Interview: Chicago art-rock band Athens

 

Good luck trying to categorize Athens, the Chicago band playing Friday night at Sam's Saloon in Fountain Square.

Their geeky-white-guy approach to funk and world rhythms calls to mind Talking Heads, but the quieter moments have a smoky blues feel. The arrangements and production on their new independent EP - titled What Would We Wear Were We Werewolves? - are a sort of kitchen-sink psychedelia, alternately funny and spooky. Its closing cut, "The Farthest Song," is a demented epic of a circus march featuring glockenspiel, piano, strings, police whistles, bird sound effects and Dixieland-style horns.

Vocalist-guitarist Andrew Yearick, who fronts the theatrical band's deceptively traditional four-piece lineup, seems to enjoy bewildering his audiences.

"My favorite conversations are usually after shows, with people who hear us for the first time and are trying to come up with an accurate label for us," he says via e-mail. "We listen to all sorts of things. I usually go to the library downtown, and they let you check out six CDs at a time. Once a month or so, I like to pick up CDs from each different section, then we'll just soak it up while we eat dinner, do dishes, etc."

The band members live in a converted church building, where they spent seven months recording a follow-up to their 2007 release, The Philosophers. They hope to make a video to accompany each of the seven songs on the new disc.

"We put the effort into the EP that I think most bands would put into an album," Yearick says. "We really tapped into our childhood memories of old Disney and Looney Tunes cartoons, the kind of really demonstrative music that lends itself well to the visual medium."

Athens' visit to Indianapolis is part of a campaign to hit various Midwestern cities on short weekend jaunts throughout the winter and spring, followed by longer East Coast journeys in the summer. They will play Saturday at Rhino's in Bloomington.

Also on the bill Friday at Sam's are two Indianapolis bands. Pigtail Crooks is an old-school punk quartet with a female vocalist and a sense of humor ("Man Whore" is a signature tune). The Humans, fronted by Musical Family Tree founder Jeb Banner, are playing their first public gig in more than a year, having been focused on an upcoming album.

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