Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Mike Gentry
There's never been a time when we've seen the boys from Illinois where they've not been in a state of physical wreckage, where they've not been a bit bleary and a whole lot exhausted. The first time they visited the studio they may have been in the best order, tossing around a football in the empty Sunday street in front of the studio during a warm afternoon - even catching Eric Christian Olsen (the young Lloyd Christmas in the regrettable sequel "Dumb and Dumberer") eating pizza at Huckleberry's Pizza Parlor prior to the taping. Even so, the songs that were recorded that day showcased the mellow side of lead singer Chris Archibald's underrated songwriting skills of a romantic man who might never out and admit to the charges in mixed company. The next time that our paths crossed was in upper Manhattan during CMJ two years ago, when he hightailed a cab to a hidden club in the city to play a solo set for a Daytrotter showcase, just before hustling off to another engagement. Then there was a rushed encounter in Philadelphia this winter. Next was bumping into the guys on 6th Street in Austin, Texas at the SXSW festival in March where they'd just driven 33-straight hours from their home in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, just to tax themselves even further for a solid week or crazed playing and debauchery. They looked completely wiped out then and then finally - the latest rendezvous -- was when they were here in Rock Island last month for a third session, having just driven straight through from Seattle to be with us. They were ragged and timely and again, this band of bottomless ambition and what might be a lifetime's supply of 24-hour energy boosting pills, was more than up to snuff when it came time for the tape to begin pulling over the head stacks. After a few 50-cent beers at a nearby tavern, around midnight, after the completed session, they got into their van and drove to Minneapolis, about six hours away - just gluttons for the punishment that seems to infuse Archibald's mind with the fertilizer it needs to spin gold. It is a life that is endless motion and full of endless leavings, non-stop departures and even more fits of displacement that are laced with yearning, droopy eyes, worry lines, heavy hearts and sometimes submission to the elements. Illinois songs are numbers that carry with them all of the finer points of a thoughtful pop song - insight into the complex human condition, melodies that anyone can find themselves gravitating toward and inventiveness that is usually the straw that stirs the drink. Archibald and company don't write the same song twice and yet the consistency in quality of material is staggeringly high for a group that takes so many turns and chances. With each new song, this band furthers itself into a class of artists that isn't all the heavily populated, artists who make such appealing music for so many, but never shortchange themselves or their ideals and makes everything come off as art that never panders. Arch, who could be a playboy by day (or is that only at night?), has an ear for those unassuming pieces of melody that he then drafts not just any old words to, but ones that convey striking depth and understanding of what people mean when they say that they care about one another, or they like one another, or they're simply keen to seeing if either of those two things are true. He comes across as a gentleman on the majority of songs that appear on the ongoing "The Adventures of Kid Catastrophe" series of releases that the band's been putting out this year. He's the guy who would remove his jacket and place in over a mud puddle for a woman. He would run out in the pouring rain to roll the windows up on YOUR car if you just asked once. He would help rescue a girl from a poor, abusive relationship for no other reason than someone had to do it. The songs are sweet and reflective of a man who's taken the time to inspect what he is and where he wants to take his weary, weary thoughts.
Illinois Official Site
Illinois Original Daytrotter Session