Chris Darby and Friends Singer-Songwriter Night at Phyllis' Musical Inn

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[Chris Darby in late July 2008, Sleeper, Missouri. Chris was recording a demo getting the best sound possible with the most clever of methods in mind.]

In recent weeks I have been watching a considerable amount of televised interviews with Charlie Rose. I work with an intern from a foreign land and I have this crazy notion that there are myriad ways in which a soul can learn and develop a facility with the English language. I often encourage my intern, their friends, and previous interns, with whom I am still in contact, to watch Charlie Rose interviews on his website: One of the interviews I caught about two weeks ago was one in which Charlie interviews Steve Jobs and Jon Lasseter, the director of the Pixar film 'Toy Story' (interview from 1996). I am interested in this Steve Jobs fella because he was ousted from Apple in the 1980's only to be brought back in the 1990's to successfully restore the company to a certain market dominance. The company was viable again, and still is, under Jobs' direction.

The Singer-Songwriter night at Phyllis' Musical Inn coming up on Wed Dec 9 2009 has a story nearing that of the Apple story. There may well be some parallels to draw upon. Chris Darby is a singer-songwriter that has been calling Chicago home for the past 7 years, with the exception of a few remarkable journeys that took him out of the city, of which one should inquire to learn more. Missouri native, the guy has pipes, and he can craft a song that will get you to stop your conversation during the first song of his set. More about his songs in coming entries.

The history of this songwriter night at Phyllis', in my mind, begins with a guy named Craig Moorefield, who is no longer physically present, but certainly is in spirit. Chris is the protagonist now and brings the story to its current sequence. Chris and his friend Rob Reid have taken the night and built upon it with some additional embellishments, much like Steve Jobs did with the Apple company. The night is switched to a Wednesday compared to former times, which was Sunday. There is a program each night with a bio section of every individual on the given night's bill. And there appears to be a core audience that is faithful to show up during each presentation. As this Derelict Songs Blog began to unfold as an rough idea, and I continued to incessantly watch Charlie Rose, I knew that an interview with Chris Darby would be in order, and very captivating. I submitted a list of questions and Chris was prompt to agree to an interview in advance of the next Chris Darby and Friends Singer-Songwriter Night at Phyllis' Musical Inn.

Steve Jobs, in that Charlie Rose interview, shared some great wisdom on the impact of working as a team, with others, when trying to achieve mutually shared goals. In like measure, Chris Darby has a few thoughts on the subject, too. The interview picks up below. I hope you enjoy!

Chris Darby
Singer Songwriter Night Host


1. You have an upcoming Singer Songwriter night on Dec 9 2009, at Phyllis’ Musical Inn. Who will you have on the bill?

The show will feature performances from Steve Leaf, Arthi Meera, Pezzettino (from Milwaukee), Emily White, and Justin Birchard, songwriter for the band ‘Facing Winter’. Everyone will perform a half hour of original music.

2. How do you choose who is best for the bill? How do you get the musicians for each bill, not speaking about phone calls or e-mails here? But how do you conclude in your mind who to ask, what informs that decision or thought process? Going after a theme for each night? Does frequency come into the process?

I give a great deal of thought to each songwriter night. With each night, I try to formulate a show that will be a good experience for both the performers, and the audience. The people I book generally have several things in common. They are hard working, they write well thought out songs, and they are interested in being involved in a musical community in Chicago. How the exact pairing comes about is sort of hard for me to define, and perhaps a bit arbitrary as well. I generally spend some time wondering how each person’s music would sound, before or after another person’s music. If I can imagine it working in my mind, I will set it up that way, and see how it goes. If I can't imagine it, I will see about another spot, or another date. Much of it also has to do with the performer's schedule. For instance, I have been asking Arthi to play one of these nights for several months now, but because of tour obligations with her band, she was unable until now. Regarding frequency, I do try to keep things mixed up, and always look for other people who might be interested in playing. I find that it's easier to keep people coming back to see the shows, if the lineup is always changing, at least a little bit.

3. How did the Singer Songwriter nights come about for you?

To me, music is as much about the sharing of oneself, as it is about the music itself. The two are intertwined to me. I have found bits and pieces of a music community in Chicago since 2002, when I began to be active in the music scene with my band. One goal of the nights was just to bring together all these seemingly separate pieces, and make them a unified whole. By working together, we as humans can create much more than if everyone works separately. I guess the main goal was to help foster a small community of musicians who were already interested in these ideas. Another way to look at it is just me doing my part to keep things happening in Chicago, musically speaking.
Around 2004, my bandmate and i decided that it might be best to play some shows at our house, and invite friends to play as well. This evolved into a truly wonderful house concert series, which became a great vessel to help support touring musicians. It was always a great night when one of these events would happen, simply for the atmosphere of musicians playing songs for the joy of playing the songs. This is the truly great thing about a house concert atmosphere. Once that concert series began to fade, I started to look for other ways, and venues where I could maintain this spirit of friendship and music.
The singer/songwriter night idea came about from a musician named Craig Moorefield, who ran a monthly night at Phyllis’ for over five years. I liked his shows, and I decided to combine that idea with the intimacy of the house shows, to further help out this great community of musicians who are all interested in working hard, and lending a helping hand when appropriate. When Craig moved to New York City, I stepped in, and asked the bar if I might take up the torch, as it were, and continue the nights.

4. What do these events accomplish for you and the musicians participating and attending?

It seems that when people have a full room of attentive people to play to, they feel a great sense of encouragement. When people play on a bill that is full of other interested, and interesting musicians, there is also a sense of encouragement. For me, these nights accomplish much, in that they bring together musicians who might not otherwise have known each other. I believe they also encourage further songwriting, and community building for those involved. I have seen this is action on a couple of occasions, when the performers decided to write an entire new set of songs for the occasion of the songwriter night. This is exactly the sort of thing I had hoped would happen when I first had thought about these nights. Its exciting to see ideas come to fruition sometimes.

5. What do the next few months hold in store for Chris Darby and the music?

I am planning a full US solo tour, beginning in early July of 2010. At this juncture, I am unsure of how long this will take, but my thought is that it will be longer than 6 months. The plan as it stands is that the tour will take place in conjunction with the release of a solo EP, which will be recorded in January.

6. Are there any goals that you are setting for yourself now to achieve by the end of 2010?

Aside from the touring bit, I hope to have some more songs written by the end of next year. If I could play a couple hundred shows by the end of 2010, I would be more than pleased.

7. What part of the creative process, in writing songs – the composing of the music and the designing of the lyrical narrative, presents itself as the biggest challenge for you at this particular time?

Songwriting in general always seems to be a difficult process for me. I will struggle with trying to write progressions, lyrics, and melodies…for months sometimes. Then it will just all click, and ill have several decent songs all at once. I don’t know that any particular field is any more difficult than the other. I do tend to take a lot of time writing and re-writing the words, because good lyrics are hard to come by.

8. Any advice that has been helpful or insightful for you, that you might offer to aspiring musicians?

Go play shows. Research places on the Internet, and go tour for a week or two at a time. Even weekends, if that’s all that you can do. The playing of shows constantly will make you a better musician and performer. This is true in my own case, and in the case of everyone else I know. It is not difficult to find places to play, if you are determined to tour. Play shows, as many as you can.

9. If you could sit down and have a cup of coffee with another musician, irrespective of time period or age, be they alive or dead, who would you be most interested in having a conversation with?

I would say William Blackart, who I consider to be the greatest living songwriter at this time.

10. Any other musicians out there right now, that are unsigned or unnoticed by the masses, that you feel deserve a second or better glance because of their great songs and/or consistently great live shows/performances?

Yes. There are too many to name in this blog post, but one songwriter who comes to mind at the moment is someone I played a show with in Oakland, California once in 2007. His name is Padraic Finbar Hagerty-Hammond. He really has a way with spinning words, and more people should definitely know his name.

Phyllis' Musical Inn
1800 West Division Street
Chicago, IL 60622
Show starts at: 9PM

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Comment (1)

re: your fetching headgear in the photo.
chris, as one home recorder to another, i know just how you feel.

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