Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Patrick Stolley
Right now, it's the end of the third quarter of the Chicago Bears-Green Bay Packers game on New Year's Eve 2006. (Most Bear football addicts are pissed off that they had to do their fancy dining early and probably postpone the lion's share of their alcoholic imbibing until just two hours before the six becomes a seven -- and now it looks like they'll be drowning their sorrows thanks to a shit game). A quarterback that is endorsed by half of the four members of Chicago-based band The Changes is sitting on the sidelines after completing just two of 12 passing attempts. He was roundly booed by the home crowd and was yanked after the first half, when his passer rating was 0 and he'd thrown three interceptions right into the hands of the hated Packer d-backs. Rex Grossman is seen as an embarrassingly lousy quarterback on one of the best football teams in the National Football League. His team's own fans turned on him months ago and fans have begun wearing replica jerseys with the last three letters of Grossman's name blacked out with tape.
Football has nothing to do with The Changes, per se, but they come from a city that's been crying for the next best thing since October and they this band of four natives are trying to make a name for themselves in an industry that exists for the next big thing. The truth is that The Changes -- lead singer/guitarist Darren Spitzer, lead guitarist/chief songwriter Dave Rothblatt, bassist Rob Kallick and drummer Jonny Basofin -- earned one of their biggest professional breaks just across the street from Soldier Field (where the Bears were getting it handed to them), on the other side of Lake Shore Drive when they won a battle of the bands contest and a right to open the Lollapalooza festival at Grant Park in 2005, the year it became a stand-alone event in the Windy City. It's interesting that the third-biggest city in the United States has had such a difficult time in getting back to the Super Bowl -- which it won in 1985 with one of the most storied teams in league history -- and in breaking rock and roll bands nationally. There's Wilco and The Smashing Pumpkins (dead or alive?) and then there's...Kanye West, Rhymefest. Hardly bands. There are gobs of bands in the comfortable middle -- deserving, working their way into prominence and those that never made it too big outside of Cook County and now play a cover band once a year for an annual Halloween show -- Catfish Haven, Bound Stems, The Redwalls, Local H, Fig Dish. The city's mothering instinct, its ability to nurture is suspect.
If the contents of The Changes' full-length debut are any indication, they don't need any more parenting. They're set to leave the house. They're all grows up. It's a record full of skyline, Old Man Winter and classic melodies that have more shine than a crowd from a Wrigley Field sellout and a subtle, but roaring verve that have made them into a band that is on par with the likes of The Futureheads and forgotten elder statesmen XTC and yet they're without any kind of stuffy British rudiment that gets dragged out again and again. There is some Sting in the mash, but they do listeners the sweet justice of keeping the nasty candy apple love, ass-licker sap out of the rhetoric. Spitzer sings of loneliness the way you would if you were attempting to tackle it by forcing yourself to gaze out onto the bright side of it all, even if it was blurry and far off. The thoughts are never destitute of the bare minimum of ruddy outlook. Even those wasted days -- the ones spent in bed with the alarm clock unplugged, nursing a bitter hangover, etc. -- are received with poppy countenances. Nothing is more lonely than a broken sail, Spitzer sings on "Her, You And I" and that may be so, but the sail can be fixed, hence the unfortunate loneliness can be wiped away from the slate as if it never existed in the first place. They say that bad things happen to them during the nighttime hours, but The Changes are commissioners of those hours when daylight's been halted and what's going to happen next is anybody's guess, but it will assuredly come with problems that can just be ignored or forgotten after a night's rest.
The Daytrotter interview:
*As tired as it may be as a question, can you give me some background about what brought you four together? What are your similarities and differences as people? Are you Chicago implants or natives?*
Rob Kallick: We are all from Chicago and luck brought us together. Dave and Jonny have been playing music together since high school and they found Darren through a twist of fate. Then I was brought in to complete the puzzle. Our main similarity is that we all only have one sister, which is a big part of why we get along so well, we think. we have a lot of differences, but the main one is that me and Darren are fine eating fast food on the road, whereas Jonny and Dave would prefer to look for something a little more healthy.
Darren Spitzer: Luck brought us together and we all like to party but only some of us smoke cigarettes.
*The title of the record "Today Is Tonight," is that a different version of Carpe Diem?*
RK: I guess you could say that. A lot of crazy, scary things happen to The Changes at night. We'd like the day to go on as long as possible, I think. Also, we needed an album title that you could Google more easily than "The Changes."
*How are you guys going to spend your New Year's Eve with this Bears game time change? A sound check at House of Blues isn't going to muck things up is it? Have you enjoyed Bears fever taking over the city as it has this year? Grossman backers or no?*
RK: Darren and I try to catch every game. When we were on tour, we watched the whole Bears/Rams game and were rooting for Grossman the whole way. I think it's important to pick a QB and then stick with him until you can't possibly stick with him anymore. The Bears haven't gotten to that point yet, so Grossman's our man.
*What do you want to be doing at midnight? Will Matisyahu (The Changes played with he and The Tragically Hip Dec. 31 at the House of Blues) going to be there with you arm-in-arm? You're going to miss The Hold Steady on the back stage? Those are the guys you need to be kicking it with at midnight, don't you think? How'd this show come to be?*
RK: We still haven't seen the Hold Steady live, but everyone has told us how much fun they are and how much they like to party. So with that in mind, they'd probably be fun to hang with at midnight. But Matisyahu is cool in his own way I think. Maybe we'll all get together for a group toast.
*What's been the best New Year's Eve for each of you?*
Dave Rothblatt: I think the New Year's that's gonna happen this Sunday will be the best. We're playing at the House of Blues with Matisyahu and have our own room at the hotel.
*Now, you're heading west for the first time this spring, right? How have you not gotten out there yet? Where are you looking forward to?*
DR: I can't wait till our west coast tour starts. We'll play out there more when we move to Florida next year. That's where we're recording the next record.
*What keeps you up at night?*
DS: Raspberry chocolate chip ice cream. The chocolate chips have caffeine and there are enough in there that I can't sleep.
*Is Chuck E. Cheese, in your expert, professional opinions, as good as adults as it was as children?*
RK: Darren made a big deal out of eating Chuck E. Cheese pizza when were at a plaza in Detroit, and it tasted like shit. But the video games were all top of the line so in that sense, it still kicks butt. Overall Chuck E Cheese is a fun experience no matter how old you are, we'd say.
*Do you find your influences shifting often? Or have you been set for a long while?*
RK: We all seem to like things that are both tough and tender. That's kind of the tie that binds us all in some way and it will probably always be the backbone to what we do. But we are constantly influenced by new and old music. We listen to as much as we can.