I love to talk about music in general with anyone, but to have the chance to sit down and speak to a group that is out there playing interesting music, trying to make a name for themselves and really doing it well – now that is something special. Themidsis and I had just that opportunity when we did our first ever music interview with Santah, a Chicago-based group. We sat down with lead singer Stan McConnell and drummer Steve Plock on a busy Friday night at Township, a small music venue in Logan Square. They had just completed their sound check for their show later that evening and as soon as they sat down it was like meeting some friends we had known for some time.
We quickly learned a lot about them as they were more than gracious to speak about their experiences and how they describe their brand of music. Stan and Steve are both from Dixon, IL and attended University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, where Stan studied poetry. They played music at every club on campus, and it was pretty cool to hear that Canopy Club was one of them as that might be one of the few original places still around since I was there. They formed in 2006 as Santa and they added the “h” later to officially became Santah in 2010. The other members include Stan’s sister Vivian McConnell (guitar and vocals), Tommy T. Trafton (keyboards), and Mike Winegardner (bass and vocals). A lot has changed since the college days as they have been touring most of the Midwest and beyond for the past year promoting their latest album Chico, which actually comes out today. Their current mode of transportation on tour – a 2009 Ford van named Brent. What do they miss most about Chicago when they are on the road? They quickly say the good coffee and late night Mexican food options that I am guessing we as Chicagoans probably take for granted. When we asked what was their favorite city they have played, Stan and Steve both seemed to agree that it was Chattanooga, TN. “Music is a big part of people’s lives in the South,” Steve said and the crowd there really seemed to respond to them. Stan also makes a point of saying though that they really have a desire to get out west. I don’t doubt they will find themselves out that way soon.Stan and Steve describe Santah’s style of music as dream pop – “it’s pop with a haziness to it,” says Stan. He further elaborates, calling it “singing along and dancing along, catch it and feel it, kind of music.” After listening to their stuff, it’s actually pretty accurate as their sound does have a hazy, dreamy, but upbeat quality to it. A lot of their songs have a a certain feel to them – like a longing to discover something or to find something completely new. They have the ability to sound completely recognizable as pop music should, yet their songs stir up deeper emotions than just your average pop song. When asked about some bands that have offered musical inspiration they rattle off a list: Wilco, Yeasayer, The Walkmen, Bob Dylan, George Harrison, The Grateful Dead, and Neil Young. I now realize it’s a perfect mix of old and new. They told us how a DJ in Wisconsin once introduced them to the crowd by proclaiming,”these guys will take you on a journey!” After listening to more and more of their music I know what he means, as it seems to be exactly what their music sets out to do. We also learn that Santah has actually played Fenwick’s prom 3 times – which makes for a connection to another alma mater that I was not aware of. They have been asked back again for next year, though they seem to be unsure what their schedule will look like in 2016 after this latest album is released. Let’s hope for the best for these young Fenwick prom-goers and that they can get another performance out of this talented group that continues to trend up.
Santah’s latest effort, Chico, is their second full length album since their 2011 album White Noise Bed, though they also released an excellent five-song EP You’re Still A Lover in 2012. When describing Chico they say that it’s a world where they can see and have conversations with various alternate versions of themselves, like meeting their otherwordly twins. They also see their loved ones while going on this spiritual journey, and again they do an excellent job of taking us along with them. Stan and Steve were nice enough to give us a copy of Chico that night and after giving it more than a few listens front to back, I really am impressed with this latest progression for them. The first song “Did We Sing?” opens up with a catchy keyboard riff that eases into Stan’s powerful voice and quickly the song elevates into lush wall of sound. “Sunkeeper” comes up next with its swirling guitars and then comes “Here Are My Shells” with a rapidly tight drumbeat propelling you further and it quickly becomes clear that this album is going to be a great ride and listen the whole way through. All the while, Stan’s vocals have the ability to rise to the occasion in perfect harmony and there are enough hooks throughout to keep you coming back for more. “Who’s in Town?” is also a particularly special song and seems to exude their old-meets-new vibe that so often comes through in their music. There’s something so familiar here, like these guys Stan and Steve, like their sound, but yet it’s all refreshingly new. I am left feeling very excited for these guys and eager to see where Chico will take them from here. It will be a journey no less.
We first had the chance to see Santah perform at Do Division Fest earlier this summer. Our awesomely unpredictable Chicago weather made it an absolute shitshow with wind, rain and 40 degree temperatures, putting a damper on what would have been an otherwise good Saturday street fest scene. That didn’t stop Santah from treating those that were there for their 2pm show with a well-crafted and energetic set. Instantly I was a fan. Fast forward to this particular October Friday night at Township where we got to see them perform live after the interview, and indoors this time. Township is a small-ass venue – picture a great band playing in your basement. It made the show that much better and the crowd seemed more than pleased. Simply put, they absolutely crushed it. Stan’s stage presence is amazing and it’s just a pleasure to see each member of this quintet go to work, especially Steve doing his thing on drums and Stan’s sister Vivian offering some beautiful backup vocals along the way. These guys seem like they really just love to perform – no matter where or when. In fact, this show is just a step towards their bigger show coming up in two weeks time. Santah will be performing live for their record release show at Lincoln Hall on Friday, November 20th at 9:00 pm. If I have piqued your interest in the slightest then you should really go see this show. Plus, Themidsis and I will be there – what more reason do you need?? Listen – I promise a great show or I will buy you a burrito down the street, ok? So click here for tickets – $12 General Admission – well, well worth it. And please check out their new album Chico that comes out today and get on board with these guys. You need some dream pop in your life I can tell.
I will close with this final fun fact about our friends Stan and Steve. At the end of the interview Lauren did manage to ask them her all-too-familiar burning question that she asks of most anyone she is trying to get to know. She leans over the table and asks very seriously, slowly and intensely “would you rather….(long pause)……eat an ice cream cone filled with boogers, or……a bowl of cereal made of scabs??” As Steve and Stan try to comprehend what is happening to their minds at that moment, Lauren further elaborates by saying that the boogers and scabs are in fact other people’s, not their own. They think a little longer and surprisingly they differ in their response: Stan takes the booger ice cream cone and Steve chooses scab cereal. And we get to know these guys just that much better in an instant.
Santah will also be appearing on XRT this Sunday at 7:30 pm, playing selections from Chico and talking more about the record.
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