National Trust fine tunes its mission

June 14, 2002


When Chicago's National Trust set out to record its debut album, main men
Neil Rosario and Mark Henning were shooting for something that really hadn't
been done before. So it's little wonder they wound up spending more than 500
hours recording with Brian Deck at Clava Studio on the South Side.

Imagine Curtis Mayfield produced by Missy Elliott, or maybe D'Angelo recording
with the backing of the Jackson Five. "Dekkagar" (Thrill Jockey) is all that and

"Neil and I spent a long time, several years actually, kind of cooking up ideas
beforehand," Henning says. "We kind of narrowed down what we wanted to do
and really tried to focus on vocals and simple things like emotive singing rather
than going crazy on effects. It was always just trying to pretend like we were
16-year-old girls--what would they go for, and how would that translate?

"I don't think we were so much trying to ape soul legends of Chicago or do
anything like that, because that's pretty much beyond our reach. But we were
trying to make a nod to it in a way that we were able to, with a touch of
bubblegum thrown in. I think simple pop songs are something that are just an
ingrained fiber in everyone's consciousness."

Adds Rosario: "It's just like a living document of where we were at that point. I
didn't really think about the full end thing, the whole organic piece. It was just
whether this song demands this part or whatever, and we would act accordingly.
It wasn't necessarily part of this grand scheme to do a D'Angelo-type of thing."

Rosario is a veteran of Chicago scene mainstays Dolomite, who moved from
noise-rock to more soulful sounds over the course of two E.P.'s and an album.
He did a brief stint in Red Red Meat (which featured Deck on drums) before an
earlier band called Fifteen Couples morphed into the National Trust, with
Henning coming on board on vocals and guitar.

"Some people have mentioned the psychedelic soul aspect, and I say, 'Sure,' "
Rosario says of the album. "Some people say it's like bubblegum or just
straight-up '70s pop, and I say, 'Sure.' If anything, we're guilty of just being
earnest--that sort of 'redressing the '70s with a safe '90s sense of irony and
distance' just wasn't part of the game, really. We just had fun working the vibe."

And working it, and working it. The opening song alone, an 11-minute epic
called "Making Love in the Natural Light," was built out of some 70 individual
tracks, including dozens of individual vocal parts, weird ambient background
noises, ethereal keyboards and odd percussion.

Was there ever a point in the recording where the group thought things had
gone over the top?

"In the end, it was a bit chagrining," Rosario says. "When it came time to mix,
we'd look at 70 tracks and think, 'Is this just hubris?' "

But the results speak for themselves. The group is justifiably proud of the
finished disc--"In my history of making music, I'd say this has been the closest
I've come to really realizing what was in my head. I'd sort of smilingly say it's 95
percent there," Rosario says--and it's looking forward to recording again.

"If I had the opportunity, that's all I'd really do," Rosario says. "It can be a huge
drag, certainly--you can have bad food for weeks, and that can just really inform
your sense of being and constitution. But although it can be thick and pretty
claustrophobic, man, it's a pretty nice place to be, and I'm definitely excited to
get back in there."

Meanwhile, the National Trust will attempt to translate "Dekkagar" live onstage
at the Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, at 10 p.m. Saturday. The cover is $10;
Archer Prewitt headlines. Janet Bean's Concertina Wire are also on the bill. Call
773-276-3600 for more information.

"While we're not going to be able to do the whole sweep of the record, we're
definitely trying to create a similar vista," Rosario promises.

* * *

Another gig of note tonight (why are all the cool shows always on the same
evening?) is the Chicago debut of Consonant, a new band formed by
ex-Mission of Burma bassist Clint Conley. The author of the unforgettable
anthems "That's When I Reach for My Revolver" and "Academy Fight Song,"
Conley was always the ultra-melodic secret weapon in that still-influential
art-punk band. And Consonant's self-titled debut on Boston's Fenway
Recordings does Mission of Burma's legacy proud.

Returning to rock to offset a mid-life crisis, Conley, now a father of two and a
teaching fellow at Harvard University, collaborated with poet Holly Anderson to
craft the lyrics of complex but moving tunes like "Blissful" and "John Coltrane's
'My Favorite Things.' " And he's recruited a top-notch band, completed by Chris
Brokaw (Come, Codeine), Matt Kadane (Bedhead) and Winston Braman

Consonant performs at the Abbey Pub, 3420 W. Grace, at 9 p.m. Saturday with
Silkworm and the Kadane Brothers. The cover is $12; call (773) 478-4408.