by Kelly Johnson
The Chicago Singles Club, a monthly web series showcasing local artists and consisting of original recordings, will run its last regular feature next month after three years of operation. The web site has amassed an impressive archive of free downloadable content from a diverse pool of artists running the gamut in pop, punk, garage, hip-hop, electronic and experimental. Over the years, the site has expanded to curate a once-a-month residency at Cole’s Bar (CSC Fourth Fridays) and release recordings in both vinyl and cassette format.
The original idea was spearheaded by Jeff Kelley and Kevin Claxton of the band Vaya and now features a full production crew team including photographer/booking coordinator Kerri Hacker, interviewer/video editor Iris Lin, assistant editor Kelsie Hardison and graphic designer Jordan Morrell. Each feature involves artists stopping by the CSC recording space for a day in the Chicago Music Garage (a building for rehearsal spaces) to record two songs, conduct a video interview and participate in a photo shoot.
Below is an edited conversation I had with Jeff and Kerri from CSC (romantic partners in real-life) to chat about the history of the publication, the desire to feature a diverse array of artists in Chicago and their future aspirations.
Jeff: Kevin and I came up with the idea in, like, early 2013. I don’t remember exactly what the whole genesis of the idea was, but I was inspired by John Peel and the Peel Sessions. (With the Peel Sessions) You could get a bonus look into your favorite band and what they sounded like live, even if they had broken up years ago.
I remember looking for Brainiac, back when I was searching for them, there wasn’t a lot of their live stuff on YouTube because it had just started (laughs). Finding a Peel Session was really cool because there was no other way to hear them live. So that kind of thing really inspired me.
We then had the idea to do digital releases and some kind of digital component, you know, and so we decided to do short videos, and then that turned into doing interviews. I started dating Kerri around the same time and she’s a photographer so we said let’s have her take some cool pictures of the bands.
Kerri: Yeah, you were like, “Do you want to be part of my project, Chicago Singles Club?” And I was like, I don’t know about that…
Kelly: (Laughs) You mean based on the name?
Kerri: It’s a dumb name.
Jeff: It is a dumb name. I am traditionally known to be terrible at naming things.
Kelly: Was it a goal to pretty much just take one day to record everything?
Kerri: It’s hard to coordinate a band of 3, 4 or 5 people, and then with us (CSC) like, six people. So trying to coordinate a day where everyone can be there at the same time is hard enough to do one day, let alone two. Then, our turnaround has generally been about four weeks.
Kelly: So usually, by the time you’re done with one, you’re starting up on the next?
Kerri: Yeah, so when you split it into two days there’s more work.
Jeff: And everyone involved, on our side and on the band’s side, is doing it for free, so we had to mega-optimize how we did everything.
Kelly: So how much time in that four weeks, do you spend after the session is done? Like, on average?
Jeff: It’s hard for me to say because I don’t know how much time goes into video editing, but I know that’s the bulk of the time, really. I probably spend maybe two hours writing a blurb for the band that describes them and their strengths. Depending on the band, I can probably spend up to six hours mixing and mastering, going back and forth with the band. We usually do about two or three rounds for every band and then after that I’m usually like…(laughs). It’s really rare that bands will have that much to say, though. Then Kerri spends a couple hours editing photos…
Kerri: Yeah, that’s mostly because my computer is really slow (laughs). It takes like twice as long as it should. Then I maintain the e-mail and social media. I usually do about 85 percent of the booking.
Jeff: Yeah, Kerri does all of the show booking pretty much.
Kelly: You guys do a really good job of doing a lot of diverse artists and not just specifically rock groups. That’s a conscious choice?
Jeff: Yeah, it totally is. Because if we wanted to do like, all punk bands, we would have no problem. The Chicago scene is largely punk, indie and garage rock, but there’s a lot of other cool shit going on, and that’s just what our tastes are, too. We all like diverse music.
Something that I really liked that we’ve done is, I feel like we’ve represented at least the northwest side scene in a way that…in a lot of publications just white dude bands get all of the attention for one reason or another, but we did a pretty decent job of getting bands that are fronted by women or bands that have people of color in them. That wasn’t something that we intentionally tried to do, but that’s really the way the scene is and it’s kind of misrepresented. I don’t know- women get, for whatever reason, played down even though there’s a billion good bands that aren’t all white dudes.
Kelly: You’re right, I feel like a lot of places don’t feature diverse artists. And I feel like a lot of people like diverse artists, they just don’t always realize it.
Jeff: Right. I honestly wish we could have done more hip-hop. It’s just that none of us are as plugged into the hip-hop scene as we are to the punk, indie and experimental scene.
Kelly: I also know that you mentioned that you wouldn’t be doing this much longer? What was the reasoning behind that?
Kerri: Well…everybody’s been doing this for free and it’s pretty time-consuming, especially for the video people, and Iris and Kelsie (Hardison) both just got jobs at The Onion. And they both work a lot, they have to work weekends sometimes, like long hours; it’s kind of all over the place. So they’re both really busy, and Kevin is kind of doing his own thing now and I’ve been in school this whole time, and I’m in my last semester so I’ve been feeling a little burnt out doing the unglamorous stuff.
Jeff: Yeah, Kerri does a lot of the less glamorous jobs like responding to e-mails and chasing down bands and dude-wrangling. She doesn’t get enough credit for it.
Kerri: I just don’t necessarily want the quality to suffer if we all need to take a break, you know?
Kelly: Sure, it wasn’t a situation where everyone isn’t that interested anymore…
Kerri: No, I think we still all want to do it, and once we all stop doing it we’re going to kind of miss it. But it’s just not realistic to keep going how we’re going without starting to hate each other (laughs). But we just need to take a break from the singles stuff. Booking stuff (CSC Fourth Fridays) I’m still going to do- I have it until July for right now. I mean, we can still produce content, it’s just a little bit more unstructured and we have more freedom at the same time.
Kelly: So it will still exist in some capacity, maybe just not with as rigid of a schedule of like, every month?
Jeff: Exactly. It’s been getting tough to…I mean, we actually missed a couple of months (laughs).
Kerri: I would say that 25 percent of our singles this year have been late, for, up to a month almost.
Jeff: But it’s not because we don’t enjoy it, like, I still really like doing it.
Kerri: Everyone’s just busy.
Jeff: Yeah everyone’s just busy. But there’s still bands that I can think of that I really want to feature.
Kerri: Yeah, like Celine Neon.
Jeff: Yeah, or KO.
Jeff: Oh yeah, they’re great.
Kelly: So you were saying that you were going to do a final showcase?
Kerri: Yeah, at the Empty Bottle. We have the show booked already.
Kelly: Do you have anything special planned for that?
Kerri: I think we’re going to have a fire sale probably.
Jeff: We have boxes of records (laughs).
Kelly: You guys have the records and you have a tape, too?
Jeff: Yeah, we have a tape featuring year two. I don’t know if we’re going to do a physical release for year three.
Kerri: The thing with the final showcase is…my idea that I wanted to do but there was no way to do, was to do a special three tape release with all three years on it. But there’s no way that we could get it done.
Jeff: We’re also terrible capitalists. We’re really bad at like, selling stuff because we’re really not doing this for money. I’m happy that we’ve made enough at shows to offset the cost of the vinyl and the tapes and all the stuff that we put into it. But for the most part, we’re just doing it because we like doing it. We love the music that’s coming out of Chicago right now and we like hanging out with the bands.
Kelly: Yeah, definitely. And I feel by proxy, you have to have learned about so much new music because of it.
Jeff: Yeah, it’s been great. You’d think by being in a band you’d know what the scene is like in your own city, but I didn’t. I had no idea.