It’s becoming a rare thing these days for me to find an entire album of new music that is exciting from beginning to end. This is the era of the downloadable single, where the notion of a cohesive album that one listens to from start to finish is an old and abandoned concept. I think back to my youth and often yearn for the days when I’d run to the nearest record shop to purchase a cassette tape of some band I’d read or heard about. I’d go home and listen patiently from start to finish and really get try to get a sense for what the band was all about.
I recently came across a recording that brought back those old feelings from the Chicago band, Psycles. Their album, “Live at Martyrs,” has been out since March 2011 and I’m still listening to it in its entirety on a regular basis. Psycles is the brainchild of local guitarist/multi-instrumentalist, Chris Siebold. Siebold is one of the most in-demand guitarists in the city, and his talent and versatility are showcased brilliantly on “Live at Martyrs”. The band is comprised of some of the best musicians that Chicago has to offer, and while they are all involved in many different projects, it’s clear that they have put their hearts and souls into this music.
I had a chance to talk at length with Siebold to get the scoop on the band he assembled to execute his musical vision…
Examiner: You’re involved in so many different projects as a working musician. Tell me a bit about how Psycles came about and where you see it going.
Siebold: I formed Psycles around April of 2010. At the time, I was performing with a successful cover band about 4 nights a week, but I was tiring of churning out a lot of music that I was not excited about. I wanted more time for my own original projects. I did (and still do) have an original band called “Kick the Cat” that was my main creative outlet at the time, but I needed something else. I’ve always wanted to work with a big group, and the music that I was composing really necessitated having a lot of different instruments on tap. I wanted to assemble a large group to fully execute on my musical vision.
In my career I’ve had the privilege of working with some of the best musicians around, and as a result, I was able to assemble a group of people that I was very familiar with. I had worked with all of these musicians at various times over the years, and I knew each one would fit perfectly. All of the musicians in the band are extremely versatile and can play almost any style of music you can think of at a very high level.
My goal has always been to be able to perform a truly diverse mixture of music, and do it well, so diversity is definitely the theme for us. That said, diversity can be both a good thing and a bad thing to some extent. I’ve gotten some comments that we are probably a bit too eclectic, and that it’s a bit much to expect that listeners will get into everything we do. The flip side, however, is that we really do provide a little bit of something for everyone.
Examiner: I know that many of the players in the band are also composers themselves. Is the writing a collaborative effort, or do you pretty much handle writing all of the material?
Siebold: Everyone in the band is a composer in their own right, but for Psycles I handle the lion’s share of the writing and arranging of the material. I did collaborate with Ingrid Graudins, on “Believe” and Lisa Roti on “Still”, and we will occasionally do some interesting cover songs, but outside of that it’s mostly me. That’s not to say that the other musicians don’t put their own stamp on things. I pretty much write and arrange everything ahead of time and provide charts for everyone…at least enough so that everyone has something to start with in rehearsal. Everyone in the band reads music really well, so that helps. Obviously, it’s extremely time consuming for me to do this, but the payoff is that everyone can perform the music as I’ve envisioned it.
If, during the course of rehearsals, someone has ideas that change some phrasing or add new sounds,etc., that’s great. I tend to work more effectively in a collaborative writing environment and we often come up with alot of great things in our rehearsals. Most of the tunes from the album were provided with basic lead sheets/chord changes where the musicians were given a lot of freedom to add different elements of their own. For example, the weird noises in “Form Letter To God” is Paul Mutzabaugh doing his thing on keys, after I’d mentioned the idea of hearing a “tornado passing through”. He’s a master of creating sonic textures and comes up with brilliant stuff.
Examiner: Why did you decide that your first album would be a live recording?
Siebold: Before the first album, we’d rehearsed this music for nine weeks, so everyone was on top of the songs and arrangements. Martyrs has a 24 channel hard disk recording setup and we got some fantastic sounds thanks to their engineers. We were able to take the .wav files to Transient Studios and mix on their SSL console and everything just ended up sounding great with very little tweaking. Really, what you hear on the recording is pretty much how it was performed.
Examiner: “Believe” is probably my favorite track on the album…it’s just a really beautiful song.
Siebold: Thanks! It goes to show how good Ingrid and Howard (Levy, harmonica) are. I went over the song with Ingrid right before the show that night and she sang it beautifully. Howard had never played the song before that night. He had a form sheet for the arrangement and that was it…what he played was what he came up with right there. I really think his playing brought that tune to another level. Neither Ingrid nor Howard are full time members of the band at this point, but Ingrid has already insisted that she be included whenever she is available.
Examiner: Any plans for a studio album?
Siebold: I”m planning for Psycles to record a studio album sometime in the fall, depending on everyone’s schedules. Hopefully we can have the album released early next year. I think that it will be a bit more singer/song oriented than we took with the live album. It was easier for us as a new band to perform and record with a bit more of a jazz/improv slant to get folks playing and soloing and exploring that side of the music. Our new material is a bit more structured, though we still leave room in the music for experimentation. Actually, our last show before we go in to record is on July 19th at Reggies with the Renegades, which is a band that I also perform in with Psycles’ keyboardist, Paul Mutzabaugh. It should be a really fun show. After that we’ll be focusing on writing and recording new material.
Stay tuned for Part II….and don’t forget to check out Psycles, live at Reggie’s Music Joint in Chicago, IL, with the Renegades, on July 19th.