Oh The Optimist: A Q&A Interview With Morgan Foster of Common Shiner (An Abbey Pub Concert Preview - Friday, November 22, 2013)

Oh The Optimist:  A Q&A Interview With Morgan Foster of Common Shiner (An Abbey Pub Concert Preview - Friday, November 22, 2013)

Gearing up for a show Friday night at Abbey Pub in support of their most recent album release Before They Sold Out (Part 2), Common Shiner vocalist and guitarist Morgan Foster checked in via email earlier this week - a conversation that touched on a sense of optimism present in the band's songs as well as the effect that the city of Chicago itself has on Common Shiner's songwriting process...

This past February, local indie rockers (by way of Grand Rapids, Michigan) Common Shiner released their latest album Before They Sold Out (Part 2), the followup to their 2011 effort Before They Sold Out (Part 1).

Chock full of crunchy guitars and piano pop, the album's catchy hooks sparkled onstage in October at House of Blues (part of the Q87.7 "Queued Up" concert series).  Often featuring lyrical fare of a positive nature, the band's songs are refreshing.  Their energetic live show is fueled by a playful nature and upbeat material that has drawn comparisons to artists like Barenaked Ladies.

"Oh the Optimist" was a live standout at House of Blues while a song like "Cold Chicago Shores" seems to tell the band's story with the city as its backdrop - examining in depth both the good and bad that the city has to offer along the way.

As the band preps for a show Friday night at Abbey Pub, vocalist/guitarist Morgan Foster checked in earlier this week via email...

Q.  You guys manage to work so many different styles into your songs – there’s piano pop, hints of new wave, rock and much more – but always with a pop sensibility. What’s the songwriting process like for Common Shiner?

Morgan Foster:  Michael (keys) and I do the majority of the songwriting, but typically we bring a song structure and lyrics to the band, and then as a band we finish it up. I’ve always been on the side of letting the musicians you play with write their own parts to your songs, instead of trying to write everyone’s parts for them, and that way everyone has a little ownership of the song. I think that’s what brings all the different influences and energy to our sound.

Q.  There’s a lot of energy on this record and after seeing you guys live first and then hearing the album, I feel like you did a great job of capturing that in the studio (which doesn’t always happen). What was the recording process like?

Foster:  Well, first off, that’s wonderful to hear! Back in the day, when we first started up and recorded some stuff, people always said that we sounded so much better live, and while we obviously want that to always be true, we did feel like a lot of our early stuff was missing some sort of passion and energy.

With recording this album, however, we really wanted to bring that energy to it.  So we rented out Strobe Recording here in Chicago for three days, and dedicated the entirety of those days to tracking the album, as opposed to spreading it over a longer period of time, tracking different pieces here and there. I think the intensity of those three days helped us capture the energy and passion of our [live performance] on this album.

Q.  I hate to ask the influences question… 

Foster:  No problem! I try to change my answer a little bit to this question every time I hear it.  All of us come from slightly different backgrounds and since we like to create/finish the music to our songs all together, I think that’s why so many different influences shine in our music. I would say Ben Folds, Motion City Soundtrack, Death Cab for Cutie, and Frightened Rabbit have probably been the biggest influences in our most recent album, but I always like to mention Bob Dylan (obviously, since we are songwriters) and Bad Religion as they’ve definitely been a big influence on me personally.

Common Shiner (Chicago band)

Q.  The music world can be an awfully negative place… but your songs are extremely upbeat – Songs like “Oh the Optimist” would seem to indicate that they’re of a positive nature too. Is it important to the band that the music reflect that sense?

Foster:  Absolutely! You’re definitely right that we come across a lot of negativity, but we like to think we’re a positive presence in the scene and so we try to capture that in our songs as well. We want to be the kind of band that is supportive and fun to be around - not one that brings others down or who is not enjoyable to play shows with (we’ve definitely encountered our fair share of those).

Q.  A song like “Cold Chicago Shores” seems to tell the band’s story set against the backdrop of the city of Chicago. To me, Chicago is a place with incredible pros… and similarly unbelievable cons. What kind of an effect does the city of Chicago itself have on the band/music in general?

Foster:  Yeah, the way I’ve described that song is that it’s a love letter to a city that is wonderful, and yet so obviously flawed at the same time. So hence the dichotomy that we play on all throughout the song - with walls made of money, crooks, and hope; desperate vibrant seasons, etc.

In my experience, the effect of a place like Chicago, both from the city itself and obviously the weather, is that it creates very real (maybe “hardened” is the right word) people who are also incredibly genuine and gracious. It also strengthens the sense of community among all those people, especially in the music scene. To capture this, I’ll tell a story that’s hopefully not way too long:

We played a show at Subterranean not horribly long after we moved here, and it was right when two gigantic thunderstorms rolled through town one right after the other, and there were tornado warnings everywhere. Needless to say, we probably played to about six people that night, but we still had a good time weathering the storm and hanging out with the dedicated few who made it.

That night, our drummer Vijay was going to be driving through the night as he had to be in Columbus, Ohio for work. When he went to get his car, he noticed that the passenger side front window was broken, and he looked inside and all of his stuff was gone. We even noticed that like his map with directions, and even his mints he had in the car, were gone. We were pretty heart broken and had the really disappointing thought “I guess this is just gonna happen sometimes in a big city.”

Then, when we started to load his gear out to put it in the car, he popped open the trunk, and we were blown away to discover that everything from his car was in the trunk, including his directions, and his mints (as well as far more important things). So the best we could imagine was that someone must have noticed in the storm that his window was broken.  So they reached in the now open car, popped the trunk and moved everything into there so that his stuff wouldn’t get wet/destroyed/stolen.

We’ll probably never know who that person was but talk about an instant restoration of our faith in humanity. And I thought to myself after that - “what other city would this happen in?” I just cannot fathom a similar story happening in New York or LA (just as a couple examples).

*** This interview conducted via email by Jim Ryan (@RadioJimRyan)

(More information on Common Shiner's show Friday at Abbey Pub after the jump)

(Jim also hosts "The Rock N' Roll Radio Program" Sundays at 6PM central on WIMS and WHFB - streaming at wimsradio.com and via the free TuneIn Radio app for the smart phone or tablet)

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Common Shiner

Friday, November 22, 2013

Abbey Pub
3420 West Grace Street
Chicago, IL 60615

Also performing: Rocketboat, The Dead Hands and In Threes

Doors open at 8PM
Show starts at 9PM
$5 in advance, $7 at the door

Click HERE to purchase tickets

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