Sunday, October 12, 2008
Saturday, May 3, 2008
By. Jim DeRogatis
Unassuming, a little bit awkward and slightly naive, "egotistical" is the last word that springs to mind when talking to 23-year-old singer and songwriter Tom Schraeder. "Ambitious" is much closer to the mark, followed closely by "wildly enthusiastic."
With only one self-released, seven-song EP to his credit, Schraeder has not only been landing prestigious gigs at home in Chicago -- including last summer's Lollapalooza festival -- he's been regularly traveling to Los Angeles, New York and Austin. And he's doing it with a nine-piece band that includes upright bass, drums, second guitar, keyboards, vibraphone, singing saw, banjo, cello and violin.
In fact, the spectacle of all these musicians tumbling out of the van is what gave Schraeder's group its name. "I was getting a lot of guff from people saying, 'Why do you need such a big band?' and 'Why do you have a singing saw? That's just another mouth to feed on tour!' I was like, 'Well, yeah. But those songs aren't the same without those instruments.'
"After a while, whenever anybody would question me about the size of the band, I'd say, 'That's just my ego.' And then [bassist] Cornelius [Boon] said it as a joke in an interview, and it stuck. So now the name is officially Tom Schraeder & His Ego."
Raised on Chicago's Northwest side, Schraeder has been obsessed with music since the fifth grade, when Fred Papp, a friend of the family and a member of the local rock group the Renfields, kindled a spark by selling the budding musician a National guitar. "He was showing me Jimi Hendrix for the first time, and the Velvet Underground, and I was really into that music while all my friends were listening to the Butthole Surfers. So he brought over this guitar and made me pay him $10 a month -- I had to rake leaves and do whatever I could to pay him back -- and I started reading Guitar World magazine and all that.
"Somewhere along there, I learned how to play, and in going back and forth between classic rock and acoustic music and this college-rock stuff, I found Graham Parsons and Paul Westerberg and Wilco. And from then on I just wanted to get a little more edge to the music."
The strength of tracks such as "The Whiskey Song," "Porcelain Doll" and "An Easy Way to Cry" from "The Door, the Gutter, the Grave" is that they recall all of Schraeder's varied influences without resorting to mere imitation, thanks to the sophisticated melodies and arrangements and the surprisingly insightful and world-weary lyrics. How does such a young songwriter come to be thinking about the weighty themes referenced in the disc's title?
"That's a fair question, but I think that for only being 23, I've experienced a lot -- or at least enough to have enough material for an EP," Schraeder says, laughing. "This record sort of sums up a point in time up for me: I was in college and doing a lot of boozing, and I was trying to be that kind of songwriter who sings about boozing. For the first time, I was living with a girl, and there was all this anxiety: 'Do I want to finish school? Do I want to be with this person? I want to do music, but I feel like I'm being held back…'
"I don't want to be too dramatic and say I was in a depression, but I remember being locked inside the apartment for a month and a half and just feeling low, and that's where a lot of those songs came from. Looking back, it wasn't really that bad. Really, I was just growing up. Now, I suppose the next record will be much more about fearing what's going to happen if music doesn't work!"
Despite the unprecedented uncertainty in today's music industry, Schraeder probably doesn't have much cause for concern. Since its initial shows last summer, his group has been playing to bigger crowds whenever it's taken the stage. And after selling out their record release party last November, Tom Schraeder & His Ego became the youngest band invited to play Schubas' prestigious Monday-night "Practice Space" series.
Schraeder's plans for the February residency are evidence of the many horizons he'd like to conquer, with strings-enhanced folk-rock set for this Monday; an acoustic hootenanny setting for Feb. 11; a preview of the songs he's planning to record for his second release on Feb. 18 and a mixture of all of the above and more on Feb. 25.
"There are so many people trying to emulate Wilco these days that it's hard to bring them up, and I don't by any means want to be Wilco," Schraeder says. "But more than anything, the thing I relate to in their music is the idea of taking a song in one direction one time, and then doing it in a completely different way the next -- just going into any style you can think of with the song until you find whatever it is that fits. If you're talking about folk music or alternative country or whatever, I don't think you should ever be afraid to do that and to try other styles."
Milwaukee musicians, get ready to hate Tom Schraeder. Sure, the Chicago singer-songwriter seems like a decent and talented guy based on his A.V. Club interview this week. It's just that he's been so damn successful so damn quick, with gigs at Lollapalooza and CMJ under his belt before he even had a record out. Plus, look at the picture of him over there. He's so cute you want to punch his pretty little lights out. But as much as envious local rockers might want to force-feed Schraeder knuckle sandwiches, the kid does have the knack. (Check out his debut EP The Door, The Gutter, The Grave.) He might even deserve all this early adulation. Find out for yourself when Schraeder plays Points East Pub Friday.
If you're up in the Brew City, come out to the Points East Pub around 10pm for Tom & His Ego's Miltown Throwdown.
CMJ Record Review
It's true - "Which Excludes You," from The Door, the Gutter, the Grave, was up on CMJ.com as their Freeload download of the day on Dec. 3, 2007. Here is the review...
The Door, the Gutter, the Grave
TOM SCHRAEDER AND HIS EGO: The Door, The Gutter, The Grave
By Emily Youssef
Americana singer/songwriter Tom Schraeder scored one of the biggest gigs a musician could hope for—Lollapalooza!—before even releasing an official album. Luck? Probably. But this Chicagoan's voice is confident beyond his 23 years, as proven by this, his debut EP, which is a largely uplifting review of heartache. And with a 10-member fluctuating cast of collaborating musicians, who dip in and out on guitar and cello, washboard and hand saw, there's actually little room for ego. The molasses-tinged "Porcelain Doll" and "Easy Way To Cry" are slow and sweet, both evoking memories of past relationships gone awry. Schraeder's is a down-home, down-to-earth songwriting style, the kind that encourages arm-in-arm barroom sing-alongs, even among strangers. The untrained ear may hear his happily drunk "Whiskey Song," which is set against a backdrop of clinking glasses and rowdy voices, as similar to Ryan Adams' "The Bar Is A Beautiful Place." It's far less corny, though, and its songwriting is more earnest, more adventurous. "When the whiskey don't do the job... I guess that means the last resort is you," he sings. Sometimes it just feels good to feel this bad.
Yep, we've gone all virtual on your asses. Pick up the entire EP over at Amazon for a paltry $6.93 and put gas in the van to get us to your town soon.
Nice love from the blogosphere this week over at Minneapolis Fucking Rocks:
Band To Know: Tom Schraeder And His EgoChances are very good that you've heard of Tom Schraeder And His Ego before, even if you haven't heard a single not of his music. This is because Tom Schraeder is not only a genuine phenom on the internet, but has created fantastically crafted songs at a young age (barely 23) and has built a strong buzz in his hometown of Chicago.
With only a few songs posted on his MySpace Page (songs that have been included in the proper release of his band's debut EP, The Door, The Gutter, And The Grave) the Chicago singer-songwriter has played Lollapalooza (and a rave review from the Chicago Sun-Times), been called an "Act To Watch" by the Chicago AV Club and sold out numerous shows in the greater Chicagoland area.
With that kind of praise, one might be skeptical about the quality of Schraeder's music. That's true in the sense that Schraeder's voice (shades of Paul Westerberg) and sound (Folk-Rock) are in no way re-inventing the wheel. What's praiseworthy about Schraeder is that his particular brand of Americana is familiar, but also thrillingly uplifting, even when he's singing about himself, his friends, and the low places they've all been.
On songs like the bitterly funny "Which Excludes You", Schraeder writes like Ryan Adams woke up one day and forgot to tell everyone how big of screw-up he is; as a result, finally got his shit together and wrote a song with the orchestral grandeur of The Beatles. That said, Schraeder does have a track called "The Whiskey Song" in which he, yup, you bet, describes how fucked he is (in terms of his personal life and his intoxication).
But even that song has the winning charm and spirit of inclusiveness that every great drinking song has, and that in turn forgives any woe-is-me, alcoholicliches in which Schraeder may indulge. While Schraeder may not be innovative, he writes incredible music with the kind of vibe which make repeated listens not only inevitable, but also enjoyable.
This is the one Ego that actually deserves to be inflated.