I love all music but I especially love music that is fun, instrumental, and experimentative. My next guest on this week before Memorial Day weekend has exactly what I am looking for. 7th Kind is a nine piece band out of Chicago, IL and their new album ‘Sea Monster’ is over 50 minutes of a musical journey that I can compare to a rollercoaster ride that you do not want to get off. Can you believe all 9 members get on stage and play some cool venues in Chiago? They do and we have Youtube to prove it. Join us as we talk to 7th Kind about having 9 members, cool Chicago venues, the horn section, and so much more. Also a Happy Memorial Day to all military and families all over the world, Skope helps support http://saluteheroes.org!
Stoli: Where are we talking from today and how is spring in Chicago?
William Ashby: I’m at our rehearsal space in Ukrainian Village. It’s a gorgeous day. It’s been a long winter and the day of this interview is the first nice spring day, how could I not see it as an omen?
Stoli: Why did you name the band 7th Kind and how did you end up with 9 members?
Ashby: The name of the band begins with my relationship difficulties that I was attempting to transcend at the time, namely bailing when things got serious. Leaving my comfort zone was intensely terrifying to me. It also felt exhilarating, but mostly terrifying. I imagined it’s what leaving the planet and floating around space with no guidance or familiarity would feel like. So lyrically I started adopting science fiction flavored imagery. On a whim I mentioned to Eric, one of our trumpet players, that I had come up with my own kind of alien encounter, a 7th kind, when you realize you are yourself an alien. It was a metaphor about those striking moments when we overcome self. Eric suggested it would be a good band name and here we are.
I didn’t set out to create a 9-piece. In the beginning I would have put anyone in the band who was willing to join. But it must have been Providence at work, because it’s such a good number and our line-up is an amazing collection of musicians. And now, I couldn’t write for any more or any less then 5 horns. It’s a perfect number.
Stoli: How do you get to get the whole group together to rehearse and playgigs?
Ashby: When we rehearsed in my apartment I used to get them over by boiling a bunch of Costco pierogies and shots of espresso. But it was quite cramped with that many musicians and all their accoutrements. One dreadful night I tripped on Justin’s French horn and bent the bell. After that we decided to move to a rehearsal space where I couldn’t make pierogies and honestly, I don’t know what keeps them coming back now.
Stoli: What is the meaning behind the album title ‘Sea Monster’?
Ashby: I remember the one and only time I went water skiing. I was a kid and I jumped in the water in the middle of the lake, trying to get the skis on. I was overly sensitive to the sizable unknown murky depth below me. I found it extremely unnerving. In my life’s search to navigate my own feelings, the memory feels similar and the warmed over water-as-metaphor stuck. Also, the sea horse is aesthetically beautiful. Its Latin name is hippocampus, which is also the name for the part of our brain associated with memory function. And calling a little sea horse a monster reminds me that fears are subjective.
Stoli: Who writes the instrumentals and do they come before or after the lyrics?
Ashby: I write the songs. In general, the lyrics and music happen at the same time. Our vocalist, Rob, has collaborated with me, lyrically, sometimes.
But we work as a group too. I’ll bring in a song and the group will have their way with it. Together, we’ve learned what works and what doesn’t work. Our sound has developed and grown into something I never could have foreseen. We all started this journey together, without a band director, or someone who knew where it was going. Now we’ve arrived at a place where I think we function as co-creators as well as a band.
[youtube 9Dl1oRA44Pg nolink]
Stoli: How do you deal with 9 members when you are on stage and what venues in Chicago do you like to play?
It’s surprised me just how small of a stage we can cram ourselves on to. We always seem to have a good show at Martyrs–we just booked a gig there for July 1. We have played clubs ranging from the Mutiny, Phyllis’ Musical Inn, to Elbo Room, Quencher’s, Wise Fools, Beat Kitchen, Bottom Lounge, and Reggie’s.
Stoli: I love the horn and the fact you have a 5 man horn section. What does that instrument add to the power of the song?
Ashby: In my teens I played in a rock trio in LA. When that fizzled out, I moved to Chicago and studied jazz guitar, which I ultimately gave up because I totally suck, and I never listened to that much jazz guitar anyway. But I loved playing and getting to know the changes in the REAL book. Then I attended the very non-competitive music department at UIC where I spent a lot of time at the piano trying to understand the music of composers like Chopin, Debussy and Prokofiev. That’s when I started to identify myself as a songwriter rather then a sub-par guitar player. I started writing songs that a guitar couldn’t do, that needed orchestration. So the horns make up the bulk of the original inspiration behind the tunes.
Stoli: Your press release talks about a new album coming. When can we expect that and are the new songs written already?
Ashby: Wow, I’m glad you asked. About half of the new songs are available now, as demos. Sea monster was a very long and arduous project. We had some equipment malfunctions that set us back months due to lack of money. Deaths, births, unemployment, and employment made scheduling a grueling task. While we were recording I continued writing and the band continued to work on new songs. So when we finished sea monster we had about half of a new record to start recording. However, starting another meticulous tracking, editing, obsessing project like sea monster was so unappealing. We wanted to hear the new tunes so we just pressed record and played. We loved the results and they’re available through a link on our website for free. You’re going to hear some clams but there’s a wonderful vibrancy you don’t get when you track.
Stoli: Sony is looking to buy Warner Music Group. Why do you think the majors cannot profit in the digital age of music and any suggestions you may have?
Ashby: Wow, this is the hardest question you posed to me. I can really only answer it on a personal level. Before I set out to form 7th Kind, I brought in musicians to record a CD of the music I had been writing, which is how I met Justin. At the time, I was focusing on the recording side of the business – selling CD’s and downloads. When I finished the record, I distinctly remember holding it in my hand and thinking, “I’ve accomplished nothing.” It was meaningless to me as a solo effort. I decided that putting together a good live band would be more fulfilling. The challenge of creating an engaging live act and developing long-term relationships in a band was what really mattered to me as a musician.
So, I don’t think very much about profit in the digital age. I think about respecting the time anyone gives us when they show up to a club we’re playing at. Admittedly, I’m an idealist, and really the last person any music executive should seek profit advice from. I’d be sure to tank their company.
Stoli: What is coming up for 7th Kind and where can we follow you online?
We’d like to do some touring and we’ll start recording a well-produced version of our new record soon. The direction we’re taking it is more fluid, less math, more rock. The best way to follow us online is to get on our email list from our website, 7thkind.com. Thanks so much for having us on Skope!