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Bailiff Breaks Out

By Lizz Kannenberg in Arts & Entertainment on Oct 21, 2011 6:20PM

2011_10-bailiff-thumb-240x240-668343.jpg If you've got an interest in local music and anyone to talk about it with, chance are you've heard of Bailiff. The Chicago trio has been stitching together a complex quilt of challenging rhythms, unsettlingly melodic vocal and guitar lines and a howling, psychedelic backwash of atmosphere that's unlike anything else gracing our fair city's club stages.

The group's latest offering, Red Balloon, builds on its reputation for slow-burning grooves by contrasting the scuzziest, most hypnotic interludes with buoyant, almost-pure pop touchpoints. The excellent "In the Reverie" is a good example of this dichotomy, brought to life even more prominently by Siegel's newly emphatic, snarlingly calculated vocal delivery. And lest you think psych-blues can't bore into your brain and have you humming a melody hours or even days later, "When I Leave You Will Stay" will change your mind as it tattoos it.

It's only a matter of time before Bailiff is no longer a hometown secret, so we caught up with lead vocalist/guitarist Josh Siegel and drummer Ren Mathew via email to talk about recording, evolving and what's on tap.

Chicagoist: You guys have enjoyed critical kudos since the beginning. How has
that affected the way you write music and play live?

Josh Siegel: I think it's mostly gotten us excited to play more....

We are really grateful for the positive reviews we've gotten over the years. I can't say it's affected our approach to writing or playing live too much. Writing is a strange process to describe but it's all about trying things until you find something that is original and makes you feel something that you want to feel. If the feeling is there then I just have to trust that other people who hear it will feel something too.

As for live shows, I can remember changes some things based on a review. Not always a review from a journalist but sometimes just an honest critique from a friend. I remember when we started out on stage I used to have a fear of playing too many notes on the guitar and I'd end up with these overly restrained guitar parts. Really overthinking everything. I'd forget that it's fun to stretch songs out and improvise when you're playing live. Then we played a show where Bailiff opened up for Joe Price and backed him up so we were doing blues standards all night. Because I was playing other people's songs I felt like I had the green light to play more solos because the original artist did and I also sang much higher because the melodies required it. A lot of folks in the audience said they wished there was more of that stuff in Bailiff shows and I know I've made a point to express myself more with the guitar and push the vocals higher since then.

C: Red Balloon sounds like a significant step forward in maturity for
the band - you've defined your unique sound and conquered the challenges of bringing to to life on record. How was the recording process different this time around?

Ren Matthew: For one, we didn't do everything live. Mm Hmm was significant and unique for us because we set out to create a live sounding recording. Most of the songs were done in 1 or 2 takes and recorded to tape. For Red Balloon, we took a different approach. There are certainly songs that were done live in 1 or 2 takes (i.e. Overheard, When I Leave You Will Stay, Little by Little), but others were built from the drums up. Using mostly a digital recording approach, we also took advantage of as many different recording spaces we could find at the Chrome Attic, which was our isolated studio in the woods of Crystal Lakes. Whether it was out in the barn, the kitchen or small isolation booths, the mission was to find and capture great tones. I think I recorded on 3 or 4 different drum sets too, so we certainly stretched out and used as many tools available to us. I guess I could go on and on, but having Jon Alvin (producer) and Beau Sorenson (engineer) guiding the ship really helped. They kept us on track and gave us objective opinions on what worked and what didn't work. And lastly, living in the studio made for an incredible recording experience, all of which finds its way on to the record. I kind of wish we had some outtakes. Well, we do have some clips that have found their way on to YouTube showing us climb trees and throwing a Frisbee.

C: You played a number of local festivals this summer, for many people who hadn't heard you before. What kind of impression do you hope you left on them? Any favorite responses from the crowd?

JS: I hope I sang a melody that stuck in there head. If they had some problem that had been floating in their head all week I hope they got lost in a song and forgot about it for 5 minutes. I hope they liked what I was wearing that day.

When we played at Millennium Park this summer we played in front of a whole different kind of crowd. I remember that the front row was filled with what looked like 7-year-olds on a field trip with their camp. It really made me relax when I saw them sit down before the show. I didn't get to talk to them but for some reason their facial expressions where my favorite responses I've gotten from the crowd at a festival this year. I saw pretty much the full range of emotion in that front row at all times during the show. Some were swaying their heads and smiling, some looked like they just wanted to know what was for lunch, and some of them were really confused. In addition to that I had one guy say, "It would be a shame if you guys had decided to do something else with your lives besides playing music." That was a hell of a compliment.

C: What's next for Bailiff?

RM: For one, touring. We're ready. I'd like to head out of Chicago and
live on the road for a bit. I mean, both Josh and I feel the same way, we have an album and we have transportation. Let's go already. We're also crafting new songs for our next record, which has been really exciting.

Bailiff plays Lincoln Hall tonight with Cymbals Eat Guitars, 10pm, $15. 21+