Chicago musicians Andrea Bunch and John Mead know something about multi-tasking. Both teach at The Old Town School of Folk Music, Andrea composes for film, John works as a visual artists and the two gig with a number of bands. Not only that, but they’ll be releasing a new album, Ever Changing Hours, with their band, Crumbs Off the Table. Our Town spoke with Andrea and John about their influences and whether a formal music education is necessary.
Our Town Who are your influences?
John Mead I've been influenced more than anything else by classic-era Rolling Stones, 70s soul (Stevie Wonder, Bill Withers, Curtis Mayfield, etc) and Bob Dylan--all my other influences probably stem from those original sources. Because of that, what I aim for in my projects is density of texture--vocal harmonies, guitars, keyboards, and horns when I can get them. I also shoot for evocative lyrics--usually a little dark, though I seem to tend toward nature imagery--and good, funky rhythm.
OT How would you describe your sound?
Andrea Bunch Crumbs Off the Table, with John Mead, Cheryl Lawson, Mike Mann and Jennifer Macagba sounds like Soul and Rock and Roll. We all lean towards funky rhythms, electric guitars, organ and piano and a heavy rhythm section. After we release Ever Changing Hours, I'd like to focus on adding back up singers and horns to the fold for some shows.
OT Is formal musical training necessary?
AM I don't think formal training is necessary, unless you want to play classical music. I studied composition at Columbia College. I was totally new to music at that time, and I didn't really play an instrument. By the time I graduated, I could read scores and compose 30 track midi sessions on Pro Tools and analyze Beethoven, but if you asked me to grab a guitar play you a song, I couldn't really do it. When I started to sit with other musicians and learn how to make music in a more immediate, personal way, I finally felt like a musician. It helps to know basic music theory. Through that, you come to understand that the harmonic world is pretty small. Most songs are made of the same 3 or 4 chords. If you can learn enough music theory that you feel the musical world sort of shrink, that's a very useful thing for learning other songs or writing your own.
OT What are the best and worst parts of the Chicago music scene?
JM I must say that I think the Old Town School is one of the really unique and special elements of the Chicago scene; it brings musicians together and gives them a community. My life would literally be completely different, and much poorer, if it didn't exist. In broader terms, I think that one of the best parts of the Chicago music scene is the enormous number of venues; one of the worst parts is that, while it's relatively easy to find places to play, it's not as easy to get paid. On the other hand, prices at the big venues for national acts are often more than I can afford.
AM I love how many people generate music here. There are hundreds of people who passionately put their stuff out there all the time! The worst part is that you can't get to see them all.
OT What’s your favorite Chicago venue?
JM EvanstonSPACE; they treat you like a rock star when you play there, and it's a wonderful place for audiences. I like playing at the new Chicago Winery as well, and I think the Old Town School's auditorium is one of the greatest rooms to play or to listen in. I like some of the hip venues, but they get crowded, and the audiences are pretty competitive for space. I fucking hate having to stand at shows.
OT How do your teaching and performing/writing inform each other?
JM Teaching has forced me to articulate my own understanding of music and my own aesthetic values to an extent I otherwise would not have; it has kept me sharp, in practice, and honest, and, not to belabor a cliche, my students have challenged and inspired me repeatedly to push myself as a performer and writer as well as a teacher. I have to be good enough to inspire and challenge them, too. My teaching has pushed me further and further into thinking about and trying to understand the music I love, and that has continued to inform my playing, performing, and writing, which have all improved as a result. I've also had to become a much braver performer, taking risks so that I can encourage my students to do the same. That all kind of sounds like bullsh*t, but it's as close to the truth as I can get.
John Mead and Andrea Bunch will play acoustic sets at the Elbo Room on Feb 17th.
A writer with an MFA in Creative Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sarah Terez Rosenblum freelances for sites like Pop Matters and
afterellen.com Her debut novel, “Herself When She’s Missing," was called “poetic and heartrending” by ALA Booklist. Sarah is also a figure model, Spinning instructor and teacher at Chicago’s StoryStudio. Inevitably one day she will find herself lecturing naked on a spinning bike. She's kind of looking forward to it actually.
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