Band Booking: Like Pioneers

Chicago’s Like Pioneers have a fantastic new album out, titled Oh, Magic. It’s full of the sort of cathartic indie rock that, when done well, I dig like catnip. It doesn’t hurt that 3/5 of the band previously played together in the excellent Bound Stems, or that Jessie Woghin previously made music in the fantastic The Narrator. In advance of a pair of NYC shows this week (June 21st at Cameo Gallery and June 22nd at Pianos), I caught up with Woghin and Bobby Gallivan via email to talk about the record and certain literary references found within.

I was curious about the writing process for this album (and the band as a whole). Three of you had played music together before; was there a noticeable shift in the way you make music in Like Pioneers relative to Bound Stems?

Bobby Gallivan: Yes and no. The writing process for Oh, Magic was collaborative, which is similar to how Bound Stems used to work. The main difference is that we have a different collection of people in this band. Having new perspectives and types of input is exciting. Jesse was in one of my all-time favorite Chicago bands, The Narrator. We were both on each other’s records in our previous bands. Matt drummed for bands that we were all into. So although we’re a relatively new band, the writing process came pretty naturally because we came from the same music community, and we were all fans of each other’s work. It’s made for a fairly seamless collaborative process.

What was the songwriting process like for Oh, Magic relative to Piecemeal?

Bobby: Piecemeal wasn’t written as a band, because no band existed at the time we recorded it. There were 6 or 7 of us, and some of us brought songs to the studio. A few were rehearsed, most were not. When it was done, we put it out as an album and started to play the songs, but it wasn’t much of a band effort. As we played the songs out live and become a band, it was apparent that we wanted to write songs that were more representative of how we sounded as a five-piece. So we took a year or so of writing and playing out live. Songs went through several different stages based on how they felt live. We recorded a live session with this really great Chicago show called Coach House sounds, and we basically demo’d five of our songs. And if you go back and listen to those, they are night and day from what eventually appeared on Oh, Magic. It was that type of collaboration and self-editing that just didn’t exist on our first record. But like I said, it couldn’t have existed, because we weren’t yet a band.

“Requiem For Some Band” incorporates a Frank O’Hara quote — when did that end up making its way into the song?
Jesse Woghin: Pretty late in the process actually. We were at Phantom Manor (Mike Lust’s studio where we recorded Oh, Magic), and I was getting ready to record my vocals. I had written line at that point in the song that I really didn’t like and I was trying to come up with something better. While looking for inspiration, “Animals” popped into my head, because I knew it had a similar sort of feeling around reminiscence as what I was going for in the song. I tried to write something similar, but in the end Frank’s line fit way better and there was no way I was going to top him, so I figured I’d just go with it. Seemed like a fitting way to pay tribute to my favorite poet.

Is “Requiem…” about any band in particular?

Jesse: It’s mostly about The Narrator. Not just the experience of specifically that band, but more about missing moments together, our friendship, getting older, and I guess just feeling differently about what was to come with life in general. It’s definitely inspired by a lot of other great friends’ bands who’ve broken up. I still listen to all of their records – Oxford Collapse, Joggers, End Of The World, so many more – and I wonder how our music could possibly stick around in the future. We’re already living in such a different moment in music that I just can’t conceive of how someone would ever find out about any of these records in ten years. There’s so much music out there in so many different formats now, and a lot of it’s fucking fantastic. I’m still sort of a revisionist or a luddite, though, I guess. I get wistful for marginally simpler times: ordering cassettes from SST and Touch & Go catalogs, buying records at hardcore shows, zines, dumb old man stuff like that.

In “On The Morning of His Farewell,” there’s a mention of reading and selling books; did you have any specific ones in mind?

Bobby: Not necessarily. The song is about Theodore Roosevelt, or a more abstract concept of what you do after a huge moment in your life is over. Teddy Roosevelt was 42 when he entered office and 50 when he left. He had so much more of his life to go, and for such an ambitious person, there must have been such an overwhelming feeling of, what next? What do you do with your time after you were the president? He was active after he left office, but from what I gather, pretty restless. He wrote several books after his presidency, collected artifacts on a safari and gave them to the Smithsonian. I suppose I was referencing that with the line regarding reading and selling books.

What are you reading these days?

Bobby: I am teaching a new history course next year and have a new textbook that I am riffling through this summer. I am also finally reading The Corrections by Jonathan Franzan. It seemed everyone that I know read and enjoyed it, so I’m finally devoting some time, and reading it myself.

Jesse: I’m actually reading Freedom by Jonathan Franzen. Summer of Franzen!

Photo: John Sturdy

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