The Chi Town Sound
Twenty years ago, the goth-pop tendencies of Chicago's Kill Hannah would have landed them squarely in MTV's alternative-rock buzz bin. The evidence? Look no further than the cover of the Church's "Under the Milky Way" on Kill Hannah's latest album, Until There's Nothing Left of Us. But it's not 20 years ago. It's 2006, and nowadays, listeners don't know what the hell to make of such a band. Just before Kill Hannah's first tour of the U.K., New Times spoke with lead singer and songwriter Mat Devine about the Windy City and everything his band is... and isn't.
New Times: Cubs or White Sox?
Mat Devine: [laughs] You know, I'm going to have to say Cubs, because Cubs-White Sox is kind of like a North Side-South Side rivalry, and we're definitely more of a North Side band. I was just invited to walk on the field a couple of weeks ago, at the end of season. So I got to actually throw a pitch from the mound and warm up under the bleachers where the players warm up. That was a pretty cool experience for me. I'm really not much of a sports fanatic, but I definitely called my dad from there, you know. Like, "Hey, I'm on Wrigley Field right now."
Is there a Chicago music scene? And if there is, is Kill Hannah a part of it?
There have always been kind of fractured scenes in Chicago. There was a very strong nü-metal scene six years ago when that was popular. There's always been a very strong indie scene. And now, with the success of like Fall Out Boy, Academy Is, and a bunch of those bands, now again there is a strong kind of alternative scene, I guess. But it kind of happened away from us.
You know, if we're a part of the scene, no one's ever really identified what it is. I know that we've definitely influenced a number of bands in the city with whom we're friends now and who we like to play with and have similar styles, similar influences. But one of the hardest things for us coming out, you know, is that we didn't fit in anywhere. We're not an emo band. We're not an industrial band. We're not a pop band. And we're not a Warped Tour band. And you can't simply just plug us into an existing formula, as far as like marketing or promotion and stuff. So we've really had to forge our own way. And we can actually adapt to all those scenes that I just mentioned, and we tour well with any band in those genres, but we don't fit perfectly anywhere.
I know that bands hate to be categorized, but your latest album has been called post-grunge, neo-glam, emo, dream pop, post-hardcore, and shoegaze. Which one of those descriptions bothers you the most?
I don't think any of them bother me, but every one of those sounds is totally restricting, you know? Was one of them neo-glam?
That might be apt, but they're all kind of inaccurate. That one, I think, sends the most misleading message. I mean, for me and you probably, when you say glam, you think Ziggy Stardust maybe.
Or the New York Dolls.
Yeah, but also like really amazing, amazing bands from that era. And I think your average person, when they hear glam, they think Poison. And also I think when people hear that word, immediately they think that image has to eclipse everything else about the band. And so that's a label that has been put on us sometimes. I never minded it because David Bowie is one of my heroes, but seeing what it elicits in your average person, they kind of avoid it.
So which of those categorizations bothers you the least?
I don't know. It's cool that they even say shoegaze because I think that's an important period in the history of my songwriting. There was a time when I was just addicted to bands like Catherine Wheel and Ride and Slowdive and stuff. And it's cool that anyone would hear that in our sound, because I don't think many other bands out there right now ever reference that style.
What are your fans like?
We have a wide variety of fans. Our most fanatic, they usually have their own style, and they're usually very, very earnest and affected by the music people to whom music matters more than anything. I mean, they're basically like me and my best friends when I was in high school.
More girls than guys? More guys than girls?
Far more girls than guys.
Is that because you're just so damned cute?
[laughs] I don't know. It might be the tight pants.
What is the perfect beverage to drink while listening to Until There's Nothing Left of Us?
I'd say a martini made with vanilla Stoli and a touch of white Godiva liqueur and Chambord.
But what if you're a young girl who likes bands who wear tight pants? What's the perfect beverage then?
Whatever you can steal from your parents' liquor cabinet.
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