In addition to being an extraordinarily talented group of singers, songwriters and musicians, as well as some of the nicest people you'll meet on the Chicago rock scene, the biggest reason for the Scotland Yard Gospel Choir's success is that no local band works harder.
One of the greatest frustrations 29-year-old bandleader Elia Einhorn has experienced since the catastrophic crash the group suffered on Sept. 24 is that he hasn't been able to walk the streets hanging fliers promoting the benefit concerts the group's peers have been quick to mount on its behalf.
"I went out to put up some posters for the Halloween benefit, and I hurt my muscles just putting up fliers, so I've been in bed the last couple of days," Einhorn said with a sigh late last week. "I'm not used to being laid up like this--postering is in my blood!--and I just thought, 'Oh, I can go out and walk around a little bit.' But I pushed myself too far. It was a good lesson: I have to slow down... at least for a little while."
That work ethic, combined with the group's exuberant chamber-pop melodies and Einhorn's smart, funny and very literate lyrics, is a big reason why the band was signed to Chicago's Bloodshot Records in 2007. The group released its second album for the label on Sept. 15, and "...And the Horse You Rode in On" made a big leap forward with its sophisticated songwriting and production. Comparisons to obvious influences such as Morrissey and Belle and Sebastian became superfluous in the many glowing reviews; the band earned a slot on the soundtrack for a recent episode of "Gossip Girl," and excitement was high for its most extensive tour to date.
The Choir was en route to one of the first gigs on that jaunt, in Cincinnati, when a tire blew out on I-65 in Indiana. The van swerved into a lane of oncoming tractor trailers, but drummer Jay Santana--"our best driver, thankfully" according to Einhorn--regained control and steered back into the median. Nevertheless, authorities say the van flipped over and rolled five to eight times, injuring all six musicians, and leaving some hanging with their lives in the balance.
"It was f---ing horrible," Einhorn said, the pain obvious as he relived the accident one more time. "I seriously thought we were going to lose one or two of the band, and they're some of my best friends, so it was doubly painful."
Thankfully, in the weeks since, the musicians have all been healing.
"[Violinist] Ethan [Adelsman], [vocalist] Alison [Hinderliter] and Jay were treated and released. They're still having some dizziness--everyone had pretty bad concussions--and they've partially returned to work, but they're still having trouble getting through a full day. [Guitarist] Mary [Ralph] is back home finally; she was in the hospital for a week and a half, and then they moved her to physical therapy full time. She's able to get around with a cane, but she still can't play guitar until her bones heal up.
"Mark [Yoshizumi], our bass player and producer, was really seriously injured, and he was in the hospital until about a week ago, when they moved him to physical therapy. It's going to be a long road for him, but he's coming back. I thought we'd lost him. He's one of my oldest friends--we went to grade school together--and it's frustrating for him. But I cry with joy every time I see him, and once he's healed up, they say he's going to be doing great."
As for Einhorn, he was in the hospital for four days, after which he spent three weeks with his family in Evanston. Doctors initially feared he might be paralyzed, but now he's walking again, wearing a neck brace, and waiting for two fractured vertebrae to heal. "I'm alive; I just can't hang any fliers at the moment," he said.
For many on the local music scene, the accident has underscored the omnipresent danger for people who spend countless hours on the highway, traveling from gig to gig. And Einhorn is eager to impart the two biggest lessons he's learned.
"One: Always wear your seat belt, whether you're in the back of the van or not; I've literally gone through night-long drives sleeping on the floor of the van, and I would have died if that had happened this time. Two: Everybody should have catastrophic health insurance. You may have a deductible of like $5,000, but at least you're not going to be hit with $50,000 in bills that will bankrupt you."
Five of the six band members had insurance, but in yet another vivid illustration of the trouble with our current healthcare system, their bills are mounting at a staggering pace. The first two pieces of mail that Einhorn opened when he finally returned home were for bills that added up to $11,000--and that was just the beginning.
"They had to chopper Mark out, and that alone is tens of thousands of dollars. It's going to go beyond any of our health insurance, and me and Mark and Mary are going to be out of work for months. We lost a lot of the gear, and our most expensive instruments were all destroyed. It's daunting having the various bills--medical, personal for not being able to work, and instruments--all mounting up at once. But everyone is surviving, and Chicago has been amazing. By the time I was conscious again, [Bloodshot] already had the fund set up and people were contributing. Lots of musicians have offered to give or loan us gear, and we've had more bands offer to help by playing benefits than Bloodshot can actually accommodate."
The fund so far has raised more than $10,000; the first of several benefits took place on Halloween, and the next will be held at the Hideout on Thursday [Nov. 12]. It features the 1900s, Chicago's other rising chamber-pop group (and one that clearly feels more comradeship with the Choir than competition), and Brighton MA, the band led by former Choir member Matt Kerstein. (Einhorn hopes to join him on stage for a few of the songs dating back to the group's earliest incarnation.)
"The Choir has done so many benefits over the years, and it's so funny to be on the other side of that and feel all the love coming back at us," Einhorn said. "But we're in this weird position, and I don't mean to sound ungrateful, but no matter how much comes in, it won't cover it. So each of these benefits mean so much to us, because it really is money we need right now."
As for getting back on the road to promote "...And the Horse You Rode in On," Einhorn hopes to resume the aborted tour in late spring or early summer, and he said all of his bandmates are committed to rejoining him. "We kind of feel like the odds are against it happening to us again! And Mark actually scolded me at one point, before he realized how hurt everybody was, for canceling the whole tour: 'You should have gone on without me, what are you doing?' I was like, 'I have two cracks in my spine!'"
Will any art come from this ordeal? "I don't want to write a maudlin car-wreck album," Einhorn said with a laugh. "But you know me: Everything that happens in my life goes into the music in one way or another."
Scotland Yard Gospel Choir Benefit with the 1900s and Brighton MA
9 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 12
(773) 227-4433; www.hideoutchicago.com