One of the best Chicago rock albums of the past year was made by a band that no longer lives here: the Funs. The duo of Jessee Rose Crane and Philip Jerome Lesicko, who both sing and trade off guitar and drums, recorded September's double LP My Survival at Logan Square's Public House Sound Recordings, but they wrote it in New Douglas, Illinois, a former coal-mining town nearly five hours south of Chicago where they'd moved in 2012 to refurbish a house near Lesicko's parents' place.
"We went into this house and we were like, 'Yeah, we can fix this up, and we can live here for free, and that's how we can tour and book shows and go to Chicago,'" Crane says. That house, which the Funs call Rose Raft, has become a home away from home for Chicago bands, who can count on Crane and Lesicko to share food, conversation, and a place to crash. The Hecks and Coffin Ships are among the friends who've stopped in, and the Sueves and Ego have even recorded there.
The Funs met in Saint Louis and formally started the band in Chicago in 2009—Crane came here for art school in 2004, and in 2005 she convinced Lesicko, who'd dropped out of high school at 17, to follow her. They've been dating off and on since that year, and as of their tour this October, they're engaged.
Crane and Lesicko had a grim time of it in Chicago at first, living in crappy houses and grieving the death of Crane's older brother. "The name of our band, the Funs, came from me being so fucking suicidal and sort of catatonic," Crane says. "Philip was, like, pulling me by my ankles: 'You need to get in the basement with me and play some music—we'll have fun.'"
Despite their name, the Funs don't make buoyant pop. "We're both vulnerable—we're not hiding anything, and we definitely put everything out there and let people take what they will from it," says Lesicko. "It's interesting not being an accessible band, for the most part, and it really gives you perspective on why you're creating something." My Survival swerves between brooding and incandescent; massive, sluggish guitars swarm with firecrackers of fuzz, and the drums shift with the music's mood, sometimes pounding away and sometimes pulling back to provide a light swing. Crane and Lesicko treat their vocals with just enough reverb to make their moans and mumbles bleed into one another. On first listen it's tough to make out most of the words, but the feelings they convey are clear enough—and no matter how dark the songs get, you get the feeling that light is always around the corner.
By the time the Funs moved downstate, they'd helped their corner of the Chicago's DIY scene blossom. In 2011 they started a label, Manic Static, that's since released music by some of the best young rock outfits in town, including garage-pop darlings Twin Peaks, noise hurricane Melkbelly, and indie heartthrobs Ne-Hi. The Funs have stood by their DIY ideals—for their six-week fall tour supporting My Survival, Lesicko did all the booking—but that hasn't prevented them from landing high-profile gigs with the likes of Parquet Courts and the Breeders. Sometimes it's been grueling for them—to afford a practice space, they once lived in a Pilsen apartment where only the kitchen was heated, and at one point they were both juggling two jobs—but their love for making music continues to burn bright. "To make something as a human being that other human beings can relate to—or get high off of, or get them through something—that's what music is to me," Lesicko says.
The Funs return to Chicago to headline the first night of Two Piece Fest Midwest on Friday at Subterranean (see Soundboard), and because it's almost Valentine's Day, I asked Crane and Lesicko to make a themed mixtape for us. Crane picked five songs for the A side, and Lesicko chose another five for the B side. The Reader's Valentine's Day issue is all about complicated relationships, something the Funs know a lot about. As they explain their song choices, it's easy to see how many bumps they've weathered on their own road—but that's part of what makes love work.
Jessee Rose Crane's side:
The Breeders, "Off You"
I couldn't not pick it, because it was the classic "I'm a teenager and brooding and fucked-up and sad and lying on the floor and listening to that song." It took me out of my body. It's one of the most beautiful songs in the world, without even exaggerating—I'm absolutely floored by it. It's insane that we went on tour with the Breeders last year, and that Philip e-mailed Kim Deal and she called us.
It just felt so validating—we've been pushing and pushing and pushing ourselves for years. Off Broadway in Saint Louis was the first show on the tour, and "Off You" was the first song that the Breeders sound-checked. I was sitting up in the balcony, and I just looked over at Philip like, "What the fuck is going on." It's like I had this other out-of-body experience—this once-in-a-lifetime thing that you know is happening right then, and you're able to fully feel it, that's what that song is. Plus it's got the lyrics—talk about love! That's the thing I like about Kim Deal—her lyrics are just so strange and beautiful, and they're abstract but also you know they're about something and you can apply it to parts of your life. "I am the autumn in the scarlet / I am the makeup on your eyes" is one of the most beautiful things to me. I just think it's really heavy in this really lovely way.
I sewed all these dolls. That sounds so fucking weird to say out loud, because it is, but I made these bunnies out of T-shirts, like these rabbits and cats. They have button eyes—they're as creepy as you think—but they're also very sweet and cool looking. I sewed one of these things for each person in the Breeders, and I gave them to them. I was so freaked out—I'm painfully aware of how weird that is—and they fucking loved them. They just lost their shit, and they're just as weird as me.
Sleater-Kinney, "Buy Her Candy"
It's a beautiful song. There's no drums or anything. It almost feels like an afterthought, in a good way. It's like art to me. A song isn't just a fucking song to me, it's a fucking experience—that's how I think about every song. It's exhausting. I really respect when people think about something from beginning to end as something you're experiencing, and that song to me is just this little drop of art—it's really brief and very simple, and I just love that line, "If I buy her candy, will she know who I am." It's just a simple, beautiful sentence. I also just loved candy—I still love candy, but when I was a teenager and liked that song, I had Pixy Stix all over my bed.
I first heard it when I was probably 15. That's around when Philip and I met too. Philip and I met when he was like 14—I don't know, I'm a couple years older than Philip. He was young. He tells me it was love—and I believe it—love at first sight. Like when he saw me with the fuckin' Mohawk, that I was his soulmate. He was a 14-year-old—I wasn't thinking about him in that way, 'cause that would be really weird—but I definitely felt electricity when I met him. There was something where I became very fascinated with him and wanted to spend more time with him. I actually did struggle with those feelings.
We love each other so much, we say it's like E.T. and Elliott—we really feel what the other's feeling, and that's what's so weird about writing music together. It's just so natural.
Kevin Coyne, "Jackie and Edna"
Kevin Coyne was so antimusic, he was anti playing guitar chords. I could really relate to that, because he was this artist and performer first—the ideas of things are way more exciting to me. Ideas are what get me high. I picked "Jackie and Edna" because it's unique and also sort of sad. There's a lot of love in that song, like, "Why can't we go out, darling, like we did before?" And the idea that "Life should be ever open, like an open door." The line where he's like, "They say you're married with children of your own," I think that's such a sad thing—he's talking about life should be open, but the door has closed on that love.
I have so much empathy. That didn't happen to me, but you sort of think about people that you've loved and what they're doing now. That love doesn't really go away, in a good way. Love isn't a thing that disappears—I think it's something that really shapes you.
Not everybody has somebody. Even being with Philip, we've broken up several times and been through hell, so that's fucking part of it. I've had those hell Valentine's Days—that's definitely part of love—and not everybody is going to the movies on Valentine's Day.
Adam Faucett, "Love"
Adam Faucett sings a lot of analogies and metaphors in this song: "Love is like a baby," "Maybe it's more like a temple," and then "Where the history is the sun."
I think he's fucking brilliant, I really do. He's got that voice—he reminds me of, like, Otis Redding, like when he belts that shit out. He's got that "it," sort of the theme of this whole conversation. That magic, Adam has that.
Philip met him at a party—Philip ended up going into this room to get away from the party, and Adam was in there. We never would've crossed paths with him otherwise, but Philip called me—"I met this guy!" He was just so excited.
He's in this whole other music identity with the country stuff. He has his own pigeonholes and his own problems with that, because Adam's a fucking weirdo—you can hear it in the guitar at the end of that song. He's starting to release that Dinosaur Jr., Sonic Youth shit, and then he pulls it back. I think if Adam could have his cake and eat it too, then he would just completely rock out.
Lala Lala, "Anyway"
Lillie West, she's the primary songwriter in Lala Lala, and she's young, smart, and passionate. Manic Static put out their seven-inch—I'm not just trying to promote Manic Static here, it's a really honest thing. When I think about love, Lala Lala comes in, because their songs are personal in that way. Their lyrics have this really relatable quality. "Anyway" is not a love song, but the line "I'm sorry to everybody" was what made me pick that one, because I think it's something everyone can relate to.
Lillie was running this warehouse space in Pilsen. We played a couple really amazing shows there—we played there on New Year's Eve two years ago. It was just a huge space; her roommates ended up not wanting to do it anymore, which is incredibly understandable. Then she started Lala Lala right at that time. I remember hearing a recording and being like, "I really like this."
Philip Jerome Lesicko's side:
Flesh World, "A Sturdy Swiss Hiker"
I'm attracted to bands that have pop elements kind of buried in nastiness. The lyrics are important for me, especially on the topic of Valentine's. The first line is "My heart's a sturdy Swiss hiker." There's so much meaning in songs that you can just create your own dialogue; it's sort of abstract. That's what I like about this song. It's really pretty.
To me it just means being strong; you're having a lot of love but also protecting yourself too. The second line is "Hell-bent on cruel survival," which is also really fucking cool.
Sonic Youth, "Cotton Crown"
Sonic Youth has always been one of my favorite bands, since I was a kid watching skateboarding videos. Going from mall punk, like Rancid shit, to putting on a Transworld video—and Sonic Youth or something like that would be on there—totally changed my perspective on music, and guitar music especially. This song is very fitting for Valentine's Day, and the lyrics are straightfoward but also not. Like "You got a cotton crown, I'm gonna keep it underground," I think that's such a beautiful line. It has so much meaning.
Just having a husband-and-wife band where there wasn't a front person. They were both, to me, very equal, which is exciting, 'cause they both played bass and guitar. It's just a love song. It has that cool noise stuff in the background and basically takes all my favorite elements and squishes them together.
They're one of the only bands that I will say would be an influence on me, especially in our other band Jessee and I started, Swear Beam. It's hard not to play guitar in this weirder, noisy way. When I started playing guitar at 14, I would crank my shitty little amp up as loud as I could and just play these weird chords—just from hearing that music and it being so powerful to me.
Waveless, "Through Meditation"
I saw Waveless in the basement of this Saint Louis record store, Apop. We played with them a few times and slowly have become friends with them. We like to go to Minneapolis; it's a very supportive scene up there. Their record is just really good, and almost all their songs have boy-girl vocal harmony, which is one of my favorite things. It's exciting to have a band that's kind of similar in popularity and just doing their own thing. They're one of my favorite new bands, especially from the midwest.
Last tour we did was six weeks, after the record came out. I booked the whole thing from meeting people in the past and those people suggesting me to other people. I hit up Dustin [McChesney] from Waveless; he booked us an incredible show in a basement with all these kids that really cared about it, bought our records, and talked to us. I made a couple friendships from that—this kid Alex [Uhrich], who's in this band Royal Brats that we're playing with soon. Some of those connections are so incredible that you do have a lifelong friend.
This song, I'm not really even positive what the lyrics are. It's one of those hazy songs. It makes me feel good, the same way other things involving love or positive environments do. It's just very floaty.
Unknown Mortal Orchestra, "Swim and Sleep (Like a Shark)"
Ruban [Nielson], who writes and records this stuff—the way he plays guitar and writes these songs is just so outer spacey. It definitely has elements of funk, jazz, rock, and all that shit. It's just really cool to hear, for me, really different-sounding stuff. Some of it's straight-up funk music. This song, I like the guitar parts, and I think the lyrics are really cool. This band is just feel-good stuff for me, even though some of the lyrics are pretty dark. That's what's also cool about creating a song where the music is uplifting and poppy, and then the lyrics are definitely darker.
That's love, man, especially for me—it's a roller coaster. There's gonna be times where things are dark. Love songs—there are so many of them, and the songs that really stick out to me have a darker edge to 'em. Jessee and I are both very dark humans—it's just from what our lives have been like.
Gun Outfit, "Another Human Being"
The lyrics are very poetic. "Another Human Being" is basically a love song, but it's also got that dark twist on it. Gun Outfit are just one of those bands that are sort of timeless—like, you could listen to this in the 70s and not think differently about it. It's got a country vibe. Some of the lyrics are cool, where you could just read them. Neil Young, when you read his lyrics, some of them are straight-up cheese, where you're like, "Man, this is silly," but the way he delivers them changes them. With Gun Outfit, you just read them and they're so intense. There's a line in this song that I really like: "Is it my free will or mental illness that I love you still." The way [Dylan Sharp] sings it is very cool.
I thought it was a very good last song—it's kind of drifty. [Dylan and Carrie Keith] also do a lot of singing together, which is cool, definitely maybe a theme—half of them are boy-girl vocals, which is something we're doing a little more of for our next record.
Jessee and I have been together for ten years. We've both struggled with mental illness, depression, and anxiety, and then we both really care about and love each other. It's something that I feel like this song is a theme for—it's sort of like he's talking to someone, and there's this inner dialogue. It seems kind of schizophrenic in a way. That's what I really like about his lyrics—or her lyrics—on these recordings. There's this element of paranoia that I really like, just being a paranoid person too and having dealt with a lot of stuff, especially in the earlier years of my life. This is my theme song in a way.