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Interview Mon Feb 16 2009

A Quick Chat with Charlie Looker


Hailed by Tyondai Braxton of Battles and Stereogum, Brooklyn's Extra Life have made a name for themselves with their hypnotic combination of math rock and chamber pop. Extra Life hits up the Empty Bottle tonight in support of their album, Secular Works, released last year through Planaria Recordings. Gapers Block had the chance for a quick chat with lead singer and guitarist Charlie Looker before the show.

Gapers Block: Where did the title Secular Works come from?

Charlie Looker: The title Secular Works is a reference to Medieval and Renaissance music, periods which I am deeply into. Composers from those periods wrote sacred music (masses) and then also would write secular songs in the popular forms of the time. When you buy a CD of Early Music, you will often find records of so-and-so's "secular works". So for Extra Life, the title is somewhat ironic. However I'm very influenced by Early Music, both sacred and secular. I have also become interested in religion, simply as a human phenomenon, an outlet for the human will.

GB: I've heard that you don't prefer to be associated with prog rock. Is this true, and if so, how would you describe Secular Works?

CL: As for the prog label, people can label Extra Life any way they find useful. I just don't listen to music labeled prog. To me, most of that music feels soulless and unemotional. People might call Extra Life prog because the music is technically complicated. But for me this complexity is only about creating emotional intensity, nothing else. I'm trying to move people. Most prog bands use contrived complexity to mask the fact that they have no conviction about what they're doing, and haven't had any life experience other than practicing their instruments. I didn't get into writing epic complicated music through prog. I got into it through 20th century classical composers like Iannis Xenakis and metal/hardcore bands like Converge.

GB: Secular Works is an intense and involved record. Do you find it difficult to translate the complexities of the album into a live format? What can we expect when seeing Extra Life live?

CL: Extra Life live is just like the record, but more intense because it's live. The pieces have actually been fleshed out somewhat since then, more keyboard parts, plus the violist from the record has been replaced by violinist Caley Monahon-Ward who brings his own vibe to the band. And we also now are playing a bunch of newer songs which aren't on the record.

GB: How does your songwriting approach for Extra Life differ from your work with Zs?

CL: Zs was a big compositional outlet for me for years, and my work with them was quite different from my work in Extra Life. In Zs my pieces were largely instrumental, with vocals only really being introduced toward the end of my tenure. Even then, I was writing duo vocal parts with the other guitarist, so I wasn't singing as a solo voice. In Extra Life, where I'm the "lead singer" I have developed a more distinctive personal vocal style, more variation in sound and expression.

Another difference is lyrical content. The few lyrics I would write for Zs were more philosophical and intellectual in nature, somewhat abstract. For Extra Life, I write about more immediately human things like sexuality, relationships and death. It's not all autobiographical; I always maintain a slight distance from the material. But it is still way more personal.

GB: What's next? What have you been working on?

CL: Extra Life will continue to be my main focus for the indefinite future. We have enough material for another full-length record, and we'll probably end up going into the studio with that within the next year. We're also touring Europe for the first time in May.

I'm also really excited about my other projects. One is Sculptress, a duo recording project with Chuck Stern. Another is Period, an instrumental project with drummer Mike Pride and other guests. Third, I'm planning on returning to writing various chamber music and orchestral music which I used to do more of and I've been missing for a while. All of those projects will be steadily flowering in '09.

Extra life plays the Empty Bottle, 1035 N Western Ave, tonight at 9:30 pm alongside Lichens and Larkin Grimm. The show is free and 21+.


michael o. / March 25, 2009 6:23 AM

mr.looker has always been a big influence on my musical abilities,and how i approach my own compositions.Mainly the work he did in Lavender,but he never seems to mention this body of work..its really great stuff.look into it.

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Classical Wed Aug 06 2014

Pulling Strings: For classical music in Chicago, you got a guy - August 2014

By Transmission

Before the main classical season kicks into gear in the next month or two, take advantage of these local artists and ensembles playing throughout the city.

Read this feature »


  Chicago Music Media

Alarm Magazine
Big Rock Candy Mountain
Boxx Magazine
Brooklyn Vegan Chicago
Can You See The Sunset From The Southside
Chicago Reader Music
Chicagoist Arts & Events
Chicago Music Guide
Chicago Singles Club
Country Music Chicago
Cream Team
Dark Jive
The Deli Chicago
Jim DeRogatis
Fake Shore Drive
Gowhere Hip Hop
The Hood Internet
Jaded in Chicago
Largehearted Boy
Little White Earbuds
Live Fix Blog
Live Music Blog
Loud Loop Press
Oh My Rockness
Pop 'stache
Pop Matters
Resident Advisor
Sound Opinions
Sun-Times Music Blog
Theft Liable to Prosecution
Tribune Music
UR Chicago
Victim Of Time
WFMU's Beware of the Blog
Windy City Rock


Abbey Pub
Andy's Jazz Club
Aragon Ballroom
Auditorium Theatre
Beat Kitchen
Bottom Lounge
Buddy Guy's Legends
The Burlington
California Clipper
Concord Music Hall
Congress Theater
Cubby Bear
Double Door
Elbo Room
Empty Bottle
Green Mill
The Hideout
Honky Tonk BBQ
House of Blues
Kingston Mines
Lincoln Hall
Logan Square Auditorium
Mayne Stage
The Mutiny
Old Town School of Folk Music
Park West
Red Line Tap
Reggie's Rock Club & Music Joint
The Riviera
Thalia Hall
The Shrine
Symphony Center
Tonic Room
Uncommon Ground
The Vic
The Whistler

  Labels, Promoters
  & Shops:

Alligator Records
Beverly Records
Bloodshot Records
Dave's Records
Delmark Records
Drag City
Dusty Groove
Flameshovel Records
Groove Distribution
He Who Corrupts
Jam Productions
Jazz Record Mart
Kranky Records
Laurie's Planet of Sound
Minty Fresh
Numero Group
mP Shows
Permanent Records
Reckless Records
Smog Veil Records
Southport & Northport Records
Thick Records
Thrill Jockey Records Touch & Go/Quarterstick Records
Victory Records


Thu Aug 21 2014
Invaders from Mars & The General w/Live Soundtrack

Thu Aug 21 2014
MC Frontalot @ Subterranean

Fri Aug 22 2014
Ken Vandermark's Audio One @ Constellation

Fri Aug 22 2014
Bridgepork @ Maria's

Fri Aug 22 2014
Jeff Daniels and Ben Daniels Band @ SPACE

Fri Aug 22 2014
Boulevard Festival

Sat Aug 23 2014
Ken Vandermark's Audio One @ Constellation

Sat Aug 23 2014
Deer Tick @ Metro

Sat Aug 23 2014
Drivin' and Cryin' @ Reggies

Sat Aug 23 2014
Bridgepork @ Maria's

Sat Aug 23 2014
The Boulevard Festival

Sun Aug 24 2014
Robyn & Röyksopp Do It Again @ Pritzker Pavilion

Sun Aug 24 2014
Monkey Business Backyard BBQ @ Sportsman's Club

Sun Aug 24 2014
The Boulevard Festival

Wed Aug 27 2014
The Dutchess and the Duke @ Empty Bottle

Featured Series


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About Transmission

Transmission is the music section of Gapers Block. It aims to highlight Chicago music in its many varied forms, as well as cover touring acts performing in the city. More...
Please see our submission guidelines.

Editor: Anne Holub,
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