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Liam Hayes Leaves Lacquer Off 'Slurrup'

By Casey Moffitt in Arts & Entertainment on Jan 30, 2015 3:50PM

photo credit: david prince
Chicagoan Liam Hayes has been cutting records for about 20 years now under his own name and as Plush. Whenever he releases something new, his small but rabid fan base gets pretty excited and it has responded in kind to his latest, Slurrup, which was released a couple of weeks ago. We caught up with Hayes to talk about his latest release earlier this week.

Hayes has been known for loading his albums with vast instrumentation and lush layers. On Slurrup, Hayes strips things down and offers more of a typical rock album.

"I've always like rock'n'roll, but I was never really looking to present my material in this way—as a band," he explained. "I'm kind of going back to things that I've liked best but never thought of as a way to present my songs."

Slurrup still is loaded with songs heavily influenced by 60s and 70s pop music, with strong melodies. We're reluctant to call it bubblegum pop, as it terribly sweet or sticky. It's more like fresh, minty chewing gum pop. Although there are plenty of elements that fans of Hayes will recognize, they will find Slurrup unusually stripped down in its instrumentation (guitar, keys, bass and drum), and some rocking tunes.

"It's what my first album might have sounded like before I made my first single," Hayes said. "I've done a lot of things in a lot of different ways, but I've never done anything what might be considered scaled-back, or rudimentary, or raw, or whatever."

"Raw" is not a word we use to describe Slurrup. It is a deliberate and well-crafted album.

"As much as the band is the center of the album, we didn't just turn some mics on and bang out tunes," he said. "When you listen to a 'rock' album you always hear things come in and out. Just because it's not layered, that doesn't mean the songs aren't arranged. Any good band or ensemble is going to do that.

"The overdubs are closer to supporting the sound of the band," Hayes continued. "We wanted to be a bit more economical is how we did that this time out."

The result is crisp sound, where the listener has a chance to hear how all the parts fall and work together.

"I really wanted this album to sound and feel more like a band, and I think we were able to do that," Hayes said. "I think we were able to capture that sense of interaction that happens when people play together and not hide it with too much other stuff."

01.29.15.hayescvr.jpg However, Hayes and his companions on Slurrup—John San Juan on bass and Eric Reidleberger on drums—found ways to replicate a layered sound with a stripped down band. For example, San Juan's bass lines are more like counter melodies rather than a driving force.

"When you're doing something like what we did with less instrumentation, the challenge is to imply the other things that need to be there without overdoing it," Hayes explained. "It really helped a lot for John not just to play the bottom—the roots or the fifths—but to add in counters and stuff to make it work."

The album is also a lot of fun to listen to. It's filled with upbeat songs where we find Hayes exploring the things he found exciting as a youngster.

"I kind of wanted to reconnect with some of the things I liked when I started out with music as a kid. You know things like rock'n'roll and pranks and magic," Hayes said. "These are things I kind of forget about when I'm busy doing things that are 'serious' or 'important.' A big part of this album was just helping remember what it is I was doing and why I was doing it."

The video for "Fokus" is a good representation of what Hayes is driving at.

Still, there is some dark lyrical content buried underneath the bouncy music. "Keys to Heaven" might be the most cheerful song on the album, but also the darkest lyrically. "They offered me the keys to heaven / So I would stay inside their hell / They chased me right up to the doorway / ‘Cause when I left they knew I’d tell," Hayes sings.

"There's heavy stuff in there," he said. "It's not all fun and games. That's the challenge - to find a way to keep the two in communication with each other. To find a way to get them to live together."

Hayes performs at Schubas Saturday night, where he will be joined by San Juan and Reidleberger. He said people can expect to hear plenty of tunes from Slurrup, but also "older ones that people haven't heard in a while, or may have forgotten about."

Hayes said he's "excited" about where things are heading in his career, which has seen its ups and downs in terms of proliferation. But he said he's got plenty more songs and is always thinking abbot what his next move will be. As far as any new Plush material in the future?

"Maybe. Who knows?" he said. "I didn't entirely expect things to move this way, so I might even surprise myself next."

Liam Hayes performs Saturday, Jan. 31, at Schuba's Tavern, 3159 N. Southport Ave., 9 p.m., $12, 21+