Earlier this week we were lucky enough to share Woman Like That, a thriving modern blues EP from Melbourne group Chicago Dime.
It’s a free-spirited and infectious release, but Chicago Dime are so much more than their recordings. As anyone who has seen them live will tell you, this is a band you have to meet in person.
To find out a little more, we sat down for a chat.
Unplanned solos, dancing on tables, and impromptu band members. One thing is clear about Chicago Dime; they’re never going to repeat themselves.
HAPPY: Hey guys, what’s happening? What are you up to at the moment?
CHICAGO DIME: We are excited that our new EP Woman Like That has just released and preparing for our final performances for the year.
HAPPY: Tell us a little about how you got started. You were originally a duo, correct?
CHICAGO DIME: Correct. We started as a jazz duo to give us something to do during downtime between performances at a jazz festival. A year later, we thought we would extend the duo into a band by adding our mates on bass and drums. We found, by having a band, we were also able to add more blues and vocal tunes and broaden our audience. We had such a great time at the festival performing together, that we decided to continue the band. In numerous interviews, Buddy Guy says, “I went to Chicago lookin’ for a dime and found a quarter”, with those simple words, we found a name for the band, Chicago Dime.
HAPPY: Chicago Dime seem to view the blues a little differently to most. What does the genre mean to you?
CHICAGO DIME: The blues is about feeling bad, feeling alone and there isn’t much else you can do, or many places left to go, but if you can just play some blues, everything starts to feel a little better.
HAPPY: Is subverting the blues a rewarding experience for the band? How do you tackle that?
CHICAGO DIME: We don’t subvert. We take elements of early blues and combine it with what most Melbournians label ‘Australian Blues’, to create a different blues style you don’t find in Melbourne. We looked to artists like Wynton Marsalis, Georgia Lee, Eric Clapton and Buddy Guy and found there was more to the blues than what many thought. Doing something different makes the music much more exciting and enjoyable to perform which is very rewarding. We encourage improvisation by never preparing any solos, floating song forms and varying tempos depending on the audience or venue. This keeps things very fresh for us every time we play.
HAPPY: Improvisation has classically been a huge part of live blues. How do you incorporate improv into your set lists?
CHICAGO DIME: Improvisation is a huge part of what we do. We never pre-learn solos. Every solo is different every time. We will often stretch solos and forms, change feels and dynamics mid song and add sections completely on a whim. It is extremely exciting and exhilarating to have the band take an unexpected turn based upon where each of us feels it should go whilst working together.
HAPPY: You say the audience becomes part of your show, too. What are some memorable interactions you’ve had during your live shows?
CHICAGO DIME: We regularly get up on tables, sit with the audience in the middle of a song or invite a bunch of the crowd to join on stage and be a part of the band. Every live show is different and you never know what you’re going to get. At our most recent show, four ladies in the audience joined us on stage to sing a chorus. We had to repeat the chorus many times as we couldn’t stop them singing and dancing and having a great time. That was a great experience.
HAPPY: You’ve got Woman Like That coming up, your new EP. How do you compare this one to Big City Blues, from the band’s perspective?
CHICAGO DIME: Big City Blues was a great place to start. It had a singular concept and was very much in the standard blues idiom. Woman Like That is of a higher quality across the board. Another year of playing together has made the band tighter and more comfortable with a broader range of musical ideas. We are now able to emphasise unison hits and riffs behind the vocal and improvise with a greater degree of certainty. We are also more prepared for the studio. Woman Like That took half the amount of time to record and since we had no musical concept when we started, we were able to add musical motifs throughout the EP without slowing down production.
HAPPY: What else is coming up for the band?
CHICAGO DIME: Apart from the new EP and final performances for the year, we are starting to prepare for an exciting performance next year. Stay tuned!
HAPPY: Thanks for the chat!
Woman Like That is available now.