Chicago singer, keyboardist and co-founder Robert Lamm says that sticking the word “Now” at the front of “Chicago XXXVI’s” title is no insignificant detail. And ahead of the album, due next month, Billboard exclusively premieres not only the title track but also its official video, right here.
“There’s a lot of reasons,” Lamm tells Billboard of the choice of prefacing the group’s numerically titled album with the very present word, “now.” I think that there are many people who, whether they like Chicago or don’t like Chicago, assume that what Chicago does is all what you hear on classic rock radio, or that Chicago is some dinosaur-like presence on the tour circuit. And we just wanted to kind of change that perception if we could by suggesting ‘Now.’ ”
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The long-lived, brass-fueled group certainly recorded “Now: Chicago XXXVI” — due out July 8 — in a contemporary manner. Spearheaded by trumpeter Lee Loughnane, the band assembled a mobile recording unit dubbed The Rig that allowed Chicago to work on new material while touring in 2013, often in hotels and backstage dressing rooms. Parts would be uploaded to coordinating producer Hank Linderman via a private Internet portal, which also allowed the individual musicians to work on their parts remotely.
“Because nobody lives in the same town anymore, we decided to try to record on the road,” Lamm says. “There were some complains from some of the guys — ‘Hey man, I need a day off!’ — but we got it done. It was just a matter of deciding we were going to do this or not do it, and after awhile even the more hesitant guys kind of jump in and started having fun, really, by listening to the results and listening to the rough mixes and things like that. It just took doing it to remember just how fun it was to just do something without having any expectations, kind of like a band that was starting out.”
The initial goal, Lamm adds, did not even include a full-fledged release. “We sort of agreed that this was not going to be an album,” he explains. “This was just going to be recording the songs we want to record in the way we want to record them, not thinking about radio, not thinking about an album and just occasionally maybe dribble them out for people who are interested. And then, when it was least expected, we got an offer from a record company (Frontiers Records) to release it. So we scrambled to try to put together something that resembled a finished album.” That said, Lamm adds that even in the wake of “Now’s” release, “the plan is to continue the process and not let putting out an album stop us.”
“Because nobody lives in the same town anymore we decided to try to record on the road.”-Robert Lamm
Loughnane concurs: “When we started building the web platform, the initial idea was to have a platform that we could record and release original music from…We just approached as just writing music. We had no specific idea as to what was going to be the final outcome or how the songs were going to fit together. We were just writing and that’s what we plan on continuing to do from here on out.”
Lamm co-wrote seven of “Now’s” tracks — including “Something’s Coming, I Know” with America’s Gerry Beckley — while singer-bassist Jason Scheff collaborated on four. Loughnane’s “America,” original released last year, is included in the 11-song set, while Earth, Wind & Fire bassist Verdine White guests on the R&B-flavored title track — which also features the adjunct horn players who occasionally substitute for trombonist James Pankow and woodwinds specialist Walter Parazaider also took part in the sessions. “That one cut, ‘Now,’ probably has the most non-Chicago personnel on it, and it just sort of worked out that way,” Lamm notes.
And despite the cutting-edge manner of recording, Lamm is confident “Now’s” sophisticated musicianship will appeal to longtime Chicago fans. “When we were done our manager heard the master and he said, ‘These songs are so long!’ ” Lamm recalls with a laugh. “And we said, ‘Well, yeah.’ that was part of what we wanted to do was not necessarily do three-minute songs. We wanted to stretch out a bit. And he said, ‘Well, this stuff is not gonna get played on radio,’ and, again, that’s not the point. The point was to write it and record it and be Chicago.”
Chicago beings a European tour on June 26 in Paris, then returns to North America for a run of dates with REO Speedwagon that begin July 31 in Concord, Calif., with the two groups planning to join each other on stage for about a half-dozen songs each night.