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June 2012 Archives

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All photos by Patty Michels

I know less about wine than I do about music so I asked Bin 36’s wine director Brian Duncan to give me a crash course. Turns out you can love wine without hating humanity, but I’m pretty sure you still have to smack your lips a lot. Not that Brian did that. Rather, he kindly educated me about everything from cork vs screw top to how to choose quality wine on a budget.

Our Town So, do you have to be pretentious to be a wine guy?
Brian Duncan The answer is no!  You do not have to be pretentious to be a wine guy. No one that loves wine desires to make others feel insecure or uncomfortable about wine.

OT Starting out as Bin 36’s wine director, what were some initial goals?
BD [Owner] Dan Sachs was interested in doing another restaurant concept that behaved differently than typical wine bars and restaurants.  We both discussed the less than friendly atmosphere around wine consumption, marketing and education that seemed to be inherently attached to wine and saw an opportunity to solve many of the misconceptions and even the fear factor and uneasiness attached to the wine experience. We created sort of a punch list itemizing all of the things we disliked about the way wine was being presented such as:
Inferior quality
Overpricing
Lack of information
No information other than what you would be charged
Limited choices
No options for sampling
Wine flights that featured wines that had no relationship one to the other.

OT Sounds like a major goal is to make wine accessible. How you do go about that?
BD I offer quality and affordable choices.  Providing lots of choices offers guests an opportunity for discovery.  Discovery of personal preferences, unfamiliar grape types, blends and a world of various wine styles. and experience. Wine buyers and sommeliers that seem stuck on pricey wines, and are obsessed with wine scores are lazy and uninterested in showcasing the wealth and bounty that exists in the world of wine. I conduct classes, seminars and tastings where attendees can bring all of their questions, myths, misconceptions and most importantly their curiosity.  These sessions are lively and heaven forbid, fun!

OT Give me a crash course in wine--just the basics--what do I need to know to get by in sophisticated company?
BD  There’s no need to “get by” when it comes to wine company.  If you mean they are wine snobs, then chat up someone else that is interested in your questions and curiosity about wine.  
[But] here’s what you need to know:
Wine grapes (vitis vinifera) once picked when ripe convert sugar to alcohol during fermentation.
There are possibly 10,000 wine grape varieties.
Some major white grapes are Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc
Some major Reds: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Grenache, Tempranillo, Nebbiolo, Sangiovese, Malbec.

OT What’s your favorite wine region?
BD This one’s difficult.  My tastes are constantly evolving.  It depends on where I am, what time of year it is, and whom I am with at the time.  However, if stranded on a desert island, unequivocally Blanc de Blancs Champagne for a few reasons.  First of all, every morning I wake up and realize that I am stranded, having Champagne would immediately lift my spirits.  More importantly, Champagne goes with a broad array of food, and let’s face it, I would be surrounded by seafood and shellfish.

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Over the last decade, psychedelic laser rock band Catacombz has mutated like a comic book super villain. Its current incarnation may be its strongest yet. The Milwaukee band hits Lincoln Hall, June 26th along with Young Man and Mines. Catacombz synth player Sam La Strapes spoke with Our Town about lasers, Miley Cyrus and Unicorns.

Our Town What's the story behind your band's name?
Sam La Strapes The name has taken a new meaning that reflects our style of searching for inspiration; which is to say, by digging through the shallow graves of forgotten (at least by popular standards) sub-cultures to assemble a sort of Frankenstein’s monster sound. Now that I think of it, that description could be applied to a lot of today’s music.

OT Your music is about more than a sound, it’s about an experience. How do you go about providing that to an audience?
SL We have a seizure inducing light show and we’re loud as f*ck. I guess it’s inspired by unremembered nostalgia for the raves and Electric Kool-Aid parties we never got to experience ourselves.

OT Who are your some of your unexpected musical influences, in other words, who would fans be surprised to hear you are influenced by?
SL Speaking as somewhat of an outsider in a band of brothers, it’s no easy job finding the common denominator for our shared influences. But I can say we all love CCR, Big Freedia, The Shirelles, and Twin Peaks.

OT Do you consider yourselves part of a larger cultural scene or community?
SL Our community is comprised of brothers and sisters of the vibe that are geographically distant, but our mind meld is tight. And there’s always the internet.

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I’m afraid to interview musicians. Not because a lot of them smell weird. Because of all the rules. I’ve mentioned before how when my sister was ten she told me Green Day had sold out. Actually, she sang the words to the tune of “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life),” a move both snotty and in-the-know. Though eight years her senior, I thought maybe Green Day were the ones fronted by the guy with the giant bald head and I couldn’t figure why success was a bad thing.

It’s not that I don’t believe in rules. Once my Significant Other claimed that for a book, painting or film to have artistic worth, only ONE person must enjoy it. First I asked her, “what if that person is Aaron Spelling?” And then I stopped talking to her until I couldn’t find my favorite pair of shoes at which point I had to talk to her but just to ask if she’d seen them.

In my view, to create quality art, one must learn the rules if only to break from them. But when it comes to music, the rules seem somehow arbitrary. I don’t understand what makes something “good.”

Here’s what I like: passion, intelligence and drums.
Here’s what I hate: 80’s saxophone solos, the word “shawty” and Maroon Five.

The Kickback has all of the former and none of the latter plus Rolling Stone says they “conjure the very best parts of the Veils and the Walkmen and the Killers, writing lean, nervy songs that snarl and snap.”

I don’t know who any of those people are, but I interviewed The Kickback guitarist Billy Yost and he smells just fine!

Our Town How would you describe your sound?
Billy Yost I use [this] as something to aspire to: the Zombies listening to Jeff Buckley listening to a moderately-talented church choir listening to The Beatles in the “back to basics” stage of their career who would stay together long enough to be influenced by the Sales brothers who wound up backing Iggy Pop in the “Berlin era.” Our tunes wouldn’t express that at all, at the moment, however. So, I guess you can consider this an opportunity to get in on the ground level. I sound like Bernie Madoff.  

OT Who are your influences?
BY Randy Newman, music from "classic period" Muppet film and television, David Foster Wallace, Iggy Pop, unresolved Catholicism, 1989's Batman, a lot of older brothers, people who use harmony well. 

OT How did growing up in South Dakota inform your music?
BY My main connection to music for the first decade or so of my life was mostly informed by drives to Sioux Falls from Beresford and back--a 30-mile trip each way. My mom would have the radio tuned almost exclusively to '50s and '60s oldies. That's where I learned about harmony and developed a love for melody. I think [South Dakota] also rooted us with a healthy Midwestern guilt that tends to set off warning bells when I find myself using phrases like "our aesthetic" or "sushi."

OT Your brother Danny is part of the band. What’s it like to work so closely with a sibling?
BY Pros- He gets it already. Cons- That doesn't mean he has to like it and then you're dealing with 25 years of subtle jabbing, from the hair-pulling incident at Mt. Rushmore (age 7) to present day. 

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Photo by Elizabeth McQuern

Comedy producer Nellie Huggins is a comic’s best friend. Not only has she produced comedy shows for the likes of mainstays The Lincoln Lodge and Mayne Stage, but she covers comedy for Gapers Block and has just started a new podcast series designed to showcase comedians and performers. She spoke with Our Town about her favorite comedians, the art of producing and why she’s a comedy nerd.

Our Town You self identify as a comedy nerd. What’s so interesting about comedy?
Nellie Huggins Oh God, everything. Comedy is one of the few mediums that everyone can relate to, regardless of language, age, gender, cultural background. It’s a universal language. We are born knowing how to laugh. We can say things through comedy that we may not otherwise be able to say. I believe that just like some people are born with a musical ear, some people are born with an ear for comedy.

OT Who are your favorite stand ups and why?
NH So many. Janeane Garofalo has been my favorite since I was 12. I used to sneak out of my room late at night to watch her specials. I love how smart and unapologetic she is. Currently, I love Maria Bamford, Paul F. Tompkins, Patton Oswalt, Louis CK and Kristen Schaal so much. There’s something to be said for nerdy, awkward, honest, raw, smart comedy, and I’m grateful that they exist. Local comics Dan Telfer, Candy Lawrence, Ever Mainard and Kelsie Huff blow my mind every time I see them. They are definitely the future of comedy.

OT I ask everyone who cares about comedy this: Was Bridesmaids funny?
NH I can understand both sides of the argument from an objective standpoint. Me personally? I loved it, saw it twice in the theater and own it on DVD. I love Kristin Wiig and Maya Rudolph and Melissa McCarthy and that entire supporting cast. It was so refreshing to see these smart, beautiful women on the screen doing things that, ten years ago, would have never worked. I like when anyone pushes a boundary and the humor in that movie resonates with my own. I guess my answer to this question is yes, Bridesmaids was funny.

OT How did you get started producing stand up showcases?
NH Kind of on accident. A friend of mine was performing in a local showcase and they were looking for new producers. She referred me because she thought I would enjoy it, and she was right! I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but I loved it instantly. Once I had a few shows under my belt, I started producing my own one-off’s and I haven’t stopped! [I do] concept, development, marketing, booking, promoting. Everything from the idea of a show to the execution of a show.

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Chicago based writer, actor and director Nathan Adloff can’t believe Nate & Margaret is truly finished. “We began brainstorming ideas in early 2008,” he says. “I've watched the movie close to 200 times and I’m still waiting for it to sink in that we actually pulled it off.” A quirky buddy movie in which the buddies are a 19-year-old gay film student and a 52-year-old aspiring stand-up comedian, Nate & Margaret grew out of Nate’s college experiences, but over time became something altogether new.

Our Town What inspired Nate & Margaret?
Nathan Adloff The story evolved greatly from first conception to the final film. My co-writer, Justin D.M. Palmer and I were working the same day job and began brainstorming ideas there. Our original idea was a collection of true stories about myself in college that had a younger female lead playing my best friend. Shortly after we began the writing process, we met with Natalie West [and] our concept quickly shifted to having an older woman as the female lead, which resulted in more fabricated stories, so we just scrapped the “based on true stories” tag altogether. Also, Justin and I really wanted to make a film that could be categorized as both "straight" and LGBT. Nate is gay and based on myself. Margaret is straight and is sort of loosely based on Justin (and his obsession with stand up comedy and comedians). And, obviously, a lot of it is based on our personal friendship. 

OT How does co-writing work? Do you literally construct every sentence together or do you swap scenes?
NA It all begins with bouncing ideas off of each other in conversation, then creating a rough outline. I send Justin notes and ideas, and he incorporates them into a more structured outline. After we both feel that’s solid, we build the outline into a longer treatment, then work on scripting. Justin finds order in my mess of writing. By the time we get to scripting, we get together, sit in front of my computer and work on writing the script together, which takes a few weeks. We'll share pots of coffee, order food and basically try to make each other laugh our way through the process, writing it down as we go, until we have a final script. It's pretty awesome.

OT You also directed the film. Is it difficult to change hats?
NA It was much easier having Justin as my right-hand man on set everyday. Having him there to help with line re-writes on set and such was great. So, in a sense I didn't have to switch hats because Justin was my hat. That sounds dirty.

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Photo by Patty Michels

The other night a friend and I went out for drinks (by which I mean he ordered something sophisticated sounding and I panicked because menus overwhelm me).

Waiting to be seated he said, “I’ve decided to make you my role model for publishing a first novel. What are you doing?!”

“This? This is my compliment crouch.”

From under one of the patio tables, a terrier released a low growl.

“You’re making that couple uncomfortable,” my friend pointed out.

“What do you mean I’m your role model?” I asked after we’d ordered.

“You’re acting just how I want to when it happens for me. Except for that crouching thing. And the way you made the server bring you three kinds of dressing when you didn’t order a salad. But other than that, you’re my debut author ideal.”

“But I wake each day from nightmares in which I’m late for my Book Cellar appearance because I’ve forgotten which ones are my feet. I’m afraid when it comes time to sign books the only thing I’ll remember how to spell will be ‘John Mayer.’ I keep forgetting to memorize my agency’s name and I can’t stop picturing Jodi Picoult coming up behind me in line at Starbucks and tapping me on the shoulder. When I turn, she punches me in the glasses.”

“That’s just it.” My friend sipped his beer. I dipped my pinkie in my ranch dressing.

“You’re not entitled or self-promotional. You seem ambivalent about the whole thing.”

“Ambivalence is a perfect cloaking device,” I told him. “It makes you seem less self-promotional than you are. For example, when my publicist asked for my contacts at major Chicago news outlets I realized that the only person I knew at The Sun Times is me.”

“I thought she wanted major news outlets.”

The Sun Times hasn’t declared bankruptcy in months. I think we just bought The Reader...or maybe just someone who was reading, like on Foster Beach or something and we just came up and bought them cause that’s how powerful we are. I hope they were reading something by Jodi Picoult.”

“Your point?”

“My publicist suggested I feature myself in my Hot Writer Blog.”

“Each time you say publicist, you become less ideal.”


“But I thought if I made myself my own Hot Writer I’d look like a John Mayer, so here’s what I did, I asked recent Windy City Story Slam winner and sensational blogger Samantha Irby to do it for me.”

“Why are you describing her as if you’re introducing her at an awards ceremony?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about. Heeeeeere’s Samantha!”

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Samantha Irby: “I’m a pretty good goddamned judge of what’s hot and what ain’t. And I know that might at first seem confusing considering the number of elastic-waisted pants in my possession, but trust me on this one: I'm an expert in hot sh*t. Being a hot writer is probably one of the easiest “hot” things one could be, as no one blanches at your pallid complexion, bathed in the glow of a computer screen for hours on end or your gnarled carpal tunnel fingers. Forgiven is that incessant muttering of new ideas and constant need to “let me write that one thing you said down.” It also helps that most people are just willing to take our word for it, because watching television and being dumb is way easier than reading a book or skimming an article.
Sarah Terez Rosenblum is the hottest kind of writer, one who does it professionally and actually gets paid to do so. Her new book, Herself When She’s Missing, knocked my socks clean off, and I pretty much hate everything. That book is a good time. Sarah is tremendously talented, so smart, so funny, and she has a body hot enough to pose naked as a figure model in front of classrooms full of snooty art kids. And if that isn’t hot, I have no goddamned idea what is.”

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I may not be the best person to interview Mike McPadden. He’s a Metallica expert, I grew up on Sondheim and Lilith Fair. He’s been happily employed by the likes of Hustler, and I majored in Womens Studies. But what can I say? McPadden gives great interview. He spoke with Our Town about everything from his new book, If You Like Metallica... (Backbeat Books) to why Playboy has all those pesky articles.

Our Town You seem to be a heavy metal aficionado. What originally drew you to the genre?
Mike McPadden From toddler-hood on, I was a horror movie fanatic; heavy metal is a natural musical transition. I loved KISS and was terrified by them. That commingling of love and terror has driven a lot of my life. I grew up in Brooklyn, New York in the ’70s, so I developed an interest in punk rock at a very early age. I went to see the Ramones when I was 11. But by the time I got to high school, wimpy European New Wave had supplanted punk. I’d see classmates wearing Sex Pistols and Dead Kennedys shirts, but they were actually listening to Depeche Mode and Spandau Ballet. As a result, I reactively embraced whatever a fan of, say, Echo and the Bunnymen would find most repulsive—and that drove me straight back to metal. As I got closer to college in 1986, I veered back toward punk because of the very metal-influenced stuff being done by bands like the Butthole Surfers, Black Flag, and Redd Kross. Then one sunny afternoon I saw a gorgeous punk girl with a Mohawk and some very shocking piercings—for the mid-’80s—bobbling underneath her Metallica “Ride the Lightning” shirt. I walked right up to Tower Records, bought Metallica’s Master of Puppets on cassette and fell in love with that album and that band.

OT So, I know nothing about Metallica. Give me a one paragraph crash course.
MM Metallica emerged from the San Francisco area in 1982 with a shocking sound that combined metal and punk—at a time when the two forms opposed one another—and thereby invented the genre known as thrash. Metallica’s first four albums are revered as masterpieces of extreme rock. In 1991, the same year that grunge broke, Metallica reinvented itself with a more radio-friendly sound. During the ’90s, Metallica soared in the mainstream, but drew scorn from their original supporters. When Metallica sued Napster in 2000, they became known as “the band most hated by its own fans.” The 2008 documentary Some Kind of Monster depicts the group members in deep crisis. In 2010, Metallica came back with a great album, Death Magnetic, and followed up with a bizarre Lou Reed experiment titled Lulu. This June, Metallica will headline its own weekend rock festival in Atlantic City. A new album is scheduled for next year.

OT Consider me schooled. The If You Like series invites experts to write about their field of expertise. What qualifies you?

MM My writing career began in 1991, when I started publishing a Xeroxed ’zine titled Happyland. The subject matter was sleazy living in the last days of New York as a dangerous place, and it included plenty of music coverage. For a hard rock fan, that was a really weird time, Underground heroes Metallica and Nirvana, to name two, were conquering MTV and the pop charts. It was also a golden age of hyper-aggressive music from the Amphetamine Reptile label and a lot of Chicago noise bands. So I wrote about all that. From there, I penned music reviews for a number of publications, including the New York Press, Black Book, and even Screw. I have also written chapter-length essays in books [including] Bubblegum Music Is the Naked Truth (Feral House, 2001) and The Official Sex, Drugs, and Rock ‘n’ Roll Book of Lists (Soft Skull, 2012).Yes, I am also a bubblegum pop fanatic. I like any music that’s really up front about what it wants to do to you. Indie rock is a sham!

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