International Pop Overthrow
Until fairly recently, Jim Elkington's grandest musi-cal ambition had been "to get together with a really good songwriter." But earlier this month he released one of the more notable local pop records so far this year--the Zincs' Moth and Marriage, on which he wrote all the songs and played all the instruments.
Three years ago, when the 30-year-old London native was playing drums in a noisy rock band called Elevate and guitar in a moody pop combo called Sophia, he came to Chicago to attend a friend's wedding. There he met his future girlfriend, Melissa Nusbaum, and he suddenly found himself in town for three months at a time--the maximum one can stay in the U.S. without a visa. He says he became a singer-songwriter in those stretches. "I was living in a place where I didn't know anyone and I had no history," says Elkington. "It freed me up to be here." He began writing and recording demos, and by 1999 he'd burned CD-Rs of two albums' worth of material. "I made them with finished artwork," he says, "the theory being if people liked it I could say, 'Oh, it's my album,' and if they didn't like it I could say, 'Oh, it's just a demo.'"
On his fifth visit to Chicago, in early 2000, he was detained for a few hours at customs, and realized he wouldn't be able to pass as a mere tourist much longer. "If they get the feeling that you're spending more time there than at home, and if they can make an argument that you're living here, they reserve the right to kick you out," he says. By that time he'd met and become friends with Nick Macri, who plays bass in Heroic Doses and Euphone and runs the small indie label Ohio Gold. Macri offered to release an album, which afforded Elkington a good shot at being granted an O-1 visa, which allows individuals of "extraordinary ability" to stay in the States for up to three years. He returned to London late last summer to wait for his application to be processed; he got his visa in January.
Elkington rerecorded a dozen of his best songs with engineer Greg Norman in his basement 16-track studio. The recording is stripped-down and direct; Elkington's warm, understated singing, which will probably provoke comparisons to lonely genius Bill Callahan of Smog, elucidates modest melodies against Velvet Underground-esque strumming and crisp drumming. He puts the lyrics across with a certain bashfulness that probably corresponds with his initial reluctance to sing at all, but the intimate simplicity is quite appealing.
Perhaps hoping he'd be less isolated someday, Elkington decided to give his project a band name: the Zincs. "I think that the main reason was so that I could keep my options open," he says. "It's like having a company name that acts as a catchall for my recorded output. If at some point it feels right to expand into a full-time band, it'll still be the Zincs, instead of 'Jim Elkington featuring Steve Howe.'"
While he twiddled his thumbs in London, he began thinking about who he might actually get to play in a live version of the Zincs. The current lineup includes Macri on bass, the Ancient Greeks' Nathaniel Braddock on guitar, and the Poster Children's Howie Kantoff on drums. They'll give their second local performance on Friday, August 24, at the Empty Bottle, opening for Pinback (see Critic's Choice). Elkington also hopes he can persuade his busy bandmates to embark on an east-coast tour later this year.
Czech It Out
Yorkville, a small town about half an hour southwest of Aurora on the Fox River, hosts the second annual CS Rockfest USA this weekend. The event, organized out of Newhall, California, features seven bands, all but one--Chicago's Ravenhouse--hailing from the Czech Republic or Slovakia. Most of the eastern European rock we get to hear in the city tends toward the experimental side of things--from the legendary Plastic People of the Universe to relative upstarts Uz Jsme Doma--but the lineup here is unabashedly middle-of-the-road. The Czech band Buty does a cover of Paul Simon's "Homeless," from Graceland, and if not for the language differences, it would be hard to distinguish Slovakia's Elan from Supertramp. Also on the bill are Kabat (hard rock), Arakain (metal), Franta Nedved & Druhe Podani (folk rock), and Indigo & Peter Nagy (80s-ish rock). The festival is Saturday, August 25, and Sunday, August 26, at the Polish National Alliance Youth Camp at 10717 River Road in Yorkville; the $100 ticket includes soccer, swimming, miniature golf, and a beauty pageant judged by band members. For more info call 805-509-3033 or visit www.csworldnet.com.
This weekend two new jazz commissions will get their premieres in local parks. On Saturday, August 25, in Ogden Park, the second annual Englewood Community Jazz Festival presents saxophonist and composer Ernest Dawkins & the Live the Spirit Englewood Jazz Band with guest reedist Roscoe Mitchell. They'll perform The Eagles and the Castle: A Vision of Englewood, which was funded by Dawkins's three-year Meet the Composer grant. And on Sunday, August 26, in Chinatown's Ping Tom Memorial Park, bassist and composer Tatsu Aoki will premiere Rooted: Origins of Now, which "[traces] the rhythms, melodies, and spirit of Chicago's Asian Pacific communities." The two-hour piece, composed at the behest of the Chicago Composers Project, will also be performed on Saturday, September 1, at the Chicago Jazz Festival. For more information call 312-427-1676. Both events are free; see jazz listings for times and addresses.
In the annual music issue of the Oxford American, the respected southern literary magazine, Bill Clinton is interviewed about his musical tastes and experiences. Most of his responses are predictable--B.B. King is his favorite southern musician--but one was a shocker to anyone who heard the saxophone-playing prez schmooze through "Heartbreak Hotel" on Arsenio: "Q: What would people be surprised to know that you listen to? A: Brotzmann, the tenor sax player, one of the greatest alive."
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jim Newberry.