5 writers, 5 questions, 1 band, hand-picked by the MWA writers. Welcome to FIVE x FIVE. This week: the melodic indie rock solo project of Volcanoes Make Islands alum, Ancient Friends.
You have one album available online, Power Mountain, released just last November. What was the most rewarding thing about putting out the album?
This is my first solo music venture, so I had a good grasp of the direction I wanted to take my music, in particular from a production stand point. Being in the drivers seat is scary and vulnerable, but to fully realize my vision was beyond rewarding, it was validating. These songs had been in my head for a long time. Working with Alan Takaoka, Dave Veller, Dan Smart and Dan Duszynski to bring them to life was the icing on the cake for me. The collaborations and relationships that comes from playing music are the catalyst for this project.
Ancient Friends’ bio reads ‘The horse’. Care to elaborate?
Ha! Every spring I head up to northern Wisconsin to make maple syrup on a friends family farm. They tap around 400 trees each year and we help collect the sap to boil it down to make syrup. We’re each assigned a coffee cup for the weekend and this past year, mine happen to be covered in majestic illustrations of horses. Between the illustrations, there was a quote, “Ancient Friends”. I instantly declared this the name of my new music project and ended up buying the domain name the next day. The Horse is our ancient friend, is it not!?
You’ve said that “Heart of Cold” is a tribute to Neil Young and Chicago winters. Where else have you looked for inspiration? Is there anything specific that seems to be perfect source material?
Musically, I find inspiration in my music “idols” and whatever album I happen to be into at any given time. Neil Young is a diete, a being I regard above all religious figures (Jesus, eat your heart out), so his influence on my music is invaluable. I’m not much of a lyrics guy and usually lyrics come as an afterthought when writing a song. Last winter was brutal in Chicago and was touch on all of us. I noticed a sense of defeat amongst my friends and in myself. The lyrics for “Heart of Cold” spilled out one day, in the depths of the coldest stretch of winter, when we were having -40F days.
Ancient Friends seem to be relatively new to the Chicago music scene, what other projects have you been a part of that helped influence the sound of this new band?
My last band, Volcanoes Make Islands, had a huge influence on my writing, in particular writing with VMI bandmate, Henry Bianco. He has a knack for taking what seems to be a straight ahead part and elevate it by adding odd accents or tense color notes. I fleshed out the Ancient Friends songs with VMI drummer, Alan Takaoka,. He eventually recorded the drums for three of the four tracks, too. Hands down, the most musical drummer I’ve ever played with. He has a great sense for songwriting, so working with him is natural. He listens to a part once and plays exactly what needs to be played. Total pro!
Vocally, Doug Jenkins from my old band, The Rikters, is a big influence. The guy knows how to write a hook. I’m such a sucker for a good hook and try to write around a strong melody. Doug has control and attitude in his vocals, which is a fine balance. I tend to focus on the control aspect more, but attempt some attitude here and there.
What might you say is the most challenging part about building a band and a presence in Chicago?
I’ve been doing the “band thing” in Chicago for 10 years and the most important people involved with any band are your friends. Play for them, play music they want to hear and they’ll come to your shows. Without their support, I wouldn’t have the opportunity to play the amazing shows I’ve been able to play through the years. Also, Ancient Friends is a band of friends, old buddies of mine I’ve been playing with for years. I’m trying to keep it in the family.
B-B-B-BONUS: How did you find yourself on the bill for December’s Noise for Toys?
Ancient Friends is comprised of members of Blane Fonda and The Noise FM, so after our first show together, they asked me to open the Noise for Toys benefit. I was completely honored! I’m a huge fan of these bands, so I’d be there anyways. I went last year, and it was such a festive show for a great cause.