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| May 31, 2006 | 0 Comments


It continues to surprise people that NBC’s “The Office” is a near-identical cop of a British sitcom bearing the same name. Chicago’s Office were likewise born of an idea hatched in London, though their origins and subsequent migration are hardly the stuff of cultural assimilation.

Appearing: 6/16 at Empty Bottle (1035 N. Western) in Chicago.

“I went to London to study sculpture and painting with the idea I was just going to focus on art,” says Detroit native and Office progenitor Scott Masson. “I was doing sculptures out there with office materials like Xerox paper and desks and stuff like that, so I came up with the office concept and it made its way into my music. After being there for about seven months I couldn’t handle it anymore, I was too inspired. So I bought a cheap acoustic guitar and started writing folk-based music. I stopped doing art altogether and focused on music full time.”

It was just the latest permutation of Masson’s artistic aspirations, whose stages frequently end in total abandonment. “I’d given up music before I went to London,” he says. “I was kind of a folk singer for awhile, but I didn’t bring my guitar there. [Music and sculpture] are both equally challenging. It’s a process I can compare to architecture, where there’s a foundation that’s laid and the chords are very important and melody is very important. Usually I’m not aware of what the concept is when I start, and then after a few lines are written the concept starts to gel and it can influence how the music’s laid down and produced.”

One thing he knew he didn’t want to continue was the isolation of being a solo artist. Upon leaving London, he skipped over New York and Detroit and headed to the Windy City for scouting. “I met Tom [Smith, guitar], Alissa [Noonan, bass], and Erica [Corniel, drums] in Chicago. Erica and Alissa were in an all-girl band together called Twat Ride — they had a short run, but I think it was fun while it lasted. I met Erica through the DJ circuit in various dance clubs, she was a DJ and I knew she played drums, so I put two-and-two together: ‘I like dance music *and I need a drummer.’ So I asked Erica, and then she referred me to Alissa. Then Tom, I used to work at a paper store with him and he’s a visual artist as well — so’s Alissa — and we all just decided it would be a good band and we’d get along very well.”

But it wasn’t gangbusters for Office straight away. Masson, who desperately wanted a band, still had to teach himself how to do things himself, but also loosen his grip and understand democracy.

“It was definitely a slow progression,” he admits. “I released two albums as Office before I even met them. I started working on [Q&A] early November of 2004. I was waiting tables at a restaurant here in Chicago and one day flipped out and quit. I went home, took out a $10,000 loan and went on sabbatical to make the record. I was faced with the decision either I give up music and go back to school to get my master’s degree in art, or just work. I figured it would be cheaper to stay at home and record for eight hours a day. I knew that I would need a good nine months or so of good, solid recording to make the kind of record I wanted to make with our band. The first song, ‘Wound Up,’ took about 11 months from start to finish. It was probably six or seven drafts altogether and then I was working on the other songs in that time. But I would come back to it every couple weeks, do another couple days of solid work on it then scrap a whole version and go back to it again.”

Inviting more cooks into this kitchen would only seem to complicate matters further. “I’m still writing the songs and producing,” Masson says, “but [Corniel, Noonan, and Smith] are on the records now and we’re writing songs together. I’m bringing the songs to them, and they develop their parts around whatever I write on acoustic guitar or piano. It’s becoming more of a collaborative organization, and that’s the way I like it. I’ve been waiting to be in a band like this forever, [but] I’ve never been able to find people that I gelled with until now . . .”

— Steve Forstneger

For more on the genesis of Office, pick up the June issue of Illinois Entertainer, available throughout Chicagoland.

Category: Features, Monthly

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