- june 2015 -
HAVE A BEER WITH SEDGEWICK
Sedgewick solidified their presence in the Chicago folk scene in April 2015 with the release of their first EP, Gardens. Prior to its debut, their music had received accolades from New City magazine and Gapers Block, who called their sound "gorgeous" and "cinematic," evoking "Sufjan Stevens and a pre-therapy Peter Gabriel."
Last month, we drank some beers with Sam, Oliver and Jake and discussed the making of their debut EP; the influence of nostalgia on their songwriting and the importance of trusting your intuition.
Drinks of Choice: Sam Brownson, Gin and tonic; Oliver Horton, Dogfish Head 60 minute IPA; Jake Hawrylak, Stout
Kristen: Let’s talk about the name “Sedgewick.” Chicago-inspired or no?
Sam: Yes and no. Yes in the sense that it was sort of named after the brown line stop, which I passed everyday on my way to work. But I also liked the sound of it and the image it holds. It sounds like the merging of two things.
Kristen: The name fits your sound really well. I don’t know how else to describe it…
Sam: Yeah, phonetically, it’s a nice name. It’s actually not inspired by the brown line stop in the sense that there’s an “e” in the middle. And the reason for that is that there’s a pop/punk band in Florida that’s “Sedgwick” without the “e.” We didn’t want to run into copyright stuff.
Kristen: Was the domain also taken?
Sam: Yes, but actually, funny enough it wasn’t taken by that band, but by Sedgewick Industries — some furniture manufacturer.
Kristen: You had a release show April 25 at The Throne Room for your debut EP Gardens. How did the songs go over in a live setting?
Sam: Really well. We had a violinist and a cellist play with the three of us. The concept behind the EP was to make a group of songs that would shape the future path of Sedgewick, and not necessarily reflect where we were at the time. It was just Oliver and I when we started the EP and then Jake joined the band in January of 2015. Recapturing the songs in a live setting was important to us, so he was involved in that process.
Kristen: So Sam, how long have you and Oliver known each other then?
Sam: Well, we’ve all sort of known each other for the same amount of time. We met back in 2011 through a band called Poets in Peasants, which we were a part of during college — at Knox College.
Jake: With that band, there was no formal training behind it. We were a nine piece. Everybody sang; there were violins, drums, trumpets, guitars…And the point was to become friends through making music together. That’s the simplest way I would put it. We were trying to be really open about bringing sketches of songs and trying to shape things together, which has kind of bled into where we are now as a band. At a school with only 1,300 kids and a town where there wasn’t much to do, this was an easy thing to do. We’d have rehearsals for however long on Friday nights…
Kristen: It’s nice to have a creative outlet like that.
Jake: Yeah, and for me, it was about meeting people for the first time who could play and quickly grasp songs.
Kristen: How did you find everyone for Poets and Peasants? Did you put a call out?
Jake: Well, Sam had done a lot of stuff before he came to Knox. He was a singer-songwriter who had CDs out and stuff. I had done writing in high school and was in folk bands. But Oliver and I were actually in a jazz group together and same with the drummer. And then we brought along some friends from choir… Sam and Oliver were in choir together. There was a tight-knit music community at Knox already.
Sam: There was this thing called “Off Knox,” which was an open mic where a bunch of artists and poets and creative writers would get together. There was also a lot of music happening there. I did a few of my songs and Jake saw me there, and that’s when he sent me a message.
Kristen: I always wonder about the initial interaction between band members. How does it go down? Is it like asking someone on a first date?
Jake: Well, Sam sent me an email. No, wait. I sent you an email. A Facebook message. Whatever. I already knew Oliver. We were in a rock band called “The Hot Boys.”
Jake: We didn’t choose the name; the name was given to us. In that band, we needed a bass player, and I got an email from this guy who I didn’t even know, but I had seen him around. He was like, “You don’t have a bass player. You need a bass player. My name is Oliver. I play bass.” I said, “Alright, I like this guy.”
Kristen: Gotta be assertive.
Oliver: And I met Sam through choir, which had a big influence on me. I think vocals are actually really important to all of us.
Sam: Yeah, more and more as we grow as a band, it’s becoming quite evident that we really want to write stuff with vocal harmonies. We don’t want to be singing alone at many points. We want it to be a lush sound, and I think that comes from our choral background.
Jake: And in the old band we tried to do that, too. We had six people singing at the same time.
Kristen: I’m a sucker for good harmonies. That’s one of the reasons I enjoyed the EP so much. There’s a push and pull and a progression throughout Gardens. Was that intentional, or did it ebb and flow naturally as you were working on it?
Sam: It was actually half and half. We knew that we wanted to have these particular songs out in the world. Oliver and I had actually played together quite a bit before Sedgewick started, and these were the songs that we brought to the table because we thought they would be most appropriate for our setup. But what happened — kind of by accident — was that they all had a consistent theme running through all of them: a feeling of nostalgia, which is also one of the songs on the EP [“Nostalgia”]. Revisiting those tunes served as a metaphor for the whole theme of the EP. They were older songs that we hadn’t worked on in a long time, but we knew we wanted to have them on the record, so we approached them in a new way. And those songs sound nothing like when we started them.
Oliver: Yeah, we seriously dusted them off. They were hiding in the closet for a long time. Especially “Nostalgia.” I was really happy to get rid of that tune. Really happy.
Kristen: Really? Why so?
Oliver: Yeah, I guess “get rid of” is a little harsh. I was just happy to release it into the world. And I feel the same way about the other songs that we put on there. It’s not that we’re not proud of them. I just think when you’re a prolific writer and you try to write as much as possible, it’s hard to have songs lying around because you feel like they’re not doing anything…
Kristen: …Gathering dust on the shelf.
Oliver: Yeah, I always just want to put them in different projects so that they have a life of their own and can breathe a little.
Sam: That’s the most satisfying part to me.
Kristen: In terms of getting to a point where you feel like a song is done…how do you know? Or do you ever know?
Sam: I feel a strange sense of finality about the songs on the EP with the exception of a couple parts…
Oliver: I feel a little differently, only because I think of songs as lifetimes within themselves. They go through all these stages. Even when we perform these songs live in front of people, it’s going to be different than what you hear on the record. Personally, from my song standpoint, I will always try to recreate something in a song to make it more interesting for myself. So, it’s kind of narcissistic I guess. But in that way, the audience can see how songs change, too.
Sam: I think I just needed to have that feeling of “Okay, this is it.” I had to psychologically let go of the songs and be done with them. The making of that EP took six months; it was a laborious process and it was only four songs, and I was sick of waiting and sick of listening to them. I listened to those songs literally 1,000 times. More than that. Sometimes you can lose perspective and it’s not worth it. You put it out and then write something new …
Jake: I totally agree with Oliver’s standpoint. With the EP, Sam and Oliver pretty much did it. I had known the songs, but I came in after the fact and brought it in some new stuff and some arrangements, but it’s only been a couple of months and we’re already thinking of changing this and that and seeing what else we can get out of them. That’s what’s nice about bringing songs live…There’s still a part of me that puts away the thousands of times I’ve already heard the songs. It just happens and it becomes more about how you allow that song to unfold in a performance space.
Kristen: Where did you record Gardens?
Oliver: Just around the corner with a guy named Nicholas Gunty of Frances Luke Accord.
Sam: He recently started his own studio called Fluke Studios. It’s in his apartment in Avondale. I met him through work. I work at an early childhood development center, and he was one of the music teachers with me. He’s a very gifted producer. He added a lot of nuance to our sound that we didn’t have before, and he made it a little bit more than just a collection of folk songs. It became bigger than that; it became vignettes of sound. He also played drums in one of the songs on the record. He’s a very gifted musician and a talented instrumentalist. He and his bandmates just raised $10,000 to do a record, so he’s doing a lot of cool things.
Kristen: You mentioned nostalgia. In your lives, what are some nostalgic moments? It doesn’t have to be related to the work on the album.
Oliver: Well I wrote the song “Nostalgia” — the lyrics and the chords. Jake and Sam helped flesh it out and make the thing come alive. I wrote that song at a crossroads…I was about to graduate and I had a lot of stuff that I was very sentimental about: leaving my girlfriend, leaving school, leaving most of my friends. Most of them were sticking around Knox, but I took another path and I felt I was ready to leave. Which is why now, ultimately, I think I was happy to “get rid” of all those songs. I don’t feel quite as nostalgic now, mostly because it has been a while, and it also feels good to get all that out. It makes me feel more at peace with leaving things behind.
Sam: I wrote “Beneath the Fireworks” about a relationship I had in college and the places we went that were very nostalgic to me. We went to Spain for a choir tour, and I just remember the scenery there: the streets and walking down La Rambla during the night and talking to her. So, I guess that song takes me to that place in particular. Any time I’ve been overseas, whenever I think of nostalgia, I think of those places…because they’re not here, but they’re not in another world. They feel other-worldly, and when you come back, you almost remember them as a dream. So, that’s kind of where I go when I think of nostalgia: overseas.
Kristen: I’m overly nostalgic. I’m nostalgic about yesterday — or even an hour ago. But I know what you mean about overseas.
Sam: It feels like there’s no consequences. Like you’re stuck in time. Until you go back home.
Oliver: Knox was also an amazing place for me. I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for that school. We wouldn’t be in a band.
Jake: Shout out to Knox. Unlike Sam and Oliver, I’ve never had the experience really of writing a nostalgic song. But whenever I think of nostalgia, I always think of the aural space of listening to bands that inspired me. I’m from Santa Fe, and in high school, there was a music scene beginning to grow. This local band, The Apple Miner Colony, changed my life. It was like a 25-person band — all students from the College of Santa Fe [now called Santa Fe University of Art and Design]. I get really nostalgic for experiencing things like that: a 25-person band playing a small room, where the band was bigger than the audience. I also get nostalgic for the pace back home, living just outside of Santa Fe, where it’s a lot quieter. And the stars.
Kristen: New Mexico has the best sky. I could understand why you’d be nostalgic for that entire place.
Jake: Growing up, no one appreciated it.
Kristen: I almost think that’s part of what nostalgia is though, right? You’re not always aware that you’re going to look back on a moment and see it in the fond way that you do.
Jake: It’s so weird though…I have nostalgia for these moments where I knew I would later be nostalgic for them.
Kristen: You’re a self-aware artist. You think, “I’m aware that I might write about this later.” What are your plans as a band moving forward?
Sam: Now we’re all writing together as a group rather than bringing songs to each other that are almost completed. We obviously have some songs that are coming in that were written a while ago from each of us individually, but it’s much more collaborative at this point. We’re also incorporating strings and a drummer more regularly at this point in order to fill out our live arrangements. We’ve been switching around a lot of different instruments to free us up a little bit. It’s a point of interest and logistically, we’re trying to create new sounds. That being said, we’re working on a new batch of songs for our first full-length, which we’re hoping to release at the end of 2016. Basically, what we’re doing for the next six or seven months is just laying the groundwork for a Kickstarter campaign and going on small weekend tours around the Midwest to promote our current album, build our mailing list and raise awareness that we’re doing some cool stuff in Chicago. The first album was about getting out what we wanted to get out and having a product out there. We’re really proud of it, but we were ready to get it done. It’s nice to have something to hand to people and to have something to build off of.
Kristen: If you could go on tour with any band right now, who would it be?
Oliver: I’m going to guess Sam’s is Bon Iver.
Sam: I can guess for both of you. I would guess Jake’s is gonna be Sidewalk Chalk.
Jake: That crossed my mind.
Sam: I would say Local Natives for him.
Oliver: Realistically, someone who I know who is in the area and who gets a big draw is Mike Vial. That man has helped me out incredibly by showing me all these blogs about cutting down costs on tour and ways to maximize your merch table. I can’t say how helpful he has been.
Kristen: It’s always nice when musicians are willing to help other musicians out. What about you Jake?
Jake: My dream tour would be Becca Stevens Band. We saw them at SPACE in April and the show was incredible.
Kristen: Good choice. One of our staple questions: What is the least rock-‘n’-roll thing you’ve done in the past year? Or who would you consider the “most” rock-‘n’-roll in the band?
Jake: Probably Oliver.
Kristen: I was going to say “Oliver” based on his name alone.
Oliver: Doing my taxes is pretty un-rock-‘n’-roll though. I did my own for the first time this year, and it proved to be very difficult. I didn’t even use Turbo Tax. I ended up biting the bullet and going to HRBlock. I paid a lot of money.
Sam: You don’t realize how much you have to pay for that shit.
Oliver: I was actually pretty smart about it this year. I had a full envelope of receipts for the year. I had to itemize. What’s hard about teaching music to kids for a living is that I can literally deduct everything I do. It’s a lot of homework and a lot of stupid shit that I don’t want to do.
Jake: I like roads and infrastructures. That’s pretty un-rock-‘n’-roll.
Sam: Yeah, except the roads in Chicago are the worst.
Kristen: Have you ever driven on Ashland?
Oliver: It’s the worst.
Kristen: Potholes to the max.
Sam: Man, I’m so rock-‘n’-roll, I can’t think of anything.
Jake: I’ve got guesses for Sam.
Sam: I’ve got a day job, but I think that’s totally rock-‘n’-roll. A lot of musicians do it.
Kristen: I think what’s so hard about having a day job and trying to do something on the side is the balance. By the end of the day, you’re so tired. You really have to push yourself to do your creative thing.
Sam: I’ve started getting up at 6 a.m. because of that reason. That’s not rock-‘n’-roll. I’m old now. As you get older, you have to start budgeting your time better. You know, “Okay, at this point in the day I can still process information.” I’m trying to get up earlier. I’m not doing a good job of it, but by the end of the month my goal is to be able to get up at 5 a.m. and work for three hours before I go to work.
Kristen: The hardest part is getting yourself out of bed. Once you’re up, you’re fine.
Sam: I think the problem is that people aren’t productive the first few weeks they try it out, but once they’re in the habit of it, they’re much better off.
Kristen: That’s so adult of you.
Sam: It’s so old of me.
Kristen: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Oliver: My godfather, who I’ve spent loads and loads of time with, gave me some great advice. A little background on him: he has moved from town to town and developed theatres in every small town he’s been to. He makes these small towns explode with evening activities. He builds theatres from the ground up. Anyways, I look up to him a lot, and one thing he told me when I was a stupid high schooler that didn’t want to hear anything was, “Oliver, you need to dream big. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do anything.” That’s been really important to me. Your success is on your own shoulders, and it really depends on how hard you work and how often you’re willing to put forward that work. I know a lot of people who complain a lot, and millennials are hounded on for that. And it’s true. We all complain a bunch. Complaining is fine to some extent — I vent all the time to my girlfriend and to these guys — but I think it’s totally on your shoulders to do something about it. You can accomplish anything you want. You really can. You may not have a million dollars, you may not have a house by the time your 50…but that doesn’t matter. As long as you have what you want, that’s okay.
Kristen: I think it’s hard with our generation because our parents had a very set-in-stone idea of what made them happy and what “success” meant: getting married, owning a house, having a steady job. And those aren’t really our idea of success anymore…
Oliver: It’s a difficult dichotomy.
Kristen: What about you, Sam? Any best advice?
Sam: I always feel a little nervous when someone asks me what the “best” of something is. Superlatives make me nervous.
Sam: I read this book called “Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time.” I was raised Christian and I totally rejected it growing up, but there was one part in that book that resonated with me. There was a line that said something along the lines of, “Belief is not a matter of will.” It’s a matter of practice, like everything else. It emphasized the idea that you need to practice believing in yourself. Once I understood that, I think it removed a lot of my guilt for not believing in certain things. I always felt guilty for not believing in myself or not believing in God, and I finally realized that I was going about it in the wrong way. Belief is a conviction, and something that comes about through experience. Patience will lead you to that point where you can believe in something.
Kristen: That actually makes me feel a lot better about life.
Jake: I was very lucky to have the high school teacher that I did. We went to Switzerland, which is where my teacher was from, and after we got back, I was having a lot of weird dreams — not troubling dreams; just vivid. And there was one particular dream I had that we talked about that single-handedly changed my mindset. She was one of those people that was wise beyond intelligence. There was this aura about her. I hadn’t talked to anybody about my dreams because they didn’t make sense, but I talked to her about one of the weird dreams in particular, and she talked to me about the sensation of the dream, and I remember getting the same sensation when I was talking to her — it was beyond spine tingling. She told me about her dreams and I told her about mine. I was trying to decipher my dream, and I remember her saying, “Learn to listen to your dreams. Trust yourself and your intuition.” And it was oddly potent coming from her. She had this power. And I asked her about it one time, and she said, “It’s just intuition. You need to learn to tune into that voice.”
Kristen: Yeah, I always think about that. I sometimes have these urges to turn right down a road I’ve never been down before…and I don’t. But then I wonder, what if there’s something down that road and I don’t take it?
Oliver: Yeah, it’s all about potential.
Jake: And learning which voices to ignore…And which ones to trust.