The band's very name hints that it is a group out of step with prevailing
pop trends and harkening back to another grander time. And indeed, with
their fragile but gorgeous melodies and lush orchestral-pop arrangements,
the 1900s stand out as one of the most promising up-and-comers on the local
Most bands reject easy labels, but as genre classifications go, "ork-" or
orchestral pop is a lot more distinctive than, say, emo, because it's more
about the band's ambitions than its specific sounds. And it places the group
in a proud lineage with other current purveyors such as Belle & Sebastian
and the Decemberists, as well as forerunners such as the Beach Boys circa
"When we were starting this band, we were all fans of a lot of bands that
were doing this kind of sound," says bassist Charlie Ransford. "Two years
ago was around the time when Brian Wilson was touring with the orchestra,
and that was kind of a big thing. And we've been big fans of Belle &
Sebastian for a number of years; we get compared to them a lot, but we don't
really sound like them very much."
The 1900s came together from the ashes of two other local groups:
Ransford played with the swirling shoegazer combo Turner Joy, and
guitarist-vocalist Edward Anderson and drummer Tim Minnick were members of
the more conventional pop group Forty Piece Choir. "Ed and Tim quit Forty
Piece Choir around the same time Turner Joy broke up, so it just kind of
worked out that we got together: We already hung out together, and we were
both looking for a new band to play with," Ransford says.
"Ed kind of had the goal of putting the perfect band together, with all
of his ideal people. He'd grown up with Tim and Mike [Jasinski], the
keyboard player, and they were both very talented, so they were a party of
it. And he was a big fan of Turner Joy, so he really wanted me to play bass
with him. Then he had this idea of having strings and backup singers -- I
think he kind of had this grand vision -- and that's when the girls
[vocalists Jeanine O'Toole and Caroline Donovan] came in. Ed just happened
to meet them through friends at a party where he'd heard them singing."
The group, with violinist Andra Kulans now on board as the newest member,
made an impressive recorded debut last spring with an EP called "Plume
Delivery" on Parasol Records, ranging from lavishly augmented country and
folk to swirling psychedelia. "The EP kind of goes in several different
directions, because we were still trying to figure out what we were going
for," Ransford says. Yet the maturity of the songwriting and the
sophistication of the sound on songs such as "Bring the Good Boys Home" and
"Whole of the Law" belies the facts that this was still a very young group,
and one that begins each complex sonic tapestry with the simplest
"Most of the songs start out with me just strumming the acoustic guitar,"
Anderson says. "I'll just be sitting around, watching TV or something, and
I'll come up with something and think, 'Oh, this is OK!' I'll bust out [the
home recording program] GarageBand on my computer and record a demo through
the littler speaker on my laptop, then think about it a little more, and
maybe do a ProTools version with a drum machine. Then I'll send it out to
everyone and say, 'What do you think?' And once the band begins working with
it, it becomes something else entirely.
"It's pretty funny: There's one song on the new album where I just woke
up in the morning and had the song kind of playing in my head, so I recorded
it on my cell phone as a voice memo. Then I did the GarageBand demo; then I
did the ProTools demo; then the band learned it, and then we recorded it for
real and brought in an arranger for this 10-piece horn and string section. I
thought, 'Wow, it would be kind of cool if we just laid out how this went
from a cell phone message to all of this! It's been a heck of a journey, and
it's really pretty insane!' "
The 1900s began recording their first, as yet untitled album with
producer Graeme Gibson at the South Side's Clava Studio last November, and
they just finished mixing it last week. Several labels have shown interest,
and the group is heading to Austin, Texas, for the South by Southwest Music
Conference in March to help build the buzz and hopefully seal a deal.
Meanwhile, it will perform every Monday in February at Schubas as the latest
contender in the club's monthlong series of "Practice Space" residencies.
"We wanted to have a different theme each week, doing some covers, some
of our new songs and some of our old songs, so people would have something
different every time," Ransford says. But no matter which 1900s you catch --
the quieter folk version; the more country one, or the trippy psychedelic
rockers -- there's a good chance you'll be bragging in the future that you
caught them when.
REASONS FOR LIVING
While we're talking about ork-pop, two of the most astounding albums the
genre has produced came courtesy of classically trained trumpeter and
orchestral arranger Eric Matthews, who collaborated with Richard Davies for
the self-titled 1994 album by Cardinal (reissued in expanded form by
Empyrean Records in 2005) and made a memorable debut as a solo artist with
"It's Heavy in Here" in 1995. On his more recent releases, Matthews has
shunned the lush orchestration that characterized both of those must-own
discs, favoring a much more stripped-down acoustic sound closer in spirit to
Nick Drake at his most Spartan, especially given the similarities in vocal
On his latest album, "Foundation Sounds," issued by Empyrean last
September, Matthews doesn't exactly return to full-on orchestral mode, but
he gets much closer than he has at any point since "It's Heavy in Here."
Entrancing tunes such as "Gold" and "When You Should Be There" start with a
basic rock-band format of guitar, bass and drums, but Matthews once again
adds exquisitely tasteful decoration with piano, brass and horns, performing
every instrument but clarinet himself.
The lack of input from other musicians adds a certain insular quality --
they may have come to disavow their partnership, but Matthews and Davies
undeniably brought the best out of one another -- but then Matthews' music
has always had a quiet, solitary, "Sunday morning in a barren cabin on a
lonely mountaintop" vibe, and "Foundation Sounds" once again captures that
in grand style.
• 8 p.m. Monday plus Feb. 12, 19 and 26
• Schubas, 3159 N. Southport
• Tickets, $6
• (773) 525-2508