Local Spotlight: Chicago's Own Soul Vistas & Some Music HistoryThursday, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.