by Vittorio CarliThe Drapes
I’ve seen the Drapes enthrall many large and adoring crowds during many art related events at both The Whale in Pilsen, and the trendy after hours club, The Hideout.
It’s a tradition to see them play at the bi-annual Pilsen Pig Roasts, and they are invariably one of highlights of the event. When you consider the talent that’s usually assembled for the event, that’s quite a compliment.
The Drapes were named after a gang of hoods in a John Waters’s delightful camp classic “Cry Baby.” They were formed in the late ‘90s by Kevin McDonough and his brother, Dan, who later ended up in the Blacks. They went through many drummers and several bass players. Their rock solid current lineup (consisting of Kevin McDonough on guitar/lead vocals, Andrea Jablonski on bass/backup vocals, and Bob Spellring on drums) has been together for several years.
The band plays a very distinctive brand of punky and danceable blues-rock that’s hard to resist. The members play off each other quite well, and they look quite theatrical during their blistering solos. The members may not be virtuosos, but they clearly know how to get and keep an audience’s attention. Their playing fits the needs of the song, and it never seems show-offy or pretentious.
The group received some good notices in “The Chicago Reader,” "New City" , and “The Illinois Entertainer” The group is hard to pigeonhole and eclectic. Critics have been all over the map with their accolades. The Drapes have been positively compared to everyone from X to Big Black to the Jam to the Rolling Stones.
Their releases are “Shine On Sweetheart, ” Nurse Diesel,
“ and “Auxiliary.” They have a not yet titled new release
coming out this fall onOrange
Recordings . They also have their own website at The
Drapes . Com. Andrea was a fine interview subject. She was eager to
discuss the band, her artistic past, music, and any subject I would bring
What’s the story behind the band’s name?
Around two years into it. It comes from the John Waters movie, “Crybaby.” There’s a group of hoodlums in Baltimore where John Waters is from; so it refers to gangs and greasers in the ‘50s. That place is associated with gangs. Dan McDonough thought of the name and gave it to Kevin.
How did you meet Kevin and Bob?
Oh lord. I met Kevin five years ago after I came back to Chicago after I had been traveling; I met Kevin through his previous bass player who I was married to. Then Georgio my husband went back to Italy and he abandoned his bass. I kept it and started playing it; eventually Kevin asked me to join the band. I celebrated my four-year anniversary on April 1.
Did you celebrate your anniversary in any way?
No (laughing) I think I was at band practice and I announced to the other members, “I have been in the band four years, today?” They replied, “So what? Oh Okay,” Bob is the third drummer I played with in the drapes. We went through many drum changes as we have changed our sound. We found him in Bloomington, Indiana.
I read somewhere that Kevin forced you to play bass. Is this true?
(Laughing) No, someone thought it would be good in the bio. I had been playing three or four months. Georgio had left and Kevin said, “ Come on c’mon, play bass for us.” I didn’t think that I had been playing long enough. But you know it’s rockn’roll and there’s only two chords. No that’s true. The story is my husband left me, the country and the bass so that’s how I joined the band.
Your sound has been described by critics as being a kind of blues-punk. Do you think this is an accurate characterization of your sound?
Well I think most rock music has a huge blues underbelly. You can’t play rock without being influ4nced by blues. Look at Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones. We’re called “punk” because we pay fast and loud and we are not musically schooled enough to play anything more than two or three chords at a time. We get a lot of weird comparisons. One of our strengths and weaknesses is that we are not one specific genre. because all out songs are different. But there’s nothing wrong with getting compared to the blues. I’d be happy to be compared to anything associated with that.
Besides the blues, do you have any favorite genres or musicians?
Absolutely. All of us bring interesting influences to the band. I love ‘80s pop and Tom Waitts. I picked up a little heavy metal from Kevin in his high school days. Bob is schooled in bluegrass, and he’s been playing in a lot of bands.
What 80’s pop?
Oh Jesus. Anything from Blondie and Duran Duran. When I was really little too more punk stuff. I liked The Cure. In high school I liked The Circle Jerks, the Germs, and the Dead Kennedys.
Speaking of the Circle Jerks, did you see “The Decline of Western Civilization?”
Absolutely. I saw all of them. I liked the “The Decline of Western Civilization: Metal Years” too.
Would you ever want to do a film score or soundtrack?
Yes, different people wanted us to write for their films, but the prospects fell through-- often because of financing. The label we’re on now is Orange Recordings. Sometimes the sell the rights to the movies would definitely have to like the movie. I wouldn’t be opposed to that, but I don’t know how well our music would fit into a film.
I’m a big admirer of Bernard Hermann, the man who wrote the “Psycho” and “Vertigo” soundtracks. Do you like film music?
It defends on the situation. I might buy a soundtrack CD because I like one of the songs. I’m not that big on instrumentals.
Your band covered a Curtis Mayfield song. Was funk or soul an influence at all?
MMMMM. Curtis Mayfield has extreme bass to the most. That got started because we got asked to do the Chicago’s Finest Hour Barbecue. They have 20 bands, and we had to do a song by another Chicago band or performer. We ran into a gentleman who used to be his manager. He told us some really crazy stories about him. Curtis was from Chicago, so we decided to do one of his numbers. I actually hadn’t been exposed to a lot of soul and funk. I really enjoyed learning that style. It’s fabulous. It’s not easy to play but it’s fun.
What are your favorite places to play at and why? What kind of venues do you like to play in?
Well, we always do well in hole in the wall places. I love playing at The Empty Bottle, Cal’s Liquors, and the Hideout. We can’t fill a place like the Metro yet so we do more intimates, smaller places. Sometimes I meet interesting characters. Most people are very friendly and hospitable in smaller places. We always get a good response there.
I saw your terrific performance at the tribute for Mark Horne at the Hideout. Do you like being in-group or package concerts?
Well for the most part, we play 80% of our shows with two or three other bands. Occasionally we play a really long show. Sometimes there’s a time limit, and we only get to play two or three songs. Each one is fun and stressful in its own way. I’m in it to interact with people and express myself. Each situation can be fun in its own way.
How are the composing duties divided up in the group?
Kevin is the primary composer. He has developed his own specific style. Bob came into the picture, and he’s had lots of experience and training. He adapts well to different musical situations. The lyrics and concepts are Kevin’s, but the whole band does the arrangements. Some people suggest we should take turns writing or singing lead or that Bob should play guitar, because he can do that. But it’s the way we do it. Too many cooks can spoil the stew. There needs to be a leader in a creative situation. And everyone else lends his or her talents. It’s fun that way. Sometimes we play and start with a riff, and go from there.
Do you jam with other musician?
Absolutely. We just started a recording that’s coming out in September and my friend, Evelyn Weston played a song. We also played with Kennedy from The Thin Man. He plays accordion and he’s a wonderful musician. I wish we had more opportunity to bring in people, but scheduling makes it difficult. Kevin ended up doing organ parts and I played accordion on the recording. We thought about bringing in another keyboard player or guitarist but we can’t afford that right now.
Do you ever encounter any bias because of your gender?
Yes. It’s funny but at 2 out 10 shows, I’ll
play at a show and the other bands will have females. Usually, it’s a
bass play or a singer. Occasionally, I encounter an all female band. Sometimes
we all get together and compare notes. Sometimes I’ll be loading equipment
and they assume I’m a musician’s girlfriend
It amazes me that I have to explain to them that I actually play in a band or that I’m not the lead singer. . The stereotypes still persist. I don’t think of myself as a female musician: I think of myself just as a bass-playing musician.
Why do you think there are so few female lead guitarists?
I don’t think that there are few female guitarists. I just think they aren’t recognized much by the mainstream. I still think that there are types of music that attract women. I see little harems of women at concerts. Usually they are there to see their boyfriends, but there is a certain amount of influence I have on female fans. A young girl might tell me, “I’m here to see my boyfriend’s band and I’ll reply: “Well maybe someday he’ll come to see your band.” The girl might think a minute and reply “Yeah!”
Speaking of female musicians, were you aware of or influenced by riot grrl acts or rock feminism?
Yes, to an extent, I like some of the bands like Bikini Kill and Sleater-Kinney. I had a similar conversation with my friend who is a bike messenger. You have to come to terms with the fact that bringing a female into the band helps bring it some attention. But we never thought, well we’re riding a bike or playing music yet we’re girls. We just did it. I never thought that I need to be empowered or I need twenty girls standing behind me. I’m not saying the riot grrl movement wasn’t great or good.. But things like Ladyfest piss the shit out of me. It’s like saying we’re not good enough to compete with the big boys. I’ll play with anyone at any time.
You and the singer/lead guitarist, Kevin are or were an item. Is it difficult maintaining a relationship on the road with all the temptations?
Well, that’s one of the biggest misconceptions that people have. When you are driving for eight hours a day, drinking, and playing, you are too tired for the drug orgy parties–which don’t always, happen anyway. People think touring is what you see on TV. We were a couple, but we are not now. We know each other well and we work together well, so that transition came very easy for us. At first it was a little strange, but we always knew we wanted to play together. We don’t work together as a couple though because we’re both egotistical assholes. Alcohol brings out lots of anger. I’m just being honest. But I love playing music with him, and in order to keep doing that we had to separate as a couple. He’s still my best friend. Bob’s amazing too. We’re a marriage of three. You have your horrible times and your great times.
With the recent situation with Iraq, we’ve been seeing more protest songs. Do you think politics and music should be kept separate or is it natural to blend them together?
I think it’s natural to write political songs especially in a big situation like Iraq. It’s hard not to have an opinion. We just came back from a tour in the south. I thought we’d hear a lot more opposition to the opposition. But if you’re very well known the politics come out. U2 is a big mainstream band and they’re totally rooted in politics. and smaller scale bands like Fugazi are also political. It would be hard to write about full moons or flowers during a war. It’s almost impossible not to express your opinion on it.
Were you influenced by other art forms?
Well, I didn’t start playing until I was 27. Before that, I was a student at the Art Institute of Chicago, and I was a practicing visual artist. I used to be an outsider artist. I started working with Tony Fitzpatrick (see http://www.tonyfitzpatrick.com).
He encouraged me to quit school and do my own thing. I worked with him when he had the World Tattoo Gallery. And I met some wonderful people like Carl Hammer (see http://www.hammergallery.com/), who supported outsider art.
I also met Ed Pasche (see http://www.tandempress.wisc.edu/tandem/gallery/paschke/paschke.htm) who is the most mainstream of self-taught artists. I met lots of people that were doing their own thing and they weren’t worried about marketing or sales or being politically correct.
When I took up music, I had to train a whole new instrument, my ear. It was an interesting phenomenon. Visual art can be very isolating. You work by yourself. Music has given me a freedom to express myself and work within people. Artists have an obsessive need to express themselves. That expressive drive is what makes them artists. I’m sure you know that from being a writer
What does the future hold in store for The Drapes?
We just signed with an independent label, Orange Recordings. They have a lot of great bands on there like The Cells, Geraldine, White Hassle, Cash Audio and Immortal Lee County Killers (see Orange Recordings for more info).
They have lots of Midwest regional bands. The owner’s a great guy. I understand the financial difficulties of running an independent label. We’re working with a manager. He’s a friend of ours, and he’s with EMI. He’s helping us with a game plan. We don’t know anything about marketing strategy. We’re repressing the second CD and putting out a new one in September. We’ll be touring behind it.
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