Lovers Lane
Copernicus Center

Interview: Like Pioneers

| May 31, 2012

When it comes to Chicago’s fraternal indie-rock pool, few outfits are in as deeply as Like Pioneers. In fact, it wouldn’t be that far-fetched to suggest the quintet is an underground supergroup of sorts, thanks to former Bound Stems members Bobby Gallivan, Janie Porche and Dan Radzicki, alongside Jesse Woghin (The Narrator, Chin Up Chin Up), and Matt Holland (Love Of Everything, Vacations).

Appearing: June 8th at The Burlington (3425 W. Fullerton) in Chicago.

“I think that’s a misnomer,” says singer/guitarist Bobby Gallivan, humbly shrugging off the compliment. “Like a lot of bands, we’re a band with members who used to be in other bands. We all love each others’ past projects, but a supergroup might be a little overboard. I think I read it once and it made me chuckle. I don’t know how many people really know us outside Chicago, or how many know us in Chicago. We’re going to get out there a little bit this summer and get out of our comfort zone, but I have no concept of how we’re perceived.”

The local and national touring plans Gallivan’s referring to come in support of Like Pioneers’ sophomore outing Oh, Magic (Abandoned Love), for which he has no desire to revive the hectic pace Bound Stems kept from 2002 to 2008. Even if he wanted to be gone for a marathon stretch of dates, he and everyone involved hold down day jobs and are making the move from young adulthood to, well, becoming an actual adult.

“It’s a weird thing we’re trying to do,” he assesses, citing a 28 to 33 age range consumed by marriages and committed relationships (though no one has kids). “It’s not like we’re a dad band getting together on Sundays — drinking and playing music. We want something more sophisticated than that, but we don’t have the capabilities to be full-time like we used to be. Right now we’re trying to balance between full-time touring and having something that’s just a hobby, and we’re starting to succeed a little more. We have established lives and adult things that come with life, but we’ve booked a few weekend tours and are doing stuff closer to how we used to do it: three weeks at a time out of town. We’re trying to strike the balance between maintaining our lives and careers, but also pushing our limits artistically and supporting the record.”

For Gallivan, that means stacking show dates with breaks in his schedule as a Glenbrook North high-school teacher. Despite tricky scheduling, he actually prefers having a more structured life, which naturally feeds his anticipation for when a tour is on the horizon.

“The reality — at least, when I was in Bound Stems — was that it wasn’t sustainable financially and just touring and doing music wasn’t personally fulfilling,” he admits. “In returning to the classroom, my life seems more balanced. I attempt to keep it separate [with my students], but the Internet makes it kind of hard. Some are interested and curious; some think it’s cool and some think it’s weird. A lot of them don’t understand that there’s a culture in which bands tour and play clubs that hold between 300 to 500 people instead of only the ones playing huge stadiums!”

While the tunes contained within Oh, Magic could very well set any intimate setting aflame, the disc also makes for a solid start-to-finish stereo or headphone listen. That’s because there’s not a single ounce of fat on the nine-track, 36-minute set, which is split between quirky pop sensibility and plenty of unexpected sonic explosions, plus rotating vocals by Gallivan, Woghin, and Porche.

“I really like shorter records, which maybe comes from my inability to focus for a long period of time,” Gallivan lets out with a laugh. “Anything over 40 minutes and I start to lose steam. I’ve been a part of records that were a little too long, and I’d say we’ve all been in a band with a record that’s a song or two too long. I like keeping it focused and these songs all felt like they were a part of this collection and go together naturally. It’s a different sound than on [our first record] Piecemeal, maybe a little noisier and dirtier, though I think it’s pop music still. We all enjoy writing pop songs, but come at them in a different way, which might sound a little cliché since everybody probably tries to write in a way that doesn’t sound so typical. We try to attack it from the backside or another angle and try to find hooks in places you wouldn’t ultimately expect them.”

Besides that left-of-center approach to song craftsmanship, the project also benefits from a completely live-in-the-studio recording technique, which took place at Mike Lust’s Phantom Manor. But perhaps the most noticeable difference is the band’s increased chemistry following live dates with Tokyo Police Club, The Head & The Heart, The Thermals, Disappears, and Caveman, which comes across on both writing and playing terrains, in turn, making Oh, Magic feel like a completely fresh chapter.

“[For Piecemeal], I had some songs and I had some friends who had songs, so we just planned a long weekend party of sharing songs and recording together on them,” recalls Gallivan. “There was no real plan to have a band, just to record whatever happened that weekend. When it was over it was a record, and we thought it would be fun to play those songs live. We whittled down the lineup [from eight] to five people, started playing those songs live, and even rewrote some of them for the stage. That led to writing new songs together, which makes us feel like this is our first record because it was a really collaborative process for the first time.”

Given the creative momentum and relative brevity of Oh, Magic, it would seem only fitting that Like Pioneers would already be plotting another trip to the studio. While the band is certainly moving forward and drafting new ideas, past band experience suggests it’s always best to simply walk one step a time.

“I think realistically we’ll probably have to judge [making another record] at the end of this album’s cycle and that’s me being realistic,” cautions Gallivan. “But we’ve already started to write and have every intention of continuing after this unless something happens. At this point in life, you never know, but as of now, we plan to continue doing this. Right now our goal is to do our label proud by supporting it and touring a little bit, and after that within the next year, we’d like to head back into the studio to make 36 more minutes of music.”

— Andy Argyrakis

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