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The FBI Ain’t Got No Singers

By Jocelyn Geboy in Arts & Entertainment on Nov 17, 2005 5:10PM

There's something in the water here. And it's not good. Chicago is starting to have this weird vibe of bands who get the strong buzz of goodness surrounding them. They put out a record. Maybe two. And something goes wrong. Their drummer goes a little wonky and they break up in their original form. Their lead singer falls prey to depression and makes the supreme sacrifice. They get signed to a major label and then well.... the verdict is still out. Scotland Yard Gospel Choir is no exception. Just after playing a showcase at the CMJ music festival in New York, one of their co-founders, Matt Kerstein, announced he was leaving the band. You know, creative differences.

Chicagoist sat down with the other co-founder of the Choir, Elia Eihhorn, to discuss what's next for the Choir and what exactly "the Elbow" means.

2005_10 elia.jpgChicagoist: Scotland Yard Gospel Choir. Where does that name come from?
Matt and I co-founded the band, and I thought it interesting that we both had British mothers who settled in America and east coast Jewish fathers. I initially wanted to call the band The Gospel Choir, as I'd sung for a few months and Matt had played elecric guitar with a gospel choir based at our college. We thought it better to show that we're not actually a gospel choir at all, and so added to this most American of institutions one of Britain's most noteworthy ones.

Chicagoist: How long have you been making music? Were/are your parents musical?
I've been seriously playing music since I was 17. Before that I'd taken guitar lessons a couple of times as well as voice lessons. When I was 17, I kicked my drug habit, and discovered that playing music filled the seemingly endless void left by my addiction. That's a switch that saved my life!

My dad's been playing guitar and writing songs for years, since well before I was born. I grew up with him singing his folky songs around the house. I used to accompany him to Old Town School of Folk Music songwriting circles, and appropriately enough played my first concerts as his rhythm guitar accompanist. My mother sang old Beatles songs at the top of her lungs.

Chicagoist: You've gotten a lot of media buzz lately. Are you looking to be 'rich and famous?' What is your hope for this band?
We'd like to all be able to live off of the band for sure. We want as many as people as possible to hear our music and maybe fall in love with it, maybe not. It would be nice to be able to quit our day jobs!

Chicagoist: One of your members, Matt Kerstein, recently announced that he is leaving the band. For awhile, it looked like Scotland Yard Gospel Choir was going to be no more just as you were headed into making another record and you were on the rise. Where are you headed now?

The same way we've always been headed, onward and upward! We wish Matt the best for his new group. We're looking forward to finishing the record we've been working on, playing more dates and landing a label.

More with Elia after the jump.....

Chicagoist: What was your first concert? Do you remember the first record you bought with your own money?
The first real rock concert that I attended was The Smashing Pumpkins at The Aragon Ballroom on Dec. 10th, 1994. What a show! I went with Sam, SYGC's drummer and a great childhood friend. I crowd-surfed, got dropped and knocked out, helped to the side by a stranger, smoked my first cigarette, crowdsurfed again. Sam moshed and lost his watch and had his glasses smashed. We couldn't wait to go see another concert.

The first music I bought with my own money is either the Poison single "'Your Momma Don't Dance and Your Daddy Don't Rock'n'Roll" or the KLF album The White Room. As far as the Poison single, I'd never heard it but was highly influenced by an older next-door neighbor who loved them. I listened to the radio all the time back them and adored KLF. Or maybe it was Craig McLachlan and Check 1-2. I spent loads of time in Wales with my family growing up and was hooked on the soap-esque Neighbors. Lots of the actors on that show went on to pop music careers, most notably Kylie Minogue, and I was obsessed with Craig's music. In retrospect it was awful, but I still catch myself singing one of his songs to myself occasionally.

Chicagoist: What musical instruments do you play? What's your favorite?
Not to say that I'm fluent in all of these instruments, but I can play guitar, piano, bass, harmonica, banjo and drums. Guitar has always been my main instrument, though these days I find myself in love with the piano.

Chicagoist: You often greet people by giving them 'the elbow.' What's the significance of that?
Just something I picked up from the band! I don't know where it started.

Chicagoist: Does it bother you to constantly be referenced to/with Belle and Sebastian?
Thank God we don't get it too much anymore. I'm the first to admit that there were a couple of songs on our first record that were extremely similar. I never understood, though, how some critics could compare us to Belle & Sebastian and completely overlook our Clash influence. We've really found our own sound over the two years since that album was released.

Chicagoist: You've opened for a lot of bands. Has there been one that has stood out or made you starstruck?
Opening for The Violent Femmes was amazing. I've loved that band for years, and some of their songs were the soundtrack to my teenage years. The record Add It Up is fanatastic, just amazing.

Playing with The Arcade Fire was great too. They're cool people who make some of the most moving music out there.

Chicagoist: You say on your website bio that you've been sober since 1997. Have you ever been approached by a fan who's needed help?
I've had a couple of people ask for advice about their loved ones, really more questions about how to live with people who drink. I welcome any questions, though!

Chicagoist local snapshot:

C: What's your favorite spot to eat in Chicago?
Noodles In The Pot on Halsted tied with The Chicago Diner. Amazing Thai or amzing all-veggie food? It's too hard to decide!

C: What's the most underrated thing about Chicago?
The fact that we've got all of the amenities of a big city without the sky-high rents and impersonal treatment of larger cities like New York and London.

C: Your favorite tourist spot?
It's gotta be Michigan Ave. There's nothing like the Mag Mile on a beautiful spring day...