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FEATURE -- The Congregation Interview

The Congregation: Chicago’s bluesy garage soul band delivers dynamic musical message to their growing flock

The Congregation group photo

By Eric Schelkopf

Chicago garage soul band The Congregation succeeded in sending its music out to many thousands of newly minted fans this summer by opening for the likes of Wilco, The Flaming Lips and Garbage. Not bad gigs for a band that has only been together for about three years.

Led by the roof rattling vocals of Gina Bloom, The Congregation is a group that delivers music in a righteous fashion. To read CBG’s review of the band’s hot new release, Right Now Everything, click HERE.

 

The Congregation will help start off the new year on the right note with a free show at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 4 at Navy Pier in Chicago.

 

  On Jan. 11, the band will perform at Lincoln Hall, 2424 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago. The show starts at 9 p.m. and tickets are in $8 in advance, $10 at the door, available at: www.lincolnhallchicago.com.


Bloom has a strong musical background. She is the daughter of Bill Bloom, who co-wrote the 1981 hit, "Double Dutch Bus."

I had the chance to talk to her about a variety of topics, including how The Congregation formed.

Gina Bloom

Q - How did your dad influence you musically and what did you think when you first heard "Double Dutch Bus," knowing that he helped write it?

Yeah, my dad has always been a huge influence on me musically and otherwise. Both of my parents have really done more than I could even begin to enumerate in support of my musical interests, and I'm thankful for everything I either inherited or learned from them.

When I was growing up, my dad was always at the piano playing music or singing in the grocery store or wherever we might be. My sisters and I used to complain to him that he was embarrassing us by singing in public, but now that's me - in the produce section, at my desk at work, walking down the street - singing all the time.


"Double Dutch Bus" came out before I was born, so I always knew that was my dad's big hit - the gold record was hanging on the wall (in the house that the song paid for).

I've always known all the words and can even decipher the slang parts. The song was my "fun fact" my whole life, with its cool factor rising a bit when some of my favorite rappers sampled it during my college years.

But I always wanted to have my own thing, so these days I'm proud to say that being in The Congregation is my "fun fact" - having my own million selling single would be nice though!


Q - How did the band come together?

 

It was kind of a series of coincidental meetings, I guess. Three of the band members were in another band together, which was actually an alt-country band.

 

The three of them got the idea they wanted to do something else. The idea was to do a Stax-era type of soul band.


I was singing and playing drums in a cover band at the time. It was the first band I had ever sung in.

 

My band and their band rehearsed at the same studio. The rehearsal space would put on a showcase every month of bands that rehearsed there. So they put on one of these showcases, and we got put on the same show together. 

 

So the three of them were there when my band was sound checking. I started to sing, "I Heard It Through The Grapevine" on sound check. The three of them all kind of looked at each other at the same time, and said, "That's our singer."

 

We got together about a week later, and I think we ran through some covers of some old soul stuff, and then we went through one of Charlie's original songs, "He's Gone," which ended up being on our EP.

 

I kind of clicked with them immediately, and we realized we might be on to something. 

Gina Bloom & guitarist

Q - Why do you think you clicked so well?

 

I think what makes it work is that we all really love music in general, and we are all really passionate about what we are doing.

I've actually been surprised at how well it has worked, considering there are eight of us. We all come from very varied backgrounds, and it's hard to make even small groups of people work well together.

 

But we've all been very passionate about the project, and it's been fun. We get along more than we don't, so it's worked so far.

 

Q - You don't consider the band to be straight soul. The band describes itself as "bluesy garage soul."

 

There's definitely a strong rock 'n' roll influence in the band. I've played in blues bands before, so there's that coming into it. I think there's a lot of different things.

Q - It seems like there's a new interest in soul music. You have a lot of different Chicago bands incorporating soul into their music. 

 

There's something about soul music. It's kind of timeless.

 

In Chicago, there is a long history of it here, with Chess Records. It's the right environment for that kind of thing to happen here.


Q - Do you consider Otis Redding to be a big influence in the band?

 

He's a definite common interest for all of us. I've always been a big fan of his, and someone I consider to be one of the best soul singers ever.

 

Q - I understand Elvis was actually one of your first influences.

 

Yeah, he really was. I was a little kid, and somehow I just latched onto Elvis, and I decided I wanted to be a rock star when I grew up.

 

I took guitar lessons and would only play Elvis songs. They wanted to teach me other songs, and I wanted to play "Hound Dog" and stuff like that.

 

One of the things that we were fortunate to have happen to us this year is that we got asked to participate in a contest that Reggies (music venue) was having to fill a spot on the showcase they were doing at South by Southwest.

 

So we entered this competition and ended up winning it, and we ended up going to Austin. But along the way, we drove through Memphis and we stopped at Graceland and made a little pilgrimage to Elvis' grave site.

 

That was kind of cool for me since I have been a fan for so long. But that was definitely a fun experience for me that has come out of being in this band.

 

Eric Schelkopf has covered the arts and entertainment scene in Chicago for over 25 years. Visit his informative blog at: http://www.thetotalscene.blogspot.com/

 

Liz Mandeville CD
Liz Mandeville's new CD Clarksdale features 11 originals with Willie 'Big Eyes' Smith, Eddie Shaw & Nick Moss. Buy now on cdbaby
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