Illinois Entertainer: You are at the center of Girl Group Chicago. What made you start the band?
Shana East: I’m the kind of person who has to have some kind of project going on . . . something to look forward to, something to live for, that sort of thing. This is a band that I always envisioned myself being in. But you can’t really just sit around and wait for some dream band to form and for the members to pick you out of the crowd and be like, “You’re the lead singer.” Then, like a lot of things I do, I sort of get this idea or vision in my head of what I want something to be like and everyone says, “You’re crazy. This is never going to happen.” And then that just makes me work harder. So I held auditions and I thought the band would initially be like half the size, maybe 10, 12 people in it, but the response was so amazing. And so I held auditions last March; it’s now our one-year anniversary and it’s the 20-piece spectacle that it is. Now this is like my full-time job, and I’m the manager of the whole thing. So, it just sort of exploded.
IE: What’s your attraction to girl groups of the ’60s?
SE: I don’t know, I’m just so emo. No, the unrequited love songs with such emotion put into the presentation of them and the singing. I identified with the lyrics.
IE: Would you ever perform “He Hit Me (And It Felt Like A Kiss)?”
SE: It was the very last song on an episode of “Mad Men” like a couple of seasons ago. And I watched the episode again and I was like, “Oh, this song. I love it! It gives me goose bumps.” That’s basically my criteria for adding a song to our list of to-play songs, if it gives me goose bumps. But it’s a controversial topic for the band.
IE: What was the response from the other girls?
SE: Some people are like, “Are you serious?” I don’t know. Obviously, I can tell even in my own life or my own circle of friends that sadomasochistic relationships exist. Maybe it doesn’t have to be so literal – she’s like getting slapped in the face – but I’m saying I definitely identify with the lyrics whether, even though I’ve never been in a physically abusive relationship, but I’m like this is something women could identify with, I think. We’re still debating it.
IE: Do people look at the group and go, “Catfight!” automatically?
SE: That has been said a good 50 times to me now. They’re like, “How do you do it? Oh my gosh, you manage 20 women, whoa!” Like, “Oh God, I wouldn’t want your job.” People will say these things, but I’m like if you’ve got a band together of 20 guys, creative guys who are all strong personalities and opinionated, what do you think that would be like? It’s the same thing. If you get a group of very creative people together there’s gonna be personalities involved regardless of whether they’re male or female. That’s my like retort every time someone says that.
IE: Where do you get your matching ’60s outfits?
SE: We have them made. It took six months. We have like a team of all these awesome, amazing women in all different fields. We have makeup artists, hairstylists, costume designers, seamstresses, choreographers – everyone’s volunteering all of their time for our cause basically.
IE: Why do you think people are willing to donate their time and skills?
SE: I think everyone loves the music; everyone wants to see women in the Chicago music scene succeed. I’m glad we’re getting some attention and I’m really glad the audiences are liking it. I’ve actually been out to a restaurant and like a couple stores and someone recognized me from the band and I was totally like, “What?” I was so embarrassed. I don’t wear makeup and I don’t dress up on a daily basis. Usually it’s someone seeing me in yoga pants, no makeup, my hair up in some clip thing. They’re like, “Are you from Girl Group?” And I’m like “Ahh, don’t look at me!”
IE: My mother always said never leave the house without lipstick on, you’ll never know who you’ll meet. Now you’re a walking business card for the band.
SE: I’m a billboard now. I’m a sandwich board.
Girl Group Chicago appears at Double Door (1572 N. Milwaukee) in Chicago on April 6 with The Goblins, Blizzard Babies, and The Revelettes.