in December.
That EP caused a lot of excitement in the Chicago scene—Tall Walker made it onto Red Eye’s list of “15 Chicago artists to watch in ‘14,” and earlier in the day, they made an appearance on WBEZ’s Vocalo.
“We’re like, ‘Dude, all of this over four songs,’” Chris says. But those four songs sound like they came from a much larger rock outfit, not three dudes releasing their first EP. An ambiguous mix of rock and pop, the music is polished and purposeful, always building up to a gigantic, arena-filling chorus that suits Nick’s powerful voice.
Chris and Ben, who had already been playing together for years at the church, stumbled upon that voice by luck and a little nosiness.
“I was basically at one of the services,” Nick says, “and then when I was in the lobby, Chris approached me and the first thing he said was, ‘Hey man, do you play music? ‘Cause I’ve seen you a couple times, and you look like you play music.’”
“Chris actually used the same line on me, but it was about seven years earlier,” Ben says. “I get that, though, because after playing for a while, you can tell when you’re looking out at people, like oh, that guy’s a musician for sure.”
Chris and Nick instantly hit it off, but Nick moved back home to South Carolina after graduating college. He says they would talk on the phone for hours—”just like, ‘What’d you do today, man? What’d you eat? What’d you listen to? Did you write anything today, man?’”—and Chris encouraged him to move back to Chicago and start a band together. After transitioning through several other players, they asked Ben to join on drums and committed to working on the EP.
They all get along well, swapping notes and criticism during the practice and jokes in the Lincoln Hall green room. Between the three of them, as well as Joel, Derek, and a couple friends, the space is cramped—the couch is taken up by guitars and the table is covered with half-eaten plates of mac ‘n cheese and empty 312 cans.
Chris—who’s by far the most extroverted member of the band, quick to flash a huge grin—comes back from the bathroom with a new pair of jeans and admires them in the full-length mirror, all the while discussing the importance of a good pair of denim at a show.
“The charm doesn’t come into that smile without the right pair of jeans,” says Adam, Chris’s roommate and the bassist of another local band, Minor Characters.
“I’m still figuring out how to dress at shows,” Chris says. “Do I wear something cooler than what I wore to work? Because I’m about to just come from work.”
As the show’s opener, Mighty Fox, starts playing their set, the band scatters, some staying behind, some going out for a smoke, and some venturing onto the balcony to watch the show. Tall Walker will go on next, followed by Goldford and Caleb Hawley.
While Mighty Fox approaches the end of their set, everyone in the green room is getting anxious. Ben is warming up on a small, portable drum pad, and Derek runs over to the corner and does a round of push-ups. Joel starts rubbing Ben’s shoulders, standing on a chair to get more leverage, joking about how tough Ben’s back is.
“He’s evolved beyond humans. There’s apes, humans, and then Ben Johnson,” Derek jokes. “He’s 50% steel,” Nick says.
When they go on stage, they’re bathed in a foggy, purple glow. On Tall Walker’s EP, opener “Deadbeat” moves pretty quickly into a mid-tempo jam, but here, it starts slowly, atmospheric synth building while Nick sings, “Keep it in line, keep it in line.” When the chorus hits, it fills the entire room, and by the time the song ends, it’s clear Tall Walker has won over this crowd.
It’s no surprise that the EP, which they play in full, translates so well into a live setting. Nick says that’s how they write each song—the three of them together, with full amps, playing with a riff or a line for hours until they come up with a song that feels right.
“I think there’s a level of ADD that we all share, in real life and in music,” Chris says. “It’s easy for us to get distracted, so if we’re fully engaged throughout an entire song and we don’t get bored of certain parts, that’s what we mean by feel. This feels good from the moment we started the song to the moment we ended it.”
Their music certainly feels right on Lincoln Hall’s stage. Belting out a powerful chorus seems as natural to Nick as breathing, and Ben’s drums are a force in and of themselves; on the second song, “Clouds,” they fill the quieter moments with a sense of anticipation. The music sounds like a train: long before the larger-than-life chorus actually hits, you can tell that something big is coming.
Nick announces that it’s Derek’s 21st birthday—”So basically, what I’m saying is everybody buy this guy drinks afterwards”—before kicking into the rest of the set, which includes “Love is Alive” and “Stay” from the EP, plus “Safe Hands” and a few new songs.
“Stay” actually sounds better live; Nick’s voice is less processed, the dirty guitar sounds epic on this large scale, and the bridge has a rhythmic, almost tribal-sounding catchiness that makes it stick in the brain. The crowd is pretty into it, as far as ultra-hip 20-somethings can get into an unfamiliar band—the head nodding grows increasingly vigorous with each song Tall Walker performs, and the band is sent off with a hefty round of applause.
After the show, Derek heads straight for the beer, but the cooler is empty. Still, he’s high on the adrenaline rush, breathlessly saying, “I wouldn’t wanna be anywhere else!”
The band and I had talked the night before about Chicago’s tight-knit music scene. The crowd’s response to Tall Walker—who, if they weren’t friends of the band, had probably never heard them before—solidified the feeling of the city’s musical pride.
“The fans in Chicago are so loyal, and they’re so excited about music,” Ben says, and Chris and Nick agree.
“What I love most about Columbia, [S.C.]’s music scene is that there is that sense of community there,” Nick says. “I loved moving to Chicago and experiencing that on such a greater scale. I think there’s just this Chicago pride that you can’t really define why it’s there. Everybody’s like, we tough through shitty winters together, and it’s like, why do we all live here? Well, it’s because this city’s amazing, and the people here are amazing.”
New Milagres Track!
See them at Schubas this April. Tickets available now.
Guest Mixtape: Hospitality
The trio of Amber Papini, Brian Betancourt and Nathan Michel, making up Hospitality, take the stage at Schubas tomorrow night. In the meantime, enjoy a short but sweet mixtape they generously shared with us. Some tickets still remain for tomorrow night’s show. Get them here.
Support Local Music!
Schubas and Lincoln Hall have an abundance of upcoming shows with some of our favorite local artists. Get familiar with them right here:
Enjoy the new We Are Scientists video for their track ‘Dumb Luck’.
See them live at Lincoln Hall at April 25. Tickets available now.