For many, it was the upbeat interpretation of Wilco’s “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart,” that first brought Chicago’s JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound to their attention. The gumption the Chicago band showed in covering their hallowed Windy City brethren in the first place, let alone to do it like that, made an impression on many (including Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, who subsequently joined them on stage for few live renditions). Three records in and the latest, Howl, finds the band putting some modern twists on the retro soul foundations they’ve established thus far.
“We figured…now is the time to start playing with the sound and nodding to all of the other stuff that we constantly talk about but that we don’t really give peeks at in the act,” Brooks told us during the interview. That means the presence of synths here and there, a torch song or two and a generally more inclusive sound falling squarely in the pop tradition— for a little perspective, a cross section of the music the band touched upon during our session (on mic and off) included ‘80s TV themes, INXS, Destiny’s Child, Blackstreet, and “Fever.”
Soul, however, remains the biggest part of the discussion with Brooks’ vocals fronting the mix, and critics continue to come up with creative ways to describe the sound (“Otis Redding fronting The Stooges,” “Wilson Pickett whipping The Velvet Underground off heroin,” etc.). Add to those: emotional and occasionally gritty and, all in all, quintissentially American— much like the city it calls home.
Hear the full session (performances and interview) in the audio player below:
Audio production/mixes: Steven Kray, with technical assistance from Randy Layton
Video production: Nate Sjol, Kathryn Boyd-Batstone
Interview: Jeremy Petersen
Executive Producer: David Christensen