The Damn Choir
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The Damn Choir

Chicago, Illinois, United States | Established. Jan 01, 2009 | INDIE

Chicago, Illinois, United States | INDIE
Established on Jan, 2009
Band Folk Rock

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"Pueblo Pulp"

The Damn Choir is a mix of all things right in the broad genre of alternative. This Chicago based band isn’t quite folk, alternative or rock, but if you find an unnecessary amount of Kings of Leon, Mumford and Sons and the Lumineers in your library (like I do), Creatures of Habit is the next album to add.

The sophomore album carries the same edge as You’re My Secret Fire, but maybe not as much. In the band’s debut, the songs were more basic. They had a sense of purity, and the lyrics were heavy. Either way, when leader singer Gordon Robertson sings, you listen. His vocals are raspy, hoarse and all around sexy.

If he’s not enough reason to listen, Katy Myers on cello is. The duo sets The Damn Choir apart from any other alt/folk/rock band. She is elegant, he is rough and together they’re haunting. This contrast is even more apparent in Creatures of Habit.

As a whole, the band does contrasts well, whether it’s between Robertson and Myers or the rhythm between the two albums.

The percussion is more noticeable in Creatures of Habit, which makes a big difference because the songs are slightly faster. While the album as a whole is generally lighter than the first, better guitar riffs make for a refreshing change.

“Devil’s Frown,” not quite halfway through the album, reminds you why this band is so great. It’s nothing like anything they did in their first album, but there is so much passion behind the entire song, it requires a replay. “Say You Will” follows with a softer sound. The way Myers weaves the cello into each song throughout the entire album is brilliant.

The amount of sound in the music has increased, but not drastically, which makes for a great follow-up album.

By Kara Mason (@karanormal) - Pueblo Pulp


"The Damn Choir Chart Their Best Territory Yet On New Album"

For years now The Damn Choir has been a local band worth noting. Apt at executing a plethora of genres, the potential to be great has always been there. It's just been an issue of finding the right cohesiveness for all of those varying influences.

On the band's third album Creatures of Habit, they've finally found that balance. We're just surprised it took sectoring their different musical styles even further to find that smooth flow. Creatures is a wintry pop album that slips in and out of indie punk and roots rock spells with little warning. So perhaps it's the lyrical elements that bond these thirteen songs together so tightly.

Singer and primary songwriter Gordon Robertson explained to Chicagoist that Creatures is "essentially a concept album" and though after giving it a listen we were quick to assume the overarching theme is a gut-wrenching breakup with a loved one, he was quick to correct us.

"It's a breakup album in a different sense," he told told us days before the album';s February 7th release. "I grew up very religious. I was home schooled K through 12. It's about losing someone to the church."

And while Gordon confirms the songs are about multiple people, there's one character that seems to pop up more than others. "It's mainly about one girl," he eventually admitted. With painfully vulnerable lyrics like, "...I lay in this shallow grave and count the days. And I wait for you, so now you know that this grave was built for two," that's not hard to figure out.

It's worth noting that despite the central theme, this album is anything but sappy or emotionally stunted, especially in the musical department. Roberson's voice is at its best on songs like "Radiator" and "Surgery." The songs on Creatures are more dynamic than anything we've ever heard from The Damn Choir before and Katy Myers cello is the beautiful, soothing backbone holding all the chaos in place.

Local listeners will also enjoy picking out all of the Chicago references that run deep on Creatures. Songs like "The Town With You In It" (Robertson's favorite off the new album) hit you over the head geographically but more subtle salutes to the city (";...in the city of big shoulders take my hand," off "Radiator") are peppered throughout. Robertson admitted with a laugh that "Butcher" started as a challenge to himself to move away from the darker subject matter on the album and write a love song. Instead the finished product is a quirky narrative about Division Street the day after Humboldt Park's annual Puerto Rican Parade (complete with characters like the napping nun, the methamphetamine cooking teen and Spanish women sweeping their stoops). We've already seen plenty of excellent album releases in 2014, so we're pleased to add a local contribution to that list. - Chicagoist


"Twangville - Mayer's Playlist"

With a name like the Damn Choir, it isn’t surprising that this Chicago-based sextet has an edge. Yet there is a brilliant majesty to their music. Some of this comes from the contrast between Katy Myer’s elegant cello against singer-songwriter Gordon Robertson’s impassioned vocals. Robertson writes from a place of honesty and raw emotion, which the band brings to life with a sound that is as graceful as it is intense. - Twangville


"Consequence of Sound"

Like the cluttered, abandoned church in their video for “Creatures”, The Damn Choir’s third studio album, Creatures of Habit, is both rugged and refined. Lead vocalist Gordon Robertson admits it’s a partial rebellion against the fundamentalist household he grew up in. And in exchange for “insincere” church songs, the Chicago-based outfit discovers impartiality through brawny vocals and instrumental elegance.

With the Scottish/Irish twang of Damien Rice and Frightened Rabbit’s Scott Hutchison, Robertson moans each word like an elder storyteller and poet, saturating the album with colorful images and addressing hefty themes of life, death, and everything in between. His desperation offers empathy for those who want to relish their sadness instead of trying to overcome it.

Robertson’s young poetic inclinations permeate standout track “Radiator”, in which he compares a fractured relationship to a broken radiator. He’s self-aware of his hyper-literacy, however, alluding to Carl Sandburg’s poem “Chicago” in his talk of the “City of Big Shoulders”. While the sextet — which includes a cellist, a keyboardist, and multiple guitarists — could easily bury the vocals, instead, they frame Robertson’s voice with melancholic strings and brooding guitars.

It’s a sad and angry record. Clearly troubled by a lost love, Robertson wails, “I hear you calling out his name/ You couldn’t wait for the leaves to change/ Before you walked away” in one of the more angstier tracks, “Devil’s Frown”. The depression persists on “Built for Two”, which captures the longing and ice in his heart by rather explicitly referring to his death: “Count the days I wait for you/ So now you know this grave was built for two.”

Soggy lyricism notwithstanding, The Damn Choir should be lauded for their delivery and solid technique. The gruff vocals pitted against delicate musicianship creates friction, and in turn, vulnerability. Although Robertson has a ways to go until he reaches his bookish idols, the band’s doctrine of sincerity and desperation in Creatures of Habit will not only reach you by ear, but also by soul. - Consequence of Sound


"Midwest Action"

There is something eerie about the way the universe will give you what you need. Something about the way an existential crisis can really be a blessing in disguise. Something about the way that you can hear a song on the overhead at a venue and not know if it is Volcano Choir or Bon Iver, but know nonetheless that there is something about Justin Vernon’s voice that grips you, that oozes humanity, and beckons you closer.

Chicago is blessed to have a performer that is just as gripping as Vernon in Gordon Robertson, the frontman of The Damn Choir. While his vocals lean closer to those of Frightened Rabbit’s Scott Hutchison, one thing is certain: there is no other artist known to my ears who so eloquently and honestly faces themes of love lost or found, redemption, salvation, and battles with God as effortlessly as Robertson.

On their newest album, Creatures of Habit, Robertson squares up with the big man upstairs, with loves that haunt, and even explores a conversation with his radiator. His lyricism is unparalleled in any our generation holds. The title track opens the album in a swirling, upbeat way, while close attention will catch the weight in his words: “what are you praying for / you can’t save me.”

While the title track is gripping, it is “East Bay” that leaves the longest lasting impression in the dust settling around my dormant heart with the whiskey you can nearly hear in Robertson’s voice coupled by his raw, stark honesty. “Devil’s Frown” finds the band experimenting with a twangier sound that echoes an alt-country feel. From that tune the album delicately drifts into “The Town With You in It,” a lament that will appeal to any heart that has been broken. “Surgery” picks the pace back up, as Robertson wrestles with a love that still grips his heart. “Butcher” embraces that vital sound that has come to be expected by the Choir: a rhythm that builds and begs its audience to dance and explode together in the sing-a-long chorus.

The slight experimentation—be it in the cello’s feed-through, the solos that burst forth from the guitars, or the minute stylistic changes in Robertson’s vocals — show such growth. The Choir—a band of fallen angels whose halos may have shattered in the gutter long ago, each pour themselves completely into their sound—proves its musicianship to be more cohesive than it ever has been, even with new members and guitarist Otis Duffy having relocated to another part of the country. Pick up a copy at a show near you. The album art is as beautiful as the music therein. - Midwest Action


Discography

The Damn Choir - Faithful Fools (LP)
The Damn Choir - You're My Secret Called Fire (LP)

The Damn Choir - Creatures of Habit (LP)

Photos

Bio

"Gordon Robertson is that guy who could sing the menu at the corner deli and still move me."

- Independent Clauses



The Damn Choirs Gordon Robertson has a saying that encapsulates his worldview. Laughing, he shares it: I have no problem with God, but I dont like his fan club. Robertson grew up with a sincere fear of hell and damnation he was home schooled in a fundamentalist household, the result of a brother who was cured of an inoperable brain tumor via faith healing. Despite his growing skepticism as a young boy, his fear of eternal flames kept him compliant until high school, when he found music. I disliked the music in our church because it seemed insincere.  I wanted to write a proper hymn about what really goes on.  Robertsons quest resulted in 25 new songs, pared down to 13 for Creatures of Habit, out February 7th, 2014.  Produced by Bryce Goggin (Antony and the Johnsons, Apples In Stereo, Swans, Dean & Britta), it was recorded live to tape at Trout Recording in Brooklyn during the fall of 2013.


Creatures of Habit was mastered by Fred Kevorkian (Willie Nelson, The Walkmen, The White Stripes, Iggy Pop).  The album features sparkling tunes with off-kilter rhythms and warm guitar/cello accompaniment to Robertsons rough-hewn vocals, delivered with a slight quaver that belies his heartache.  Standout tracks include the title track, Radiator, and Violet, named for the producers daughter.  Radiator is about a cold, lonely Chicago winter.  The song is based on me telling the story of a broken relationship to my broken radiator.  The song also touches on the Carl Sandburg's poem Chicago with a line I borrowed, The City of Big Shoulders, explained Robertson.  Violet was originally written as a punk rock songas punk rock as The Damn Choir can get.  We were demoing all tracks and sending them to Bryce.  He heard the song, and wanted us to change the lyrics and the melody.  We changed the whole feel of the song thanks to our new drummer, Marty Kane.

In addition to his production duties, Goggin also sang back-ups and played keyboards on the album.  The band spent months doing pre-production with his guidance, polishing the songs and arrangements.  Arriving at Trout, the band was greeted by a large open room (no control room or isolation booth for vocals) and recorded everything live, augmented by Goggins array of outstanding vintage gear.


The Damn Choir is Robertson on vocals and acoustic guitar, Katy Myers on cello, Otis The Bearded Angel Duffy on electric guitar, Brandon Stein on bass guitar, and Marty Kane on drums.  Robertson formed the band in 2009, the year after moving to Chicago from Cleveland; after some early line-up changes, The Damn Choir has solidified into a cohesive unit whose players harbor genuine affection for each other.  The band has attracted critical approval, with Chicago blog Gapers Block describing them thusly on the release of their first album Youre My Secret Called Fire: "Elegance.  It's the overwhelming quality thats present in the music of The Damn Choir.


The son of a Scottish boxer, Robertson exceled at competitive BMX bike racing and soccer before music captured his imagination and the majority of his spare time.  A self-taught guitarist, he began by writing songs and performing solo, inspired by artists like Pedro the Lion and Frightened Rabbit.  These days he immerses himself in food and wine culture (and will take the sommelier exam soon) as well as being heavily involved in Pit Bull advocacy.  The band supports the New Leash on Life foundation, donating $5 of every shirt they sell to the organization.


Guitarist Otis Duffy hails from Garland, TX; his inspirations include wine, Japanese food, and 60s psych music.  Cellist Katy Myers is from Indianapolis; she has played in many bands, including Scotland Yard Gospel Choir and Panoramic and True.  Bassist Brandon Stein is from Minneapolis, and loves Fugazi, Squarepusher, Les Savy Fav, and his other band, the Minneapolis Henrys.  Keyboardist Gwen Klemenz is the latest member of the band and is a Chicago native. She was classically trained at Loyola University Chicago and loves everything from female singer-songwriters to noise pop. Chicago drummer Marty Kane is also a member of national touring act Dot Dot Dot (who were finalists on Fox TVs The Next Great American Band). He loves punk rock, jazz, and singer-songwriters.