Pal of the Year

Homeroom is excited to announce 2016's Pal of the Year, Jordan Martins. Over the past year, Martins has written the liner notes for the Ten x Ten art book and vinyl collection, presented at the Graphic Notation 101 lecture and worked with Homeroom as we curated a month of music at Comfort Station. 


2015 Pal of the Year, Matthew Baron, will present the award to Martins at our Pal-entine's Day celebration of frienship on Friday,  February 5th at Cole's Bar in Logan Square. 

As Homeroom's first ever Pal of the Year, Matthew Baron twice served as a mentor to young artists in the Emerging & Established Artist Exchange and performed with his band, Future Hits at the Homeroom-curated Summer Sessions on the Square. 


Jordan Martins is a Chicago-based visual artist, curator, educator, and musician. Martins’s visual work is based in collage processes, including mixed media two dimensional work, photography, video, and installation. As a musician, Martins collaborates with Angela James and Quarter Mile Thunder, in addition to improvised performances with musicians from varied backgrounds. As Co-Director of the Comfort Station, he oversees general programming, gestates new projects, and coordinates partnerships with outside organizations and artists. He co-founded the Comfort Music series in 2011, directed the Relax Attack Jazz Series from 2011-2013, and is currently on the programming committee for the Chicago Jazz Festival. 

Matthew Baron is a Chicago Public School teacher who is also a songwriter. He merged his two talents into Future Hits which is a kid-focused band that includes educational material in their songs. Their most recent album Today is Forever (Hoy es Para Siempre) is bi-lingual. His long-running project Coach House Sounds was a platform for local bands from every genre to share their music with the greater Chicago community. He also serves as Creative Director for the Humboldt Park venue Silent Funny.


Emerging & Established Artist Exchange: Griffin Kenna & Robbie Hamilton

Emerging & Established Artist Exchange pair Griffin Kenna and mentor Robbie Hamilton will release a new, 4-song EP later this year. Griffin's new songs are highly focused, with a particular and distinct sound that employs close-mic'd intimate, dry detail, a blending of live and electronic instrumentation, and careful attention to an interlocking construction of parts, rhythms, and melodic lines. Ahead of the EP release, Griffin has collaborated with filmmaker Nathaniel Bunce for a video for the song, "Underdressed." Stay tuned for an upcoming release show!


Songwriter Showcase: An Interview with Deadbeat

Deadbeat plays June 12th's Songwriter Showcase at Elastic Arts. Homeroom talks with the lo-fi solo singer/ songwriter (a.k.a. Jessica Risker) about her self-described "anti-folk apatheticisms" and influences that range from the do-it-alone attitude of Bob Dylan to the poetic musings of Daniel Johnston.

When did you first discover your talent for songwriting?

I think I'm still discovering my "talent", but I first knew I was interested in writing music in high school.  I tried my hand at it then, and wrote a little bit more in college, but it was difficult for me to finish ideas.  It wasn't until my brother sent me to the RPM Challenge a few years ago that I started writing and completing songs in earnest.  

Do song lyrics come to you at all times of the day?

Yes.  I almost always start a song with melodies that I hear in my head, and sometimes those melodies are accompanied by phrases or words.  When I'm working on a song, I tend to keep the song in the back of my mind while going about the day, and words sort of float in and fill the spaces over time.  But, some of my favorite songs were written lyrically in one big outburst of writing. 

What is the most challenging thing about songwriting for you?

The writing process can be frustrating, because when I'm beginning something, there's a gap between where it is and where I'd like it to be.  That frustration will stay with me until I figure out how to finish it, and sometimes that can take a while.  I also often get overwhelmed by the possibilities of where something can go.  But when the music is finished and I'm happy with it, it's ultimately very satisfying, and very fun to explore all the creative possibilities.  


Who has had the biggest influence on your songwriting?

I have two people in mind - my biggest musical influence is Beck, as I have always admired his creativity, humor, experimentation, and musical/artistic sensibility and aesthetic.  The second person is my brother Loren, who from the beginning has encouraged me to work at music, has always listened and given me feedback on my ideas, and has been an inspiration to watch in the patient and steady pursuance of his own artistic endeavors.  

What songs would you like played at your funeral?

I don't know!  Out of the cannon of songs "out there," I don't think I could narrow it down.  If I'm choosing out of my own songs, I would pick "Accident," as that song best captures my curiosity and wonderment at life and the beauty and force of nature.  

Songwriter Showcase with Thomas Comerford, Axons, Rebecca Francescatti and Deadbeat, 9pm June 12th at Elastic Arts, 3429 W Diversey Ave. #208, Chicago IL. 

Songwriter Showcase: An Interview with Axons

Axons talks with Homeroom ahead of June 12th's Songwriter Showcase at Elastic Arts. Axons (a.k.a. Chicago-based songwriter, singer and producer Adele Nicholas) playfully skews and recombines sounds drawn from a diverse palette of 90s indie rock, top 40 pop, electronica and hip hop. Axons' live shows feature Adele performing as a one-woman band, looping percussion, synths, guitars and vocals to create lush sonic landscapes in real time.

At what age did you start writing songs and what compelled you to start?

I took piano lessons as a kid, but I didn’t get really inspired to start writing my own music until I started playing guitar when I was in my late teens. I can say (without any hesitation or irony) that the reason I started playing music and writing music was because I was completely obsessed with the band Weezer. I picked up guitar to start learning Weezer covers and started writing my own music almost right away.

Who were some of your early influences?

I think that the Cat Power record What Would the Community Think? and Liz Phair’s Exile in Guyville really made me want to find my voice as a songwriter and gave me the courage to try. Both of these records are very intimate (both in their lyrics and in the production style and simplicity of guitar parts) which was inspiring to me.   

How has your songwriting changed over time?

Since I’ve been producing electronic music, I would say that production choices have come to play a much larger role in what I consider my songwriting process. Songwriting has become for me more than just selecting a chord progression and singing a melody. Songwriting also encompasses creating dynamics, selecting and layering sounds, and manipulating sounds electronically.  

Do you have a process that most of your songs come from or is each song different?

It varies. I often begin writing a song by playing a guitar and singing along to get a sense of a melody or chord progression I want to use. Other times, I have a percussion snippet that I like and will end up writing around that by just playing it on repeat and layering keys and guitars over it. In either case, once I have a line or two of melody with words that I like, I usually take a break from writing the rest of the music for the song and focus on the lyrics for a while. 

Who are some of your favorite Chicago songwriters?

Danielle Sines from Impulsive Hearts, Bryan Alvarez from Post Child, Jessica Risker from Deadbeat, Jonathan Scott from Doleful Lions. 

What song or songs would you like played at your funeral?

Mary Roach said in her book Stiff that "death is for the living" and I think that’s a wise sentiment. So, I wouldn’t try to dictate what people played if they were putting together a funeral. However, if I’m controlling things from some cosmic plane, I would pick Fiona Apple’s “I Know,” the last song on her 1999 album When the Pawn. It is a really beautiful song about being at peace with leaving some things unsaid under circumstances where you want to say everything. 

Songwriter Showcase with Thomas Comerford, Axons, Rebecca Francescatti and Deadbeat, 9pm June 12th at Elastic Arts, 3429 W Diversey Ave. #208, Chicago IL. 

Songwriter Showcase: An Interview with Thomas Comerford

Thomas Comerford sits down with Homeroom to preview his performance at June 12th's Songwriter Showcase at Elastic Arts. Thomas is a fine craftsman of words, melodies and harmonies whose sound the Chicago Reader describes as “a time capsule from an alternate past, as though a band of 70s Nashville malcontents had learned to harness the beauty of David Bowie in his prime. This isn’t classic rock, but it feels like something classic indeed.”

How has your songwriting changed over the years?

I started writing my own songs in the early 90s but back then didn't think too much beyond recording them with guitar and vocal on a hand-held cassette recorder. Sometimes, back then, I would play my songs at an open mic or with a few friends opening for a friends' band. I guess I was ambitious in my commitment to songwriting but not to performing in front of an audience or engaging with any kind of studio craft to record. Both of those things started to change when I moved to Chicago in 1999 and made a concerted effort to play live (my project at the time was Kaspar Hauser) and do my best to record the songs in the best way I could imagine at each stage. When I started my solo project in 2010, I decided, even though it often always involves a backing band, that the songcraft is my primary concern -- I scrutinize my decisions regarding top melodies and chord changes, song structures, lyrics and phrasing a lot more these days. Though there are still times where a song kind of forms itself quickly and doesn't undergo as much revision. And when it comes time to work in the studio I try to build a band around a song for a single song or a group of songs based on how I think it should feel and what I know people will bring to the song -- the studio and live are very collaborative for me in the arranging of the songs.

Do you have a process for starting a new song or combating writer's block?

My schedule is pretty crazy these days, so it can be difficult to find time to write, but a weird thing started happening a few years ago where I would dream of a melody and wake up and remember it and sing it again to remember it. I got a few songs out of that. But songs get going in any number of ways -- through singing, playing the guitar, and more recently piano -- I often accumulate parts that I then try to assemble into something interesting. These days too there seem to be discrete periods of time where I'm more focused on writing vs. recording vs. playing a lot of shows/touring after a record comes out, so that pattern seems to be working well and I'm able to be pretty productive when I do have time to write. Though I never make rules about when I can or can't write or how a song has to come into being.

How do non-music art forms influence your music?

It's hard to say exactly how this works, but it definitely happens. Songwriting is a kind of alchemy. I'm constantly reading: books, magazines, newspapers -- I like to do my reading on hard copies. Also, I get to a lot of art shows and watch a lot of documentaries (I teach at SAIC so this keeps me pretty involved in these two areas). There are probably particular instances where a sentence or a book or an article or an image or scene from a film leads me to think about responding directly somehow, but more often than not I'm just absorbing all this stuff and not always sure how it's playing out in my writing.

What are your three most favorite sounds?

In the last few years I'm just in love with guitars played through Leslie speakers or with tremolo or vibrato. I have always loved the sound of acoustic and electric guitars, though in more recent years, I'm not as into heavily distorted guitars in my own music (still love to hear it tho when listening to others' music). I'm particularly in love with the sounds of clean Telecasters or Stratocasters played through small tube amps with some reverb on them. Also, I'm a big fan of the pedal steel guitar sound -- less the chicken-pickin' style -- more swell-y and soar-y. Also I love drum kit and bass guitar together. I guess these are reasons why I like to play with a band behind me so I can hear all this while singing my songs. That's more than three sounds, but I usually don't play in a trio.

What song or songs do you want played at your funeral?

I'm not gonna think about that -- I'll let the survivors sort that one out.

Songwriter Showcase with Thomas Comerford, Axons, Rebecca Francescatti and Deadbeat, 9pm June 12th at Elastic Arts, 3429 W Diversey Ave. #208, Chicago IL. 

Emerging & Established Artist Exchange: Zelda Vidal & Aaron Renier

Zelda Vidal, with the help of mentor Aaron Renier,  has created a 26-page comic book titled Through the Red Gate. Aimed at a young audience, Through the Red Gate tells the story of a girl on a journey through a magical forest.


See Zelda's comic as well as large art prints at these upcoming events: