Midwesterners Shiloh released their second full-length album this week, a dedication to life in Northwest Indiana entitled "Mrs." Epitonic met up with guitarist/vocalists Alex Reindl and Ryan Ensley and drummer Calvin Schaller at Moe's Tavern in Avondale, Chicago to talk about songwriting, forming musical relationships, and falling in love with the bartender.
Full Disclosure: This interview was conducted months prior to my decision to bring Shiloh on as a management client at Epitonic. I was acquainted with Ryan through work, and this conversation represents the building blocks of my relationship with this band. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. - Parker Langvardt
Calvin Schaller: I was [at Kuma's Corner] eating this tasty burger, having a good time, and this Kylesa song came on and I couldn't remember who it was. It was on the tip of my tongue, and [that bartender] walks by and I go, "Hey, do you know who this is, or can you find out who it is?" She's like, "Yeah, let me find out," and she walks away and comes back. She just wouldn't tell me who it was.
Alex Reindl: That's because she's got a feisty sense of humor. She's funny.
Schaller: I just wanted to make sure I knew who [the song] was by and she literally would not tell me. She was writing something and she goes, "I'm just kidding, I'm not writing anything."
Reindl: She's a sarcastic beauty. What can I say, man, I'm in love.
Ryan Ensley: Me too. We're going to be literally fighting each other.
Schaller: Well, good luck.
Reindl: She's going to break both of us. She's going to break us down. She's going to kill us. I'm going to ask her when her birthday is.
Ensley: I'll ask her what her sign is.
Reindl: When I say I'm asking what your birthday is, I'm really ask what your sign is because I fuckin' know all the birthdays and all the signs and you don't. One up. One up. I'll be like, "What's your birthday?" She'll be like "January 15," and I'll be like "Capricorn." Then she'll be like "Oh…you're one of those." I know the signs of everyone in this band and I can tell you how they relate to each other too.
Schaller: I can tell you that it's bullshit.
Reindl: He's the one that will tell you it's bullshit. When I was in California I was really into the New Age stuff, and I read The Secret Language of Birthdays. I was born March 18, "The Day of the Return." There's some crazy shit in there about me.
Ensley: The return of WHAT?
Reindl: It's hard to explain, Ryan.
Ensley: I heard this bar was Simpsons-themed and I was super excited about it and I thought it would look like Moe's.
Schaller: They have one mural, and the outside has a doughnut.
Have you been playing music together the whole time you've known each other?
Reindl: Yeah, the three of us have. Me and Ryan have been playing music since we were 15, and as soon as we met Calvin we pretty much began a musical relationship with him.
Schaller: Before it was friendship, it was music.
Reindl: There was music LONG before friendship.
Ensley: He thought we were just really ugly teenagers that could somehow play instruments.
Reindl: And I was intimidated by Calvin, I thought he was way too cool.
Schaller: And you couldn't have been more wrong.
Reindl: Well, I've realized that now, but back in the day it was different. I was like, "Me and Calvin need to bond. We're the rhythm section, we need to be friends." But I never really could crack the shell. I feel like I've cracked the shell. I feel like what it takes to crack the shell is a nice little smoke - a little toke and joke.
Ensley: A little nipple tug.
Reindl: I'd say a little nipple tug. I don't know, I've been inside Calvin's mouth with my tongue.
Schaller: No, you haven't.
Ensley: Actually it's on video, I have it on video.
Reindl: No, no. They were not open-mouth kisses. They were closed mouth kisses. All I know is my mouth meshes with his and because of that we can play together.
Did you play in any bands before this band?
Schaller: Yeah, actually Ryan was at my band's last show, and they needed a drummer, so a half hour after we're done playing Ryan was like, "So, I hear it's your last show. We need a drummer. Want to be in a band?"
What kind of music was that?
Ensley: It was just like hardcore, metal sort of stuff. Loud noises and screaming.
Are you mostly into metal?
Schaller: I listen to everything, just not contemporary country or Christian music. I don't really listen to the style of music that we play; I'm not really into a lot of that. I love playing it, though.
Do you have any mutual favorite artists?
Reindl: I think one band that everyone in the band can agree on is Grizzly Bear. Like, for sure. We all love Grizzly Bear - they are awesome. You like Pink Floyd, right? Metallica? I love Metallica. I love Pink Floyd.
Schaller: I don't know if I love Metallica. I mean, Metallica's great, but…
Reindl: Well, I love 'em. Nirvana. We like the classics. We all love Weezer; Pinkerton is like my template for what a brilliant pop album should be. It's poppy and so fucking heavy at the same time. That's my favorite; that's my shit.
I've heard you guys talk about The Replacements.
Reindl: Me and Ryan grew up listening to The Replacements and love them. We all love Green Day. We really just love 90s rock and 90s pop music. Well, 90s Replacements suck. I just want to go on record saying that any Replacements coming out in the 90s was bad, but 80s Replacements were good. We like Kiss, too, a lot.
Schaller: I hate Kiss.
What is it that you like about Kiss?
Ensley: It was the first tape that I ever bought. I bought Destroyer at Borders. I was in first grade. I like heavy pop music with really fuzzy guitars. Built to Spill, Pavement. Surprisingly, before we ever even thought we sounded like these bands, people said we sounded like Pavement and Built to Spill and that's probably because Calvin's playing drums for our songs.
Reindl: We write some jangly-ass music, and Calvin is a heavy metal drummer that drums to pop songs.
What influences your songs? Is it associated with your daily life? Your environment?
Ensley: I think it has a lot to do with our environment. Lyrically, environment has a lot to do with it. Sometimes it's a bit more subconscious. We've essentially been in the Midwest our entire lives. We've seen the Midwest our whole lives, so it's ingrained in our subconscious. A lot of imagery will come from, you know, we saw a lot of failed industry and steel mills.
Reindl: The physical environment is one thing, but the people in your environment is another. I feel like when I write songs I'm just like a sponge. Your environment is the fucking dirty ass water on the countertop and you just go and wipe it up and squeeze it out into a glass and that's your song. You just kind of soak up the shit that's around you and spew it back out through your own filter. A lot of people grew up in the same place as us and met the same people as us but they don't write the same songs as us. What is the classic writer thing? Write what you know. I'm not going to write some fucking ballad about being a coal miner in 1840 because I don't know anything about that.
Ensley: That's why I don't know how The Decemberists do that.
Schallers: They're just storytellers.
Reindl: It's just like you live your life and you write about what you live and you hope that somebody else can relate to it, and I feel like people have. I feel like when I namedrop places in songs, I get a reaction. We played in Bloomington, Indiana when we were on tour and I name dropped "driving to Indianapolis." There's a song where one of the lines is "Drives to Indianapolis, I hope this pack last another mile." When I sang that line, I could see the people in the audience get more excited because they have probably driven to Indianapolis plenty of times, trying to make their cigarettes last the whole time. Now, they weren't driving as far as I was, but…
Ensley (incredulously): What?
Reindl: They were driving from Bloomington to Indie, we were driving from Chicago to Indie.
Schaller: It was relatable none-the-less.
What's your songwriting process like?
Ensley: Alex and I write a lot. We've lived together a lot, spend a lot of time together. We write around each other. I'll hear him fucking around with things. Basically, if he's writing a new song, most of the time I'll know about them.
Reindl: Unless I write them in secret... basically me or Ryan will write songs by ourselves, we'll come up with some basic thing that we want to do, take it to the other person, and then take it to the band.
Ensley: We'll be filters for bullshit for each other.
Reindl: We'll write 75% of the song and then the other 25% we all work together on. The rest of the band does the song structure. Calvin's drums will determine where the verse and the chorus and whatever goes. The lyrics and basic melody we write for ourselves.
Ensley: Calvin, what's it like for you?
Schaller: Usually at practice we'll riff on [your ideas].
Ensley: Yeah, we just jam on things a lot. We'll play the same part over and over again until it's like, "That's how it is," and then I usually just jump up and down and say something that doesn't make sense.
Reindl: Yeah, if we're practicing and we like it, we'll kind of freak out and I'll just laugh and make weird facial expressions. [The songs] start acoustic, we'll take it to [the band] and everyone else will add their input. It's a pretty democratic process.
Ensley: It happens really easily.
Schaller: But there's songs that I don't even feel like we're done with yet.
Reindl: Yeah, even the songs that we have on records that we've been playing live for at least a year we don't really feel like they're done. They're still changing, we're still adding things to them.
Schaller: What you hear live is not drastically different, but [still] different from the record.
How recently were the songs on this record written?
Ensley: All of mine were written within the past year, aside from the instrumental one.
What is it that takes some songs take longer?
Ensley: It depends if it's lyrically or musically.
Schaller: [The instrumental] is one we always jammed on in downtime but it never HAPPENED. We made a lot of headway and it made a bit jump at the end there.
Ensley: Lyrically, some things take longer. "Plasma Kids" took longer because I didn't think of a melody. It just started off as a little guitar line. Once I thought of the melody and I played it with Calvin, it was one of those things were I had never written the end of the song until we played with Calvin.
Reindl: The songs that I wrote for the album were all written from like end of Summer 2011 to Spring of 2012. I wrote songs for the old album after I wrote some of the songs on the new album.
Ensley: We haven't started showing everyone [in the band], but yesterday we wrote down ten tracks that could potentially be the next full-length. For the moment we have an idea of what could be, then who knows what that will turn into once we play it with them. There could be parts in those songs that could turn into a completely different song that we just don't even know exists yet because we haven't played it with them.
Reindl: It's a different process between either of us. I write songs very quickly, I'm done with them very fast. Ryan sometimes will have songs that last forever.
Where did you go on your recent tour and what was your experience like?
Reindl: It was mostly Midwest, but we did make it down to Nashville.
Have you done anything like that before?
Ensley: Yeah, that's how we met the dude from our label [Rhed Rholl Recordings] in Tennessee, when we were there last time. Our friend drove us, and his band, The Bears of Blue River, put their last record out with him and we had time to kill in Nashville so we went over to his houses and hung out with him and drank beers in his pool. He came to our show and liked us and we stayed in touch and once we had recordings we showed them to him and he really liked it and wanted to help us out.
Reindl: We've played in Nashville twice so far with our friend Ronnie who has a house down there. He's played up here with us too. It's been cool to form a connection with another city. Anytime I want to go to your city I have a place to play, anytime you come to my city, you have a place to play.
What has your experiences playing within Chicago been like?
Ensley: House shows are really where it's most productive. I feel like a majority of shows we've played, we'll get faceless e-mails and e-mails will lead us to this weird venue somewhere, and we'll never see the person who set it up, and if we do they're sometimes standoffish and don't talk to us. The other bands and us don't mesh well, or something weird happens. What I'm trying to get at here is that's it's really decentralized. It's kind of vast. Our biggest fan base is in Rogers Park and we live all the way down here [in Avendale]. If there was a band that we got along with in Rogers Park it's almost like you're in a different city.
Schaller: There could be a band the same stature as us living across the street playing the same kind of music, and we'd never known it.
Reindl: The music scene here is not a localized scene, it's not somewhere like Bloomington, where everyone knows everybody. Chicago is like ten different scenes all mixed together.
Ensley: There's a lot of cool things about it, though. There are good people that are doing things. I don't know if some centralized thing is what is important. We have totally met cool people and there are awesome people that are setting up shows and doing cool things. It's so big that there's going to be a lot that are shitty and there's a lot that we probably haven't met that are really great.
How much of the new album's stripped down sound was intentional and how much was consequential?
Reindl: I feel like most of it was consequential. People in the band left, we had less time to record this one, less money to record it. The only people you're going to hear on the record for the most part is me, Ryan, and Calvin. I would play a guitar line, vocals, piano, organ, and bass all in one song. We didn't have enough time to experimental with a lot of other things.
We paid money that we didn't actually have. It sounds better because it was recorded in a real studio with a real engineer. Our first album, we mixed it ourselves and did all the engineering ourselves. We wanted to do this record live, like this is Shiloh sounding live at this point in time. Our band kind of fell apart during the recording of the album.
Ensley: We were on tour and we were recording and it just fell apart.
Reindl: It was definitely stressful and it's not what we wanted. It took us four months to make the record but we were only in the studio for eight days.
Schaller: It did kind of suck having different feelings about things, hearing it again.
Reindl: It was really stressful in that way. It's an accurate reflection of where we were as a band at the time, but the next record is where we're really going to shine.
Your playlist is lookin' mighty bare, hoss.
Click the '+' and add some tracks.
Click the '+' and add some tracks.
Empty (add some tracks!)