The HearYa offices are more than just that. They’re a recording studio, an entertainment lawyer, a graphic designer, and an amazing view of the downtown Chicago skyline. At least that’s what Illinois assumed when they arrived last week for their session. I didn’t have the heart to explain that our “offices” are living rooms and laptops in airports and that the lawyer and graphic designer happen to share space with the studio. Nor is it relevant, really. It’s just that Shirk’s Studio is now adorned with a promo poster signed by the guys saying “HearYa.com – The Greatest Place in America.”
I was particularly excited about having Illinois in to record as they have been one of my favorite bands recently. And while I’d like to say I met them when they rolled up in their van, “Illinois” scrawled across the back above the Pennsylvania license plate, and helped them unload and lug their equipment up the 3 flights of stairs, but no, I was delayed by the terrible public transportation system here in Chicago. By the time I got to the studio, the guys were already doing their sound check, which eventually caused the drummer, JP, to be walled in due to spashback on the vocal mics. Oh the joys of recording live. In addition to the drum complications, Shirk showed amazing production skills by juggling a hastily assembled setup involving 4 vocal mics, 2 electric guitars, a fuzz-pedal bass (a la Robert Sledge), a keyboard, an acoustic guitar, and a banjo.
The session soon morphed into a rehearsal for the guys as they worked out the kinks from over a week off. They had finished their tour with The Kooks earlier and had been relaxing before this tour kicked off here in Chicago. While Shirk adjusted levels, Illinois nailed down their vocal harmony and breaks. The majority of tracks they laid down were not included on their EP – “What The Hell Do I Know?” so it was awesome to hear new songs from them. The singer and banjo/keyboard player, Chris, said that they had a backlog of 270 songs, so there will be plenty for these guys to expand on in future releases and at live shows.
Later that night, Shirk and his wife, Lia, and I were invited down to the green room at Schuba’s where we hung out with the band before their set. They were definitely laid back and unassuming, even taking in a few matches of ping pong on the XBOX360 and discussing the finer points of Wallace Shawn’s acting in The Princess Bride. However, when they took the stage, their presence blew even me away. They opened with “Oh, Asia,” and I was sold. For all the time spent in the studio with them, it is amazing how much a crowd and big speakers can change the perception of a band. All the uncertainty of the rehearsal was gone as they band rocked the stage with brash confidence. Chris even seamlessly called out the photographer during his rant in “Bad Day,” ordering him to stop taking pictures, who, without much of a fight, gave up.
So when I heard Beer Nuts was sponsoring our Sessions, I was ecstatic. It would help us bring in more great bands and provide exclusive content for you guys. Little did I know when I invited Illinois, just how many nuts I would be exposed to. I can now say I know Illinois better than I had ever anticipated. All in the line of duty, I suppose.