The Employees, featuring Chris Bobowiec, Henry Norris, Ryan Bobowiec, and Steve Ortiz, have been busy since they released their first album “See the Shadow” in 2008. They have two albums under their belt, with their second “Unemployed” being released this year. The band’s sophomore album finds them addressing political issues happening in and around Chicago, such as the depression of the economy, unemployment stats on the rise, the deterioration of the environment, and the death of the American dream. With this concept in mind The Employees manage to make the listener think about the issues, while making them groove to their psychedelic sound. Before they play Chicago’s Lincoln Hall, songwriter and singer Chris Bobowiec talks about the new album, future projects, and what they hope to achieve with this release.
How did you guys come up with the band name?
Chris Bobowiec: We got together and went through a lot of names when one of the members pointed out how we’re all working class guys and it led to the name.
How did the band form?
CB: We formed in ’07 and it started with me and my brother Ryan. We were always in bands, but not in one together. I just bought a house and built a studio in the basement and I was looking for a new music project. We started playing and writing together and we got some of our friends who had been in previous bands of ours. We practice for a week and wrote a lot and got more serious about playing.
That’s pretty cool that you have a home studio. That has to save a lot of money.
CB: Yeah, we don’t go to studios. We just record in the house and it does save a lot of money. (Laughs)
Who are some of your influences?
CB: Our music is similar to late 60’s and late 70’s psychedelic rock like [Eric] Clapton, The Doors, The Who, [Led] Zeppelin. Our guitarist, Ryan, is really into Hendrix. His solos are crazy, rock, wild and full of distortion. But we also like more of the modern bands like Talking Heads and Radiohead.
Where did the idea for a concept album come from?
CB: It happened before we knew it. I started writing stuff and it was all based on my opinions and there was a dark, depressing feel and imagery to the songs. And they melded together and were related to one another. And we just went with it.
Do you think you’re next album will have a political edge like this one?
CB: I’m always writing new songs and they’re not all political, but it depends on what happens with the new album. If this one is successful, we’ll keep up with that idea, but usually the songs dictate the direction of the music.
For the album artwork you worked with artist Cameron Cardow. How did that come about?
CB: Well, we wanted everything to fit together for the concept: the art, the title and the lyrics. No one in the band is artistic, so we brought in some friends who do art, but didn’t find anything we liked. We brainstormed and thought of a political cartoon style for the album. We then googled political artists and stumbled across Cameron. We loved his style and emailed him. He actually gave us a discount because he liked our music so much. He’s a big fan of classic rock, so he loved our sound. So we emailed him back and forth with ideas and gave him complete control with what he wanted to do. He’s a really nice guy and actually helped us promote our stuff.
So besides the concept for this record, what has changed between the first and second album?
CB: Our view of songwriting, our message of recording, we brought in a new drummer for this album, we have more originality. We really tested ourselves with this album where it would be like let’s not record the guitar like this, let’s try this instead.
Do you think you’ll revisit the concept album for a future release?
CB: We’re all definitely fans of different styles of music. First, the music matters, so we would use different instruments and instrumentation, not necessarily concept, but I would never say no to another concept album. Some of us were actually tossing around the idea of doing a rock opera musical. That should be fun and interesting, so that’s a possibility.
What is the message of your music?
CB: It’s not about telling groups what to do, it’s more about waking up. It doesn’t matter if the listeners agree with us or not just as long as they stand up and do something. If you’re unhappy about what’s going on say something, go out and vote, but don’t just sit there. We’re not screw the government or anything like that. Our music is pop-rock/alt songs that stir emotion. We want people to like our music and make them think about what’s going on now. Don’t let your life unfold before you, do something about it.
The Employees’ second album “Unemployed” is currently available on iTunes and Amazon. You can watch them perform at their record release party along with Dean Welch and the Rhythm Method and Day Sleeper at Lincoln Hall on July 21. The Employees will play the new album in its entirety while showing video footage to sync with the music. To learn more about the band and to purchase their debut album “See the Shadow,” visit their official website. To get your tickets for their show visit the Lincoln Hall website.