'Twilight' for Midstates


April 28, 2006


"I'm just trying out/It's all down the road," guitarist and vocalist Paul Heintz sings in the opening words of "Till Dead," the first track on "Boxing Twilight," the second album by the local sextet Midstates. "I'm so tired and I know you are too/So why should we do what we want to?"

Those lyrics can be viewed as a comment on the group's career: It has been honing its lush, swirling sounds since the mid-'90s, when Heintz and keyboardist Steve Munoz first came together in their native Calumet City as the awkwardly named Novasonic Down Hyperspace. Choosing the new and simpler moniker Midstates, they released their first strong album, "Shadowing Ghosts," in early 2003. That disc hardly set the pop world on fire, but the band has been tirelessly gigging, recording and building a loyal and growing audience ever since.

Why should we do what we want to? Midstates' answer to that question is that it can't imagine not doing it.

"We'll all have our day jobs forever, I think," Heintz says, laughing as he calls from the van en route to the next gig on the group's current tour. "I'm not even sure I'd want to quit my day job. I know that sounds crazy, but I think if music ever became my job, I wouldn't like it as much anymore. Some people live to work, and others work to live; it's definitely the latter for us."

Heintz's attitude echoes that of so many great local bands, who play more out of enduring passion than hopeful professionalism.

"The thing is, our expectations are very real: We're not trying to be U2. We're just trying to get some people turned on to our music. We'd be really happy if we could score a good tour with someone like the Flaming Lips or Yo La Tengo. The industry seems to be moving away from albums and really supporting so many groups, and honestly, for me, I just want to keep making records. That's what it's all about."

After years of revolving-door departures and arrivals, Midstates' lineup has been consistent since "Shadowing Ghosts," with the creative and powerful drummer Angel Ledezma, guitarist Michael Dahlman, bassist Adam Province (who doesn't perform live) and keyboardist Sasha (just Sasha) completing the group. The long wait for a follow-up to the last album was due to real life interfering when Heintz bought a house in the South Side's McKinley Park neighborhood and outfitted it with a home recording studio, fancifully dubbed Spectra Kakarot, in between making the rest of his new home livable. "To say it was 'a real fixer-upper' is a huge understatement," Heintz says, chuckling again.

Released on the independent Reincarnate Music label, "Boxing Twilight" builds on the influence of the early '90s English shoegazer bands -- groups such as Ride, Lush, My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive -- while adding the fresh elements of much more forthright lyrics, Ledezma's insistent and hard-hitting drum parts and a Midwestern power-pop flair for saturating each song with infectious melodies.

"When we're on tour and we stop at a gas station, people see we're a band, and they're always asking, 'Well, what do you guys sound like?'" Heintz says. "We've never really had an answer for that, and I think, if anything, we're more confused about it now. When we started making this record, we just wanted it to be the hardest music we could make. This guy Angel, he's a Mexican krautrock drummer, and he just harnesses energy. He sitting next to me in the van, laughing as I say this, but he's always trying to make it louder, while we keep trying to hone what we've been doing all along, which is more melodies than your brain can usually deal with.

"We try to reward the listener and give them more: more energy, more melody, more of everything. We just had a s---load of songs from recording for two and a half years, and we really tried to whittle it down to the best record that we thought could hold people's attention from start to finish."

Like so many independent bands these days, the Midstates are finding the Internet a useful tool to help spread the word.

"We were pretty excited to find that our Web site [www.midstatesmusic.com] has been getting about 60 unique visitors a day ever since we started posting free songs," Heintz says. "The last tour we did before Christmas, Angel couldn't come out on the road, and it was basically just the keyboard player and me. So we brought a video of Angel playing the songs and showed that behind us every night. People loved it, and this made it all over the video iPod blog-o-sphere.

"This guy we met the other night was like, 'MySpace is ruining things because it keeps kids at home in front of the computer.' But the good news is that everything is in a state of flux, and you know, you may be able to meet on MySpace, but you still have to leave the house if you want to have sex. Maybe that can be our slogan: 'Come to meet at the Midstates show!'"


Time once again to dive in to the always-overflowing bin of Do-It-Yourself releases by local bands. Chicago-area bands can send music to Jim DeRogatis at the Sun-Times, 350 N. Orleans. Chicago, IL 60654.

There's a moment during "Special," the lead track from Redbird EP, the five-song debut by the Chicago alternative-country quartet Cracklin Moth, that simply slays me. "Heard it from the heart/Heard you whisper through the pines," soulful vocalist and songwriter Matt Ammerman sings. "So we drove out to Chicago/And by the weekend, she was mine."

Familiar faces on the local music scene, Ammerman, bassist John Hasbrouck, drummer Shawn Rios (Palaxy Tracks, Scotland Yard Gospel Choir) and lead guitarist and pedal steel player Rocco Labriola first came together under the name Redbird in the summer of 2004. Alas, another group had already claimed that moniker, forcing them to change their name. But Cracklin Moth is more enigmatic anyway, and the local quartet got to keep its original name for their first strong release.

"Redbird EP" appeared last year, but the group is already promising a full album soon, incorporating elements of the Beach Boys' "Pet Sounds" and the Flaming Lips with the Jayhawks and early Wilco influences that are already apparent.

Cracklin Moth's next show is at Martyrs', 3855 N. Lincoln, at 7:30 p.m. May 10. (The Andreas Kapsalis Trio and Bill Mallonee complete the bill, and the cover is $7.) For more information, visit the band's Web site at www.cracklinmoth.com.