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Bringing It All Back Home

By Lizz Kannenberg in Arts & Entertainment on May 10, 2007 3:28PM

Chicago native Jason Kanakis is one of those rare dudes who can honestly call himself a "career musician." He's has toured the world playing with the likes of KT Tunstall, Butch Walker, Rachael Yamagata, Aqualung, and an impressive heap of others. kanakis-sized.jpgNow based in Los Angeles, Jason has an interesting perspective on how the Chicago music scene shapes up in comparison to the rest of the country, not to mention some pretty weird stories about life on the road. Fresh off a tour with Brett Dennen, Chicagoist caught up with Jason for a quick chat about touring, Chicago's music community, and Singapore's transvestite prostitutes.

Chicagoist: What's your best memory of playing in Chicago?

Jason Kanakis: Well this might not be the sexiest example, but I used to play in a soul band that did weddings and every festival under the sun. We were playing at Taste of Chicago. This was in like 1997. At that point it was the biggest gig I had ever played. There were thousands of people, the smell of amazing food and some great weather. It was a great moment.

C: Have you noticed any significant changes in the Chicago music scene since you left for L.A.?

JK: I’ve lived in L.A. for almost 10 years now, however, I do pay attention to these things! I think that Chicago has maintained its diverse and interesting scene. I grew up in the early-mid nineties explosion of Chicago music, so I was watching any band that could be called “alternative” get a record deal. I think that has slowed down here in Chicago (and everywhere for that matter), but the music has gotten better.

C: You're entrenched in a songwriter scene out west — do you think something similar has happened or could happen in Chicago, or is there just something in the Los Angeles water supply?

JK: I didn’t want to have to say it, but L.A. is full of narcissistic people. Why have a “band” called “blah, blah” when you can call it your name, keep all of the publishing and treat your musicians like the hired help? Haha … that was dark. Seriously, I think putting a band together in L.A. is really difficult. All of the musicians (at least the good ones) consider themselves “professionals.” This means that they need to get paid and are not willing to take a chance on a developing thing like a “band.” Chicago exists just outside of that industry craziness so there’s a different reality for musicians here. I think that’s a positive for bands here, but a negative for singer-songwriters. All of the singer-songwriters I know make their living off of TV and film licensing. Film and TV … well, that’s all in L.A., kids.

C: What's your favorite venue to play in Chicago and why?

JK: Schubas … three words … Mac. And. Cheese. I also love the Metro. It just makes you feel like a rock star. The Park West feels like I’m in the club from Scarface, and I have to be doing copious amounts of blow. Wait, maybe that’s my favorite venue?! I’m not cool enough to play at the Empty Bottle, but I wish I were. I’m really just still waiting for Lounge Ax to open back up.

C: Give us a wild Kanakis tour story.

JK: Here’s the Reader’s Digest Version….

I was in Singapore playing at the Mosaic Music Festival with Rachael Yamagata. It was a 22-hour flight from NYC, but we still went right out to a bar the moment we arrived. After several drinks, we ended up meeting this American guy who just happened to be Dennis Hopper’s son. The guy is totally hospitable and almost certainly insane, which only confirms that he is indeed Dennis Hopper’s son. He decides that he wants to show us the “real” Singapore so he takes us to a place the locals affectionately refer to as “Four Floors of Whores.” For the record, I’ve never been a big fan of prostitution as an industry, but witnessing these professionals in action made me realize how similar the music industry is to whoring. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that all of these lovely ladies are transvestites. To make a long story short……One of the guys in the band didn’t seem to get the memo that the “girls” were actually men. That’s an entirely different story and you’ll have to ask him about it.

BTW, what happens on the road stays on the road.

C: Any favorite Chicago-based artists?

JK: I’m a big fan of the Changes. I knew a few of them growing up. I think Andrew Bird is fantastic. Cameron McGill is pretty cool too.

C: If you could play with one native Chicago band, past or present, who would it be and why?

JK: CHEAP TRICK…….If you have to ask then you’d never understand.