For Chicago's SMIDGEN, years of friendship fuel the music
For a group whose moniker brings to mind small doses, Chicago quartet Smidgen packs quite a major wallop. With tastes of 70's harmonies and flair spread around arena-style anthems with the punch of 80's rock, the group has been making their name known in and around Chicago for a while, and it'll surely continue with the placement of Smidgen's music - and bassist Steven Strauss - in film this year.
But all of the above might not have happened, had the core of Smidgen - bassist Strauss, guitarist Fred Ephrem and drummer/keyboardist/engineer/producer Alex Beblis - not reunited after a lifelong friendship. "(We) played together in middle school," says Strauss. "(Fred) and I have known each other since 2nd grade. We are like brothers. We always wrote originals, partly because when we started out, we didn't want people to notice our mistakes, which are easily detected when you play covers."
Eventually after growing up, each of the three core members of Smidgen explored their own music endeavors for a while. Strauss performed in the 90's with Down Down Mary; Beblis recorded two independently-produced solo albums, performing about 90% of the music and vocals himself; Ephrem, Strauss says, "made it to Triple-A rock, to use a baseball analogy," as part of Strain Busy Sky, performing at the since-defunct HORDE Festival and alongside acts like Blues Traveler, Collective Soul and the Mighty Mighty Bosstones. "We got back together because we missed it. And we missed getting together," admits Strauss. "What surprised us is we came up with some of best material."
He's definitely right: Rounded out by talented vocalist Nick Chirikos (who the rest of the group found while singing in a cover band a few years ago), Smidgen wears their influences on their sleeve, but are wholly their own. "Bring To Life" is a sultry, acoustic stomper with Chirikos' echoed pipes delivering slightly eerie lines like "You're gonna need me / because your soul is on a string." A fist-pumping rocker, "State of Shock" deals with unity in the face of danger, while the twinkley intro and laid back, clean strums of "Badley" sport no less charisma. Beblis truly flexes his chops on the track, and the rest of the band comes through with impressive flourishes of distorted bass, funky guitar and addictive keys. And with a chorus rich in vocal harmonies (think Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young for the modern era), "Take My Throne" tackles themes of escape (time machines, dreams, wishing wells) and opens with a mesmerizing effect similar to tape manipulation. That track is featured in the aforementioned short film iDig, in which Strauss stars, that has already been making the rounds at several film festivals and premiered locally at the LaGrange Theater.
"Our goals are to get our music out there, play out regionally and have people get the songs," says Strauss. "We are not gunning to 'make it.' The industry has changed and what's refreshing is the technology is there for us to produce quality product and distribute it without needing a major label." And that's a refreshingly optimistic and logical outlook in today's ever-shifting paradigm.
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