We met up with Chicago rockers Sonny Falls last Thursday at the Rainbo Club to discuss their new album, Some Kind of Spectre; signing with local label Sooper records; and all the glories of Hamms beer. Guitarist and songwriter Ryan Ensley and lead guitarist Anthony Santoro rolled into the Rainbo Club, a regular hangout of theirs, ordered a couple PBR’s and ponied up in a booth with us to answer some questions.
RE: Ryan Ensley
AS: Anthony Santoro
CCS: So Sonny Falls, man, how’d you guys end up starting the band?
RE: Well, I’ve been writing songs forever, and I’ve been playing with our drummer Calvin for about ten years. We were in another band that put out three records, but that was a co songwriting thing with me and another guy and I kind of realized I wanted to do something that was not reliant on another songwriter. So, I kind of took a year break trying to figure out what I wanted to do. After that Calvin and I started playing together and it was great and then I met Anthony through just going to shows and shit and our bass player Jeff ran another DIY space down the street. I used to live at this place called Young Camelot. I helped with the second space, the church on Hirsch and California. Jeff was running a spot a half a block down and we ended up just hanging out and jamming, and Anthony was hanging around and shredding, and I thought “That kid is fucking sick.”
AS: You guys were also the first local band I saw when I moved here, the old band. I saw you at Beat Kitchen a month after I moved here. His old band Shiloh was opening, and I remember being there with my friend, a drummer, and we were saying “Yeah, man, we have to work with songwriters like that someday.” And the next couple years the two of us wormed our way into all of their splinter projects.
RE: That show that you saw was probably the only sold out show that band ever played. Cause we were opening for Diarrhea Planet. Which is a weird thread because he played with Diarrhea Planet when you were what 16 or something.
AS: It was a week before my 18th birthday, I’d known about them for a while. My high school band covered “Ghost With A Boner” and we put it on You Tube. It was pretty wild. I think we were the first band to cover them and we were like “Hey guys we covered your song!” They were playing Great Scott in Boston, which is my favorite venue, and we wanted to get in but it was an 18 plus show. So I messaged them on facebook and asked if I could pretend to be their roadie. They were like “We saw you can play guitar, just come on down.” I got to play like five songs with them. It gave me my first taste of what it’s like to play a sick sold out show, I’m very grateful to them for that.
RE: Yeah, I feel like you would have been way less impressed with us if it wasn’t that night. That was a particularly good show for us.
AS: You guys were a good band. I bought the CD from you that night. I still want my money back.
CCS: So Anthony said you guys have been working on the album since last September?
RE: We started recording in September and we’ve been writing over a year before that. And Anthony started playing with us just last July. He just jumped in and we wrote a bunch of cool shit. Me and Jeff and Calvin had the bare bones written but he helped us structure it. We spent about six months recording it and then threw in all the strings and horns after the fact.
CCS: Yeah, I definitely dug the production on the album.
RE: That’s Michael Macdonald. He was in a band called Oshwa for a long time and he’s a songwriter too. He has a studio in Bridgeport. We did a lot of the bare bones tracking at Shirk Studios.
AS: The Bridgeport studio is Pallet Sound.
CCS: How’d you guys get involved with Sooper?
RE: I’ve known Nnamdi (Ogbonnaya, half owner of Sooper Records, and local musician) since I was 15 or 16 and he’s always been the best at everything.
CCS: Yeah he is. I caught his set at Pitchfork. Damn good.
RE: Yeah I got to stand side stage for that. First time I’ve got to do that at a festival. It was super surreal and it was particularly special cause I’ve known him since we were kids. Seeing him do that was reaffirming. People that I know can get there.
CCS: That could be you guys next year.
(all agree and we knock on table)
RE: I used to go to shows at his house, just in his living room. His parents would let him just do that. He used to play in Math Rock bands and all kinds of projects.
Anyway, Glenn ( the other owner of Sooper Records) is in a band called Longface with my friend Anthony and he told him “you should listen to this record.” Then I drunkenly gave Glenn, while we were hanging out, a super long spiel on sustainability as a songwriter, making a career trajectory plan. He’s also a lawyer and he was just like: “Alright, this kid, I’m gonna listen to his record, if only to find out how crazy he is, and how shitty his music is.” Then he liked it. (laughs) He got back to me and said let’s do this. Nnamdi was touring, and I was going to send him the album anyways but I saw Glenn first at that show.
AS: Dude, you remember when we met him at Cole’s?
RE: So he listened to my insane spiel and was like “Yeah I’m into it.” He msg me on facebook, and he mentioned it to Nnamdi who was like “yeah we’re buds.” and he dug it. So we went to Cole’s to meet Glenn.
AS: Yeah, we showed up looking like this. (points out their short, t-shirt and ball cap with long hair wardrobe.)
RE: And Glen came to Cole’s in a suit. I’ve always wanted to be courted by a guy in a suit who’s offering me a record deal. And if fucking happened. For real. So crazy.
AS: We’re just sitting there in Cole’s, looking all fucking ragged and shit and across from us is this dude in a suit and briefcase. Everybody in the bar was probably like “Those guys are probably a band.”
RE: It was definitely like he runs a label and those guys are in a band.
AS: It was very cartoonish.
RE: I’m so happy that happened like that, cause it was like a fucking cartoon.
AS: I want a nice oil painting of it I can hang above my fireplace. First I gotta get a fireplace.
RE: So he dug the record and we made a plan. We have a PR company helping us out. I had put out a ton of records that have flopped and I learned every time what I need to do to work on making the next one not flop. And slowly kind of piecemealed the equivalent of like, a music business degree of knowledge over the span of my twenties, which I think Glenn appreciated. And now I send him super long texts when I’m stressed out about things. We’re just good friends now. That’s one of the most exciting things about it, we made a new friend, you know.
AS: Glenn has relationships with so many people that are just good at what they do, and Sooper is willing to let us run wild and give artists a place to grow. To be involved with people like that is so cool.
RE: It’s awesome. Everyone’s close. I think a larger label, I don’t know for sure, but if a larger label asked I think I would say: “Eh, I think I’m going to stick with Sooper.” Why would I trade, in terms of sustainability, I would rather have a friendship that grows together. They’re two years old, this band is two years old. Growing together is much more satisfying, than someone saying here’s five grand, go make a record. I’d rather pay for it myself.
CCS: And with the growing Indie scene here I think they came about at the right time.
AS: Yeah their mission is to be Chicago centric, and be a hub for this city. They want to cultivate a dynamic mural of what the Chicago scene is.
CCS: You guys leave for tour soon, right?
RE: Yeah, man, we’re doing everywhere. We’re doing St. Louis, Tulsa, Texas then up the East Coast and back to the Midwest. It’s gonna be three weeks. It’s interesting to see how having label support changes the way people respond. I’ve booked a lot of tours, and there’s something about Sooper, people are aware of them and so they listen to it, you know. Can I get another beer? Can I do that?
CCS: Of course. You know what, I got it. (leaves table to go to bar)
(Several seconds pass)
AS: What’s your favorite pinball machine?
RE: My favorite pinball machine . . . I don’t know . . . My grandpa had this Evel Knievel one...
AS: Fucking badass.
(CCS returns with PBRs for both of them)
RE: Ah, thanks man.
AS: I like the Addams Family Pinball. Everytime I played that one I just smoked it. The Simpson’s one is
CCS: So you guys are swinging through Boston? You playing New York?
RE: Yeah, New York, Philly, Boston.
RE: I think we’re playing in Queens actually. Maybe it’s on the border. Trans-Pecos it’s called.
AS: I think it’s technically in Brooklyn. It’s fairly new, but it seems like the spot right now. Lots of good bands playing there.
(our conversation evolves into a bemoaning of the gentrification of Wicker Park)
CCS: Where do you guys work?
RE: I help run a dog walking company. Mainly in Hermosa and Logan Square.
(conversation again moves to gentrification, this time of Logan Square and the unaffordability of buying property)
CCS: Let’s talk venues. What’s your favorite venues to play in Chicago?
AS: Empty Bottle forever.
RE: Empty Bottle is great. Our release show was fun, Empty Bottle is awesome.
AS: I like Beat Kitchen too.
RE: I love the DIY spots, but I’m not even that old and it seems like I’ve fallen out of touch. They happen so fast and I think maybe a lot of those kids are in art school or something. There’s a few that are run by people I know, and they’ve lasted a long time, cause they know how to soundproof shit. I love those spots. I’d like to play more of em.
CCS: You guys been to Sleeping Village yet?
AS: That place is cool.
RE: That place is sick. The sound was great.
AS: I played Fuck Fest (last month at SV) with the other band i play in, Harvery Dentures. We didn’t even play on the real stage and it was cool. Greg Obis is doing sound now there too. He’s a great sound guy.
RE: It’s not very often I’ll go to a new spot that is super new and I’m like fuck yeah I love this. But that place is a little hidden away.
AS: They have some good bookings already. Local H is playing there, Dirty Projectors . . .
CCS: Yeah, Dirty Projectors is doing a three night run there.
AS: Man, I’d go to that show for sure.
In this interview can you insert an asterisk that says “Smoke On The Water” is playing in the background?
CCS: I will now. (asterisk not included.)
CCS: So our last question of every interview is what are some Chicago bands that you think are being overlooked?
RE: I feel like Nnamdi should be the most famous person on the planet.
AS: At this point I don’t think Nnamdi is overlooked, he’s kind of like the mayor.
RE: Longface is one. It’s not that I think they are overlooked I just think some people, they deserve more.
RE: Yeah, they’re incredible. Options, is another super good one, he’s Nnamdi’s drummer. He just put out a video today with the same people that did our first video. They’re called Low Moon Productions. They do great videos. But he’s great. He has five or six full lengths and he plays everything on them. He’s just super prolific, great heavy rock, song writer dude.
AS: There’s Squid. but they’re actually breaking up because their guitarist is moving to Boston.
RE: Are they actually breaking up though?
AS: I think it’s kind of up in the air cause Luke is going to grad school but they’re kind of heavy, I wouldn’t call it Mathy, but its really heavy, our kind of music, really moody. But they have a killer new record coming out either later this year or next year.
RE: Oh, Tragic Trip, formerly Teenage Rage. It’s this dude Will, who I’ve known forever, it’s super orchestrated and incredible. He’s been doing it for ten years. Has three or four full lengths. He has a new one coming out.
AS: He’s incredible.
RE: I think he’s the best songwriter in Chicago. Teenage Rage / Tragic Trip. Check it out.
AS: One more to throw out there is Bloom. They’re really solid musicians and Sam is such a great songwriter. They’ve been around forever, they’re a band I’d love to see hit that next step.
CCS: Anything you guys would like to add?
RE: Drink Hamms.
AS: Yeah man, drink Hamms!
RE: We’ve been aggressively tagging Hamms forever till they finally followed us and now they have started liking all our shit!
AS: We do have a video coming out in the next few weeks. It was shot by the guys at Emulsion. They shot the whole thing in 8 and 16mm film. It was cool as hell.
CCS: No one does that anymore.
RE: People don’t do it cause it’s insanely fucking expensive. We had five rolls and there wasn’t much leftover film. Then you’re just hoping that it’s not old as fuck and doesn’t turn out. But it did and it looks sick.
CCS: That’s awesome.
RE: You wanna go have a smoke and watch it?
CCS: Yeah man, let’s do it . . .
And we did. It’s a great video. The release date is yet to be determined, but subscribe to them on YouTube for the latest releases and videos. There’s already a video for album opener “Easy to Lose” that is rather hilarious and fits their offbeat personalities perfectly. It was a joy to get to know these two and you should check em out at Beat Kitchen on September 22nd.