His neighbor, the well-respected, yet often reviled rock critic Jim DeRogatis recognized this early on, and enthusiastically encouraged the young Schraeder to delve deeper into the singer-songwriter canon, eschewing the likes of Matthews and Mraz for the Westerberg, Young, and Van Zandt that would prove to be far more influential on his early sound.
His 2007 album “The Door, The Gutter, The Grave” showcased the young songwriter’s explorations based upon these influences, and landed him a coveted spot at that year’s Lollapalooza. He put together a 9-piece band, and when an interviewer asked why he felt the need for such a large ensemble to interpret his songs, a band member jokingly interjected, “that’s just His Ego,” and the name of Schraeder’s backing band was born.
Throughout the next several years, Tom traveled throughout the country, playing solo acoustic shows and sleeping on a lot of couches. He recorded another album entitled “Lying Through Dinner” in 2008 with Austin-based producer Danny Malone, that showcased the rootsier side to Schraeder’s repertoire. A low-fi record, “Once Lace, Now Cotton” expanded on this side of Schraeder’s songwriting, while “Egoiste,” produced by Malone and Brooklyn-based producer Jimmy Giannopolous, challenged Schraeder to enhance his craft by exploring more electronic tones.
In the meantime, Schraeder felt the need to explore even deeper musical horizons. He recorded a psych-rock project with longtime friend Matthew Nurse called “Gush,” the nickname of Tom’s uncle, who had recently passed away following a sudden heart attack.
Schraeder also found himself yearning to record an album with a full band, so he called upon several of the musicians that he had been collaborating with under the moniker “His Ego” to put together a monumental record of some of his best compositions, namely Dan Moulder (keyboards, vocals), Ryan Joseph Anderson (guitars, vocals), Dan Ingenthron (bass, vocals), and Russ Mallord (drums), as well as poaching one of Austin’s finest, Chris Mosley (guitars, vocals) to round out the all-star lineup.
The band holed up in a practice space for a solid month of rehearsals in the frigid Chicago winter of February 2012. They reconstructed about a dozen of Schraeder’s finest songs, giving them new life and new meaning. In March, the band headed into Rax Trax Studios in the Lakeview neighborhood of Chicago, with Schraeder, Moulder, and engineer Noam Wallenberg at the helm co-producing.
After 5 solid days of basic tracking, the band moved over to Pieholden Suite Sound in the Ukrainian Village for overdubs.
After about a month of Jim Beam and PBR-soaked sessions that included guest sessions from the like of Matthew Nurse, Mars Williams (Psychedelic Furs, Liquid Soul), Nick Broste (Wilco horns), violinist Stephanie Lee, and vocalists Jennifer Hall and Nisha Champion, as well as a bunch of home-cooked meals from Tom and his most ardent supporters, Joyce and Tom Schraeder, Sr., the band wrapped up tracking in April 2012.
Unfortunately in these difficult economic times, financial constraints proved difficult to allow the project to progress into the post-production phase, and the album was shelved for the better part of two years.
In the meantime, Schraeder found new life as the founder and curator of two independent music and arts festivals. His first foray, The Ultraviolet Petting Zoo, featured several local and national indie artists, and raised money for the Boys & Girls Club of Chicago. The event proved so successful, that Schraeder spearheaded the annual Chicago, I Love You festival, a week-long multi-media experience that integrated the best independent music, comedy, film, and visual arts that Chicago had to offer, and was held in every corner of the city.
Eventually, however, due to fervent enthusiasm for the demo recordings which had been distributed underground via social media, as well as the encouragement of his bandmates and music critic Jim Kopeny (aka “Tankboy”) from Chicagoist, who called the album “an epic stunner” before it was even released, “GUSH” by Tom Schraeder & His Ego finally became a reality...until Tom shelves it again.
- Dan Moulder