Building the Scene: Tom Schraeder Speaks on Chicago, I Love You

 Building the Scene: Tom Schraeder Speaks on Chicago, I Love You

Chicago musician and tastemaker Tom Schraeder thinks he’s on the verge of something big, and he wants to tell the world. Despite being sidelined by major art markets like NYC, LA or even Nashville and Austin, Schraeder believes in the strength and uniqueness of the Chicago art scene, so much that he built a month-long fest showcasing the best and most diverse work we have to offer. Chicago, I Love You takes place at Lilly’s in Lincoln Park, and covers the entire month of September. We had a chance to talk with Schraeder about his work, his plans and what there is to love about Chicago.

FP: Chicago, I Love You is an excellent event for a lot of reasons. I’m relatively new to Chicago, and somewhat unlearned when it comes to the local scene, so this is a great opportunity to start my education. I’m sure a lot of people feel that way.

TS: Yeah, that’s actually perfect, and part of the reason we set it up.

FP: How did it come to be?

TS: Originally, it was supposed to be a fun record release show for some friends and me, but it started to grow, and we realized it was something much larger. The more people I reached out to, the more people responded eagerly to get behind what we’re doing. With all the positive responses I got, I realized I could and should make it about something much larger than just myself. Now, the CD release will come much later. So, what came from just a fun idea, became a collective event. We’re all in this together now, and it’s a joint effort to build Chicago.

Basically, we don’t appreciate that Chicago is referred to as second or even third to big art markets like New York and LA or even Nashville. Maybe it’s because the city is so spread out, and based entirely upon these neighborhoods, that its hard to get a center for our art, but that also makes it that much better. So, now, we’re taking art from all these different neighborhoods and heritages and showcasing it in one central place, at Lilly’s. It’s a genre-less fest, that’s more showing off what the city can do and create that community.

FP: Awesome, well it’s definitely appreciated. When you say we are all doing this, who else is part of the we?

TS: Of course the artists and myself, but there’s more to it than just that. So far, I’ve been the one doing the booking, but I have a lot of people assisting and investing such as my family and friends, the Pritzker Family, and the scene in general. Great contributions across the board. Everyone realizes that an event like this exists to build the scene, and so many of the artists have understood that compensation isn’t key, and it’s more for the community. All those artists and friends deserve the same recognition, because that’s how the event was conceived and is carried out. If I didn’t have all these people and bands, it would just have been me alone at Lilly’s with my acoustic. I’m happy to say that that isn’t the case. It’s truly the art scene of Chicago throwing all of this together.

FP: It’s about time someone decided to invest in what Chicago has to offer.

TS: Exactly. I think we need it here. I hope that it can inspire other artists to just do it as well. We don’t need these massive festivals or these massive venues to just put something special on. All it takes is a ton of emails, Facebook messages, phone calls, and it just happened. Once it began, it couldn’t stop, really. People were starting to get in touch with me, and it continued to spread. It’s just that easy. I think all artists across the nation should try doing something like this. Let’s bring arts together, right?

Now, there’s an industry that just dominates everything that happens within music, and frankly, I’m tired of it, and I think all of Chicago is as well. For example: Brooklyn has had such a beautiful scene, that has international recognition and respect, and Chicago never has gotten anything like that. Right now, I think Chicago is the most unique scene in the country. I’ve done a ton of touring, and every scene has something special about it, but Chicago is the most exciting to me right now. We have such a diverse sound, that somehow all reflects Chicago. I don’t know how to describe it really, but I think you’ll experience it at the fest. Every genre somehow sounds similar.

FP: I definitely agree with that. There’s a “Chicago Sound,” just like there’s a “Chicago Feel.” Although I’m somewhat new to Chicago, I am well versed in it’s culture, and the art to come out of the city definitely holds that same grounded feel that you get when you’re here, more so than in other cities. Which is noteworthy because of Chicago’s size. It’s imaginable to think that a place this large, things would get muddied and convoluted, but there is a universal groundedness to life and art here.

TS: Absolutely. I’m really glad to hear that it is that apparent, since you’ve just arrived. This is my hometown, so I’m overly zealous and prideful of the city, but I’m also extra critical of the scene because of that. It took me seven or eight years of trying to experience all the different parts of the city to really grasp that feeling. I was and am in love with Brooklyn. But finally, I am in love with the scene that my hometown has produced.

FP: You’ve gone through all the steps to plan and book the artists, now you have the hurdle of promoting such an event, which in many ways, is even more of a challenge. How are getting the word out?

TS: Basically, anyone who I have had any connection with, even the slightest, including anyone who has written about me or that I read on a regular basis, I personally reached out and told them what I am trying to do here. I’ve basically told everyone what this event it, and how special it could be with just a little more help. I’m not really into interviews, I’ve been kind of shy with that sort of thing, but since there’s an overwhelming amount of support from journalists and bloggers around the event, I figured I would do my duty and discuss it as much as possible. All of these artists coming together to represent one thing, which is basically meeting one another, is a great story to tell, and fortunately others agree.

In my opinion, blogs and publications are essentially the new record labels, and it’s more than apparent that we’re heading in that direction. Getting to know the actual bloggers and journalists is important to artists of all disciplines.

I hope Chicagoans can feel like we’re getting the respect we deserve, instead of artists feeling obligated to go to LA or NY. Things are unique here, and because the industry isn’t here, it makes me more excited. We have the opportunity to build our own industry. And that’s possible through journalists like you. Together, we can bring global recognition to the Chicago scene.

FP: I am with you entirely on that. It is hard, though. Chicago is indeed splintered, likely because of its size and geography. Being an amateur musician myself, I find it’s even hard sometimes to find open mics, maybe because I find the size so daunting. It shouldn’t be, it really shouldn’t be a challenge. So, centralizing and starting that base that you’re doing is a great opportunity for our city.

TS: Totally. I mean, there are already things that I would do differently in the set up, but we really only had five or six weeks. But I’m hoping that this is a catalyst to bring a bunch of that stuff to the surface. All the subcultures can start rising to a prominence above their insular groups.

There’s a really great loft scene in Chicago. And I’ll bring you around; it’s something that’s really special to see. That scene is what inspired me to do with the fest. Basically, on any given night across the city, there will be something like five or six acts in every genre imaginable that get together and play in a series of lofts. And that’s what I really wanted to do with the fest. That underground scene has tremendous potential to break out, but I don’t think people care to talk about it outside of their groups. So, I’m trying to do something similar that everyone can see and enjoy. Of course, we don’t have the budget for fliers and posters and social media promotion and everything, but we’re trying to build it from the ground up, like the loft scene.

FP: We stand with you on that, and anything we can do to help. What shows are you most pumped about? There’s so much there that it’s hard to even pick where to begin.

TS: Honestly, I’m looking forward to all of it, but there are some standout days. The Windy City Story Slam (9/10) will be awesome. Amazing writers and authors will get together to talk about the city and read their pieces. You’ll see, there’s a serious bi-polar love for Chicago from Chicagoans that is real, I don’t know if it’s from the extreme weather or what. I’ve had it my entire life, and I know pretty much every other Chicagoan does too.

As far as music goes, there’s so many nights. The last night of the month we’ll be going from 1 PM to close, so it’s a full day of music. That should be a blast. And a few days before, Glass Lux (9/28) are playing who are really great. They almost have a “Brooklyn Feel” to them, but they certainly have a Chicago angst to it. But there’s just so many, you can’t pick just one.

Really excited as a whole, and watching it come together is awesome. The art, provided by Black Cloud Gallery in Pilsen is already up and looks great. Also, the last Monday of the month we’ll be playing Act Naturally, a film about two sisters who inherited a nudist colony, and the director JP Riley, a Chicagoan, will be there, so we’re real pumped for that one. It has serious recognition so far, and it won the LA International Film fest, so should be great.

FP: Will you be performing?

TS: Yeah, for sure. I’m in the process of learning my entire catalogue, so I’ll play something like 100 songs over the course of the weekend, from my band, acoustic project, hip hop project, ambient project. So I’ll be playing quite a bit,

FP: You’re just as diverse as the fest.

TS: Yeah man, fuck genre.

FP: Thanks for talking with us, Tom. Best of luck with the fest.

Peter Lillis is Managing Editor of Frontier Psychiatrist. He will cover Chicago, I Love You through the duration of the fest. For more information on the fest, visit Tom’s blog.

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