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Aaron Fox and the Reliables - Interview

  by Lisa Torem

published: 1 / 6 / 2010

Aaron Fox and the Reliables - Interview


Lisa Torem speaks to Chicago-based indie pop/rock group Aaron Fox and the Reliables about the formation of their band and their recently released debut album, 'Late Too Soon'

Aaron Fox (lead singer and guitarist), Bob Vodick (bass and vocals), Mike Burns (guitar and vocals) and Rick Zygowicz(drums and percussion) make up energetic Chicago quartet, Aaron Fox and the Reliables 'Late Too Soon', their new CD, displays a parking metre with the indicator reading “expired.” It’s not surprising, then, that the catchy lyrics and contagious rhythms within draw the listener back to a simpler time when lyrics fully expressed deep emotion and melodies were straight-ahead and not distorted by extraneous clatter. On the heels of a new video produced in a historical area of Illinois and recent participants in the International Pop Overthrow Fest, Aaron, Bob and Mike congregated in my cluttered living room, but remained auspiciously focused on the task at hand: discussing the importance of group chemistry and why getting exactly the right sound requires vigilant communication. PB: Aaron, you produced a solo EP in 2003. AF: Yeah. ‘All Broken Up’ was the title. PB: So, let’s talk about how the entire band got together. You met Mike Burns in 2009. AF: I think that’s right. MB: It was either late 2008 or early 2009. We sort of talked first for a few months before we got together. AF: It was January or February. PB: What made you feel that you wanted to connect? AF: Well, it’s kind of interesting how Mike found me or I found Mike. I saw a listing on Craig’s List one winter day, cruising through ad after ad. I saw Mike’s ad and it was pretty brief, but professionally written and I thought he sounds like he’s got a good head on his shoulders. He said, “This is the kind of band I’m looking for, and if you’re looking for the same thing, shoot me a link to the place where I can hear your songs.” So, I had a couple of songs on MySpace. I sent them over to Mike. I think he probably got back to me about half an hour later saying, “I really like your tunes (laughs). That’s how we came together and we made arrangements, and we got together for a little jam and to chat more, and we kind of connected right off. I’d gone through several different musicians before where nothing ever panned out. I’ve been fighting that battle (laughs) for quite a few years actually. PB: What battle? AF: Basically, kind of looking for an actual band, consistent performances, nothing ever came together. I did have some recording projects with certain musicians, but we’d never actually played live because it would all be this stop and go sort of stuff. We never did play live, so – everything changed once Mike and I (laughs) got together. MB: I’ll just go over my side of the story. I was in a band with Bob Vodick before that, I guess we still play a little bit here or there, not too much, with the Blind Robins, and everyone in that band was getting busy. It was just getting harder and harder, so I was looking for an opportunity to play more. I had put ads on Craig’s List before and you get some strange responses, typically. I guess that’s understating it a bit. At that time, things got busier with the Blind Robins. I got about three or four responses. Some of them were actually pretty good, but I was waiting to get a few more before I responded and then I got Aaron’s and I got to his MySpace page and he had an earlier version of the song ‘Over and Over Again.’ PB: I have that tune in my head right now. MB: All I heard was the first 15 seconds of it and I said I don’t know if this is what I’m really looking for, but I like this and I got a hold of him and we talked on the phone, like he said, and even from an e-mail conversation you can tell if a person is easy to work with. We got together and on a personal level we connected. I don’t know if we played all that well. It was the first time playing (Laughs), but we connected right away. We had the same goals and same ideas, so it worked out well. We worked together for a couple of months. We thought about doing a duo thing for a while, but I said, why don’t I bring in a bass player, and we’ll see how it goes? I talked Bob into coming. So, he said, eventually, okay, I’ll give it a shot. It was a bit of a surprise, actually, because ‘Over and Over Again’ was the song I heard. It’s kind of a jangly, pop-rock song. I liked that, but he also had a sort of a demo of his solo stuff, a sort of a sample he was using at the time, which was more acoustic, a little bit sweeter. It was good, too, and I was up for that, and when we first got together with Bob, Aaron strapped on his electric guitar and brought out the amp. I said, “He’s actually a rocker!” I said, we need to complete this band. PB: Some of your reviews describe your sound as “mid-western.” Do you agree with that? Are you all from the mid-west or more specifically Chicago? Aaron? AF: Chicago-ish… BV: I don’t mind that comparison because I think it’s – we’re not trying to be anybody aside from what we are. Hear some of the demos. Hear some of the other stuff. Do you want me to play a bass live like this guy? What do you want me to do? Mike said, let’s start like that. So, I started… (Laughs). I’ll just play it my way! Mid-west? I don’t know. I guess I can’t complain about that; as compared to what? (Laughs) What are you comparing it to, you know? AF: A band like Wilco, or something like that has been a big influence. What they do is consistently change their sound, but they’re rooted and have a mid-western rock kind of thing…but they do a lot of things to change their identity… MB: Even though we have a rock background, a lot of the songs are straight pop rock, but a lot of songs later in the album definitely have that roots influence. Bob and I have that from our last bands. It’s hard to hide that, that could be where that mid-western label comes from, but it’s not something we really set out to do. PB: That was the first time I heard that description and I thought – maybe you’re on to something. Aaron, you have an attraction to the sounds of the Beatles… AF: You couldn’t tell, could you? Yeah, they’re pretty much the reason I wanted to play guitar. My story, that I remember is, when I was five I told my parents I wanted to be a Beatle. PB: You weren’t very ambitious, right? AF: At first, my mom tells me, you weren’t five, you were three (Laughs)! PB: Which Beatle did you want to be? AF: I think I was just...I made that connection when I was real young, just saying, these guys; they have a good job… (Laughs). I think I wanted to do what they wanted to do. I think that’s all I knew back then. I think my favorite Beatle changed, over and over again. First, it was John, then it was George, then it was Paul, back and forth. I never seemed to like Ringo for some reason. Poor guy! I love Ringo. PB: Aaron, let’s talk about songwriting. Are you the one primarily responsible? AF: Yeah. Well, that’s really hard to explain (Laughs). I guess it really depends on the songs. I’ve started songs from many, many different places, whether it’s starting from a melody I came up with or a memorable phrase or a guitar riff. I’ve started songs from a lot of different places and it’s basically like a puzzle which you can process, basically one of those things will start as the foundation, and then it’s like playing matchmaker with what kind of sound are these lyrics supposed to have, that or vice versa. There’s a chord progression or some kind of guitar riff or whatever. You’re starting with the creation of the atmosphere and then you enhance that atmosphere with the other side. So, I’ll come up with as much as I can, on that end, and bring it in to the guys and sort of make the arrangements together; the guitar lines, how the accents are supposed to go, drum parts, work with the dynamics and then it slowly comes together. BV: What’s kind of exciting about this group is, we’re now getting into the point where it’s going to continue. The sounds are going to evolve. I don’t know where it’s going to go. We don’t have any pre-conceived notions really of where it’s going to go. MB: I’ve worked with songwriters, before, and sometimes they have the lyrics down and you try to figure out what might sound right with their music. Aaron will, however, say, “I really want the mood of this particular piece> This is how I hear it in my head. But, I don’t really want to transpose it because this is the mood of this particular key and how I hear it in my head.” Aaron has a very strong and instinctive feel for his music that I haven’t come across too much. PB: In terms of tracks such as 'Vapor Eyes' and 'Over and Over Again' from 'Late Too Soon', have you had some tragic moments or tedious moments that served as inspirations? I also hear some urban angst in there. Are there some emotional moments when you say, I’ve just got to get my guitar out? AF: Yeah. The process was different for a lot of the tunes. I think ‘Vapor Eyes’ – this does happen a whole lot, but I think it’s one of those things where I started to know what lyrics I wanted to put together, but I really didn’t know what concept it was going to be about until it was done. It was kind of writing itself and I didn’t know where it was going lyrically. So, that one was strange because I was just going with the flow. It really wasn’t stemming from anything in particular. That song ended up being like a prayer, in a way, and that’s kind of interesting because I don’t really do that a whole lot (Laughs). But, sometimes I don’t know where that all came out and then, it was probably inspired by the past or some past relationships. There’s always some angst that comes out of those situations. Anybody can identify with that. As far as urban, I don’t know if there’s anything in particular, you’ve found in there you’d express as urban. PB: There’s some imagery that reminds me of the congestion and the gridlock of city life. AF: I think that’s definitely from the song ‘Too Tired to Sleep.’ PB: You reference the 21st Century on that. AF: I actually wrote that one quite some time ago. I came in and rearranged that song with the guys. I think I wrote that song six years ago an, at that time of my life I was going through some personal frustrations, making a living, and everyone reaches a point in their life where they’re going through times where “this isn’t what I planned, I thought it would be easier,” and you run into all of these different obstacles and Chicago can be a very hard place to live; traffic and who knows what, the cost of living. PB: The new metres (Laughs). AF: So that one was pretty easy to write, not just being from Chicago, but just about any place. But, I draw a lot of things from the Chicago atmosphere. PB: The title ‘Late Too Soon’ – did you name it after the tracks were written? AF: We actually hadn’t named the album until after recording it. We were still horsing around with that. I wanted to grab a phrase that tied the themes together and there were a lot of records at the time, lyrically, throughout the record, and that phrase is from: ‘Over and Over Again' ;”It’s getting late too soon to start over again…” It just seemed like an appropriate phrase to sum up the record. MB : Once he put that out, I don’t even think there was much discussion. We all liked it. That seems to be how it goes a lot. We all get along. PB: So when you have those moments of discouragement, what do you do? AF: Sometimes it takes a while, but, any time you can turn that stuff into art…You’ve got to take advantage of those moments and it doesn’t always come together perfectly, the first time you do it. I try to take advantage of those times. I’ve got little scraps hanging around, of lyrics, and I’ve got guitar parts. You really do have to seize that moment. If you lose it (Laughs), it’s gone. You could do one of those things where you come back to it. I don’t really like this idea, as much as I did. I woke up at 4 a.m. in a panic (laughs). PB: When inspiration strikes, is it on a train or when you’re having a Margarita at a bar? Is it just completely random? AF: It can happen any moment, any time, any place. It seems to be when I’m in that delirious phase at night, going to sleep or waking up from some crazy dream I’ve had. It seems like the most potent material comes from those kinds of moments. PB: Are you from a musical family? AF: My mother used to sing in a church choir (Laughs), but she doesn’t play an instrument or anything and my father doesn’t play anything. BV: I started playing bass at 13. Music was a big part of my life. MB: I’m definitely not from a musical family. As I grew up my parents listened to Paul Harvey on the radio. That was the extent of it. You’d get some “oldies” occasionally. My brother was into the college music scene in the 80s. So, I was exposed to a lot of that at an early age; R.E.M., U2, Talking Heads are bands I listened to when I was a kid. When I first heard Led Zeppelin, that’s when music finally opened up for me. OK, wow, that’s cool; I told my parents I wanted to play the drums when I was about eleven. The next day my mother picked me up from school with an old guitar in the back. She didn’t want drums in the house. It’s been non-stop since that time. They’re supportive even now; going to college, starting a job… PB: What’s your profession, Mike? MB: I’m an engineer. PB: You’ve got the two sides of your brain working… MB: (laughs) I guess so. But, music is a strong priority in my life. AF: I’m a leasing agent for a company in Chicago… BV: I have an audio business… PB: So, this band helps you keep a healthy balance? BV: Obviously, for me, and for all the band members, if it grows into something more, that would be the best way to do it. MB: Less day job and more music is the goal. It’s pretty rare that a band can do it solely through music, but, I don’t see it as a hobby. I think that’s a mistake that some bands – PB: Can you think of a song that’s stopped you in your tracks? BV: You can go back as far as – PB: Oh, I don’t know…I’ll let you go back to Beethoven. I’m interested in that idea of “it’s got to be in that key…” I’m intrigued with the idea that it’s got to be in A flat – AF: There’s some thing about keys that just presents a certain mood. If it doesn’t match what you’re looking for, it’s not going to be complete. Some songs; it’s fine, you can change the keys around, if there’s not really a particular mood you’re going for. BV: What we’re trying to do with bass and drums, especially, is when Aaron brings in a song or brings in an idea; we want to represent that background. Is this what you’re looking for? The nice thing about Aaron – he knows what he’s looking for in these types of songs. We’ll go towards that. I’ve been in bands where they say; just go do something, that’s fine. Secretly, they’re thinking, but that’s not what I thought it would be. Okay, then let’s work on having it really come out where you want it to go. By the time we brought in Rick, we knew we were all on the same wave length. MB: I think it was halfway through the first song with Rick. We knew, “if you want the job…” Rick had been in a number of bands. He had taken a break from being in a band. He’s got a family as well. He heard the demo. This is something we should do, something I want to do. BV: I met Rick a couple of years before recording a guy’s CD on another project. Right away, I put a little check mark. I like this guy. So, when the project comes up… MB: I was part of that project, as well with Bob, early on that recording. I met Rick. This guy’s good. He’s the nicest guy in the world, too. It made it easy. AF: We auditioned another drummer before Rick was brought in and that (laughs) didn’t exactly work out. It was the first or second song. I looked across the room at Mike. We were barely out of the rehearsal and I said, “Rick, the job is yours.” He’s an amazing drummer. He’s still doing things that I didn’t know you could do. PB: Thank you.

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Interview (2011)
Aaron Fox and the Reliables - Interview
In our second interview with him, Lisa Torem talks to Aaron Fox from Chicago-based indie pop/rock group Aaron Fox and the Reliables about their forthcoming second album and drive to keep making music together despite conflicting schedules

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Uncommon Ground, Chicago, 23/12/2011
Aaron Fox and the Reliables - Uncommon Ground, Chicago, 23/12/2011
Lisa Torem watches pop/rock outfit Aaron Fox & the Reliables play a forceful set of their harmonic indie rock in their native Chicago.


Late Too Soon (2010)
Imaginative and timeless-sounding rock on debut album from Chicago-based band, Aaron Fox and the Reliables

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