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Shakin' it with Jon Drake

By Michele Lenni in Arts & Entertainment on Sep 2, 2010 5:20PM

In a town primarily known for power pop heroes like Cheap Trick and dark rock villains like Billy Corgan, Jon Drake and the Shakes stand out sheerly because no one can really peg them in either or those genres; nor any other for that matter. They have a luminous pop sensibility, but lyrically they can be darker and more angst-y than a 13-year-old looking for black nail polish at a Hot Topic. Either way they're indisputably the largest, most passionate and assiduous band in Chicago with sometimes over 14-accomplished-musicians on stage, singing and playing their myriad of rock and orchestral instruments until they can no longer stand.

Their most recent project, The Square Affair, brought together Logan Square Musicians like The Shams Band, Minneapolis' Henry's, and Derek Nelson and the Musicians every Sunday in Logan Square for over a months at the Illinois Centennial Monument, all leadingup to the main event last Friday at The Logan Square Auditorium.

Even through all of the planning and playing that took place that night Jon Drake of his Shakes had a chance to sit down with us and have a conversation about the event, bringing this colossal group of musicians together and what got him interested in music in the first place.

Chicagoist: Do you remember the first song that really made you want to be a musician and why it moved you so much?

Jon Drake: There’s always Nirvana -- pick any song; I was in love with them. As far as the first song that made me want to write...Tunnel of Love by Dire Straights, which is still one of my favorites… I guess music in general was an escape from a rocky childhood, and making my own would certainly end up in running away from it all to become a star.

C: on Drake and the Shakes are well known for their traveling cast of characters that enter and exit with every performance. Is it difficult to manage such a large group of musicians?

JD: Yes it is; Good god! It's the scheduling that hurts. Everyone is incredibly dedicated and we make ourselves available. We all love this group. What can get tricky is school, work, weddings, funerals, and family time coming into the mix. We need to make more money in order to afford more Shakes time.

C: Being that you guys virtually have an orchestra on stage at all times, is it difficult to find places to play that can accommodate you?

JD: We can fit into small spaces like George Jetson’s suitcase car. We just have to make sure Drew doesn't poke my eye out with her [violin] bow.

C: We've read that you put together your backing band, The Shakes, by posting an ad on Craigslist. We can only imagine the "amazing" musicians you would have seen in this process. What was the worst experience you had during your auditioning period and what made you choose the eight band-mates that you currently have?

JD: Ellis and I have been best buds since the day we met. It was a family from the start and we've grown up together. I knew I loved these people by the time we played our first song and finished our first bottle of cheap whiskey. The worst experience I had was replacing a rhythm section. We worked for over a year with two guys and then they up and quit over night via email. We had a show booked at Beat Kitchen in two weeks time. Luckily, I was training a drummer and bassist for our tour in France that played in one of our sister bands, Jaime Rojo. They sat in for a sold out show. We ended up picking up the pieces from what could have been detrimental and moved on without an ounce of collateral damage. In fact, our new and current lineup is the right one. The family has grown, there was some divorce, but now there are new relationships that are as fun, loving, and caring as any one could have dreamed of not to mention healthy and awesome.

C: You guys worked really hard on putting together The Square Affair event that took place last weekend at Logan Square Auditorium. I mean you and the other bands / musicians involved played in the Square every weekend for over a month! What inspired this particular event and what made you choose the bands for this spectacle?

JD: I put together a few folks I knew from the area that had been making waves putting on shows. We each picked a band respectively. We wanted variety, and Derek Nelson is rather handsome. Next year we will have an outdoor stage as well with a slightly more streamlined evening show in the Auditorium.

C: Playing every weekend in Logan Square had to be physically and mentally exhausting for the group. Do you feel like these happenings added or subtracted from potential attendance for the end event during these excursions?

JD: The Shakes only played twice. In both cases we met new people and found many new fans whose faces we saw again at the show [but] there was a band from our event on the square every weekend and it seemed as though a few folks were annoyed by this. Frankly, if people are making good music on the street and you find it "annoying," good riddance. This is what we do, we love making music with all our hearts, we are a strong and growing part of the community with giving hearts, and we aren't about to apologize for that. Now, I'll say this, the Sunday series would have been better served reaching out to other communities such as Wicker Park, Humbolt Park, Bucktown, even year we'll expand.

C: What are your long term goals for the band? We know that you have an EP,Side A, available, but are there any plans to record a full-length album and tour?

JD: Funny you ask! That's actually what we're working on. We're in talks with a label, a few other folks...we'll be rocking a small circuit once a month or so hitting up Minneapolis, Chicago, Detroit, Cincinnati, and Louisville. By the time we get to next summer, we'll be touring on our LP for just about as long as possible.