Sidewalk Chalk embodies Chicago. As much as the recent Vice “Chiraq” documentaries have done the opposite as of late, the eclectic eight piece band from the Second City pulls from both their hometown’s past and present while focusing on writing it’s future. The immediately soulful feelings of their latest project, Leaves, released February 24, is the result of an penchant for a sound that came off less polished and more gritty, capturing the sensibilities of both vocals and instrumentation that can be lost in post-production.
The result is a fully-formed album that can keep you listening from the first to the last note. Long established in their hometown, Sidewalk Chalk has been making a large push around their latest album, and after playing a pair of album release shows over the weekend at Double Door in Chicago and Drom in New York City they will head off on a national tour in support of the new material. I had a chance to catch up with keys player Charlie Coffeen around the time of the release, check out or Q+A below.
Jake: So, the album is out in the world now. What has the process been like just readying this project to get out there?
Charlie: We’re really excited to put it out. The process was a bit different from our first album, we kind of played a lot lot harder on this record we let the music be what it is a little more. We did a few takes of the tunes of the tunes with keys, bass and drums and once we were happy with it we just kind of let it be instead of tweaking things and making everything perfect. We kind of embraced the imperfections of it and I think that was the right move for what we wanted this record to be: raw and gritty and kind of just sound like us. The first album, we wanted everything to be perfect and for everything to be polished and I think we achieved that but on this one we wanted to push the boundaries a little bit and see how far we can stretch ourselves and our sound to the point where we had a finished project.
Jake: Was that something that was a conscious decision from the get-go, to let everything kind of ride on this project?
Charlie: Yeah, that was certainly our goal from the moment we stepped in the studio or even began thinking about how these songs were going to fit on an album. We knew we wanted them to be raw and we wanted them to sound real, like us. That was really our primary goal.
Jake: There has also been a big push around this album with some high-profile premiers and whatnot, what’s it been like to move more fully into the public eye?
Charlie: It’s been great. A lot of that, probably most of that is thanks to our team at Giant Step that have been doing incredible things for us and yeah that first premier on Okayplayer and then the last single premiering on DJbooth, that’s just our team grinding for us and putting that work in so thanks to them for that. But we’re ready to carry the momentum, we’ll be hitting the road for two months after the release so yeah we’re just trying to keep it rolling.
Jake: What you all are doing is really indicative of the core music in Chicago, but also hard to do with so many influences and band members, how do you guys keep the machine going?
Charlie: I think for us it’s a conscious effort to move styles and there’s a number of bands in Chicago that are blending styles and it sounds great. So maybe that’s the goal? We want to put out a record that sounds like ‘X’ mixed with ‘Y’ and for us its a lot of music we listen to and came up playing and putting a real focus on musicianship and really honing our craft as players and as creatives and as people who are trying to create something unique. So really, when you put the eight of us together in a room it’s just kind of what happens. I don’t think there’s been a time where we tried to write a specific kind of song, and I think we take pride in that; letting music be what it is and ends up being. If it ends up being this jazz/hip-hop thing, that’s cool but if it ends up being something else we kind of roll with that.
Jake: But even so, with so many artists in one room, there has to be something keeping it all together.
Charlie: We, awhile ago, before this album, before the tour or any of this we hashed out between each other very clearly what this is about and what this family is. That’s our thing is being a family and being together and then creating the music almost as a by-product of that. So we feel if we have that as the basis of what we’re doing we can kind of do no wrong and maybe that’s not wrong as in commercial success or massive tours or having this album do great things, but it’s just for each other. We’re good with our relationships between the eight of us and believe that will let everything else fall into place and how we’re supposed to work. That’s something that I’m real grateful for: to have eight people that can work together and also keep this family alive as well, that’s pretty unique.
Jake: Absolutely. Also, how has living in Chicago helped things? There has been talk of it replacing New York as an incubator of art and music.
Charlie: I think we have a bit of a unique path in that we’re not that tied into the Chicago hip-hop community. A group like Kids These Days was totally in that and that’s they’re people and that’s great and that community of kids and older folks is all about what their doing. For us, we’re kind of tapped into a few different scenes. That’s not better or worse, it’s just where we fit in the city. I think we benefit from Chicago being kind of a hub for these different kinds of music because we listen to them, we’re involved in them. A lot of us are heavy into the Jazz-type scene and in Chicago there’s a collective called The Gala that a lot of us are very heavily involved with and there’s all kinds of people and teachers and everything. So that kind of represents us; all over the map, kind of like Chicago.
Jake: As far as an being a place where you can create art in confidence though.
Charlie: Definitely. I think there’s kind of a shift in Chicago right now to see the scale of what they can do where maybe five or six years ago there seemed like there was a ceiling. Back then when somebody made it, like a Kanye or a Common, they had to leave Chicago and people like Chance have shown that there really is no limit to how far a Chicago artist can really go. It’s a unique feeling to the city right now too that’s different from New York, that’s different from L.A. and people seem to be feeling as though they can do some stuff they may haven’t believed in before. The city is open for artists and people are really taking advantage of that.
Jake: Most definitely, so what can we expect from you all moving forward?
Charlie: Man, we’re going to be on the road. We got a new bus that’s a big goofy-looking converted school bus and we’ll be rolling in that around the country. We’re going to hit forty cities in the next two months with a kick off at the Double Door before heading out to New York. We’ll be all over the place.