Your Complete Guide to the Chicago Blues Scene
Uptown Sound’s JC Brooks
Whether you call them indie soul or punk and funk, Chicago band JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound is one band that will definitely get you out on the dance floor
By Eric Schelkopf
Born in the great melting pot of Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood in 2007, guitarist Billy Bungeroth, drummer Kevin Marks and bassist Ben Taylor joined forces with the Lowdown Horns and soulful singer/actor JC Brooks to form Uptown Sound, a band that blends R&B, funk and soul sounds with garage-rock thump and dance-punk.
In 2010, JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound logged in 27,000 miles to play 53 shows in 24 cities, ten states, three countries and two provinces. The band toured as part of the Numero Group’s Eccentric Soul Revue in 2009 to critical acclaim.
The band also has been getting attention for its fresh take on Wilco's song "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart," with more than100,000 people checking out the video on YouTube.
JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound will open for Fitz And The Tantrums on Feb. 5, 2011at the Metro, 3730 N. Clark St., Chicago.
The show starts at 9 p.m., and tickets are $14, available at :
Visit the band’s website: www.theuptownsound.wordpress.com
I had the chance to talk to frontman JC Brooks about how the band got its start and its plans for the future.
Q - You guys had a pretty busy year last year. Are you looking forward to this year being busy as well?
I hope so. We're releasing a new album, and we're doing a show called "Passing Strange." It's a musical. I haven't gotten to do a show in a while, and it's a perfect opportunity for the band to still be able to work and make money while I get to do one of the things that I miss.
Q - Do you see yourself being able to juggle acting with your band duties?
Absolutely. The band is first right now. Every entertainer nowadays seems to be a renaissance man, and I would like to join their ranks.
- You guys seem to be a good word-of-mouth band. Do you think your live
shows really sell the band?
I do. And a lot of people said about our first album (Beat of Our Own Drum) that it's kind of missing that rawness, that energy, that feel you get at the live shows. So we're working on that for the second one.
Q - So you want to release an album that better represents your live shows?
It will have a more live feel to it. Our live shows are what really sell us.
People seem to really love the live show.
It will have more of a rawness. They're finished songs, but we're just trying to capture a live energy and a raw sound.
Q - And the band's cover of Wilco's "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart" has received a lot of buzz. What was your thinking in covering the song? What did you want to do with the song?
Our guitarist, Bill Bungeroth, and our bassist, Ben Taylor, had seen Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings a couple years ago perform a cover of Janet Jackson's "What Have You Done For Me Lately."
The idea had kind of sprung from that, taking a song and turning it on its head, making it sound completely different from the original. At the same time, we wanted to make people think maybe this was an older song.
Q - You guys met in an unconventional way, through Craigslist.
I thought that would be the most conventional way. Everything happens on Craigslist now.
Q - Yeah, maybe it's not so crazy anymore.
It was kind of surprising, because I found one other band through Craigslist and auditioned for a few others besides that. They all kind of had a weird, odd vibe. None of them had a vibe that I was all right with.
Q - But did you guys start to gel right away?
Pretty much. We got together and jammed out a little bit. It was a good vibe, and then we hung out for a couple of hours after we put down our instruments.
Q - I understand you don't really think the term neo soul is appropriate for the band. You kind of shy away from that term.
Yeah, I wouldn't say neo soul. It's been called a lot of things. In my mind, it's indie soul.
But it's been called Maximum R&B, along with punk and funk. So far, I haven't heard a description that I didn't like.
Q - Why would you describe it as indie soul rather than neo soul?
Just because we are blending in more of a rock element. To me, neo soul has more of a jazz blend with it.
We're really trying to get a garage rock sound with the band.
Q - Soul music seems to have such a long shelf life. Why do you think it has such lasting power?
I don't know. There was a lot going on when soul music was first made. It was just a really tumultuous time, and I think the environment inspired that sound.
It's touching, it's deep. That's why people are still harkening to it.
I'm trying to describe it without using the word soul. But it is something that touches your soul. Not that other things can't, but it seems like a type of music that is designed to get in and do that.
Q - Growing up, what music did you listen to?
I've listened to a lot of different stuff over the years. My favorite band for the past 10 years has been Steely Dan.
Q - Why's that?
Good songwriting. Unexpected chord changes and great lyrics. And it's also catchy.
I wouldn't trade my band for anything, but I love how they recorded. I would love to go through the archive of every studio performance of a Steely Dan song.
Q - Some people might say you are obsessed.
Well, I love the music. I really do. Beyond Steely Dan, I like a lot of music from the '70s. I really connect a lot to songwriters from then.
Q - I guess that makes sense, because your music does have a '70s vibe to it.
Right now, short term is just finishing up this album and to get it sounding good.
We are working on a couple of things for the Spring. Hopefully we can make it out for a couple of festivals. Another possible goal is getting signed to a label this year.
There's a lot of stuff. There's a wish list. It is time to take another step forward in terms of how we are pushing ourselves, how we are presenting ourselves.
I figure each new album is a rebirth for the band.