blues chicago

Local Spotlight: Chicago's Own Soul Vistas & Some Music History

Thursday, February 09, 2017 Jen Lezan

Chicago based band: Soul Vistas is definitely in a genre all of their own and they're making quite the impact on the Chicago music scene. Their sound is immediately captivating, and keeps your toes tapping to the beat. Yet, at the core of their music is a deep history that is inspired by Chicago's musical movements. Check them out on Band Camp HERE.



Chicago is known for the distinctive "Chicago style" of jazz. This style originated with southern musicians moving North after 1917 and  bringing with them the New Orleans "Dixieland" -sometimes called "hot jazz" styles. King Oliver and Jelly Roll Morton became stars of the Chicago jazz scene. The city is also known for it's incredibly strong and historical blues scene. Chicago blues is a type of urban blues that evolved from classic blues following the Great Migration, which was both forced and voluntary at times, of African-Americans from the southern United States to the industrial cities of the north, such as Chicago. 

Muddy Waters directly joined that migration in an effort to avoid the more harshly southern Jim Crow laws. Bruce Iglauer, founder of Alligator Records once stated that, "Chicago blues is the music of the industrial city, and has an industrial sense about it."  Over the years the Chicago music scene and the working musicians in it have evolved to carve our their own place in history. You can feel that industrial vibe in what many blues inspired musicians are bringing their sound back to, in the modern movement we see today. Musicians and bands such as Soul Vistas continue to build on this legacy adding their own unique sound and allowing the Chicago music scene to grow beyond a myopic vision of what it should be and is focusing more on what it could be. Soul Vistas has created a sound that combines the soulfulness of chicago blues that has a darker tone hinting at noir, with a post apocalyptic neo soul that just hits you to the core. Their instrumentals add the ever prominent groove that makes it hard to not want to dance while they are playing a live show at some of Chicago's most prominent venues. Soul Vistas is creating the Chicago soundtrack for the urban dwelling, hip cool cats who aren't afraid to listen to something of substance. They're a band we are in desperate need of in a time of repeat pop music and top 40's. 



The band's talented frontman: Curt Bozif took some time to share more about Chicago's music scene, the journey of Soul Vistas and his bandmates and how music has impacted him.  If you want to check them out live - they'll be playing March 4th at Moe's Tavern. If you're interested in learning more about Soul Vistas read on for the full interview: 

1. Curt, can you share a bit about yourself, Soul Vistas and the band’s journey as musicians?

I grew up in St. Louis, Missouri and first moved to Chicago in 2006 to attend Northwestern University where I earned my MFA in Art Theory and Practice. Not long after graduation, I started playing lead guitar in a garage rock outfit with a country/blues tilt to it called bourbon. The band was led by a good friend of mine from St. Louis who had recently moved to Chicago. We made some weird demos and eventually a four song EP and dissolved shortly after having never played a show. That was back in 2013. After that I began working with our bass player, Dan Budai, who we met through craigslist. I’m completely self-taught as a musician, I definitely have a chip on my shoulder because of that, but Dan has some real training and understands music theory. He’s been a solid collaborator over the years and I’ve learned a lot from him. 

We thought we were starting a straight-ahead blues band. I‘d been singing and writing songs since I began playing guitar in high school. So I set to work writing some blues for this new project that still didn’t have a name. But it wasn’t long before I got bored and started writing songs that challenged what you might call traditional blues conventions. I’m talking about things like song structure and harmony. So while these new songs maintained extended passages for improvised soloing, I started to incorporate more complex chords and progressions like you might find in jazz, and writing choruses with tight hooks. Mike Curran joined us on drums in the spring of 2014. He was perfect for what we were trying to do because in addition to being a creative drummer who plays with a lot of power and expression he’s also extremely versatile. He plays drums and percussion in a variety of other kinds of bands. Playing everything from punk and ska, to hip-hop, and straight up blues. We quickly evolved into SOUL VISTAS. 
  
2. Can you tell us more about the experience pursuing a music career in Chicago?

At first it was a challenge to find bands to play shows with because our sound is all over the place. And that was really frustrating. We shared bills with traditional blues bands, indie rock bands, jam bands, even a New Orleans style brass band once! But today we see our eclecticism as a strength. We’re pretty versatile and that’s allowed us to play with some really great bands.   

3. Where do you draw your inspiration when you perform and for the music you create?

I think a lot about history and time and what we choose to do with it and I worry a lot about the future. A lot of my imagery comes from nature. Many of my songs, in one way or another, are about the end of the world. That might sound dramatic but if you’re a serious artist today you’re paying attention, and if you’re paying attention you’re probably concerned. I think you have to make work about your concerns. Even with something as simple as a love song, to me it’s important to place that love in the context of a world with an uncertain future. That two people are lucky enough to find happiness in each other in a world where so many suffer, I find that amazing. I mean, how does human emotion come from stardust? 

  
4. Can you tell us more about the type of music you play and how you developed your very unique sound?

I like to describe our sound as apocalyptic neo soul, indie fusion, and blues groove. Our songs feature soulful melodic hooks and extended passages of improvisation. Usually supported by a funky basslines and a hard driving beat with a touch of swing added for good measure. We’ve had a lot of lineup changes over the last few years but today when everybody can make a show we’re a six piece that includes myself on guitar and vocals, Matt Alley on guitar, Graham Caldwell on keyboard, Dan Budai on bass, Mike Curran on drums, and Alex Santilli on percussion. Everybody brings something unique and exciting to the mix.   

5. What the writing process entail when you are working on a new song? Anything special you do to really tap into creating a story within the music?

Every song is different. Sometimes the idea for a new song starts with a compelling lyric, sometimes it’s a pretty melody, or an interesting chord change, or a challenging rhythm. I do a lot of my songwriting while I’m walking. Something about walking unlocks creative thinking. I’ll record new ideas on my iPhone and go back and listen to them when I can sit down with a guitar. I think of this process like sketching. I try and finish a new song before I present it to the rest of the band. I’ll write out charts to give the guys and I’ll just start playing. Working with really talented musicians allows you to do this. They’ll jump right in and respond to what they’re hearing. For me that’s when it really get’s fun. 
  
6. Have you faced obstacles on this journey and if so, how did you overcome?

There’s been a few obstacles. Finding the right musicians and keeping the lineup consistent is one. Right after we began recording our debut album our guitar play, Matt Alley, left Chicago for Indiana University in Bloomington, IN to pursue a PhD in Ethnomusicology. That was a real blow to the band because Matt could play in a variety of different styles. He was also a really talented improviser and like all great improvisers he was a great listener which is so important and surprisingly hard to find. He really helped define our sound in the beginning. Luckily for us, Matt and his wife Connie weren’t happy in Bloomington and so they moved back to Chicago and Matt rejoined the band. 

Another obstacle was finishing our debut self-titled album. We worked with our friend Jason Schmidt at RaxTrax Recording. Everything was done on a shoestring budget. And we didn’t make it any easier on ourselves because we had so much we wanted to pack into each song, and we weren’t making three minute radio friendly songs either, many of our songs are over the five minutes. But working slowly over a year and half allowed us to really dig deep and think a lot about our sound. We got to experiment and make mistakes and include all the little details that in the end make a huge difference.   

7. What has been the proudest moment over the last 2 years as Soul Vistas has grown and developed?
The proudest moment was definitely this past September when we finally released our debut self-titled album. You can download it at www.soulvistas.com or on bandcamp or iTunes or stream it on Spotify. Or you can pick up a CD at one of our shows.   

8. Why are the arts important to the world today? It seems so often when school budgets get cut the first thing to go are the arts programs – what are your thoughts on this experience and how has music transformed you as an individual?

Playing music is all about collaboration. It’s about listening, and sharing, and negotiating with others. These are important lessons for any person. It’s also about self-discipline and focus. You gotta pay attention. You gotta practice. You never stop learning. And, I think this is really important, music is physical. In this age when everything is dematerialized and digitized and uploaded to the cloud and only looked at on tiny little screens. Live music is immediate, unmediated, and physical. And if you’re playing it right, it’ll move people. It can physically move bodies. When you’re on stage and you see people get up out of their chairs and start dancing to your music, that’s incredibly rewarding as an artist and a performer. 

9. How is Soul Vistas attempting to innovate in the Chicago music scene? What are you doing different to pursue your music and dreams?
That’s a really good question and makes me think we can be better at challenging ourselves. I think our range of styles is a good start. We’re not easily categorized and that’s a good thing. I’d be interested to see how folks would respond to our music from inside the traditional blues scene. Like, what would happen if we played our music at B.L.U.E.S. on Halsted, or Kingston Mines, or Buddy Guys for that matter? Would that community find what we’re doing threatening to the traditions that they hold so dear or would we be seen as innovative? I also think collaborating with hip-hop artists could be really fun and rewarding. And, I wonder if there’s a place for what we’re doing in the DIY scene in Chicago. 
  
10. What kind of advice would you give people interested in pursuing a career or even just experimenting in music?

Listen to everything. Practice. But don’t be afraid to mess up. Take walks. Put down your iPhone. Support live music and don’t be afraid to talk to the musicians after they get off the stage. Question everything and make the music you want to hear. Trust your listeners. 

11. Finally, where can we learn more about you and any upcoming shows?

Our next show is Saturday, March 4th at Moe’s Tavern. Folks can connect with us on Facebook, Instagram, and twitter. We post regularly. And our website: www.soulvistas.com has more info. about our music and upcoming shows.    

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