Interview: Chris Darby of Them Damn Kids

"I hope to be able to see the sun rise over the Atlantic Ocean, and set over the Pacific. I hope to see the Northern Lights, and camp in the middle of nowhere. I hope to play a show to 5 people in a treehouse."

1. Them Damn Kids have played over three hundred shows together across America. Can you tell us about a show that stands out as being one of the most rewarding shows you’ve ever played?

Cal's Bar. December 15th, 2006. It was my last day working as a bike messenger, and I managed to book four messenger bands in the downtown messenger bar, on a Friday night. We made up a bunch of buttons for the event that simply said ' Cal's Bar- 12.15.06'. That was all the promo we did for the show, but it worked wonders. We had a crowd of about 80 people in a room which states its capacity to be 45. It was absolute insanity, but it also felt like a moment of certainty to me. Even though we played tons of empty rooms prior to that, the over-sold show at Cal's just made me realize that if I really wanted to make music for the rest of my life, that I would find a way to do it.

2. Next week’s show at Schubas is expected to be a major milestone in the history of Them Damn Kids. Do you have any special preparations you and the guys make before shows? Any specific brand of cereal you eat in the morning, or any rituals you perform just before the show? Will it be different for this show?

We just practice a lot. We try to get everything as perfect as we can. Sometimes this includes 6 hour rehearsals the day of the show. I think there will probably be even more practicing for this show. Perhaps you can recommend a good brand of cereal to help put us on our A game.

3. What’s in store for the band after Schubas? Does the band have any goals that remain unrealized?

Yes and no. Schubas has been my only venue goal in Chicago, ever since moving here. We have our constant goals of making as much music as possible, and playing as much as our schedules allow. The only unrealized goal that I can think of is making the band a full time endeavor for everyone involved in it. This is really more of a dream than a goal. I'm not sure if it will ever come to pass.

4. How is the current lineup, with the relatively recent addition of Julius Otto, different from previous lineups?

We have a much more focused sound now. From 2002-2005, we were just focused on learning our instruments and trying to write decent songs. From 2005-2007, we were trying to sound like a 'normal' folk rock band. After the year long hiatus, we re-focused, and started to just go where the music was taking us, and became much more open to other ideas. Julius has been quite instrumental in the new direction of the bands sound. A lot of credit goes to Bile Greene as well, who introduced the delay pedal into our sound in the summer of 2008, when he played with us for 2 months, and then helped with recording that fall. After he left for Philadelphia, we kept the sound of the delay, and the band as a whole is better for it. If you compared TDK of 2002 to TDK of 2010, I don’t know that anyone would be able to tell that we are the same band.

5. You’re embarking on an eight month solo tour starting this July, though touring is certainly nothing new for you. What do you hope to accomplish in order for you to consider this a successful tour?

I hope to be able to see the sun rise over the Atlantic Ocean, and set over the Pacific. I hope to see the Northern Lights, and camp in the middle of nowhere. I hope to play a show to 5 people in a treehouse. I really hope to make gas money. I hope that the more people I meet, and the more shows I play, the less cynical I will become. I hope that people will be open enough to want to take my music home with them and tell their friends about it. And I hope to establish enough contacts and build enough momentum that I can record an album, and then do it all over again. Mostly, I hope that my inclination that this is what my life work should be about will still ring true, even after 6 months of traveling. I really, really hope that I am cut out for this.

6. One of your many contributions to the Chicago folk scene has been hosting a house concert series in Humboldt Studios which has since morphed into a bimonthly songwriter showcase at Phyllis’ Musical Inn. Tell us about one artist that you felt most proud to present to Chicago’s Songwriter Community.

The thing about putting together shows is that I can pretty much pick and choose whoever I want to play. I am immensely proud of every single lineup that I have put together at both venues (with the exception of two or three...). I don't like to book people that I don't feel passionately about. That being said, my greatest achievement in booking an artist was getting A Boy Named Thor to come all the way from New York City and play our house concert series. I had listened to his songs for years, and on a whim, just wrote him and asked if he would like to come play. He responded quickly and said of course. That show was so incredible to me, and represented a sort of shift in thinking about people that I once thought were unreachable. A close second would have to be the band Longsleeves, whose music I absolutely adore. Even though we are friends, I still feel immensely proud when they come from San Diego and play a show that I put together.

Scene from a Humboldt Studios House Show, January 2009

7. If you had to pick one piece of advice to offer to an emerging songwriter trying to get their music heard in Chicago today, what would that be?

I have a sort of twofold response to that. Play out a lot, and engage with other musicians. Play in a public setting as much as you possibly can. Open mics are great for exposure, especially in Chicago. Listen to what other people are doing, and be actively interested in what others are doing. Host musical get-togethers in your house, or a friend’s house. If you really want to get your music heard, you have to step away from the internet and play it for people in any real live setting you can. Once you become interested in what others are doing, it will automatically follow that others will be interested in what you are doing. I was lucky, in the sense that I never had to convince myself to be interested in other musicians. I've just always been naturally very interested in what others are doing. But I strongly believe that if I never showed any interest in anyone else, that I would not be going on tour this summer, completely on my own terms. Some people call it Karma. I just call it common sense and manners!

Chris' band, Them Damn Kids, will be playing at Schubas on Monday, May 3 at 8 PM.

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