The 1900s: Cool, Confident and in Control
Download: The 1900s - "Two Ways" (Via Stereogum)
Download: The 1900s - "When I Say Go"
During the recording of their debut LP Cold and Kind, the 1900s endured some serious mishaps. These included, but were not limited to, lost sessions, multiple recordings and re-recordings, and illness. But right now, the 1900s are nothing if not cool, confident and in control of their musical destiny.
"I really wasn’t sure if (the album) was good or not,” singer-guitarist Edward Anderson tells me as he leans forward in his chair in the VIP lounge for the Hideout Block Party. “But it seems to be getting a positive response. We’re taking a sigh of relief right now, like 'Alright, it wasn’t a disaster.'"
Drama has followed the 1900s everywhere they go, even before they went anywhere. The band’s brief history goes like this: high school friends Anderson, Tim Minnick (drums), and Mike Jasinski (keyboardist/guitarist) reunited in Chicago after college to form a band. They recruited bassist Charlie Ransford and violinist Andra Kulans. More importantly, singers Jeanine O’Toole and Caroline Donavon (who’d been singing together since high school) were also recruited.
A few weeks later, Donavon started dating Anderson and O’Toole starting dating Ransford. The latter couple broke up. Despite high tensions, the groups recorded an EP, Plume Delivery, before a live show was even played. At the first show the group played together, Parasol Records owner Geoff Merritt offered them a record deal. The band began touring and built a strong fanbase.
Which brings us back to Cold and Kind. It's a veritable melting pot of classic musical genres that range from Roy Harper-influenced folk-rock, to Belle and Sebastian-style chamber pop to the orchestral psychedelia of the ‘60s and ‘70s. What’s great about both band and album is that the music is done so in a way that is neither derivative nor ironic. It’s contemporary and retro, without the negative connotations of either. The music on Cold and Kind is accessible, but also ambitious in its orchestrations, and experimental in its lyrical content. For example, Cold and Kind’s atmospheric “Supernatural” and album opener “No Delay” comprise a fictional love story about the way that love can humanize us after traumatic events.
The group is also quite adept at combining Velvet Underground-style white noise in the context of a 3 minute pop song, as they do on first single “When I Say Go”.
“If we can bring those things together into a song and combine them, I think then that the song is better for it.” Minnick explains. “I think we want to experiment and flesh things out like that.”
"We all wanted to do a really vintage kind of record” Jasinski explains. “A lot of that inspiration really meshed well with our producer’s [Grame Gibson] style. In his downtime, he had Staples Singers playing and all of this old-school Motown stuff. We just knew that it was the right choice."
However, this being the 1900s, life-changing drama was inevitable, no matter how well-matched producer and group were. While the band was recording the album, a close friend of the band's died. Though Cold and Kind has a mournful feeling which permeates it, the album is not an eulogy.
"I wouldn’t say that (the friend's death) influenced the whole record or anything like that" Anderson states. "We make our music and I write songs that might be influenced by something that happens, but I just do it anyway."
Doing it, though, is a long, ambitious process. Before bringing a song to the band to arrange, Anderson will record one demo on his cell phone, then a second and third one using software such as Garage Band and Pro-Tools. Once the band has played and arranged the song, they’ll do a group demo of it. And then the recording starts.
Sometimes, though, the process is much more spontaneous, with jamming and rehearsals being the catalyst for songs. One might think that having so many people in a band where the songwriting process is elaborate would result in there being too many cooks in the kitchen. Not so, says Jasinski.
"I think a big part of having so many people involved is that you’ve got to give space to everyone…it takes a lot of stepping back and a lot of scaling any sort of your own ambitions to make a harmonious effort out of it."
Most of the harmonic joy in the 1900s music comes out when the band plays live. This may be due to an unsuspecting influence on the band’s sound: musical theater.
“That’s where I started singing” Donavon says. “I think that when we do shows, Jeanine and I get into it. We feel like we perform and that we just don’t stand on stage and deliver a song. We try to put on a show so that it’s something interesting to look at."
And the 1900s do put on a terrific show, filled with a vivacious energy that gives the recorded material even more punch. The band has fun, which they should be doing. Fun, it seems, is the glue that holds the 1900s together. When asked about what advice they’d give a band who is going through the Fleetwood Mac-style romantic hurdles that they did, Kulans replies, “You might fight a lot, but every time you get on stage it’s a lot of fun.”
Anderson elaborates: “You realize that you play music that’s supposed be fun and when it stops being fun…there’s complications and you have to work it out.” He pauses and then laughs: “Git-R-Done, man.”
Based on the rapturous response that Cold and Kind is getting from press and blogs alike, I’d say that they already have.
The 1900s open for Oakley Hall on Friday, Sept. 28th, at the 7th Street Entry. Show is 21+ and doors open at 8. Buy tickets here