The Chicago pop band Company of Thieves is living out the sort of clubland-to-national stardom dream that isn't supposed to come true in the music industry anymore.
"It's almost unheard of in our time," bandleader Genevieve Schatz says with a tone of giddy disbelief. "We just feel incredibly lucky!"
Left to right: Marc Walloch, Genevieve Schatz and Mike Ortiz.
The story starts a few years back, when singer-songwriter Schatz met guitarist Marc Walloch at Union Station. Both were 19 at the time, and they decided to collaborate, drawing on a long list of shared musical heroes ranging from the Beatles, the Zombies and Nina Simone to Jeff Buckley, Wilco and Radiohead.
"Marc and I had met through a mutual friend and started hanging out and writing songs that we played for other people at open mikes at coffee shops around the city," Schatz says. "We kind of built up a singer-songwriter support net--people who were there at every show as we kind of put together our lineup over time--and we just kept pushing ourselves to do everything we could to make sure our music got out there, building an audience from the roots up."
Shortly after adding Mike Ortiz on drums, the group began recording with Sean O'Keefe, whose credits include recording by Fall Out Boy and the Hush Sound.
"Honestly, we had no idea what we were doing: We were just a bunch of kids trying to figure it out as we went. We had all just recently broken up with our bands when we met each other, and we didn't have a plan--we just wrote music together about how we felt when we were sitting around our apartments, thinking about everyday situations, our experiences, personal relationships, people in general and what was going on in the world around us.
"It was a big experimentation, to be honest. Whatever we did, we just wanted to make sure it sounded really organic, and we actually wound up recording a lot of it in our producer's living room! And it ended up being a lot of songs that we could make into an album."
With witty, erudite lyrics referencing heroes like Oscar Wilde, a spare but effective sound with just enough hints of modern Radiohead or Bjork ambience to seem cutting-edge and Schatz's appealingly breathy vocals (think of a less annoying Fiona Apple), "Ordinary Riches" first surfaced as a D.I.Y. release in the spring of 2007. To support it, the band continued to play around town as often as possible, as well as venturing further afield on short trips to New York or festivals such as South by Southwest in Austin, TX. A fan who saw them there raved about it to a talent scout at Wind Up, the label that scored multi-platinum hits with Creed and Evanescence, and she came out to see the band the next time it played in Manhattan.
Now, that original living-room recording of "Ordinary Riches" (with new artwork and a few bonus tracks) is getting a major national re-release, and the band--which has expanded to a quintet with the addition of bassist Bob Buckstaff and keyboardist Mike Maimone--is riding a high from a late January appearance on "Last Call with Carson Daly" as it undertakes a four-week national tour.
"We're in Orlando, Florida, today, it's the first day of the tour and we've never played here before," Schatz says in an hyper-enthusiastic rush. "It's raining, but I couldn't be happier!
"It's funny: Sometimes I'm so inside of it I'm not even able to realize how magical all of this has been until one of my band mates says, 'Hey, do you realize what's going on? We're going to play on national TV' or whatever. We're just trying to stay as true to ourselves as possible."
If that sounds a bit naïve or, even worse, like the sort of canned platitude that calculating pop stars always spoout, well, remember that Schatz is still only 21 years old, and it really is the passion for the music talking. "I'd like to die with the songs I love stuck in my head," she sings in "Around the Block."
In other words, the thing that really sets Company of Thieves apart is that this is a band that still believes, and not for nothing did it take its album title from a quote by Wilde: "Ordinary riches can be stolen, real riches cannot. In your soul are infinitely precious things that cannot be taken from you." Thankfully, these can be shared.
Thriving Ivory, Company of Thieves, Barcelona
9 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 19
Double Door, 1572 N. Milwaukee
Tickets $13 in advance, $15 at the door
(773) 489-3160; www.doubledoor.com