Chicago - The Recording Academy At Lollapalooza: Sunday

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By Nick Villers

On a balmy 90 degree Sunday, I was privileged enough to be able to partake in what has become one of the most successful music festivals in the nation, located right in the heart of the Midwest -- aka Chicago. This festival is Lollapalooza. Not only was this my first time attending the 14-year running event, but it was my first time hanging out in Chicago since the tender age of 10 (yes, I know this is sad but true, but it’s beside the point). With that being said, I was anxious and full of excitement knowing I was going to interview some of the biggest bands in the music industry in a city with so much going on.

My day started not so ideally after being stuck on the Metra halfway into Chicago for 77 minutes longer than intended. After much reassurance by the train staff that this was the fastest way to Chicago, I stuck out the delay and hoped for the best. Despite the slight setback, I made it to Chicago in the nick of time to meet up with the rest of The Recording Academy crew and GRAMMY U to start off a full day of interviews. 

A morning of rain graced us with its presence but ended just in time for the first interview of the day, MGMT. Knowing my first interview was with one of the biggest groups in the industry, and was a GRAMMY-nominated artist on top of that, gave me no inclination of how the interview would turn out.  Andrew Wyngarden, Ben Goldwasser and Matt Asti of the group sat down with me to talk. If you have ever listened to MGMT, then you’ll know what I mean when I say the interview went in true MGMT fashion. They gave some unique information about themselves, discussing the fact that they never sought out to be a “GRAMMY-esque” kind of band. It just kind of happened. The group has always played music they truly liked, which is why they have had such great success. After a slightly awkward conversation about the meaning behind their music video, “Flash Delirium,” it was time to wrap up the interview. The one thing the group really emphasized was to just be yourself and play the music you love. A fitting end to a not-so-predictable interview.

After interviewing one of the biggest acts in music, I went on to interview another heavy hitter, MUTEMATH. This interview was one of the highlights of my day because it was with a band I’ve always had the upmost respect for. The intricacy of their music has always been inspiring to me and the fact that I was going to interview them was a definite win in my book. After being an avid listener of the band, I asked them how they were able to balance the rehearsal of their music along with writing new material.  Vocalist Paul Meany very honestly explained that they don’t really get a chance to rehearse and couldn’t give a “by-the-book” answer to writing music. They all agreed a lot of the music written happens by accident. Just when you think a band does everything perfect, it is just another reminder that they are regular people like you and me.

My third interview was with a band I have recently familiarized myself with.  The National, in my mind, is one of those bands that if you blink you may miss their take-off. This “family” band has been steadily making a name for themselves, and for good reason. Scott Devendorf of the National came and interviewed on behalf of the band.  He explained the excitement of participating as a band in President Obama’s presidential campaign, along with the always controversial topic of album leaks. When asked if album leaks were a good or bad thing for a band he simply answered:  “It’s great for the band!  Maybe not so great for a label.”  He emphasized that an album leak for a band can be great exposure and can get more people to listen to your music.

A positive burst of energy came into The Recording Academy tent as my next interviewees, Company Of Thieves, gave a great lasting impression. The band, being homegrown in Chicago, was more than excited to play one of the largest music festivals in their hometown. They noted being from the Midwest has an advantage -- they’re friends with bands on the East and West coast giving them more areas to play and tour. They also love Chicago for its ability to be a quiet home, and entertainment hub at the same time. COT also gave an intriguing story of coincidentally finding a coffee shop in Madison, Wis., called In The Company of Thieves. Of course, they had to stop in and have a cup. 

One of the more anticipated groups at Lolla this year was UK indie rockers the Cribs.  Ryan Jarman, guitarist/vocalist, was kind enough to talk to me and gave his views of the music industry in the United Kingdom as well as the United States. Ryan was a cool guy to interview because he truly told it how it was. He didn’t stray from any questions, and truly believes in the music his band is creating. At one point I recalled a few artists the Cribs have collaborated with and asked how important it was for a band to play with other musicians. He explained it’s not necessarily important to have to collaborate with other artists, it’s important to play with those you have a strong connection with. “Play music with those you can truly play with.” Many of the artists they collaborate with are longtime friends, so for them they’re just creating music they love with friends.

With five bands interviewed I was astonished on how much I already learned and was amazed to think I still had three more bands to interview. To kick off the homestretch of interviews was GRAMMY-nominated alternative rockers Switchfoot. Drummer Chad Butler and guitarist Drew Shirley sat down and gave some great insight about being on a major label as well as an independent. In recent years they have switched to an independent label and explained its free, yet sometimes uncertain nature. Their latest album Hello Hurricane, was recorded on an independent label, and is their most flowing album to date. Chad and Drew both agreed that every song on this album was fun to play. They even shouted out some love to the Beastie Boys during the interview. Switchfoot played a cover of “Sabotage” during their set and I must say it was spot on.  “The Boys” would be proud. 

B-Real of Cypress Hill came immediately after Switchfoot and gave a very insightful and humbling interview about the music industry. Cypress Hill has had their share of experience dating back to their first Lollapalooza performance in 1991. B-Real had a lot of real information to share. He explained how recieveing a GRAMMY nomination for Best Rap Performance By A Duo Or Group in 1993, 1994 and 1995 gave the group great exposure to new audiences. He explained their success was partly due to the versatility of their rap and rock style, and also to their progressive outlook on social media marketing including Facebook, Twitter and MySpace. It was very exciting to speak to an artist who has been involved in the music industry, literally, since the time I was born!

My last interview of the day was a last-minute add-on and a great one at that. I got to interview an artist named Neon Hitch, and yes this is her real name. If anything, she probably has one of the most unique stories of anyone at the festival. She was born and raised in England as a traveler, joined the circus, moved to India, and eventually became a singer/songwriter to tell her stories. She explained how exciting it is to write songs for some of the biggest names today including pop sensation Ke$ha.  She was a unique artist to say the least, with her outfit creating a lot of curiosity and buzz throughout the day. Whispers amongst the media area were heard, “Who is that?”  “Is she an artist?” The best I can describe her outfit was being jungle-like. I was just as curious as everyone else of who she was and within the short time I spoke with her, I realized she was truly being herself without the outside influence.

After an amazing, insightful day of interviews, I concluded my day watching a stellar performance of “Black Hole Sun” by Soundgarden amongst a crowd of thousands of people. It was the biggest congregation of people I’ve ever seen and will never forget that picturesque memory. My first experience at Lollapalooza was unreal. I barely scratched the surface of everything the festival has to offer -- I maybe spent a total of 30 minutes watching actual performances.  What I did find was a plethora of information from people who are just like you and me. Artists, bands, musicians, groups, whatever you want to call them, are no different than the fans who adore them. The major theme I took away from these wide-spanning, versatile groups of people was if you want to make it in the music industry, you need to love it. If you want to be a musician, create music you love and never quit. When others tell you no, tell yourself yes. Most of all, you need to really believe in what you are doing.  No one I interviewed had a magical answer to making it in the industry. You just have to do it if you want it. 

After it was all said and done, I know for a fact I’d do it all over again. Luckily for me and everyone else, Lollapalooza isn’t going anywhere. Let the countdown begin Chicago. It’s only 364 days and counting until Lollapalooza 2011!