File 13 Stays Open/Andrew Bird Learns to Wing It/Postscripts | Post No Bills | Chicago Reader

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File 13 Stays Open/Andrew Bird Learns to Wing It/Postscripts

Label Savers/Justin Sinkovich and Stephen Schmidt

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File 13 Stays Open

Justin Sinkovich, singer and guitarist for the noisy postpunk quartet Atombombpocketknife, learned before almost anyone else that File 13 Records was about to shut down. The Philadelphia-based label--which introduced the world to hard-rocking Philly locals the Burning Brides, as well as pop groups Matt Pond PA and Lenola and the arty combo Need New Body--had been using Epitonic.com, the ambitious music Web site Sinkovich cofounded in 1999, for on-line distribution. When File 13's Matt Werth (who plays in the band Aspera) and his partners, Brian Sokel (AM/FM) and Adam Goren (Atom & His Package), decided last summer to close up shop and concentrate on other projects, Sinkovich took over the label and moved it to Chicago.

Sinkovich's experience with Epitonic had convinced him of the need for more independent imprints. "It seemed like there were a lot of great bands that hadn't been able to find labels, and people often suggested that I should start [one]," he says, but he'd been discouraged by financial and logistical hurdles. File 13 already had a catalog with dozens of titles and a distribution deal with Sacramento's prestigious Mordam Records, a company so democratic in spirit it consults with each label that it works with before adding a new one. And Sinkovich had personal connections with the label--it had released the first ABPK single, as well as records by his first band, Thumbnail. In fact, Thumbnail drummer David Burns had headed up the label when it was launched as a collective operation in Little Rock in 1989. (It moved to Philadelphia in 1996, when Werth took the reins.) "It's an important part of my music history, and I'm pretty proud of some of those records," Sinkovich says.

Sinkovich assumed control of label operations last fall, along with Stephen Schmidt, another File 13 (and Thumbnail) vet. The new owners re-pressed some titles, redeveloped the label's Web site, and scouted for bands. The latest incarnation of File 13 will kick off on April 15 with the release of the eponymous second album from local instrumental unit Sterling, who'll play a record-release show Saturday, April 12, at the Fireside Bowl. This fall the label will put out new albums from three artists: Need New Body (the only band from its Philadelphia roster on the current release schedule), local electronic-rock band TRS-80, and Suicide keyboardist Martin Rev.

Andrew Bird Learns to Wing It

Violinist Andrew Bird had big plans for his fifth album, and they included building a studio to record it in. The old barn he'd chosen (located on farmland owned by his parents near Elizabeth, in western Illinois) wasn't much to look at. "You could see the grass coming through the walls, and it was filled with raccoon shit," he says. But in fall 2001, with the help of his father and a local carpenter, Bird started rehabbing the rickety structure. "I wanted to make the next record in my own space and create that luxury of time to flesh out ideas," he says. "I wanted to make my everyday existence, for working and living, more pleasant, more in my control."

The past two years were transitional for Bird. Early in 2002 he bid farewell to Rykodisc, which had released his last three albums, and a few months later he decided to part ways with his backing quartet, Bowl of Fire. "I couldn't sustain it anymore on the road," he says. "It was also time to make a new record, and I wanted to try something else."

Last summer he was finally ready to get to work on that record. He'd bought a new computer, an assortment of mikes, and Pro Tools, and he spent ten days recording in the sweltering heat with engineer Mike Napolitano, drummer Kevin O'Donnell, and New Orleans multi-instrumentalist Pat Sansone. But Bird wasn't happy with the results--the all-digital recording lacked the warmth and clarity he was used to getting with analog equipment.

Meanwhile Bird was touring with O'Donnell and singer-guitarist Nora O'Connor. Last October, in the midst of a southeastern jaunt, he decided on a whim to book a couple of days at the Beech House in Nashville with producer Mark Nevers (Lambchop, Will Oldham). An EP, he figured, would tide his audience over until he could get around to finishing the album. The trio laid down basic tracks for four songs, and Bird was pleased--the sessions had been too short for his obsessive perfectionism to take over. "If I'm in a studio too long, I start to forget who I am," he says. "I start thinking about things too much." A month later he returned to the Beech House for a week and a half, tracking six more songs, adding string flourishes, and recording his introspective vocals.

The new album, Weather Systems (which will be put out on Grimsey, the tiny indie run by his manager, Andrea Troolin), is no throwaway. Though it's moodier and more atmospheric than his previous work, Bird's serpentine pop remains as elegantly melodic as ever. The delicately subdued "First Strain" combines Morricone-esque whistling and waltzing acoustic guitar; the Latin-flavored "I" uses multitracking and an octave pedal to make Bird's violin sound variously like a distorted guitar, a string section, and a fuzzed-out bass; and the title track floats his effeminate voice, which sounds a lot like Thom Yorke's, atop a sumptuous orchestral setting.

O'Donnell and O'Connor will occasionally accompany Bird when he performs Saturday night at the Old Town School of Folk Music, but he'll soon embark on a lengthy solo tour, where he'll try to re-create the album's arrangements with a sampler. "If I've got an idea that day, I can do it," he says of the freedom of solo performance. "I don't have to rehearse." On the other hand, he says he's "already feeling anxious to get back to the more physical, adrenaline-type show, and by fall I think I'll be looking to put a four-piece together." Although Weather Systems doesn't come out until Tuesday, it's already been picked up by Ani DiFranco's Righteous Babe label, which will reissue it in June. Bird has also finished half of his next record, working with O'Donnell, O'Connor, and bassist Ryan Hembrey at several studios here and in Nashville.

Postscripts

Since the summer of 2001 independent promoter Derron Swan (d/b/a House Call Entertainment) has been booking live music at the Beat Kitchen, raising the venue's profile with a steady stream of national garage and punk bands as well as the occasional country or pop act. But starting this weekend he'll move his base of operations to Wicker Park's Subterranean. "I can't sell the number of tickets I need to cover the [artists'] guarantees," he says. Not only is he booking future shows at the North Avenue club, he's also relocating a slew of shows that he'd already booked into the Beat Kitchen.

Although the Beat Kitchen's legal capacity is 118, nearly three times that number had been crowded in on occasion. But since the deadly events at E2 and in Providence, the club, like all others, has had to keep a strict eye on capacity violations. Concerts with honky-tonker Junior Brown and garage rocker Holly Golightly (see Spot Check), originally booked at the Beat Kitchen, have been moved to Subterranean. Subterranean's legal capacity is 250. Michael V. Galassini has taken over booking at Beat Kitchen.

The Empty Bottle will host its annual "customer appreciation night" on Sun-

day, May 4, with a show headlined by modern mod Ted Leo. Tickets will set you back a penny each; they go on sale Saturday, April 5, at 10 AM at emptybottle.musictoday.com.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Marty Perez.

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