About a month ago, rapper Serengeti completed his Kenny Dennis saga, comprised of eight releases and “Dennehy,” the infamous song that started it all. Serengeti first rapped as Kenny back in 2006, creating a light-hearted single song about a simple guy who enjoys kicking back, watching some Chicago sports, and eating brats. But Serengeti’s inventive personality and own life began shaping this Chicagoan stereotype even more and more, and there are many points in all the releases where it’s clear Kenny isn’t just a character. He is more than that—a way for Serengeti to get through his own life, Dennis 6e being particularly connected to its creator.
After an enjoyable conversation with Serengeti (who’s a down-to-earth, genuine dude named Dave Cohen), it was clear that the depth of Kenny goes beyond speculation. While he may have started as a fun, humorous character, he grew beyond that, a self-prescribed therapy of sorts. Serengeti has done other cathartic music, but it was Kenny that he found to be distinctly freeing.
“I do all these records to get myself out of it,”
referring to his sadness. While he makes the art for everyone to hear, it is first and foremost for him. With Kenny, Cohen shared, he can distance himself from the situations and emotions and make breakthroughs. But as much as he separates his life from Kenny’s, the two never fail to mesh together, informing each other more and more.
In the case of the final album, the intertwined lives both have closure. When I asked Cohen about how he feels now that the last chapter has been told, his response was of contentedness and acceptance:
“Now I see the whole thing for what it is.”
He’s happy with what he created in all its intricate, detail-oriented, emotionally-driven, funny glory—and more than that, its creation seems to have had a lasting effect on his well being.
So what’s next for Serengeti? He may be retiring Kenny Dennis but he’s certainly not slowing down—it’s not in his nature (he’s released nearly thirty albums and over ten EPs since 2003, damn). But he is approaching music in a different way than he has during his productive career, focusing more on short, physical releases. He’s also completed a full-length script for a Kenny Dennis movie, telling the stories the music did in a more literal way and filling in the gaps. He explained to me the desire of making the movie came from the distinction of what each means of storytelling does—the music told it in an impressionistic way, but he wants the movie to be more literal—
“really clear and really funny and also sort of sad.”
Serengeti will be performing at The Empty Bottle on October 11, in support of Air Credits and Sims. You can follow his many endeavors on his Instagram and Twitter under the handle of @serengetidave.
The new album by Ryley Walker, Primrose Green, out Tuesday on Dead Oceans, ebbs and flows effortlessly in all the right ways. It’s an album that’s easy to lose yourself in, one that helps you travel through time as it streams through your speakers. As a newcomer to the music of Ryley Walker, I was instantly captivated by his unique blend of jazz and folk. Learning that he had his hands involved in the noise and punk scene as a precursor to his current sound came as no surprise. His acoustic influences, paired with an affinity for improvisation make for an album that builds into a wonderful sonic landscape that is well beyond his 25 years and his songs have found their way on my playlist more times than I’d like to admit.
If you’ve have the pleasure to see him IRL (“in real life” grandpa!) you know that Walker’s live show is like a graceful, audio-enigma. No two shows are the same and you often times leave having bore witness to a genesis of new songs, songs in progress, and favorites that have been re-worked, stretching and expanding beautifully before your very ears. Walker plays alongside a rotating cast of some of the most talented Chicago jazz musicians, a collection of friends and colleagues developed over years of involvement in the underground Chicago music scene. From the first recordings to the photos on the covers, everything is Chicago-centric, showcasing the beauty of a city that collaborates and grows together.
I was fortunate enough to exchange some quick words with Ryley the day after his Chopin Theatre record release (and the day of his solo show at Permanent Records). When talking with Walker his intentions are unspoken but clear, and he intends on continuing to make music he likes, with people he likes. Lucky for us, the product of these collaborations continue to be damn good.
In this modern age full of knowledge and wireless Internet it’s rare to find a band with a minimal paper trail, but THE SUEVES have achieved just that. What they lack in an E-presence they make up for, in abundance, at their live show. The no-frills trio has been ripping through the Chicago music scene for the last four years and are showing no signs of slowing down, which is good news for you if a unique blend of garage-rockabilly-surf-rock is something your into. I caught up with THE SUEVES for some beers and to exchange some short and sweet words.
There are times when my life can feel like a fairy tale, and it all started Once Upon A Time in the sunshine filled, rolling hills of Athens, Ohio. Where the town is small, but house shows happen often, where nature reigns supreme and one of the most tight-knit communities finds a home. Athens is also the birthplace of DARK CIRCLES RECORDS, a label and collective devoted to producing and promoting independent music and art.
A few years has passed since the genesis of DCR and myself, along with what I will call a power team of friends that make up the masterminds of DCR and half of SODDY DAISY have since transplanted to the one and only Chicago, Illinois. What started as a group of my closest friends loosely putting out albums and throwing a lot of parties, has begun to grow into a driving force in the DIY scene, becoming more efficient and confident every step of the way. From the outside it’s easy to dismiss yet another DIY tape label emerging on the scene, but from the inside, knowing that a group of people you love is working towards bettering a community you love, well nothing can bring a tear to your eye more quickly.
Tonight DCR is celebrating the release of it’s first, of many, compilations and all the hard work it took to put it together. The track lists includes bands from varying genres and locations including some local legends like RABBLE RABBLE, THE LEMONS, NEGATIVE SCANNER, and new comers SODDY DAISY. To say that this compilation is unique is an understatement, from the tracks to the custom made packing, everything about this comp is special. I got to catch up with my good pal, Maureen Neer of SODDY DAISY to talk about life post-Ohio and the growing musical empire surrounding SODDY DAISY and DCR.
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OOZING WOUND is in a genre all it’s own and it literally doesn’t give a shit. The three person riff-heavy, punk outfit has been thrashing skulls and taking names for roughly three years with no signs of slowing down. This month they’re celebrating the release of their second full length album, Earth Suck, out on Thrill Jockey last week. In the new record, you can find even more caustic examination of mankind, an impressive blend of punk, metal and rock & roll, and some very cheeky lyrics, that is if you can decipher them. I met up with the trashy trio for an interview that’s as serious as the band itself, during which I weird out Zach Weil, discuss past wounds, and the toppings on an Oozing Wound specialty dog.
OSHWA is the musical brain child of Alicia Walter, starting as a solo piece, growing into the wondrously chaotic four-piece it is today. OSHWA’s sound is a sonic landscape, bursting at the seams with Walter’s exuberant and romantic vocals and dynamic instrumentals, all set to an array of erratic and complex time tempos. I talked with Walter about learning to appreciate the more rigid parts of music and OSHWA’s journey to a truer, more stripped down sound.
I was first introduced to Mutual Benefit in late 2009 through some mutual friends Jordan Lee and I shared in a small town in Ohio – the cassette I bought that year has played constantly throughout my life during the last five years. The songs act as a time machine, slowly whisking me away, taking me on a winding voyage back in time to hiking trails and rooftop beers with large groups of friends.
For anyone who’s listened to Mutual Benefit it’s easy to see that it’s not the just musical mind space of the prolific Jordan Lee, but a living, breathing musical entity that grows and evolves with each new experience. What started as a group of recordings done in a spider-filled basement, has blossomed into a full-blown lazer-folk dreamscape. With wondrous cameos of both people and instruments sprinkled throughout each song, the discography acts as a map of Mutual Benefit’s past and future, tiny clues that shed some light on the journey that Lee has embarked on as Mutual Benefit. I caught up with Jordan before his show at the Bottle to talk about how Mutual Benefit has grown, sources of inspiration, and what being on a larger label means to him. Read More »
Big Dipper’s got a one track mind, and it’s headed full-force into the depths of his own success and happiness. Ever since releasing his first EP, 2013’s They Ain’t Ready, the Chicago-bred rapper has quickly become everyone’s favorite filth and slime-covered bear. With his inspiring confidence on stage, a personality that is wildly vivacious, his ability to stay true to himself and those around him, and a beats/flow comb that makes you want to shake your booty for the rest of eternity, it’s pretty damn easy to see why we fall so hard for Brooklyn’s next biggest thing. (He lives in Brooklyn now.)
Big Dipper came back to the Bottle last week for a show that started with a panel discussion, hosted by the Illinois Humanities Council, and transitioned – seamlessly, we might add – into celebrations of drag, performance, femininity, and self-expression. In between sets, Big Dipper and I had some sidewalk sausages and talked all things Big Dips. We also saws some really cute dogs and danced in the street.
If you ever want to feel like there are rays of sunshine bursting through your eyeballs and have a smile so wide it hurts, than look no further, because The Lemons are here for you. The bubblegum pop sensation is just over a year old, but has quickly become a Chicago staple. Armed with some of the catchiest songs ever written and a carefree attitude, The Lemons are always a good time. I caught up with three out of six Lemons and talked about the secret to Lemon success, the song they can never play again, and even gave them a little lesson on ICP culture. Plus, after the interview get a sneak peak at a never-heard-before-brand-spanking-new Lemon’s song!
File this post under ‘people to remember.’ I’m sitting in the dimly lit store front of Shake Shop, drummer Tom Cassling’s guitar/amp repair shop and I don’t know if it’s the fact that it feels like October in July, or the giant, docile rottweiler named Gucci Mane we’ve just befriended outside, but being with the humans that comprise NEGATIVE SCANNER give me a pleasant sense of calm. The group emanates a refreshing sense of ease being together, and their talk of collaborative song writing tells me they work remarkably well together, a trait that’s not always easy to come by in bands.
The conversation flows seamlessly between us as we talk of the wonder of Athens, Ohio and local music communities, and how NEGATIVE SCANNER has been going so far. From the looks of it, things have been going pretty well. The quartet has been taking Chicago by storm. With it’s compelling lyricism paired with dark, haunting vocals, and throbbing beats laced with fierce, fast guitar lines, it’s no wonder people are paying attention. Read on to catch up on the deep origins of NEGATIVE SCANNER, what’s important to them while on tour, and underage drinkers.