Chicago’s music scene is currently under resurgence over the past five years, with bands growing to the point of recognition outside their hometown and developing a dedicated following while on tour. There is an abundance of sounds that shape it’s makeup and are slowly making their way to the centerfold.
Formed by guitarist / vocalist David Algram and drummer Tim Mack in 2016, Chicago’s Gentle Heat are the embodiment of a group like many within the Chicago scene who aren’t concerned about outsiders looking in. Shifting lineups and an evolving sound has led them to the release of their upcoming album, Sheer.
The project melds the ethereal nature of shoegaze with the propulsive energy of punk, lo-fi ambiguity and a deep love of pop melody that shines behind the noise.
We spoke with Algram about Chicago, how the pandemic has affected their songwriting process, the return of touring and more. You can also stream the band’s latest video and single, “Closer II,” down below as well and preorder the album here.
1. Chicago’s music scene has been gaining notoriety with multiple bands such as Dehd having a breakout moment. Can you share how the city’s tight-knit music scene has evolved and what makes it a centerpiece of the current North American indie landscape?
It’s funny, I have lived here since 2016 and still feel like an imposter commenting on the growth of Chicago’s music scene but with that being said, Chicago (obviously) has a long history of rock, indie, all kinds of music driven by the people who are and have been making music here. The venues, the recording studios and show-going community that have created an environment that has allowed the city to stay relevant on a large scale. Simply put, people who live here want to go see live music, Chicago is big enough and has enough name recognition that bands want to come here, and there are different sizes of venues in different parts of the city that allow musicians to play here without needing to play exclusively at houses, small bars or sell out a 500 cap space.
The other part of this spiel is that Chicago is a large metropolitan city that doesn’t feel like it requires a mountain of money to comfortably live here. Having a space that is more affordable than a lot of other major cities but also big enough to have a larger audience of people who are actively engaged in current music has allowed Chicago to be both interesting while of the moment and also having a lower barrier of entry so people don’t need to work all the time to afford to live here.
2. For our readers, can you share how the band’s current iteration formed?
Gentle Heat started when I (David) moved from Milwaukee to Chicago in 2016 and has always consisted of me and our drummer Tim Mack. After doing the band long distance for the first few years, I wanted to have a group that could all be in the same place so I recruited our guitarist Joe around the time we recorded our last EP, Phase. Ken & Sarah both joined while we were in the process of recording this record.
3. Has the pandemic shifted the project’s songwriting process and how you approach listening to music?
Yes and no. One of the major upsides to not being able to be in the same space with everyone to rehearse is that it forced me to have the songs demoed with all of the instruments and sounds more concretely fleshed out than they have been in records past. That said, we still worked from those demos and built them up like we normally would. I’ve always approached writing new material for this project with the idea that I would get together with everyone individually before we rehearse as a group so I can help shape parts with every person while also being able to give an idea of what I had in mind so members wouldn’t have to wait around during rehearsal while we work on a specific instrument’s parts. Then by the time we got together, we would have an idea of the song structure so we could let the parts develop as everyone got more comfortable with the material and could play off the rest of the instruments. That final part of the process didn’t change but instead of physically being in the same room for the initial writing process, there was a lot more back and forth with remote recordings and emails describing what was able to work.
4. I find there is an embrace in current shoegaze inspired acts that are peeling back the wash of noise for more refined straightforward melody and pop hooks like yourselves. Have you noticed a swing of the pendulum back towards brighter pop foundations?
I think that’s true. That said, I think the term shoegaze has aged and expanded beyond the definition of what it has meant in the past (for more on this, see the “is Deftones shoegaze” meme). There are definitely several groups doing the guitar-oriented MBV lane of shoegaze with the bendy guitars and ethereal vocals but for every band that fits that mold I feel like there are projects that fall under the umbrella of gaze music that are coming out of the more noisy/ ambient camp like Astrobrite or approaching the genre from the lush long-winded pop structure alla Slowdive.
5. Margaret McCarthy’s feature on “Closer II” is truly striking, balancing the beauty of Stereolab and punk contemporaries Hotline TNT. How did this collaboration come about?
Thanks, I love both of those projects and Margaret’s performance on that track. I wrote “Closer II” wanting to get away from the songwriting formula of starting with guitars first and had been playing with this little toy-ish synth a friend recommended with the goal to write something that was structured really simply in a way that would allow the vocal lines to lead the song. Somewhere along the line I started humming the melody with Margaret’s really airy vocal quality in mind and when asked she agreed to do it. Margaret used to play in this band for our previous EP Phase so it was less of a cold call and more of a reunion with someone who I missed but hadn’t seen through most of the pandemic.
6. Live music has been facing an uphill battle due to the pandemic but there is an eagerness to return to these spaces since they’ve reopened. How has it felt returning to these settings both as a performer and audience member?
It’s both great and concerning at the same time. The prospect of being able to tour and see live music is beyond exciting but being that tours are still being canceled and covid obviously hasn’t gone away, it’s more complicated than a simple return to normal.
7. What lies on the horizon for Gentle Heat?
We’re releasing our new record Sheer on May 13th and then we’ve got a string of dates to the east coast and back through early June that starts with our album release show at The Hideout on May 19th.
This interview has been edited for clarity.