CraigsList adds coal to the fire of cultural movements.
Or so that’s the case with Chris Kramer, lead singer of Chicago garage rock duo Slushy. Kramer bounced around from state to state before he ended up in the city home to a scene that he is an essential cog of.
“Omaha is a very nice town with a lot of nice people, but it seemed like there were always folks moving to Chicago,” Kramer told me. “After finishing college, I felt a similar urge, but went west instead and ended up in Northern California, for the same reason I do most things, because of a girl. Then I made her move back to Omaha with me for a spell, and then we decided to move to Chicago.”
Kramer finally found himself in the Logan Square neighborhood of the Windy City in 2009. With his roller coaster ride of experiences over the previous years, he immediately knew he wanted to play music. He did what “any desperate, semi-deranged person would do”. He turned to CraigsList.
“There weren’t too many weirdos responding to my Craigslist post, which was too bad because I was looking for weirdos,” he confesses. The original CraigsList ad explains that he’s looking to make “weird/fun/interesting music that sounds like garage or proto-punk or surf or whatever” with influences from “the Mysterians, Suicide, Voidoids, Modern Lovers, JAMC, Beat Happening, etc.”. A proposition nodding to the golden days of DIY yet with aspirations of starting something new and open-minded. He had zero luck. “My buddy Jason, who does Talking Mountain, came to visit and suggested I just start playing solo, so I got a drum sampler and booked some shows.”
That he did. It started with him playing solo with a sampler and a variety of delay pedals to a real four-person rock band. His dream was coming true. However, like most bands starting out, the initial lineup was hard to keep intact. At one practice, the bassist abruptly quit and the drummer quickly followed suit. This left Chris and guitarist Brent Zmrhal as the lone wolves. Zmrhal “wanted to do something new”, so he took up the position of drummer. This gave birth to Slushy as we know them, a fuzzy and distorted duo set on making the most fun and dynamic garage rock they could crank out.
Slushy blends in well among their Chicago garage rock contemporaries but doesn’t bleed in too much to the point where they don’t stand out. “Chicago is a real rock’n’roll town, home of Bo Diddley and Chess Records,” Chris explains. “There are a lot of people here who appreciate ’50s and ’60s music, from the songwriting to the production, and are trying to make music that celebrates the simplicity and enthusiasm that was present in those recordings and has been winding a thread through different eras and scenes, and we’re all standing on the shoulders of these giants. Music is too great not to make.”
Fittingly, there are several Slushy songs that sound as if they were transported back from the 60’s. One track from the band’s All The Rad Dudes is aptly titled “I Love the Beatles” while another goes by “Greasy Hair”. This intensive homage to Chicago’s rock’n’roll roots is a running motif throughout the city’s independent rock circuit. Bands like Twin Peaks, The Funs, The Yolks, and countless others play through a lo-fi wall while wearing their influences on their sleeves. But perhaps the greatest aspect about the community is the willingness from everyone to lend their fellow rocker brethren out. Not surprisingly, Kramer has nothing but love for the city that has helped Slushy on their path to achieving rock’n’roll enlightenment, citing Hozac, Trouble in Mind, Randy Records, and Animal Kingdom as influential figures in the city’s DIY underground.
“It’s the greatest, really. Chicago breeds all kinds of creativity, and folks who want to help support that creativity,” he says. “Musicians to start bands, artists to design shirts and posters and album covers, folks who want to live in grimy houses and have 200 strangers come over for a dance party, folks who want to go to a party and dance to your music, folks who want to actually know a lot about the mechanics of sound and will make you sound good when you play a show or record your songs, folks who want to put all of the money into putting out records that hopefully 300 people will want to buy. Everything about Chicago has helped Slushy reach the modest amount of success we’ve been able to achieve, and without all of these great people.”
Kramer and Zmrhal took a super raw approach to the band’s upcoming debut KP, Pastime Gardens. “We recorded on a Tascam 388 recorder from AJ from Radar Eyes, and recorded us on that,” Kramer explains. “All the vocals are single-tracked, which is a first. We had to get creative, like playing an acoustic guitar while we recorded backing vocals.” Kramer describes the new album as “all about the kindness and goodness that can be found in new friends,” a fitting description that can be applied to Chicago as a whole.
One can take the Blue Line all the way down and leave the nation’s second city, or he can take it the other way back and enter the heart of it. Get off the Logan Square station, however, and you will find yourself in the epicenter of a DIY rock movement that is as aesthetically impressive as it is welcoming.
Listen/buy Slushy’s music here.