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Feature Wed Apr 08 2009
On the first day of April in Chicago, it's a chilly afternoon and Ann Scott is sitting next to the fireplace at Uncommon Ground in Wrigleyville with her iPod in her lap. The Irish musician, one of the most talented singer-songwriters to emerge from Dublin's indie-rock scene, is just settling into the city she will call home for the next month.
Scott will be spending all of April in Chicago, performing every Wednesday night for the Back Room Sessions at Uncommon Ground on Clark Street in April. She plays the restaurant/venue's Devon location on April 15 as part of the "4 Women Only Night" as well.
"I've always wanted to come to Chicago, but I never have," Scott says about an hour before her first performance on April 1. Before she can grab a guitar, Scott wants to learn a few new songs to sing with fellow Irish musician Nick Kelly, who is performing with her tonight. "I've been to Boston, New York and LA," she continues. "One time, I took a trip on a Greyhound bus from Boston to El Paso but never made it to anywhere near Chicago. It's such a big, huge music magnet that I'm surprised it's taken me so long."
While it's common for aspiring musicians to plan mini-tours around the country in order to gain more exposure outside of their hometown, it's a little less common for musicians to leave their homeland to spend one month performing in Chicago. Yet that's one challenge Scott is ready to experience.
Scott is renting an apartment in Old Town and plans to record new songs for her upcoming album in her new place with Pro Tools. Her first two albums, Poor Horse and We're Smiling, both on Raghouse Records, have been well-received by the Irish music press, but she's looking to expand her audience.
"I don't go around playing big arenas obviously, but just in general, people in Ireland are quite conservative. And I think they're less so in the States," she says. "It's weird because there's so much creativity in Ireland, but just the buying public there are very mainstream. It's definitely good to live in Ireland and go up there and create music there, but you need to get out of it as well. And it's so small. There are two radio stations that have a stranglehold on all the music that gets played. I mean, I know it's the same really anywhere, but I know with the Americans and the whole college radio, it seems to be more of a vehicle I suppose for alternative kind of music...I mean there's a lot of very diverse people [in Ireland], don't get me wrong. But most of them are making the music. They're not listening to it or buying it."
Scott says she's influenced by a broad range of music, including folk, '70s rock and electronic music, citing Sonic Youth, Patti Smith and Nick Drake as some influences. She brings all of these elements to her songs, which often blend together cryptic lyrics (sample from "Down at the Parlour": "I am the antelope and when I meet you that's all you need to know") and droning guitar hooks over atmospheric keyboards. She also has a fantastically creepy video for her hypnotic track "Imelda," off of We're Smiling, on YouTube (below).
Scott has been playing more with a piano and harmonium for her new songs, and she is considering recording a very sparse record. But she can't say for sure how the new songs will sound. "You kind of jinx yourself once you say what your record's going to be," she says. "Then the forces that be just rebel and it becomes something else."
She plans to explore the city as much as she can before heading to New York at the end of the month and then back to Dublin to record her new album. She's already found the grocery stores here overwhelming, and being lost is a new theme she's been thinking about. She has written six new songs that are all called "Lost."
"Sometimes," she says, "it's good to get lost a bit, and there's no better place than the United States to get lost in."
While Scott has just arrived in Chicago, she's already been influenced by the city. The unpredictable April weather — or at least the sounds associated with it — has made an impression on her.
"I was trying to record the wind last night," she laughs. "It's great. My first night in the Windy City and I'm recording the wind."
About the Author:
Sheila Burt is a Gapers Block contributor and freelance writer based in Chicago.