Forty Piece Choir
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Forty Piece Choir

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""Inspired by family: Chicago’s Forty Piece Choir""

You’d think the guys from Forty Piece Choir had been listening to old Red Hot Chili Peppers CDs when they selected the title of their latest three-track EP, “Hope Love Faith Dreams Giving Sacrifice.”

Vocalist/guitarist Dan Dominiak said the title is essentially a series of positive themes found through-out the band’s upcoming full length CD, “The Profound Nature of Life,” due out early next year. The new CD from the Windy City sextet, which will perform at 9:30 tonight at Bell’s Eccentric Café, 355 E. Kalamazoo Ave., touches on all things positive, including the growing families of the band members, Dominiak said during a phone interview from Chicago last week.

One of the tracks on the EP, which will be available at tonight’s show for $3, was written by front-man Dana Okon’s then 6-year old daughter Zoey Ocean. The single, “Blue Guitar,” is made up of two simple lines courtesy of Zoey.

All I want for my birthday is a blue guitar from you/Make it a blue guitar and I’ll play a song for you.

“(Okon) said, “Hey, I’ve got this song Zoey was singing around the house and I wrote music to it. I think we should try it,” Dominiak said.

They did and “we were amazed” by the song, Dominiak said. As for the upcoming LP, the EP barely maintains a single genre through any of the three horn-heavy rockabilly/jazz/blues/rock songs, so expect the full length version to touch every base and then some.

“It does make it difficult to interpret what we really are,” Dominiak said. “We’re all all those things and more…We’re like the lost gems of musicians. We like so many genres, we create something that’s uniquely our own.”
- Kalamazoo Gazzette's Ticket (by John Liberty)


""Faith, Hope, and Family Ties.""

On first impression, the name "Forty Piece Choir" is a bit of a misnomer. With a current lineup of six members, there are far from forty pieces in this band. "Our band is actually only six members," guitarist and founding band member Dan Dominiak says, "So that always throws people for a loop, which is probably a good thing and a bad thing. At least it attracts attention. The number in our band name doesn't really signify anything. I think the inspiration for the name comes from church, or maybe a choir of children would be an example of what we were thinking of. There's a pretty enormous strength behind a choir, and the more people, the merrier."

"There was a time where I would go to practice and I would go across the street to this African-American gospel church where it was all black people. I was the only white guy there," lead singer Dana Okon recalled. "They were really cool, though, they were so nice. I remember watching them sing. It wasn't for fame or fortune or anything. It was all very humble, and it was all for God ... that's what it's all about. Our band name has that kind of thinking behind it."

When asked who he could share the stage with, Okon unequivocally replied, "Jesus Christ ... because that's a powerful figure. Music can be done for certain reasons, or it can be done for deeper ones. It’s more than just a power; it's about love, and you don't have to play an instrument or sing to get that across."

"It's not as though we're a Christian rock band or anything like that," Dominiak adds. "But, we do believe in positive vibes and are very family-oriented. We respect our families, and those inspirations make us the band that we are."

Family is a huge part of the band's creative and psychological orientation. Okon's children provide influence and material for his songwriting, and he adds, "Without my family, I don't think I would even be sane enough to play music and vice-versa. It's like a balancing act. It's very depressing to leave my family [to tour], but as soon as I go onstage for the band's set, I feel like I'm flying for real. It's an amazing feeling to perform."

Dominiak says his musical influences include Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix, also citing band favorites like Wilco and the Jesus & Mary Chain and says, "The Beatles and Chuck Berry are the reason I play music ... musicianship would be the major attraction [to them], but perseverance in art, not necessarily just looking at music as a commodity. People back then used to make art, make great music and not have any expectations about how well it might sell."

"Our music is very abstract; it's always changing. There are no formulas, no set way of thinking. We have kind of a band philosophy to be positive, to do good things," Okon said. "We just try to get out there and present the soul of the music and get the energy up."

Forty Piece Choir's upcoming show at the Canopy Club this Wednesday marks their fourth visit to the Champaign-Urbana music scene. Dominiak and Okon had similar impressions of the difference between the local scene and that of the band's native Chicago. "Chicago is getting tougher," Okon comments. "In Champaign, there are so many young people, and I think college kids really listen to music, and their minds are a lot more open to things that aren't so corporate. Their minds are fresh and new, and so they are more open to ideas that are unusual and not just force-fed."

"I think in Champaign, there's maybe a bit more solidarity within the musical community," Dominiak observed, saying, "I guess pretty much any band might have that perspective of another outside city or town by being welcomed to play there."

Although they love their home scene, Okon remarks, "Sometimes the Chicago scene gets a little jaded. We've seen so many bands in Chicago, so it can get a little bit stale sometimes. I think Chicago's great, but I'm glad to go to Champaign ... sometimes you're accepted in other places more than your own home because you're new; you're fresh."

Both Okon and Dominiak were presented with the challenge of summing up their band's sound and attitude in three words, and "spiritual" was the one they had in common. Dominiak's other picks were "positive" and "artistic," while Okon went with "abstract" and "hopeful."

"There's a philosophy behind the band where we try to be positive and to do and sing about good things, such as love, God, positivity, energy, things like that. The band is more like a family. It's definitely not a business band."

"Forty Piece Choir is a pretty positive band," Dominiak agreed. "Anyone can just take out some positivity in the music or the message. The lyrics should have something good to say. As far as performance goes, we try to put on a great show and be as entertaining as possible."
- Buzz Magazine (by Susan Schomburg)


""Check It Out: Here's a Choir that truly sings.""

The band name 40 Piece Choir is a definite misnomer, even though this Chicago outfit has seen enough turnover and guest artists to make it seem possible that one day, it might indeed live up to its name.

“We’re pretty much on our 10th or 11th version of this band,” says guitarist and founding member Dan Dominiak. “It’s always constantly growing. It’s pretty much what this band stands for.”

The recruitment of new blood enables the band to have a broad range of influences. The most recent album, “Tennessee” (Cooked County Records), has alt-country, rock, jam band, folk and blues elements. “We’re basically a band that loves all music,” Dominiak says. “We’re just looking to do something that is ultimately always creative and has a good, positive message.”

Singer / guitarist Dana Okon, who writes most of the songs for the band (currently a quintet), wants 40 Piece Choir’s music to connect with audiences on subjects such as the “energy of love and the beauty of life.”

Okon’s lyrics might draw on life experiences and spirituality, but they ultimately are part of a collaborative creative process. “Everyone puts their soul into it and it just sort of takes off by itself,” Okon says. “It’s more art than music to me. [We’re} not worried about what other people are going to say.”

Dominiak agrees that 40 Piece Choir’s goal is not to write and perform one hit song that will grab everyone’s attention. “Our overall emphasis is just trying to create music that just has its own energy,” he says.

It’s an energy that makes for a good live show, says Billy Giannopoulos, program director of Hostage Radio, a Sunday night program on WDRP-FM 88.3 that follows Chicago’s music scene.

Giannopoulos also admires the band’s willingness to stick with it, playing its music for the love of it. “They’re a band that a lot of Chicago acts should look up to,” he says. “There’s been a lot of changes in the band but they keep coming back with more and more powerful songs and records.”
- Chicago Tribune (by Jenn Q. Goddu)


"Tennessee (Review)"

There are actually nowhere near forty people in Forty Piece Choir -- just five core members, plus another eight supplementary players. That's enough to supplement their basic jam-into-psychedelic-country sound with non-typical instruments like oboe, trumpet, a few saxes and a string section, but it doesn't account for the largeness of their sound. On the dramatic coda to "Lemon Lime", for instance, you could almost believe there are 40 of them, swelling the tentative melody of the song's initial measures into a juggernaut-sized chorus, crashing with cymbals and fat with vocal harmonies. Yet in other places, such as the delicate Ben Harper-esque closer "Flowers", the choir is stripped to its purest essence: the tightly fused voices of Kelly Kruse and Dana Okon and a strummed acoustic guitar.

Tennessee is the group's third full-length, following on 2002's Face Your Fear, which our editor called "a glorious hodge-podge of bewildering but ultimately complementary influences." The Chicago-based band continues to take inspiration from a wide variety of sources, with Deadhead jams alongside Elephant 6-ish psychedelia, Page-esque guitar solos next to Steely Dan keyboard lines. There's a certain amount of country audible in the slacked out 12/8 title track and the honky tonk shuffle of "Heart of Love", but it's counterbalanced by a spacious psyched-out seventies spirit. "Lemon Lime’s keyboard line, for instance, would fit well on a late Pink Floyd record, though it floats luminously over the twang of guitar. The guitar work -- that's Okon and Dan Dominiak -- is particularly good. The title track's slow, hard-rocking solo and the heated, Zeppelin-ish shreds of "Whistler" light gentle songs on fire, while "Money’s mediations evoke jam-godfather Greg Allman. Kruse's Fender Rhodes is also quite effective, a cool, crystal clear counterpart to the band's warmer vibe.

This is a spiritually engaged band, concerned with god and souls and the corrosion of materialism, yet not overly weighted down by these issues. Religion is a part of daily life here, just as music is, and the two are matter-of-factly, unceremoniously entwined. The lyric to "A-Frame House", one of Tennessee's most joyful tracks, sums up the band's approach when it says "Say what you say / When you sing / While you pray."

"Keep on Keepin' On", with its shuffling Western swing beat, gets at the heart of things -- Forty Piece Choir's spiritual uplift -- when Okon sings, "I've listened to the choir / no egos / just free love / no fire." Guitar solos without ego, biblically relevant lyrics without preaching, heck, an oboe solo without pretension -- it's not easy to accomplish this kind of stuff. Forty Piece Choir just make it look that way.
- Splendid Webzine (Jennifer Kelley)


"Face Your Fear (Review)"

By now, it's fairly obvious that the Elephant 6 collective has gone the way of the dinosaur -- that is, all of its bands are either dead or desperately trying to evolve into something else. However, if the remaining members of the collective got together to record a spectacular swan song of a record, it might sound a lot like Face Your Fear - a glorious hodge-podge of bewildering but ultimately complementary influences. Forty Piece Choir’s roster is actually a far more manageable seven musicians (one of whom used to write for us), but that’s still a lot of players by conventional rock band standards. A lot of musicians musicians, logically, means a lot of different ideas and tastes tossed into the creative process, Forty Piece Choir does a remarkably good job of boiling its members’ input down to a coherent whole. Beyond the classic reference points (The Beatles, the Beach Boys), you'll detect lazy country-rock, jangly orch-pop, a distinct debt to psychedelia, Grateful Dead-style jamming and noodling, fuzzed-out proto-indie rock, a fondness for classic Nintendo soundtracks and even some seventies-style rock opera action. It shouldn’t be intelligible or even palatable, but it is, largely because the band’s songwriting reach doesn’t exceed their grasp; they’ve clearly learned that more ideas doesn’t mean necessarily mean better music, and they don’t overburden their songs. “One Electric Revolution,” for instance, leads with a slow, rhythmic layered-vocal verse straight out of Hair or even Godspell, then offsets the deliberate rhythm with a quintessential indie-rock freakout ending. It’s a delicious juxtaposition of styles, but too many artists wouldn’t stop there – they’d add breakbeats, or pedal steel, or possibly both, sacrificing the song’s simple charm in the process. Forty Piece Choir seem to know when to quit, although they seldom follow a simple route. “Reincarnated’s” country jam-band rock stacks its layered guitars to the ceiling, but leaves room for banjo, pedal steel and nasal-sounding keyboard; the song doesn’t seem bloated because the instruments are all serving the same idea. “Bull By Horns” pulls another rhythmic shift, kicking loose from its slow-moving orchestral-pop verses into maniacally twangy hoedown choruses that subside as quickly as they started (it sounds a little like a Mojave 3 track cross-bred with a Meat Puppets chrus). The horn-enhanced pop of “Incredible Man and So-So Girl” conceals an eleventh-hour switcheroo – a glorious, pastoral coda with assertive beats and electronic accents. “Ray X’s” flat-out weirdness works a Flaming Lips angle, complete with discordant noodling at the line-ends, while the schizophrenic “Mustard” begins as a none-too-subtle challenge to the Mendoza Line, then morphs into a Rick Wakeman-style laser-show monstrosity, complete with bombastic synthesizers, chunky riffing and lots of effects. How could you not love that? And how could you not respect a band that can put a song like “Mustard” on the same album as their brooding folk/orchestral title track?

Even so, the best thing about Forty Piece Choir isn’t their ideas, or their restraint, but something far simpler: they all sing. They don’t all sing on every song, of course, but everyone does a little bit of singing, and many tracks feature multiple lead vocals. True group vocals are increasingly unusual these days, and they give Face Your Fear a bit of an edge – call it a sense of community, as corny as that sounds. All those voices together just sounds nice – it’s old-fashioned but satisfying, in a feel-good sort of way.

The band’s sometime schizophrenic mixture of ideas won’t be everyone’s bag, but if you've been jonesing for a new Neutral Milk Hotel record, fresh Apples in Stereo, more Minders or a pinch more Of Montreal, you'll find it all on Face Your Fear -- and then some."
- Splendid Webzine (by George Zahora)


Discography

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….
Title: The Profound Nature of Life / Label: Cooked County Records (2007)
[4th Full Length C.D.]
………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….
Title: Hope Love Faith Dreams Giving Sacrifice…/ Label: Cooked County Record (2005)
[3 Song E.P. featuring songs from “The Profound Nature of Life”]
………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….
Title: Tennessee / Label: Cooked County Records (2004)
[3rd Full Length C.D.]
………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….
Title: 3 Foot High Recording Studio Inc. / Label: 3Ft. High Recording Studio Inc. (2003)
[Compilation C.D. featuring the track “Money”]
………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….
Title: Face Your Fear / Label: Blue Room Studio (2002)
[2nd Full Length C.D.]
………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….
Title: songs from forthcoming album Face Your Fear / Label: Cooked County Records (2002)
[3 Song E.P. featuring songs from Face Your Fear]
………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….
Title: Black Rabbit Records “Stereophonic Vol. I” / Label: Black Rabbit Records (2001)
[Compilation C.D. featuring the track “Calliope”]
………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….
………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….
Title: Calliope / Label: Blue Room Studio (2001)
[C.D. Single]
.................................................................................................................................................
Title: Q101 Local 101 Volume 2 / Label: Q101 Records (2000)
[Compilation C.D. featuring the track “Snail On A Star”]
………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….
Title: Salud / Label: Cooked County Records (1999)
[1st Full Length C.D.]
………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….
Title: Forty Piece Choir / Label: Cooked County Records (1998)
[6 Song Demo E.P.]
………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

Photos

Bio

On their ten year journey through the Chicago music scene, Forty Piece Choir continues to create multifarious music with unbridled spirit. By embracing the charisma of its members, they merge Rock-N-Roll, Indie, Psychedelic, Blues, Pop, Country, Rockabilly, and Folk genres to capture harmonious arrangements of dynamic brilliance. The heart of Forty Piece Choir is its undaunted will to create artistic music, often drawing comparisons to influences that include the Beatles, Velvet Underground, 13th Floor Elevators, Flaming Lips, Pink Floyd, and Jesus and Mary Chain. Lyrically optimistic, their words transcend the philosophy of life, love, family, faith, hope, happiness, and even compassion for death.

With a performance at House of Blues, Forty Piece Choir has released their fourth full length compact disc “The Profound Nature of Life” abroad on its Cooked County Records imprint. Exclusively available through CD Baby, the new record was recorded by the band and mixed/mastered by Mike Hagler of King Size Sound Labs (Wilco, OK Go, Neko Case, The Reputation). Reverberating 50’s Rock-N-Roll artists such as Chuck Berry and Little Richard, Forty Piece Choir crafts their rawest and most upbeat collection of compositions while retaining their eclectic array of musical inspirations.

In 1997 Forty Piece Choir formed when Dana Okon and Dan Dominiak met in the south side coffee house folk music circuit. With the addition of rhythm section Ryan DeYoung and Mike Boyle of local pop punk favorites Winepress; Kelly Kruse soon brought her angelic voice and melodic keyboards to the fold. The band aspired to create a new blend of artistic music that advocated optimism and positive ideals.

Bringing in Chuck “Shaft” Gonwa on bass and Eric Hofmeister on the drums by 1998, home recording sessions began with up and coming producer/engineer Edgars Legzdins (Plane, Blue Room Studio) whom would soon join the ranks of Forty Piece Choir. In 1999 the sextet released their debut full length compact disc Salud on Cooked County Records, a fictitious record label created by member Dana Okon for his solo output. Home Pride Productions states, “Forty Piece Choir lives in a world where music and life, fate and karma are all beautifully intertwined. All of this hippie feel-good vibe would be only so much positioning if it didn’t find its way into the grooves, but it does, in spades.” Grabbing the ear of Chicago Q101 disc jockey James VanOsdal in 2000, the debut’s opening track Snail On A Star was included alongside Lucky Boys Confusion, Sister Machine Gun, and the J. Davis Trio on the “Local 101 ~ Volume 2” compilation.

By 2000 Forty Piece Choir grew into a septet including Timothy “Smu” McCarthy on bass and current members of The 1900’s Tim Minnick on drums and Ed Anderson on multiple instrumentation. Meticulously recorded by Legzdins, their sophomore full length Face Your Fear was released on subsidiary Cooked County Records label Blue Room Studio in 2002. Mixed by Brian Deck (Iron & Wine, Modest Mouse, Tortoise) at Engine Music Studios, the albums endowments were charmingly brought to life through Deck’s interpretation. Patrick Conlan of Illinois Entertainer shares these words on Face Your Fear. “Continuing their successful harvesting from a broad spectrum of influences and styles, Forty Piece Choir sculpts marvelous, cinematic compositions on Face Your Fear. Packed with sensuous sonic details that invite repeated listens, Fear overflows with sweetly crafted sophistication that manages to be achingly gorgeous, swimmingly whimsical, and playfully eclectic while sounding lushly integrated.”

Tennessee, the third full length Cooked County Records release from 2003, saw the group maturing as a quintet. Recorded by Groovemaster Studio producer/engineer John Doyle (Plain White T’s, Kill Hannah, Disturbed), the band solidified its home recording techniques with Doyle’s keen ear. Roots Music Report declares, “Forty Piece Choir has created an absolutely phenomenal album. Tennessee is a rollercoaster of an album that at times submerses itself deep within the mind, and floods the senses with audio ecstasy. This group represents true musicality in that they are not caged by a particular musical styling. “Forty Piece Choir” hints that there at least forty different influences in every song, so every song is a different journey into musicality.”

Forty Piece Choir has shared the stage with Stars, Gogol Bordello, Jackson Browne, Pat MacDonald, Waco Brothers, Robbie Fulks, Essex Green, Baldwin Brothers, Leona Naess, Sleeping At Last, Josh Rouse, Umphrey’s McGee, Bo Deans, Dave Mason, Ekoostik Hookah, and an endless array of talented artists. While frequenting the Chicago club scene, Forty Piece Choir has appeared at House of Blues, Metro, Double Door, Schubas, Empty Bottle, Abbey Pub, Hideout, Park West, and everywhere in between. Festivals, including Toronto’s North by Northeast Music Festival and Sturgeon Bay’s Steel