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Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
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Tuesday, April 16

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Feature Mon Oct 06 2008

An Interview with Johnny Szymanski

Johnny Szymanski, 28, calls Chicago home -- and it's a place where all his creative pursuits can simultaneously collide and live in harmony. He's a recording engineer, DVD editor/producer, musician and fringe theater performer who finds his way from one gig to the next, like a lot of Chicagoans searching for a life in the arts.

Is Chicago a good place to be an artist?

There's a great network of people in the city, where someone -- more often than not -- knows another person within your circle... and it's easy to connect and share ideas. Also, just the wide range of performance opportunities, different musical styles, different theater styles and all other collisions of the arts make Chicago a fun and challenging place to work. People seem to support each other here.

You're always spinning a lot of plates, or however that saying goes, when it comes to creative projects. What're your latest endeavors?

I play keyboards, guitar and sing backup vocals with My My My, which is a great indie pop band based here in Chicago -- we just released our latest album, Little Cat Plays The Alpha Rave, this month. I'm also the lead guitarist for Sidecar, a fun cover band based in Lombard, and the "drum player"/accordionist/vocalist for Margo Jean and the Rubes, a unique and exciting rockabilly/Irish band based in Westmont. I have been also known to be a sideman with other bands ranging from Another Pint, This Must Be The Band and Daily Special.

Plus I'm a freelance recording engineer as well as a songwriter trying to get the nerve to perform his own songs. When I have free time, I take classes with the Neo-Futurists, try and catch as many shows as possible, and sleep at least three hours a night, if possible.

You recently started performing theater and taking theater classes. How does your music affect your work in theater and vice-versa?

I'm noticing that it's affecting the way I perform on stage with a band -- in a positive way. People need to feel connected to the musicians on stage and feel like they're part of the same airspace with a musician, so the interaction between how one performs and the reaction of the crowd is very important. Musicians like Pete Townsend are known for their movement and commanding stage presence as much as their music, and the importance of that parallel has never been greater to me.

I know you regularly send your friends lists of good songs and interesting reading. It seems kind of like an email newsletter of cool randomness. Why do you take the time to do this, and how do you choose what you send out?

Well, I started doing that just because I'm constantly listening to music and reading books, and I like to just recommend things to friends of mine that would either "get it" or be spurred to give new things a shot. I think it's excellent when an artist, musician or writer can be influenced by something new that they wouldn't have found on their own, and so that's what I try and do. The criteria is simple: if I really like something, I'll pass it on ... but it really has to make me think or be affected by it. I tend to send the lists to other like-minded friends and people that I admire -- the list grows bigger every time!

One such e-mail linked to a brilliant article wherein Tom Waits interviewed himself. This interviewer will now shamelessly ask you some of those questions.

What's the most curious record in your collection?

I bought the third album by Alicia Bridges, of "I Love The Nightlife" fame. It is her attempt to catch the 1980's new wave train to stardom. A bit scary, I must say. You didn't know she had a third album? Now you do.

What's wrong with the world?

Not enough chances to just relax and enjoy what's around you ... and a lack of Jelly Babies being imported from the UK.

What remarkable things have you found in unexpected places?

I once found a Fender Rhodes piano being dragged across my lawn on Christmas Eve by my friend and former band director -- that was pretty remarkable! It still works despite the grass stains. Just recently, I also found that there's an excellent Norwegian apple farm outside of Madison, Wisconsin. Who knew?

Do you have words to live by?

"Enjoy every sandwich." -- Warren Zevon

What would you have liked to see but were born too late for?

The Beatles on Ed Sullivan -- to see that in 1964 would've been amazing! It's still amazing now.

You can find Johnny's songs here, and you can hear him play around town with My My My, Sidecar and Margo Jean and The Rubes.

About the Author:

Lindsay Muscato is a Gapers Block staffer who escaped from a toaster fire in Buffalo, NY at the age of four. She now lives in a slanty shanty in Andersonville, has written and performed with Around the Coyote and 2nd Story, and she's the managing director of The Neo-Futurists. Read her scribblings at

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Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

Paul Goldberger Describes the "Pragmatism and Poetry" of Frank Gehry's Architecture in His New Book

By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »


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