Assigning a genre to Chicago’s Crown Larks is next to impossible. However, in a recent chat with three of the band’s members, their method, ethos, and aim became very clear. They’re very interested in the DIY process of both creating and presenting their music; the beauty that can be found at the intersection of things like exceptionally progressive punk and free jazz; and the most forward-thinking music makers of their own era, often times in light of modern music history’s most poignantly progressive (and generally transgressive). Their debut full-length, Blood Dancer, was released this Spring. The album is reminiscent of New York City’s underground scene of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, which began with No Wave and flourished into the avant-garde rock stylings of the likes of Sonic Youth and Swans and soundtracked much of Richard Kern’s greatest works in cinema, while rarely directly referencing any particular works. They also allow wind instruments to play a role in their chaotic haze that is easily as important as their distortion pedals. Crown Larks have a small handful of upcoming dates booked before they’re heading out West, including an October 29th stop at Bourbon & Branch, and Lorraine Bailey (electric piano, organ, vocals, clarinet, synths), Jack Bouboushian (guitar, vocals, bass, sleep machine, pedals) and Bill Miller (drums) recently took some time to tell me about the state of music in Chicago (and just general), some of the band’s highs and lows, and how they approach their own music.
Izzy Cihak: Since this is a Philadelphia publication, I’m curious of your thoughts on the city. Any particular favorite memories? I’m just seeing now that you’ve actually played here a handful of times in recent years.
Lorraine Bailey: Philadelphia’s got a special place in band history because it’s where we played our worst show ever, on our first tour in 2013, and learned we had to get more focused after that! Feel like we’re still trying to live it down in Philly. Just one of those sad displays of four super-tour-tired-and-probably-too-drunk people looking at each other on a stage like, “Oh man, what’s about to happen?” And things only got worse… Later that night, our drummer, Bill, wandered off in search of falafel (had to be falafel) and never came back. Only about halfway through the next day did we find him… sleeping on the asphalt under the back bumper of the van! He’d gotten lost and just wandered around, peering into windows, looking for us until somebody smoked him out – City of Brotherly Love right? – but he eventually found the van and just slept under it in hopes of being found.
Jack Bouboushian: Maybe that’s why Philadelphia is the only major city we haven’t played this year already! Not intentionally, just didn’t work out this time. We had some good shows there last year though. My favorite band we played with was probably Harsh Vibes.
Izzy: And while we’re talking about cities, how is Chicago these days? How is their music and arts scene at the moment?
Jack: The music scene is definitely what’s kept me here. Musically, the city thrives in spite of a lot of the uglier developments that are happening – schools closing, overpriced condos everywhere, lot of graft – and always has. Our DIY/punk/outsider rock/noise/etc. scene is up there with any city’s, and I think what puts it ahead is the integration with more experimental, noise, free jazz type vibes happening around the city. In some ways, that even impacts the bigger cultural events, so you see more left field stuff at the big festivals.
Lorraine: Like a free jazz tent at the Jazz Fest… or I guess like Crown Larks at Do Division Fest.
Jack: Problems are still there… like anywhere, too much bro vibes at most shows, not enough effort to make shows fun and interesting and inclusive for people besides young white guys.
Izzy: Do you have any particular favorite Chicago bands/artists, whether of recent years or not?
Jack: Lot of amazing stuff happening now. On the more rock side of things, bands like Health&Beauty, Den, Toupee, Mines, Cool Memories, ONO, CAVE. We have some amazing songwriters like Rob Jacobs and Circuit des Yeux, and the free jazz and experimental scene is full of heroes like Hamid Drake, El Is a Sound of Joy, Jason Stein, Frank Rosaly, Mark Shippy, Fred Anderson, Muhal Richard Abrams.
Izzy: And back to your band… What have been some of the highlights of Crown Larks so far? The group is still relatively new, right?
Lorraine: Pretty new, first show was December 2012, but the lineup as it is now didn’t come together until a few months later. This spring we released our first full-length and did a 70-day nationwide tour on it… just pulling that off feels like the highlight. But right now we’re trying to finish a second LP by the end of the year, which seems like the biggest challenge we’ve faced, then trying to do another nationwide tour in Spring 2016, so it goes on [laughs].
Jack: Lot of individual highlights – playing with Yonatan Gat in a Brooklyn warehouse was so beautiful and exciting. Driving straight to Denver to play Goldrush Fest with artists like Guardian Alien and Lawrence English, getting to be on the same bill with such amazing people. But really overall just getting the chance to tour like this and share music and experiences with people all over.
Izzy: What would you consider to be the band’s most significant influences, both musical and from other artistic mediums… or just aspects of life, for that matter?
Lorraine: I’d point to that list of local artists we’re into for sure. I want us to be the kind of band that feels like it’s channeling the present, not just reviving old favorites, if that makes sense. That said, besides those locals, I’d say we’ve got a pretty wide range of influences. To name some… definitely Neu!, Can, etc. or more contemporary stuff like Broadcast for the sense of space and minimal grooves. Dirty Projectors for the weird song structures, even if we’re not as song-based. The arrangements on the record, especially the horns in both sparse and freakout vibe, are inspired by the Bitches Brew, In a Silent Way, etc. Miles Davis. And a lot of no wave stuff like This Heat or Glenn Branca or Public Image Limited, early post-punk, I think that’s more the direction we’re going in now.
Jack: We tend to put songs together more like films… shot out of sequence, then you have these pieces and try to mix and match them until a common theme emerges. Some of the songs were written in a more straightforward, top-down kind of way, but most of them come from trying to capture a bunch of different random bursts of inspiration in the practice space and going from there. The dreamlike vibe of directors like Tarkovsky or Fellini or David Lynch come to mind.
And with sound… my favorite sounding record is still Fun House. The energy and spontaneity they captured is so raw, but musically there’s so much happening. I think a lot of people just hear “simple riffs” or something in it, but for me, yeah, it’d be nice to somehow join that with Close to the Edge, something most people would consider its opposite.
Izzy: So I wasn’t going to asked this, but then I looked it up and saw that you “follow” both of the bands on Twitter, so I have to ask: Has anyone ever told you that you seem to channel Sonic Youth in a similar manner as Grooms?
Jack: Ha, no, no one’s said that specifically. I think we have kind of a mishmash of different periods of Sonic Youth going maybe? Like if you took a riff from Confusion is Sex and repeated it over and over, threw on some horns and a verse or two of a Daydream Nation or Thousand Leaves song? Yeah~
Izzy: For that matter, are there any bands that you’re especially proud to have shared a bill with? You’ve played with a lot of really cool bands. Buke & Gase, SISU, and ADVAETA are some of my favorite bands of recent years.
Jack: We’ve booked nearly every show we’ve played, and we always look for bands based on the merit of what they’re doing rather than draw and buzz, so it makes it hard to choose. So to narrow it down, I’ll say some bands that I think played particularly mind-blowing sets when we played with them, I’d say… Yonatan Gat because to get a warehouse full of people dancing to something besides four-on-the-floor is the best. Actually that’s probably the theme… Yonatan did that in NYC, WAND did it in L.A., Health&Beauty did it in Chicago. To bring that physical element but still do something musically interesting always impresses me. Lawrence English, this experimental composer from Australia, played Goldrush Fest with us in Denver last month and had everyone lay on the floor to feel the million-dB sub bass he was pumping under these otherworldly harsh/gentle textures…
Lorraine: Yeah, so much to choose from since we’ve done over 200 shows in the past couple years! In addition to the bands Jack mentioned, I’d add Bad Luck from Seattle and Laughing Man from D.C.
Bill Miller: Health&Beauty, Wei Zhongle, Bad Luck, Yonatan Gat, Comfort Food, Mako Sica, Anwar Sadat, Laughing Man.
Izzy: And you’re going to be in town again in a few weeks. What can be expected of the live experience, for those of us yet to see it in-person?
Lorraine: All kinds of instrument switching, lot of energy. The songs aren’t all that straightforward, but we want to engage people and surprise them and freak them out if we can. It’s loud. Lot of one-time stuff happens each performance since we try to leave little parts of the songs open to chance, noise, whatever. New stuff’s a lot more about stacking a bunch of different rhythms compared to the more textural, droney older stuff.
Izzy: I totally love your video for “Chapels,” which reminds me of a cross between early Gregg Araki and latter-era David Lynch. What is it that inspires Crown Larks’ visuals?
Lorraine: The director, Emily Esperanza, really took the basic vibe of the song, and the license to do something dark and surreal, and ran with it. David Lynch was definitely a shared influence for us. The idea of masks and shadows felt good since the songs are made in such a way that there’s not really just one central idea, and we want people to explore them like landscapes. But yeah, Emily definitely made it happen and deserves all the credit for that. Working with her was really fun, and it was also our first time doing a music video, so we’ll see what our visuals end up being like once we’ve done some more.
Izzy: And finally, what’s next for the band? I understand that you’re moving out west? Can we expect some new music or additional videos in the near future?
Lorraine: Nope, no plans to move out west, just going out there for a couple months in Spring, skip some of the Chicago winter! We’re finishing our second LP now, looking for someone to release it. So there’ll be new songs and videos coming soon.