Interview with Chris Bailoni of Grapetooth

Grapetooth

Chris Bailoni, one-half of Chicago synth-pop/new wave duo Grapetooth, discusses his musical beginnings, modern new wave, and what’s next for the band.

What do you think of when you think of Chicago? The windy city is known for its deep dish pizza, its two Major League Baseball teams, and its Prohibition-Era history of organized crime. Music wise, Chicago has produced countless notable musicians that span many genres: Muddy Waters, Kanye West, and the Smashing Pumpkins all hail from Chi-Town.

But despite acting as a musical melting pot, a genre that Chicago isn’t particularly known for is synth heavy, ‘80s new wave dance music. The modern resurgence of this kind of music, inspired by bands like New Order and Tears for Fears, is even less associated with the area. However, the wine-fueled partnership of two Chicago-based musicians is changing that.

grapetooth (n.) one who consumes copious amounts of red wine, to the point that their teeth are frequently stained crimson.

Grapetooth is also the name ascribed to the musical collaboration of producer Chris Bailoni, also known as Home-Sick, and Clay Frankel, vocalist and guitarist for garage rock band Twin Peaks. After bonding over a mutual love of wine and Japanese new wave, Bailoni and Frankel began experimenting with making music together in December of 2015. “There was some night when we were out and Clay was talking about wanting to make some music that’s not rock music, like Twin Peaks. We were drunk at this bar, just chatting about it,” Bailoni, now 26 and gearing up for Grapetooth’s headlining tour this June, recounts. “So he came over the next day and we just started making music. That’s kind of how all that started.”

Grapetooth played their first show in 2016 before they had even released a full-length record. They’ve been selling out venues ever since, gaining a reputation for their rambunctious live shows, which are half frenetic mosh pit, half wild dance party. Bailoni admits he wasn’t initially comfortable with performing on stage, and he credits their song “Violent” with helping him get over any stage fright he felt. “That was the first time I felt like we both broke through the nerves and got more comfortable with how the shows would go live, just because it was so fun to yell [“are you violent?”] so loud,” Bailoni recounts, when describing their first time playing the song at a show in Chicago.

Grapetooth’s bright, high tempo sound wasn’t necessarily intentional and it took some time to find. Bailoni described their first attempts at recording as “pretty strange”: “I guess the drums were dance-y and new-wave-y, but we pitched down the vocals and made them sound like horror movie soundtrack songs, really scary. Weird stuff, dissonant sounding.” It wasn’t until the spring of 2016, when the two wrote Grapetooth’s first single “Trouble”, that Bailoni thinks they really hit on something special. “That was probably the first song we made that we were both like, ‘oh wow, we’ve got a sound here and now we know what we’re doing’”.

Despite finding what Bailoni described as the perfect mesh of his production style and Frankel’s, the two didn’t always have serious aspirations for what they’d created.

“We still hadn’t really planned on releasing it or doing anything real or ever playing a show with it,” Bailoni continues, when asked about their initial plans for Grapetooth. “We were like, let’s maybe make a small EP and put it on Bandcamp for free or something like that.” Despite their modest intentions in their early days, Grapetooth released their first self-titled record in November of 2018. The majority of the ten-song tracklist is in line with their influences, which include synth-punk duo Suicide and Yukihiro Takahashi of Japanese electronic band Yellow Magic Orchestra. However, the curiously country-sounding closing track, “Together”, sounds a lot more like Frankel’s Twin Peaks work than a New Order song. Including that on the tracklist was no mistake. “I think we just wanted the record to be eclectic of genre and style, but still somehow fit together,” Bailoni explains, when asked about the disparate song’s inclusion. “It just sounds like two friends making music together in their bedroom, which is what the whole thing is.”

When asked about how Grapetooth fits into the Chicago music scene, Bailoni agrees that his city isn’t synonymous with the style of music he and Frankel are creating. “It’s definitely more rock based. Rock, and then obviously rap and hip hop. But all those worlds are so tightly connected – everyone in Chicago knows each other because it’s such a small community, like any community in a city of arts,” he says. “But yeah, I suppose there’s not too much synth/dance stuff coming out of Chicago.”

Maybe being a bit of an outlier in the music scene is one of the reasons why Grapetooth enjoyed such success before even putting out their first record. Personally, Bailoni thinks the combination of his and Frankel’s individual styles is what sets them apart from other bands that have a similar sound. “I do feel like there’s not too much stuff coming out that sounds like us,” he says. “But I feel like Clay’s vocal style kind of separates [us] from the pack and gives it more of a grunge punk sound. Because if you take away all the vocals, we just sound like we’re copying any New Order song or any new wave Japanese music.”

While a lot of musicians were seemingly born with guitar picks or drumsticks in their hands, Bailoni didn’t start dabbling into music until his second year of college. He credits his friend Kevin Rhomberg, known to many as producer and musician Knox Fortune, as his inspiration for getting into music production. “I remember him showing me all the music he was making on his laptop in his bedroom, just with shitty speakers,” Bailoni explains. “His ability to make songs that sounded like they were produced by a full band on his laptop kind of inspired me that you didn’t really have to have a lot of equipment or anything expensive, or any real [technical] musical knowledge, to be able to make songs.”

While a lack of musical knowledge might hinder some facets of the songwriting process, Bailoni thinks there’s a benefit to being less experienced with the technical aspects of music. “I think there’s definitely a positive aspect of not being too musical if you’re a producer, because you tend to lean more towards what sounds good emotion-wise versus what would make sense musically,” he says, when discussing his process for creating music.

“The lack of knowledge tends to force more outlandish, creative ideas, I suppose.”

Bailoni may not have started making music seriously until he was nineteen, but he had a different artistic outlet before that: filming and editing skateboarding videos. This skill would later benefit the band when it came time to make music videos, particularly the video for “Trouble”. “We just kind of grabbed a camera and then went out with a couple of weird outfits with our friend Jackson, who filmed it,” says Bailoni. “It ended up being kind of fun, just the mentality of how you film a skateboard edit: go out with your friends, edit it afterwards, and see what comes out of it.” Keeping with the band’s spirit of experimenting and seeing what happens, Bailoni explains that neither he nor Frankel aim for any kind of narrative in their videos, opting instead for videos that resemble “visual collages”.

What’s next for Grapetooth? For now, they’re proceeding in the same fashion as they always have: taking things as they come and having fun with it. “As far as what’s gonna happen in the future, we don’t really know. […] I guess we’re just gonna keep making music whenever we do, as we always have, and then actually put out a second record.” In the meantime, Bailoni thinks Grapetooth may put out a few singles or an EP this year. But rather than working with any big-name producers, he and Frankel will continue to employ the do-it-yourself method to create, as he puts it, the feeling of two friends making music together in their bedroom. “Just keeping it fun and simple,” Bailoni reiterates. “Us and friends.”

Grapetooth is currently on a headlining tour with support from Ian Sweet and James Swanberg. Catch them in Los Angeles on June 21st at the Echoplex, in Vancouver on June 25th at the Fox Cabaret, or anywhere else that fine concerts are sold. Tour dates can be found here.

Written by: Andrea Renney

Vancouver Special: Shannon Shaw at the Fox Cabaret

Shannon Shaw, vocalist and bassist for Shannon and the Clams, embarked on a tour supporting her debut solo record, Shannon in Nashville, this May.

As discussed in my review of Vundabar’s Vancouver show in February, the Fox Cabaret is a historic porn-theater-turned-music-venue in the city’s hip Mount Pleasant neighborhood. On May 9th, the Fox played host to Shannon Shaw and her band – Jose Boyer, Mark Cisneros, Garett Goddard, and Andrea Scanniello – for the first headlining show of their May tour. Shaw, frontwoman and founding member of Oakland’s ’60s-inspired garage rock outfit Shannon and the Clams, was north of the border to promote her solo record, Shannon in Nashville, released last June. 

I arrived at the Fox just after 10:00, and Shannon and the band took the stage right on schedule around 10:30. Visually, they looked every bit as glamorous as I’d expected, given what I know about Shannon and the Clams’ stage presence.

I imagine jeans and t-shirts are comfortable to play in, and giving no care to what you look like on stage might be “punk rock”, but there’s a certain magic in a band coordinating their wardrobe around a specific style to really cultivate an image.

Shaw herself was in her usual pinafore dress getup, complete with sparkly suspenders and guitar-shaped enamel pins on her collar. Her glittery black bass, which I recognized from the Shannon and the Clams show at the Belly Up Tavern that I attended last year, sat waiting at the back of the stage. Her bandmates were equally done up: Boyer, Cisneros, and Scanniello donned similarly adorned Mariachi band-esque jackets, and Goddard was rocking a neck scarf and an impressive handlebar moustache. Their outfits’ consistent color palette of red and black seemed intentional, given the venue’s similarly colored decor.

If you’re a fan of Shannon and the Clams’ retro, ’60s girl group vibe, you’ll find a bit of it here.

Shaw’s solo work maintains the dreamy, nostalgic feelings that the Clams’ shows evoke, and the individuals in attendance at this show were clearly here for that. A mix of twentysomething hipsters and over-fifty eccentrics made up the Thursday night crowd, bonded in their tattoos and ironic facial hair. A John Waters lookalike, complete with the iconic pencil moustache, towered over us all from a few rows back. A fitting character in the scene, as Shannon and the Clams have been described as “something from a John Waters lucid dream”.

The set began with “Golden Frames”, the opening track from Shannon in Nashville. This song set the mood for the night: a vintage-inspired, heartfelt soundtrack to sway along to, as sparkly and captivating as Shaw’s bass guitar. After “Golden Frames”, I turned to my friend and made the following very astute observation: “She’s really good”. My KCR reviews might be 2000+ words, but I’m clearly a lot more concise in person.

The consistent use of keyboards and the inclusion of a trumpet during “Leather, Metal, Steel” added to the unique, enchanting sound of the night’s entertainment.

Shannon played through eleven other songs from her album, taking occasional breaks to chat with the audience about the weather, the venue, and the “haunted” whisky bar at which she and the band had been treated to dinner before the show. “Coal on the Fire”, the closing track on Shannon in Nashville, was perhaps the most Nashville-esque song that she performed for us. Its jangling, old-school-country inspired sound was the most danceable of the night. “Cold Pillows”, with its heartbreaking lyrics and group harmonies, was clearly inspired by girl groups of the 1960s.

To the best of my recollection, Shaw performed every song from the record except for “Lord of Alaska”, likely to the dismay of the person who requested it for the encore. She concluded her set with “Cryin’ My Eyes Out”, dedicating it to her father and asking that we send him positive energy. This was one of my favorite songs of the night, and the importance of the song to Shaw was clear to all of us.

I find that the Clams’ instrumentals, which lean more towards a doo-wop/surf sound than Shaw’s solo work, sometimes mask the underlying emotion of their songs’ lyrics with an inherent danceability. That’s not a bad thing, but at this show, Shaw’s raw feelings took center stage both in her lyrics and in her delivery. She’s an incredible vocalist, and the combination of her words and her powerful, soulful voice had me mesmerized in the front row.

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I’ve noticed that my music taste seems to be going through a transitionary period in recent months. I used to consider myself more of a music person than a lyrics person, caring more about the energy of a live show than about the message a song was trying to convey to me. I was happy to mosh along to songs like “Cheap Beer” by FIDLAR and leave a show covered in a hundred other people’s sweat. Now, I find myself overcome with emotion when listening to “Holy Shit” by Father John Misty and being brought to almost-tears while dancing to “Someday” at the Growlers’ Snow Ball III show.

The only prerequisite for the music I’m currently obsessing over is that it must break my heart.

The point is, I think Shannon Shaw’s performance resonated more with me now than it would have if I’d seen this show a year ago. I guess context is key: sometimes, a fun punk show is all I’m looking for. But when I’m feeling a bit lost, swaying along to songs about unrequited love and loss can be cathartic. Anyway, I digress. This is supposed to be a show review, not a diary entry. Do I understand the difference? Probably not.

I’ve praised Shannon and the Clams before on this blog, calling them one of the most underrated bands of our time (and I am such an authority on the matter). Onion, their sixth studio album released last February, was one of my favorite records of 2018. Both Onion and Shannon in Nashville were produced by the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach, so I suppose it’s understandable that I’m also a big fan of Shaw’s solo record.

This brand of garage rock that Shaw has created, refined, and propagated throughout her different projects is just so unlike anything else in the music scene these days, and I’ve yet to find anyone else that comes close to imitating it.

I don’t want this review to read like an essay comparing Shannon’s sound to that of her other band, but I think the comparison is somewhat inevitable, given how integral she is to the Clams. This show was certainly as fun as the Shannon and the Clams show I attended, but it also felt like we were sharing something special as Shannon poured her soul out to us on stage. I guess my final verdict is this: if you like Shannon and the Clams, you’ll like Shannon Shaw. I mean, you already do. So is her solo stuff just more of the same? No, but it retains all the best parts of what we already know and love.

Written by: Andrea Renney

The Ultimate Summer Sendoff Playlist

Perfect for drives along the coast or lounging by the pool with friends, this summer playlist will put you straight into summer-mode.

As the semester comes to an end and the weight on your shoulders is finally lifted, the summer relaxation begins. Whether your plans include traveling, working, or visiting family, summer is a time to let your hair down and enjoy the sun while the air is warm.

Each year, a summer playlist makes its way into my music library and it’s ends up being the only thing I listen to for my three month break. When I think of “summer” music, I immediately think of upbeat, feel-good alternative songs with catchy guitar lines and lyrics you can shout in the car.

This year, I worked hard to deliver the best summer playlist for anyone who loves alternative, pop, and indie music. Featuring the newest hits from some fan-favorites and a few older tunes that remains classics, this playlist is perfect for beach days, road trips, and everything in-between.

A few of my favorites include:

Talk Too Much – COIN

After hitting no. 8 on the Alternative Songs chart, it is clear that this COIN song fits the “care-free summertime sound” that we are all looking for. They are a rock band making guitar-driven music and they have hit the mark on this hit track.

Tired Eyes – Besphrenz

Besphrenz is a unique group that you’ll be surprised hasn’t blown up yet. With their original style mixing indie, rock, and rap, this band is hitting multiple styles at once, but still keeping it clean. I respect them for being innovative musicians and I’m sure that this song will stay on repeat all summer long. The playlist also features Walking On Ice and their newest single, White Shoes.

Heat of the Summer – Young the Giant

Young the Giant has been a fan-favorite in the Alternative Music world for some time now, and with “Summer” being in the songs title, it surely fits the playlists theme. The song opens with a distorted guitar line and features a catchy chorus you’ll find yourself humming to all day. Young the Giant has done an excellent job in creating new music while sticking to their original sound that everyone loves.

This Life – Vampire Weekend

Released earlier this month, it is clear this song is different from the traditional Vampire Weekend sound. The song is lighthearted, bright, and bouncy, and has even been mentioned it closely matches Van Morrisons “Brown Eyed Girl.”

Hollow Life – Coast Modern

Imagine if Cage the Elephant, Grouplove, and Glass Animals teamed up on a track: this is what it’d sound like. This song was released a few years back, but the chorus is fresh, creative, and exactly what you need to hear all summer long.

Gold Snafu – Sticky Fingers

From the memorable beat and easy-to-follow chorus line, this song is easily enjoyed by any audience. Lead singer, Dylan Frost, delivers unique vocals falling under the reggae/rock genre, and its clear this song needs to be played full volume with the windows down. The playlist also includes one of their more mellow songs, These Girls.

Weekend Friend – Goth Babe

While “Goth” might be in the name, this musician producing anything but gothic music. Classified as surf-indie-rock, Weekend Friend is a care-free summer tune with soaring production. Greeting listeners with a heartwarming combination of keys, drums, and shakes, this song is easy on the ears in just about any setting.

No Going Back – Yuno

From the first drum-kick, this song shines light straight into my heart. After my first listen a few months back, I had the sudden urge to drop everything, go on a road trip, and make a video that highlights this wonderful track. With a weightless melody and vibrant lyrics, it is no wonder this was Yuno’s first single after signing with Sub Pop Records.

Some other favorites from the playlist include songs from boy pablo, LANY, Bad Suns, HUNNY, Local Natives, Empire of the Sun, Still Woozy, Toro y Moi, and many more. Hoping these songs are enough to brighten your mood all summer long! Now, go enjoy the sunshine.

Written by: Brittany Roache

Khalid’s “Free Spirit” Album Review

The remarkable R&B innovator Khalid released his sophomore album “Free Spirit,” while working hard to give the fans what they want.

Khalid is no longer “Young, Dumb, and Broke,” but he is an emerging pop star who has been working tirelessly to give his fans an adequate follow-up to his debut album American Teen. The 21-year-old reflected on the pressure he felt while recording Free Spirit in a recent interview with his close friend and collaborator, Billie Eilish.

“You have your whole life to write your first album. You don’t have your whole life to write your second album. And, with your second album, you have to write more of what people want.”

Free Spirit provides a mix of genre-less songs with Khalid’s melodic voice fitting perfectly over every instrumental. With 17 tracks and huge collaborations, the emerging pop-star carries the same beloved style that his first album brought us. While American Teen focused on shouting-out all the sad kids facing regular teenage struggles, Free Spirit attempts to showcase the singers growth as an individual. He is opening up about his true self and embraces what it means to be grown-up.

In the albums intro, Khalid tells us about his struggles with a relationship that is coming to an end: “I can’t even live with being by myself / That’s the part of me that really needs your help / Lately, I haven’t been doing very well / That’s the difference between heaven and hell.”

We can hear a similar story being told in songs, “Talk,” “My Bad,” and “Don’t Pretend,” following the theme that relationships require hard work. Not only do these songs have a relatable message, but they feature powerful collaborations: with “Talk” being produced by U.K. house duo – Disclosure, and “Don’t Pretend” featuring SAFE.

Other remarkable collaborations include John Mayer’s appearance on “Outta My Head,” which features subtle but beautiful harmonizations between the two. The album also credits Father John Misty for his assistance in producing “Heaven,” Murda Beatz, and John Hill (producer for Portugal. The Man).

Hundred” is a song that highlights the battle between staying positive during hard times, stating: “Life is never easy when you need it to be / Try to knock me down but I get back on my feet / Everybody’s angry, and they’re coming for me / But I can’t give them energy that I won’t receive.” These powerful lyrics make this song stand out as he attempts to bring peace amongst those who feel hopeless.

Self” is another powerful song that features the internal dialogue the singer faces in moments of self-doubt, making it one of my favorite songs off the album: “Does my raw emotion make me less of a man? Always had a little trouble with self reflections.”

The album clearly shows the musicians internal battles, and it is hard to hear from someone who is still so young and constantly in the spotlight. With lyrics like ““Heaven, make me an offer / Lord, there’s nothing left for me out here” off of his song “Heaven,” the singer is openly sharing his struggles to the world.

Khalid also offers a range of care-free pop tunes like “Better” and “Right Back,” reminding us that there is still a big part of the musician that is cheerful and grounded. Both songs have beats that will warm your heart and catchy choruses that keep you hitting repeat.

It is always difficult for an artist to top their first album, and it is still undecided if Khalid has done so. However, he deserves admiration for the truth he tells through his lyrics. Khalid has been recognized as a man of the past and present. He is still young, but there is an old-soul tucked away in his heart. He is seeking growth and experience, and refuses to repeat himself. Khalid is a remarkable pop/R&B star of our generation and has nothing but big things in store for the future.

Written by: Brittany Roache