For the Bloomington-based Union Avenue, vintage rockabilly is both personal taste and a mission
Christopher Myers loves vintage rockabilly music.
The frontman for Bloomington-based Union Avenue spoke with WGLT's Jon Norton in this lightly edited interview about his personal attachment to that sound – and why the band stays in that old-school lane.
WGLT: Your debut EP of four songs is vinyl only. Why?
Myers: We're really trying to go for the more authentic sound and the most authentic look in all aspects. Within the vintage scene and the rockabilly community that we're a part of, people are really, really into vinyl. So, when we're going to these music festivals and these car shows, that's what they're looking for. We're going to have a CD released hopefully later this year with some originals that we're working on, but people really want … and I want … to put out my own record, so did the other guys. So, we thought, we're going to do this right. We're going to self-press it. We went to a recording studio up in Crete, Illinois.
What’s the name of the studio?
Custom Recording Co. It was a converted old schoolhouse in the middle of nowhere. It was probably the closest that we would have gotten to recording at Sun Studios (in Memphis) back in the day, without actually doing that. My vocal mic was the exact same model that Sam Phillips at Sun recorded Elvis.
You mentioned “the rockabilly scene.” Are you talking about Illinois, regional, or Bloomington-Normal? I didn’t know there was a “scene” in town.
Well, we're pretty much it (in Bloomington-Normal). (laughter) We're trying to make it something.
But really, globally, there's a lot of festivals in Spain and in Europe that we would love to play, hopefully, in the future. Last May, we played at the Eastside Boogie, which was in Nashville, a lot of vintage clothing vendors and a pinup contests and Hot Rod cars.
Let's get into one of the songs that you recorded on this first album. How about “Love My Baby?” The old Hayden Thompson song.
This is not modern rockabilly.
You have a vintage sound going on.
Yeah, we recorded in mono and with vintage equipment. And again, vintage instruments. Steve, our bass player, his bass is a postwar … I think it's a 47 … I think it's a K … upright bass and my guitar is a 1957 Magnatone Mark V.
You're not a real rockabilly band if you don't have an upright bass, right?
I would agree with that. Probably. Maybe I'll get some flak for that. But in my opinion, yes.
You mentioned Elvis, and you covered a song that Elvis is known for, although he didn't write it and he wasn't the original hitmaker on this.
Let's take let's take a listen to “Money Honey,” your version of it. How much does Elvis mean to you?
It's funny you say that. I was a huge Elvis fan as a kid. Absolutely ate everything up, you know, visited Memphis as his kid. Went to Sun (Records) … went to Graceland and had a bunch of his records. And then I kind of fell out of it, unintentionally. You know, you grow up … life happens, and I never disliked Elvis, but I wasn't as big of a fan. But then the Elvis movie came out recently. And that kind of reinvigorated my love for Elvis. And now I'm back.
You mentioned that you're going to have some original songs coming on a new album, perhaps?
Correct. Yeah, a new CD. We're hoping for the later this year.
Are you a songwriter by trade?
Well, I don't know. What's the definition of trade? I mean, I've written songs before.
That's what I’m getting at.
I guess so. Yes, I have.
When you think about writing lyrically for a new rockabilly song, does vintage also cross your mind when you're writing lyrically? Because it does, obviously, musically.
Not so much lyrically. I mean, it seems like all the songs I've written about right now were about a girl, whether good or bad. That's just kind of how it goes for me. But I know my bass player, Steve Knecht, is going to be writing a song about hot rods. I've got a 54 Chevy that I actually drove to the studio today. And so I think he named it 54 Something … 54 Chevy.
That's a big part of the scene as well as the Hot Rod community, because a lot of these festivals that we go to … the festival we went to in Nashville was more music centered, but we're playing a festival in Iowa and later on another one in Wisconsin later this year. And those are more car centered, Hot Rod culture festivals with music versus music festivals with Hot Rod cars as kind of an as an afterthought are just part of it. But the music is the center and sometimes it's flipped.
How much time are you putting into this … the band? I'm guessing you have a “full time day job?”
Yeah, yeah, I sell suits at Von Maur. So, if you need a suit, let me know. (laughter) And that's funny you say that because it's really all three of us (Christopher, bassist Knecht, and drummer Chris Manzella). We have a text chain, we're talking all day every day, outside of work just about, you know, networking and bookings. And well, we need to contact this person to get secure this gig or we need to work on this new song … when is practice next? It's really like a full time job honestly. We really make a point to do that because we don't want to be a Garage Band. We're really trying to get something higher. And the end goal is to try to elevate our product, the music, so we're really pushing to try to get a high quality product out there. And to do that, you got to put in the work.
Well, fun album Christopher, congratulations.
Of course. Thank you
Union Avenue is having a free show at Maguire’s in Downtown Bloomington on Saturday night to celebrate the release of its debut EP.