Discovering a band before the rest of the world finds it is a fetish only a true music lover can understand. Being a rock writer affords me this opportunity almost daily. My mailbox is stuffed with padded envelopes — each one containing a potential new discovery. Of course, a lot of the time the CDs inside are absolutely rubbish, but other times I am elated with the sounds of something new. A band I’ve never heard of — who may not even be signed to any label yet or have anything beyond a single EP worth of material to offer at this point — that grabs my ears within seconds of my pushing play. These are the moments I get off on. Getting the Illinois EP What The Hell Do I Know? was one such occassion. So, I called up vocalist/songwriter Chris Archibald for a chat.
Why does a band from Pennsylvania call itself Illinois?
We just kind of chose it because we liked how it looked. Ya know, why is my name Chris Archibald?
You had well over a hundred songs in your collection to choose from when putting together this album.
I have 370 now.
Is that stuff that you were compiling on your own, or was the band already together?
I’m a writer, so that’s me just writing. I had written over a hundred songs over the last few years, and then I taught them to the band.
How did you end up choosing the seven for the album?
We recorded 16 tracks … it could have been any 16, but they wanted to pick 16 to start with. Songs are kind of like kids, ya know? I love ’em all the same [laughs]. Ya know, that one has a bum leg, and you have the Down’s kid, but they’re still your songs, and you love ’em all equally. I didn’t want to pick ’em; I let him [the producer] pick ’em for me — someone who knows what they’re doing.
I really love the song “Nosebleed.” Can you tell me anything about how you came up with that song in particular?
I bought a banjo — I always loved the banjo — and I bought this toy one for $80. That was the first song I wrote on it.
What made you want to pick up the banjo to begin with?
I live right outside of Philadelphia, and in Philadelphia, we have this thing called the Mummers New Year’s Day Parade. It’s just drink all night, stay up all night and then you go to this big parade — well, that’s how we kind of do it; I don’t know if that’s how you’re supposed to do it — and then it’s this Mummer band, string bands, and a lot of it is banjo. A lot of it is this frailing technique where they strum real fast. We always kind of loved that. And I was always a big Monkees fan, and they have a lot of those songs, like “You Told Me,” that have banjo in it, and I just love the way it sounds.
Your influences seem to be all over the place. Who can you name who really inspired you to help formulate your sound?
The Monkees: I think there was a lot of diversity back then. Old-school hip-hop, kind of like Yo MTV Raps! stuff — back when it was still good, like Father MC and Redhead Kingpin and the F.B.I. Cause I like the toe tappin’, ya know. And I like beats, groovy stuff. And I like some older stuff — Iggy Pop, early psychedelic rock, early Bowie … but I always find my grassroots to be The Monkees.
That’s definitely unique. What about current stuff? What are your three most-played albums right now?
We have a lot of great bands right here, in Bucks County, that we grew up with. Our best friend’s in this band called Eastern Conference Champions. So we kind of push each other, cause their music’s amazing. Besides that, Johanna Newsom — she plays the harp, she’s amazing. Ya know, Bright Eyes … sorry, my voice is shot. We played last night, and I was screaming all night, so …
There are some good bands coming out of Pennsylvania recently. I just saw Dr. Dog and The Teeth the other night, and they were both fantastic!
Yeah, we’re friends with those guys.
You’ve got your album coming out soon, and then you head to SXSW. It’s gotta be a pretty exciting time for you.
Yeah, the album comes out on Tuesday. Last year we drove down [for SXSW] for one show, and it was a necessary show to get the people we needed to get on the team — our booking agents, and agents and press. So we accomplished a lot with the one show, but this year it’s kind of nuts — we’re doing a ton of shows! We’re doing a Playboy party, a Diesel party, Ace Fu showcases and Urban Outfitters — all this cool stuff. So it’s a lot bigger than last year.
How do you feel at this point, as everything’s just starting to happen?
I’m excited as hell. I’ve been doing this since I was 13. I’ve been in some bands that had somewhat of a success, but now this is like my baby, ya know. So I’m just excited that it’s actually going somewhere.
And then you’ll be going out with The Kooks, who are hugely popular overseas.
Yeah, we did a show with them in Brooklyn. It was their first U.S. show, and we just hit it off with those guys as people and as fans. They wanted us as main support on their first North American tour, so it’s a rather big deal. They’re huge over there, and they’re huge here.
Will this be your first major tour?
Yeah, with this band, absolutely. Before we didn’t have a reason to tour cause we didn’t have a product, except for an EP we put out ourselves. There was no reason to tour, nothing to support, and we weren’t getting any press or anthing. Now it’s all setting up so touring is appropriate and necessary.
Since your album that’s about to come out only has seven songs, and you already have so many other songs tucked away, will a longer full-length follow soon after?
Yeah, we’re just waiting for someone to pick it up, we’re kind of sitting back. I like the position we’re in because we kind of don’t have any debt. We don’t owe anyone anything. We’ve been approached for deals and stuff, but we kind of wanted to avoid going that route. We’re just trying to see a snowball effect, and it’s kind of happening. So now we’re just gonna see what happens with this EP, and after these tours, and see what happens from there.