Worth The Wait: Sitting Down with Modern Vices
Modern Vices, consisting of Alex Rebek on vocals, Patrick Hennessey on drums, Peter Scoville on guitar, Miles Kalchik on bass, and Thomas Peters also on guitar, built the foundation for what we now know as the Chicago DIY scene. From the suburb of Elmhurst, and with friendships dating back over a decade, the group has been well received and well respected since their self-titled record debut in 2014. Over time, the group has managed to play consistent live shows, whether those be at any given DIY location, or at music venues on each side of the coasts. Although they have upheld their dedication to remaining active, especially in the city that raised them up, it’s been five long years since fans have received new music from the troupe; however, this second record may have just proven to have been worth the wait.
Their latest record, If Only, is bombastic and hypnotic in the most intricate of ways. Within the songs are melodies to fill up your chest and make you feel as though you absolutely need to dance. Surrounded inside those sounds are lyrics you find yourself yelling in unison and scribbling down, even if only ever to simply absorb them. Whether the tune be gentle and mesmerizing like “Telephone TV,” or vivacious and raw like “Not a Problem,” each will manage to soak themselves into the rhythm of your step as you walk through the city with your headphones in, or carve their way into your bedroom walls as you play them while you mindlessly dance by yourself. Every moment while listening manages to feel as though to be a personal serenade, with such intoxicating and polished power radiating throughout captivating harmonies and thunderous vocals. This record maps out the band’s journey towards finding their own sound and staking their claim in the realm of music.
Tonitruale was able to sit down with Alex and Miles before the Modern Vices album release show on October 24th, 2019, to talk about the new album, working with Brad Schultz, touring, the DIY scene, songwriting, and more.
Photo by: Natalia Obrochta
Anaïs: You started in 2013; How long did you know each other before you started the band?
Alex: It’s a little bit different for all of us.
Miles: Pat [Hennessey] and Thomas [Peters] are cousins, so they have known each other forever.
Alex: Then, I was in a band with those two guys, prior to Modern Vices. I met Thomas during my freshman year of high school, and he introduced me to Patrick. So, we’ve been playing in a band for over a decade together. Yeah, we’re old.
MK: High school is the short answer probably, in some shape or form. Like, you three [Alex, Patrick, and Thomas] were playing together and Pete [Scoville] and I played in different bands, but we were all kind of like, friends of friends. We all just knew each other.
AR: I’ve known Pete since elementary.
MK: Yeah, we all went to the same high school and stuff, so we’ve all known each other for quite some time.
AT: Since you guys were separate, how did you decide to all come together?
AR: I mean Miles and I were in the same grade and everyone else was in a grade above us. So, they were already at school, but when we were in our freshman year of college, it just kind of formed.
MK: We were all jamming together at that point, not really intending to be a band necessarily.
AR: Everyone was in Chicago, except me. I was going to school in upstate New York. They kind of told me they had this rolling before I even knew about it, and then they sent me all the tracks and were like, “Yo, write your lyrics.” Then, I came back over winter break, recorded all of our stuff, and then it was done.
MK: Pat, Thomas, and I went to Depaul and Peter was at Columbia [College Chicago]. Then, Pat and Pete lived together at the time and they had a basement with a landlord that let them play music inside.
AR: We called it the “acid dungeon.”
MK: So, we recorded our album in the acid dungeon.
AT: The first album?
AR: The first album, yeah. We played our first show there. We played a show before we even had it out. We threw a house show and had all of our friends come.
AT: When was this?
AR: Like, 2013/2014. Then, we put out the record shortly after that.
MK: We put it on Bandcamp initially and then we signed with Autumn Tone [Records], so we took it down and re-released it with a new mix in the fall.
AR: New name too. We were originally called “Baby Baby.”
AT: What made you change the name?
AR: There’s another band called “Baby Baby.”
MK: I think it’s for the best though. I think Modern Vices is a better name than Baby Baby.
AT: How did the name come about, or who came up with it?
AR: Baby Baby or Modern Vices?
AT: Both, why not!
AR: Baby Baby is from The Supremes, right?
MK: Yeah, it was kind of a little doo-wop thing.
AR: Then, the day that we came up with Modern Vices—
MK: We knew we needed a new name, and we were brainstorming until we were all fried, and then there was some name we had that had “modern” and I remember not liking it.
AR: It was “Modern Eyes.”
MK: Everybody was down for that and I was like, “Fuck that!” but it had to be unanimous so we thought about what we liked and Pete was like, “Okay we like modern.” So, we were just coming up with other words and we thought GTA: Vice City, then Modern Vices. Fast forward six years, and here we are!
AT: Definitely the right choice in the end! So, your self-titled record was in 2014 and you stayed active with shows, but there hasn’t been any new music for five years up until today [August 24th]! So, this is me confronting you!
MK: We released a song—
AR: Actually a few.
MK: Yeah, so we recorded an EP and ended up scratching it, but we put out each song on Soundcloud or Youtube or something. That lasted probably about a year or so. We did a Cult Records exclusive, which was really cool. Then, we just threw something out on our Soundcloud.
AR: It was nothing.
MK: Yeah, we just randomly kind of dropped stuff. So, you can find those on the web.
AR: Yeah, on the deep web.
MK: Then, we recorded another full-length album, then decided we didn’t really like it, so we started from scratch again, and here we are.
AT: Wasn’t “If Only” released as a single in 2017?
AT: So, then you snatched it back and now it’s the title track of this new record?
MK: We had the artwork for a while. Our friend Ian [Miller] did the piece that’s the album cover now, which we think is really cool. Then, we had that song and we were working on the album at that point, so we decided to put that single out because we thought the album was right around the corner. We were playing that “Warble Daze” show at Logan [Square] Auditorium, so we thought it was a good promotion for that, so we put it out right around then. Then, we decided we wanted to, once again, scratch that album and start recording more. Then, we used “If Only” as kind of the basis for our current album.
AT: In terms of logistics and resources, how does this record compare to the last one?
AR: We were working in better studios and had a better producer.
MK: The first one was self-recorded and the second one, we self-produced a lot of it, but then we had Brad [Schultz] from Cage the Elephant produce “Of the Night” and “All You Got.” So, that was great; we learned a lot from him. That was kind of at the beginning of recording this record.
MK: We did “If Only,” then we were sitting on that.
AR: Then we went down to Kentucky and recorded those two songs back to back at Thunder Sound Recording Studios, because Brad is from Bowling Green, KY. It was great and we had a really fun time. It was like, “Oh, this is what recording is all about.” After that, we really realized that we definitely wanted to re-record everything. At first, we were thinking just an EP, then we just kind of kept going.
MK: Yeah, so we had, basically, another EP done and then we did “If Only,” then we went to Kentucky with Brad and did “Of the Night” and “All You Got.” At that point, we thought things were sounding better, so we started swapping songs out and building on them. Working with Brad helped us see the full vision a little better; we became less afraid of embracing the studio as its own instrument and building songs to their fullest potential. Those are the only songs we did with him, but that mentality kind of carried through to the rest of the album of trying to think about what a song needs, as opposed to just jamming.
AR: Then, we recorded one of the songs on the record at The Bakery [Recording Studios in Nashville].
MK: Yeah, we were recording all over.
AR: The rest was recorded at Treehouse [Records Studios in Chicago].
AT: How did you get in contact with Brad, like how did that come about?
MK: Our old manager is based in Nashville and he knew them [Cage the Elephant], so he put us in touch saying Brad wanted to help produce a song or two.
AR: He was their manager at one point.
AT: So, that’s logistics and resources wise, what about just overall sound and feel? I think your music has just progressed so much and become more polished, but how would you describe it in your own words?
MK: I think that gap in time makes the jump pretty big. We wrote a lot of stuff in between where that first album is a kind of classic rock. There were some songs on the first album that are kind of the direction that we went on with this album, like “Cheap Style” and “Awake in the Night”. That wasn’t necessarily intentional; we were writing a lot of stuff that was all over the place—we had some more doo-wop type stuff; we had some more classic stuff; we had some more post-punk stuff, new wave.
AR: It was just growing up, too, because when we recorded the first record we weren’t like, “We’re going to be a band!” It was kind of just for fun.
MK: Drunk in the basement!
AT: Really? I feel like that record did really well reception wise.
AR: Well, yeah. We had a publishing deal that helped a lot. And “Smoke Rings”—everyone loves that song.
AT: Yeah, that one popped off.
MK: The first one worked so well, I think, because we weren’t thinking about it and it was kind of what was just forming naturally. We recording it really fast. The bulk of it was recorded in two weeks, then you [Alex] came back and did your vocals in a week. So, we didn’t really have time to question what we were doing. So, we put that album out and we started playing more shows and started touring a little bit, so we took that step back and had time to think about what we wanted to do as a band. We struggled with that for a little bit.
AR: We had a lot to figure out. I was sick all the time. The biggest show we ever played, I had strep throat. It was a sold-out show, opening for Twin Peaks at The Metro. We still played though, and it sounded fine. But yeah, we went through a lot of trial-and-error and slowly decided on a collection of songs that we all felt good about. We’ve just been figuring out the right time to put this record out, but the 5 year anniversary [of the first record release] is pretty dope.
MK: The first one came out on October 21st, so it’s right around 5 years.
AT: Was that on purpose?
MK: No, we just all like the fall a lot.
AR: It’s definitely a fall record.
MK: It kind of aligned with where we were with deciding it was done and decided we wanted to do more. We can also say that the next one will not be this far away.
AT: I will hold you to that! You guys were just talking about songwriting though. What does that process look like for you guys; is it collaborative?
MK: It’s a little bit of both.
AR: Most of it was just us jamming, which is another reason why it took us this long.
MK: It took us a while to have a lot of ideas that we thought were songs, then when we went to either record them or play them live, we thought it sounded cool playing it loud in a practice space, but it’s not a song. So, that’s also part of what took us so long. The songs that we have done for this album are ones where we sat down and structured it out a little bit more before just jamming on them. So, overall it’s pretty collaborative.
AR: Lyrics are all me; I pretty much write all the lyrics. I think moving forward from what we’ve learned making this record is we’re going to be a lot more efficient writing songs now.
MK: A lot of this one was figuring out what works for us and the timing of putting this one out is realizing what works. We’re starting to structure out a plan for the future and knowing how we work well together and knowing what works best for us as a collective.
Photo by: Natalia Obrochta
AT: I respect that; everyone works at their own pace. You have been steadily involved in the DIY Chicago scene for so long, so what has that been like? What are some changes you’ve noticed over time?
AR: We were very spoiled growing up in Elmhurst. We had a cool DIY scene; a lot of bands came out of our high school. There was a lot of lowkey competition.
MK: We were very fortunate that we had a suburb that promoted the house show scene.
AR: I mean, in high school I was playing shows at Subterranean and Beat Kitchen when I was like 15. So, we were always trying to do that. I think moving to the city, once we were in this band, we were kind of able to take advantage of having a lot of friends at school and throwing house shows ourselves. We were able to kind of establish our name on our own instead of having to go somewhere and play at someone’s venue. We just threw parties, crammed in as many people as we could, and never charged anything. It was always free and we wanted to pack it as much as possible.
MK: I think the DIY scene has gotten more legitimate. Their sound is great. Litterbox, for example, has somebody come in to do sound, versus it used to just, quite literally, be apartments that might get shut down.
AR: And the bands get paid and shit.
MK: IT feels a lot more serious. Even if it’s like $5, it’s not about the money, but you’re more invested in it and willing to check out the bands when you’re paying.
AR: It’s definitely better than it has ever been.
MK: A lot of it is age too. Now that we’re all over 21, and we’ve been around for longer, it’s easier for us to book shows at places like Schubas, Empty Bottle, Sleeping Village, etc. At the time, though, it was mostly necessity and knowing a lot of similar bands that were of age, or not of age, rather.
AR: Lately, I’ve been going to a lot of DIY shows. I’ve been going to Nude Beach and Litterbox a lot.
AT: You’ve toured a lot in the past, right?
AR: Two U.S tours opening for Twin Peaks. We’ve had a lot of stints and gone to New York a bunch.
MK: We’ve done more small things where we go to a city, play two or three shows, then hit a city or two on the way back rather than full tours.
AR: The biggest tour though was with Twin Peaks. That was 6 weeks and was a whole lap around the country.
AT: What were your favorite cities to play?
AR: Austin, where we played at Mohawk, and Seattle, where we played at Chop Suey, which was a sick show.
MK: Seattle was really cool. We always have pretty good shows in New York because we’ve been there at least 5 or 6 times now.
AR: That one DIY show in L.A. was unreal.
MK: We played this warehouse with Twin Peaks because the venue had an issue. We played there last minute, and it was summer and just fucking miserable.
AR: 100 degrees and 400 people in a loft. We were just ripping off our clothes. They had a rooftop but would only allow people up twelve people at a time.
AT: That sounds lovely! Besides that, what are some of the general best and worst aspects of touring?
AR: Sleeping in the van is the worst. There are like two good spots in it and then everyone else has to sleep upright. There’s a backbench and there’s a floor where you can maybe extend your legs. I remember we were driving down south, got pulled over in Oklahoma at like 3 in the morning, we didn’t have our insurance on us, so they slapped me a big-ticket, which was fine. We were like, “Fuck!” and we slept in a Walmart parking lot for like three hours after that.
MK: I don’t sleep well in the car, so those nights, I usually just lied awake.
AR: There was one time in L.A. when we were just doing a little stint of shows and we just thought, ok, fuck it, we’re going to just drive all the way back. We only stopped for gas and rotated. It took us 36 hours.
MK: We stopped in 15-minute bursts to get gas and go to the restroom.
AR: I was getting sick because I had strep again in L.A. I got better and then I got sick again on that trip back. Then, once we finally got back home, we run out of gas 5 minutes away from our house. Patrick was driving and when he was filling the tank, he managed to spill gasoline all over himself; it was a fuckin’ journey.
AT: Can you disclose if there’s going to be an upcoming tour for this record?
AR: We’re gonna go to New York!
MK: We’re planning on New York and maybe a few more East Coast dates in mid-December. We want to tour more but I feel like we’re at the point where we need to be supporting a band. I don’t think we have enough of a following to be headlining a tour. I mean, touring is great and it’s a lot of fun, but we’re still writing and recording some more stuff.
AT: One last question I had was just about any future plans or hopes you guys had, especially for the record, since it was released today?
AR: I just hope people receive it as just, you know, we’ve gotten better and these 5 years weren’t for nothing.
MK: I hope the people who are fans already enjoy it and see it as the bridge to where we are heading. We also hope to bring more people in because the sound is a little more polished and to the point, as a whole. It’s got some outliers, but it’s more concise than our first record.
AT: Okay, last closing thing: favorite song off the record?
MK: “Alora”, for me.
AR: “Alora” is definitely the closest thing to where we’re headed. My favorite song to play live is “All You Got.”