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NORTHALSTED MARKET DAYS JC Brooks lays soul bare with music
by Nina Matti
2017-08-09

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Four years since it released its last album, JC Brooks' indie-soul sound is making a comeback.

The Chicago-based band dropped their fourth album The Neon Jungle in April, and since then have been touring the country, sharing their new style with fans everywhere before hitting Northalsted Market Days for a performance on Sunday, Aug. 13.

Windy City Times caught up with the band's leading man, JC Brooks, in the final days of the act's tour.

Windy City Times: You're almost done with touring! What was your experience like?

JC Brooks: Yeah, I'm excited to see my dog and sleep in my bed—and see my boyfriend! I should've put that one in there before my dog, but it's great.

I'm so glad to actually be doing more than the "weekend warrior" kind of thing again. I kind of missed this. We've been out of the game for a while; the band almost broke up...

It's a good feeling to not only be done with this album, which has been one of the longest recording times of any of our albums. They usually take about two months, and this one took 18. But also, [it's good] just to be back out on the road and feeling like a working musician again. Our drummer and I work in a tire shop. Being able to make the same amount of money while not being there is glorious. If only I could make more of my life into this.

WCT: Do you think the album saved the band?

JC: I do, in a way. It definitely has us working in a more serious way again but I mean what really saved the band was achieving the right mix of personalities. The empathy-to-ego ratio on everyone has finally balanced out.

WCT: That's important.

JC: Oh, yeah. When you spend hundreds of hours together in a van, that's so important.

WCT: Do you think working toward finding that balance of personalities has affected your sound?

JC: Absolutely. What we're doing here is kind of a weird shot in the dark. I think of it like the Halloween series of horror movies. I think of this album as Halloween III: Season of the Witch [which did not have Myers in it]. You've got Michael Myers, weird Halloween masks, Michael Myers, Michael Myers, Michael Myers. We are working on recording the next Michael Myers.

Finding this balance definitely did change our sound. The old version of the band was pretty dictatorial. Our guitarist wrote most of our songs. I wrote the lyrics, but you know there wasn't a lot of room for creative freedom. With this new incarnation it sounds really different because everyone has input and it was the first time we were all writing together.

The stuff we've been writing since is a lot more focused and integrated with elements of our old sound. I don't want to speak of it as a regression, but we definitely did lose a lot of the sound that our fans love and that really worked well for the kind of show that I put on. It is very presentational, very showman-y.

It's kind of hard to reconcile doing more pop tunes with the performance style. I think a lot about the show from a performance standpoint. We tried a couple of variations on it. Right now it sounds like I'm slamming the album. I don't think it's bad. I just think it's wildly different and doesn't sound like what people expect from us.

WCT: Then as you continue writing together and working on a new album, what should we expect from that?

JB: Basically, I've been writing a lot more political stuff—more socially aware music. We'll be going into the studio to record the first single at the end of August. It's called Anywhere But America. We might end up doing it at Market Days but it's kind of a downer.

It's about how the American dream is for anybody but Black people. So maybe that won't be Market Days fare. But for the show you can expect our usual high-energy stuff. We'll be playing the "poppier" stuff but we also make it a point to have a healthy helping of our first three albums because that's the stuff that got people in the door. We don't want to abandon them for the sake of playing every song on this new album.

Part of the fun of our shows is reminding people about joy. We were talking about this last night. We're going to have to be very careful about how we structure the set because we want to be able to talk about some heavy shit but not lose that element. We're going to do that by bringing it back around to hope.

WCT: Northalsted Market Days is such a big LGBT event. What does it mean to you to play it, as a gay artist?

JB: It's huge. We've been a band for 10 years and we've never had much cachet in the gay community.... I wish that my art was more connected to the community but because of the throwback, soul, hipster space that we occupied before, there was very little intersection. It's exciting for me. It's a little nerve-wracking because it's the first time in front of an audience I've wanted to be in front of for a long time.

It's so weird that in this band I'm getting to play for all of these artists that I loved as a teenager. I'm like, "I'm getting to open for 10,000 Maniacs!" That's one of the super-coolest things about doing this.

For more information about the band, check out JCBrooksBand.com . To stay up to date on the upcoming Northalsted Market Days, go to Northalsted.com/marketdays .


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