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Chicago's Bailiff to Release New Album

Sophomoric is an unflattering adjective. It's also not a very confident year in high school. And there's no doubt that the creation of a second album should be a terrifying event for any band. To feel apart from that first creation. Climb a mountain of doubt. Surrender to the push and pull, then embrace the intensity of everything that brings the music to life.

Left to right: Owen O'Malley (bass, vocals), Josh Siegel (lead vocals, guitar), Ren Mathew (drums) of Bailiff
Left to right: Owen O'Malley (bass, vocals), Josh Siegel (lead vocals, guitar), Ren Mathew (drums) of Bailiff
Jaime Endick

It's like, you've got our attention.. now what?

Bailiff's counter to that? Remise.

I got to talk to Josh Siegel, the lead singer of Chicago band, Bailiff about Remise, due out Tuesday, April 22. It's been three years since their debut album, Red Balloon. Which is kind of awhile, but it's funny how severely things align with time and perseverance.

LB: It's kind of hard to imagine you guys going from complete strangers to the way you play together now; I've seen you, it just looks and sounds very natural. Did you talk to a lot of other guys before you found Ren [Mathew]?

JS: Definitely. I can't say how many, but I know that I was actively meeting up with people for about a year before I met Ren. It is hard to find someone that you can click with.

I was thinking about this the other day, that I did play with a couple of drummers that were good, and cool people, but it's like, there are so many things on the checklist that have to line up. And it was good for me to go through that process. 'Cause I remember meeting up with a drummer who was much more looking for a band that's ready to go, or like a songwriter that has an album's worth of songs and they just write the drum part to it, and that made me really like.. I'm really not that guy, I'm looking for more of a collaborative band.

And in my head, I fantasized about, you know, just a couple of musicians getting together and I would have like a little glimmer of a song emerging and we'd all kind of just play on that idea 'til a song happens. And Ren was the first guy that was really in the same position, where he had just left a band and he was wanting to meet someone who was kinda starting from scratch. By the time I met up with him I really only had like two songs written and a couple other ideas. And he kind of heard what I was hearing in them. Where other people were kind of like "oh, well let me know when you finish writing that," he was much more like "let's just play that for an hour, and record it, and see what it sounds like".

LB: Sounds like it was quite a journey for you. Was there also any defining moment when you kind of knew that Owen [O'Malley] was going to be the official bassist? Because I know you went through a couple before you got to him.

JS: The moment was building up to a certain thing. But strangely, the way the Owen thing went was that me and Ren had a different bass player for Red Balloon, and then we parted ways after that record. And it was a big deal, so we were kinda guarded about having people join the band, so me and Ren were like: "you know, let's just have you and me be the band. We'll have just various musicians join us for live shows, but ultimately you and me will be the band." And we have a lot of friends who are great musicians, so they helped us out and they played live shows, but the scheduling was really hard.

And Owen met us during that time because we had an ad out, and we sent a bunch of emails to people in the music scene. So Owen heard about us through that, and we kind of told him "we're not gonna have anyone join the band right now, but we'd love to play some shows with you." So the first moment was when he showed up the first time, and he was so much better than anyone we had played with before. And he really knew the music. So I was like, wow, this guy really sat down and worked every note and every lyric of this album. And we played a couple of shows together, but he was going through a transitional phase and actually, right when things were starting to feel like they were going somewhere, he was like "hey guys I'm moving back to New York".

And I don't blame him; at that point we hadn't given him any permanent position in the band. And we were like "well that's a bummer, that guy was really cool." He said that, and then it was like we still had a couple more shows on the calendar, and were like "do you want to play these, and just go move in October?" and he was like "yeah I'd love to play those". So then, once he already said he was leaving, and we played these more shows, and it really started to click, I was like "dammit, this is the guy."

And then he moved, and he came back to visit and we had a show at Schubas, and the timing was just perfect; he was in town for this one weekend. And we were like "Hey, do you want to play with us?" and he was like "definitely". And that was really the moment where afterwards, we were all telling him "we need to talk about this. Is there any way you can join this band?" and he was like "Dammit, I just moved to New York," and so then it became this process, where I would call him, and we'd talk on the phone. He was definitely going through a rough spot, because I can't imagine packing up everything, moving to another state, and then being like "hey, maybe I'll move back."

So yeah, it was a slower thing with the songs, but to me, it was that Schubas show when he came back to visit; that was the moment for me. And then, the phone calls started in October, and then by December, we were just kind of like "Hey man, are you gonna move back or not?" and he was like "let me think about it," and then by the end of the month, he contacted us and was like "I'm coming back," so that's how it went.

LB: It's kind of like a romantic movie with a very happy ending.

JS: It really was.

LB: Just like the meeting up for a weekend, and being like "this is perfect!"

JS: I know. So many Romantic Comedy moments.

LB: I'm glad it worked out.

JS: Yeah.

LB: I read that you went to songwriting boot camp before the second album. What made you guys decide to want to go?

JS: Well, I think that's probably just an expression. I didn't actually get in the car and go to boot camp, but that was referring to the fact that we had two producers; one guy named John Alvin, and one guy named Dan Smart. And that whole process kind of started with the first record. We had never had someone outside the band come in and be like "hey that song is not good enough to be on the record." And we were like "That's harsh." Then, realizing, having a producer push you, like "that needs a better bridge," or "you need to send in those lyrics by next week," and to really give the creative process some structure and deadline.

So we wanted that again for this record and that really helped. We had Dan come the same time every week and it just kinda gave our week purpose. And we needed that 'cause me Ren and Owen had never written songs together. When Owen joined, I think I had written maybe two songs [for Remise]. And so there was just a little, it was a little sign that there was an album emerging. But then it took awhile to get into the flow of writing together and figure out what kind of music we're all into.

So the boot camp thing was mostly our producer showing up and looking at how we work and what it's sounding like and then coming up with little like, he would give us direction, he'd send us these long emails after we'd meet. He'd be like "all right, the record needs a really fast song," and he kind of guided us in a certain direction, and that's why it felt like a songwriting boot camp. Every week you were getting told... it's an amazing skill because you're not being told "sit down and write three lines for the next song," it was kinda like vague but really helpful comments that would inspire us.

LB: Yeah actually, it's funny. There's now a boot camp for National Novel Writing Month, so I was thinking it was one of those things, I don't know if you get on a bus, but you know, something where everyone gets together and learns stuff but...

(both laugh)

LB: Ok, and what is your songwriting process like? Do you kind of get all the lyrics and then start jamming together, or do you kind of write both as you go?

JS: I tend to write the lyrics last. I try not to save them all for the end. It was different for some of the songs, but mostly it's like, Ren might have some drum ideas floating around that he doesn't have a song to use them on yet, and it's the same for Owen. We all just kind of have ideas floating around but I'll tend to sit with the guitar and it starts on the guitar. So I'll find little melodies and kind of hum them. And I'll just have to lock myself in a room where no one can hear me embarrass myself. Just kinda sing and strum and go to different chords until I find some where I'm like "oh, that feels right," and then once I get to a point where it seems far enough along to record it, I'll do that or I'll show up at rehearsal and be like "hey can you play this kind of drum beat for me?" and just kind of describe what style song, I might reference another band, and then we work on them, and I tend to sing a couple of good lyrics and a couple of filler substitute lyrics until we get the song to a place where I'm like "all right, I have an idea of what this is about." And then I sit down and go through the painful process of trying to write lyrics for a song that's already way further down the line than the lyrics are. That's kinda how it goes.

LB: Do you have a favorite song off the new album?

JS: Today I would say "Out of the Blue". That one's my favorite.

LB: Actually, that's one I was going to bring up. Especially lyrically, it felt like another level for you guys, and just very different than the other songs on the album; do you have a story behind that one?

JS: Yeah, that one was the same, it came together that way I just described where the lyrics, for the most part, came last. That one, I really had to like... I just had such a specific melody and it was like I knew the feeling I wanted it to have, it's just that it needed a lot, that it was going to be a lot of lyrics. Yeah, it was just a lot of time sitting in a chair and reading and writing.

Luckily once those verses... I don't know, I have like a box of lyrics that I tend to write and then I'll toss it in the box if I don't use it for a song. So that one was really good because as I was writing it, I'd have these little phrases or little lines that I had written months before, years before, I didn't even know when I wrote them. It was like these little lines had come back and it just seemed like they were really meant to be in that song. So that's how I remember that one going.

That one was also really inspired by a poem called "Sun Stone" by Octavio Paz, which is like this 40-page poem. And it just loops and swirls around. I was trying to get that same feeling of like, never-ending poetry.

LB: Are you the only one who does the lyrics? Is that pretty much all you?

JS: On this record, Owen co-wrote the lyrics on "Looking Away" and "Golden Hour". And, even in the studio, there'll be times with everyone, like Ren will be there, I'll just be like "should I sing the line," like "should I end it with this word?--".. there'll be little tweaks that we make in the studio. Yeah, me and Owen met up and locked ourselves in a room until we wrote "Golden Hour".

LB: Alright, and then I guess that gets to the next question, which is: How drastically did your material change when you went to record with Beau Sorenson, and what was that process like the second time around compared to the first?

JS: I don't feel like it changed very drastically this time. And that's because-- It was different from the first record because we spent a year writing and demo-ing the music with bands to the point where we just wanted to go into the studio and really know what these songs were gonna be, so that we could just work on the tones and giving really good performances. So I don't remember anything changing; the first record, there were some drastic changes. There were some songs that just were half-written. We wrote them on the spot and recorded them.

This one, we went into it pretty defiant of what we wanted the songs to sound like. But there were still some exhilarating moments where--no matter how much planning you do when you actually get in the room to record it--some little intuition is like "hey maybe we need to change this part"... so there were some of those, but not nearly as many as the first record.

For more of the new songs, check out "Shake my Heart Awake", which made its debut on Impose, and "Helicopter," which premiered on American Songwriter earlier this month.

If you like what you read (and heard), their record release show is at 1st Ward on Friday April 18. They'll be accompanied by Smoker and Brother George. Tickets are $10.

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