In advance of the release – the group’s first in five years – O’Connell and Berecz sat down to chat about their musical style, songwriting process, upcoming tour – which includes an April 14 record release show at The Hideout – and all of the elements that have “Starlight”
poised to be a hit with fans of the Chicago blues and catchy melodies. As with everything in 2017, President Donald Trump’s political influence and the power of a good protest song also peppered the conversation.
What elements of “Starlight” – whether it be a lyric, idea or song – are you most excited to share with fans on Feb. 24?
Berecz: It’s been a long time – five years – since we’ve had something new for all of our fans, so it’s kind of neat to have something finished and deliverable for them. I’m excited for them to hear a bit of a newer sound that’s full of R&B and Electronic elements while still keeping true to what’s been familiar to all of us over the years, which is Heavy Soul. I’m excited just to have something to bring to everyone!
O’Connell: Sonically, the album is going to be familiar to people but also it’s hopefully more accessible to a wider audience. I think in terms of a message, this is definitely our most empowering political album, which is something we’ve all been feeling for the past five or six years since we’ve been writing these songs. But then specifically, it ends up being very timely with what’s going on in our country right now. I wish it wouldn’t be working out that way necessarily, but this is a very fraught political time.
Berecz: I think that Brendan and I are writing from different places now in our lives, since we have families and children, so the content is a lot different. It’s a lot more meaningful.
Do you consider yourselves to be more autobiographical or storytelling as songwriters?
O’Connell: I think we’re doing a little bit of both. The last record was a lot about cheating in relationships – which we’ve both experienced. “Starlight” has been a little more about writing protest or message songs and writing autobiographical stuff about family members with addiction, but there are a few storytelling songs on the new album also.
Can you share a bit about your songwriting process?
Berecz: It’s kind of changed throughout the years. During our second album, I used to work right down the block from Brendan so literally a lot of our songwriting sessions would be me taking hour-long lunches running over to his house, and we would do a lot of collaborating together in that way. I would say with this album, he’s taken a really big role on it and I more worked from afar. Now that I don’t work in the city, we do a lot online and writing from afar rather than writing in a room together.
O’Connell: We’re kinda like the Postal Service. I think it’s been so much harder to make time this time around. I have step-kids, but I also have a daughter, who is three now, so I’m with her during the day and then working in the afternoon. That makes every hour of nap time totally precious for writing, whereas before I had all the time in the world.
How does having a daughter shape your songwriting? Has it changed the way you look at the world?
O’Connell: It’s hard to say because I have had step-kids for many years, so having my daughter wasn’t as big of a life-changing deal as it otherwise would have been. It’s really about being more efficient and making better opportunity of the time that I do have whereas before we could sort of let things slip away and make time later.
And Stef you have kids as well, right?
Berecz: Yes, I have a daughter and a son.
I heard that you and your daughter went down to D.C. for the Women’s March on Washington. What was the driving factor that made you want to march?
Berecz: My daughter is eight, so she’s in third grade this year. She had a whole government module, which was very timely with the election, and she had a very big interest in the election. I didn’t shelter her at all during the process. We sat down and we watched the debates together and she formed her own feelings and opinions. She wasn’t extremely happy with the outcome, and she had lots of questions and concerns as to what’s next. So when I heard about these marches being very well organized, I asked her, “Do you want to take the opportunity to go down to D.C. together and enjoy all these incredible people who are showing love and unity and the power of the people?”
She was completely into it so we took an Amtrak – a 17-hour train ride there and back – and spent the weekend. She was a little shell-shocked by the whole experience, but she’s extremely pumped and motivated. Now we’re in groups back here in Chicago that we meet with and we’re continuing to just try and stay involved and to show that there’s a light at the end of all of this. There’s still love and hope, and I think that was a great message to show her right now.
Was the Women’s March an experience that has fueled you musically and creatively, as well?
Berecz: The experience – all across the board not just with music – gave me so much energy. It energized me and ignited me as a citizen to get involved and stay involved as much as I can for the sake of all humanity and especially my children.
O’Connell: My stepdaughter’s 14. She came home on Election Day – like only a 14-year-old can – with lots of questions, just going on and getting really upset about how things could end up this way, unfortunately. It’s funny because we wrote all of this material for “Starlight” over the past four or five years, but now it seems like it’s resonating a lot more.
It’s great as an artist because you write your songs and then you slave over them in the studio and when the record is finally done you wait eight months before it comes out. We’ve been playing these songs for a long time, but now we’re finding new meaning as we sing those choruses – they’ve become more of a war cry.
Berecz: And that’s obviously the most rewarding thing, if we can provide any kind of joy or relief from what’s happening in the world around you then we’ve done our job.