Gearing up for a tour of the midwest that begins August 9th in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, guitarist and Company of Thieves co-founder Marc Walloch was kind enough to check-in via email for a discussion of Chicago, touring, Hall & Oates, the band’s new album Running From a Gamble and more…
Q. Marc, I enjoy your guitar playing because you cover so much musical ground and I can hear so many different genres in your riffs and solos. What guitar players influenced you as you got started playing the guitar and now as you continue along your musical journey?
Marc: Thank you very much! I grew up with the usual guitar influences like Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Santana, a lot of early-mid 90′s alternative and grunge.
Over the years it moved to Neil Young, Johnny Greenwood, John Brion, Elliott Smith, Albert King, B.B. King, Freddie King, John Lee Hooker, Keith Richards, Funk Brothers, David Rawlings. I love a lot of random guitar players from most bands i like too.
Q. Having come up in the Chicagoland area and toured now nationally, do you feel there are any advantages or disadvantages for bands trying to make it out of Chicago (as opposed to say New York, L.A., etc.)?
Marc: I honestly don’t know how to answer that. I don’t think there are any advantages in any city. It’s all in the stars. It’s different for every person, band, time, place, etc. I do feel like it makes you work harder because you don’t have the resources nearby that LA and NYC have. So you really need to make a noise for either coast to pick up on you.
Q. Are there any Chicagoland bands that you feel people should be paying a bit more attention to?
Q. The first time that I saw the band was in 2008 at Durty Nellie’s in Palatine (part of a Daily Herald local band showcase). Things escalated pretty quickly after that and here we are with your second album Running From a Gamble having just been released in May on Wind-Up Records. What was it like as everything happened so fast?
Marc: In some ways yes. But we have been working hard since we started in 2006 and have a long way to go still. So in many ways it has also felt like a healthy step by step progression. We are still trying really hard to get the new album out their and bring attention to it. But I have sometimes felt, “I can’t believe we sold this place out and so many people are singing all the words!”
Q. You guys released Ordinary Riches independently in 2007 with Wind-Up re-releasing it in 2009. The album was one of my favorite debuts in ’09. Literary references abound (“Oscar Wilde”) but what else influenced the writing of that album?
Marc: I think the biggest influence was just the sense of urgency we felt in our guts. We were at a point in our lives where one chapter ended and we felt so inspired and excited of the unknown and yearned to do something great. We were soaking up so much music, culture, life experiences, etc.
Q. Having had so much time to perfect the songs on Ordinary Riches, what was the pressure like as a young band getting ready to write and record that crucial followup album?
Marc: We didn’t really feel any pressure to be honest. Some of the tunes began some time ago, so we knew a while ago that we had something cooking. And we took time on the road in hotel rooms, back stages, parking lots to work out details and riffs any time we got. So, by the time we stopped touring to do demos and work on pre-production, we were pretty prepared.
Q. Running From a Gamble was released in May and I sense a definite growth in terms of songwriting. “Never Come Back” features some pretty bluesy riffs, “Modern Waste” and others showcase the band’s knack for indie rock, and there are hints of jazz throughout… Was there a concious effort to make the album’s sound more diverse in terms of the different musical genres represented on it?
Marc: We have never really sat down and decided what the whole album should sound like. We just wrote songs over the past few years and grew with them and tried to perfect them to be great. When we start an idea of a song it may inspire an idea to go down a specific route, but other than that, we try and just focus song by song.
Q. “Death of Communication” seems to be about the idea of having to compromise one’s ideals in order to succeed. That said, regardless of political leanings, have you thought about the song in regards to the current state of our country’s political climate?
Marc: That’s interesting! The lyrics originally came from very personal feelings from Genevieve regarding certain relationships throughout her life. She writes in a way that is somehow extremely personal and relatable while still being vague enough to let the listener go on their own mysterious adventure and have their own interpretation.
Q. There’s a lot going on at your website… You guys are signed to a label… That said, how do you feel about the role of the internet in the band’s future?
Marc: It is extremely important to be hands on. When you have so many people working with you, it’s easy for things to get unorganized and slip through the cracks. We have always been very hands on so, now more than ever, we do stay on top of fan messages, tour dates, video content, etc. It’s very important to have a strong media presence. You can’t just rely on labels to do all the work. You need to come up with creative ideas that make you stand out as something different and give people an incentive to check your band out.
Q. Speaking of the internet… In January of 2009, Company of Thieves appeared on Daryl Hall’s acclaimed webcast “Live From Daryl’s House.“ Can you tell me a bit about that?
Marc: It was an absolute honor. We were nervous until we stepped foot in Daryl’s home. From that point on, it was so relaxed and comfortable. We basically talked music all day, ate good food, and jammed. It was such a great learning experience playing with those musicians. Everyone was so kind to us. We owe a lot to Daryl for supporting us and always talking about us in such high regards. It truly is an honor when an icon speaks highly of your writing. Our parents were pretty damn proud too! hahaha
Q. In 2011, the band’s relationship with Hall continued as Company of Thieves opened for Hall & Oates on tour. How was it touring with one of the best selling duos in rock history and do you feel it opened up your band to a new audience?
Marc: It was actually just one show but we were so thankful they thought of us to open. It was great to play for so many people that usually wouldn’t be at our shows. We came home from a month tour on that show so it was a great way to wrap it up. All of our family came out so it was a very welcoming homecoming.
Q. This past June, Company of Thieves performed “Tallulah” with a horn section while opening for Hall & Oates in Highland Park at the Ravinia Festival. The song really has a poppier feel in the manner of some of the duo’s finer moments and is one of the highlights of Running From a Gamble. Was “Tallulah” influenced by the work you guys have done with Hall & Oates?
Marc: I think that one just came out of us from the love we have had our whole lives for soul and Motown. It felt right to incorporate that spirit and put our own spin on it. We all love so many different kinds of music and always try to mix it all together. It was just time for a feel good pop soul song!
Q. Having toured now with Hall & Oates, OK Go, The Hold Steady and more, are there plans to continue touring in support of Running From a Gamble as either an opener or headliner?
Marc: We will be headlining all of August in the midwest and west coast. But we will continue to tour on this album for a while. We really believe in this record and are in it for the long haul to share it with as many people as possible. We just really, really want to get it heard. After our August tour, we hope to get in front of new audiences by opening up for bands. It’s just really hard these days to get on tours but it will happen!
Q. The new album is only a few months old but are there any other plans for the band as the summer of 2011 finishes up and we head into 2012?
Marc: We hope to do anything and everything that comes our way. Until we are approached with any opportunities, it’s just tour, tour, tour.
Q. Is there anything else you want fans to know?
Marc: That we sincerely love them. The older you get, the harder life gets, and the one thing that helps us get through it and stay positive is knowing that we have wonderful, supportive people to share our songs with.
This interview was conducted by Jim Ryan.
Catch Company of Thieves live in DeKalb on September 9th at the Egyptian Theatreperforming with Tokyo Police Club and others as part of Middlewest Fest… and pick up Running From a Gamble at www.companyofthieves.net .