The Symposium are part of a bunch of manic new Chicago garage rockers and we definitely think they deserve a listen, here’s why..
We should all know by now to expect good things from Chicago musicians, but when I read Mario Cuomo’s (The Orwells) tweet about a new band called The Symposium I had no idea what was in store for me. He’d provided a link to one of their demos, so I thought “why not?” and pressed play. 10 minutes later and I was hitting send on an email that basically read “you are amazing, please let me tell people about you”, and luckily for me they said yes.
The Symposium is composed of Charlie Gammill (vocals/guitar), Sam Clancy (guitar), Brian Buckley (drums), and Benny Goetz (bass). They’re all from Chicago and have known each other for years (remind you of anyone? It should, or you didn’t read either of our articles about Twin Peaks). They’ve been posting demo-style EPs on their bandcamp since 2013, and I’m astonished they haven’t been noticed yet. They have that quality shared by all Chicago garage bands at their core; messy, scruffy and real- as well as the Smith Westerns’ psychedelic vibe. They’re completely chilled out and extremely talented, and there’s even a bit of The Strokes’ signature sound in them.
They’ve been working on “Drugs”, a double EP, ever since they played a show in New York with the Static Jacks, and their guitarist tells me they think it’s “by far better” than their other work. The album was ready to be sent off back in May, but Sam ended up in hospital with a perforated ulcer and was recovering from surgery until July. They’re all better now, and plan to release “Drugs” in the US on Halloween. Whether it’s technically a double EP or not they’re calling it one, taking direct influence from The Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour. Get excited, I know I am!
I had the opportunity to ask Benny, Sam, and Charlie a couple of questions. Here’s how it went:
What’s the significance of the name? Who came up with it?
Right around the time I (Sam) started writing music in high school we went to meet this kid named Alex Bushu with our friend Tom Kline. While we were waiting in Alex’s basement Tom saw a bookshelf packed with books. He noticed one called “the symposium” by Plato. Tom picked the book up and was like “the Symposium, that would be a cool band name.” And we stole that idea.
How did you guys meet? Who’s idea was it to start the band, and did you always plan for it to be pretty serious?
The band was started by me (Sam). Charlie and I had been in bands together since we were 11. Once we got to High School Charlie joined an emo band called Departure of Alex. I formed a band without a name. Charlie was eventually kicked out of DOA, and I asked him to join. Shortly thereafter and we started calling ourselves The Symposium. Eventually my little cousin Benny joined. The band has never been taken very seriously.
Was it difficult to get started as a band- beginning to play gigs and generally taking it seriously?
Yeah it was totally hard when we were just getting started. A lot of work goes into being in a band which we didn’t realize. We suck at mostly everything that goes into being a successful band like networking and making long term goals and stuff. Playing shows hasn’t really been difficult cuz we’re friends with a lot of dope Chicago bands who are always looking to play. We’re still working on our live performances though.
Do you have any advice for other new bands?
Our advice to other new bands is to play house shows, fuck playing venues. Find other bands who are cool and start chilling with them and play shows together.
Can you tell me a little about recording the album itself, what your favourite song from the album is, and talk about the influences behind the lyrics and general sound.
This new recording drugs is 8 songs – some old, some new. It’s hard to pick favorites though. There’s a song called “the Cowboy” which benny and I (Sam) really like. Some of the songs were written a while ago but either never released or just not up to our standards I guess. The Strokes are a major influence on us, but we love so much music and are influenced by everything. A lot of the lyrics are really old too. Like, lyrics that that didn’t have any meaning at the time and I (Charlie) didn’t really care about. But as time went by they started to take on a new meaning to me. Overall there are a lot of old ideas going into this album. Also a lot of new ideas/ songs going into it too.
Has there been a band or musician that you’ve met that was a completely surreal experience?
The only thing that comes to mind was this time Mac Demarco showed up at this show we had at Benny’s. Cuz like we listen to his music all the time and he just shows up out of the blue. He was playing a show that same day right down the block from Benny’s somewhere in Goose Island, glad we got to meet him while he was in Chicago.
What’s a band that has really inspired you or really affected your style?
The Strokes and the Unicorns have had a pretty big influence on us. Harry Nilsson too. The Strokes influence is the most obvious one.
Chicago’s known for having amazing garage rock/indie bands, what’s your relationship to other bands in the area?
Well the Orwells and Modern Vices are old friends of ours from Elmhurst where we grew up. Now we’re good buds and play shows when we can. We met Twin Peaks through the Orwells and we all played a sick show at Lincoln Hall last April. Theres a pretty cool group of bands in Chicago right now.
It’s really cool that you’re able to play shows with other bands in the area, but is a tour possible for you at the moment?
Yeah we’re working on setting up a group of shows for a small tour. But we’re doing it all ourselves and we suck at planning these sorts of things. We went to New York last April and realized we should have been playing shows along the way. We wanna do the same sort of thing next year except go west and play a shit load of shows.
Can you tell me about playing in New York with Static Jacks?
We got a facebook message from the Static Jacks’ drummer, Nick, asking us for the lyrics to some tracks on Brain Jail. We sent him the lyrics and he said we should hit him up if we were ever in NY and wanted to play a show. A few weeks later we decided we wanted to play a show in NY. I emailed some venues asking if they would be down to set up a show, but no one replied. So we hit Nick up seeing if he would be able to set something up. He put together a show at Glasslands and then all we had to do was get to NY for April 25th.
I got turned down for a rental car and had to ask my dad to let us use his jeep last minute and we were all pretty strung out by the time we got there. We had no place to stay, no money to spend on lodgings, and no friends to stay with. We got to Brooklyn the day before the show totally exhausted. We realized Buckley’s grandma lived in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn and we had no choice but to hit her up and beg to let us crash there. She’s a super nice old Irish lady, and was willing to accommodate us. We all pretty much got to her place and passed out till that night when we went to Mercury lounge to meet up with Nick. We met him and the members of an NYC band called Shell Shag outside the Mercury Lounge, talked for a little, then we went home and passed out again.
We woke up and packed up our gear and took the subway to Glasslands. When we got there, Charlie Buckley and Benny wanted to drink and the venue’s bar wasn’t open yet. Benny’s not old enough to drink legally, so they drank on the walk back. They got stopped by the cops and all got drinking tickets. Thankfully the cops didn’t crunch the numbers on Benny’s date of birth cuz he was only 19 at the time.
We played a sick show though opening for the Static Jacks. The sound guy hated us so much. We kept stalling waiting for more people to show up. And he was like “this is not working for me guys, I’m cutting you off early.” But we played 10 songs and finished 10 mins early so fuck him. We chilled with Andrew Maury (sound engineer) and the Jacks for a little after the show. Then we went to a party in Bushwick. Buckley and I (Sam) went home early and passed out. But Charlie and Benny hooked up with some NYU girls. We all left NY desperate to come back. Probably the best band experience we’ve ever had.
Have there been any experiences that are really significant to you as a band?
The New York experience was the most significant moment we’ve had as a band. I (Sam) feel like that was when momentum was high and we were all on the same page. The whole month of April was busy. It started with the sold out Orwells/ Twin Peaks show at Lincoln Hall, then we started recording Drugs in the studio, and then we played in New York. All that momentum was killed when Sam went to the hospital for the 3rd time. He spent the next 2 months recovering from the surgery on his stomach. Now we’re trying to rebuild that momentum/ finish the album we started before Sam’s perforated ulcer. Sam probably spent 4-6 months in the hospital in 2014, so progress was generally slower than we expected.
What do you want the impact of your band to be?
We don’t plan on there being any big impact. We’re really not that type of band. We just hope someone digs our songs.