Chicago: ‘We lost the energy and passion of Terry Kath’
14th June 2014
Interview. Robert Lamm, founding member of Chicago tells about the history of the band, Terry Kath, and presents NOW, the 36th Chicago album. Chicago will play live at the Olympia (Paris) on 26 June 2014.
Chicago’s albums from the 70’s sound unpredictable and anarchic. How were they conceived? Why do they have this incredible atmosphere of joyful folly?
The unpredictable, joyful flavor of the early 70’s albums … comes from a group of very young, naive musicians being encouraged to experiment, with nothing to lose. Psychedelia, free-form moments, discovery of fresh sounds … all very inspiring!
On the contrary, Chicago’s albums from the 80’s seem more standardized. What caused this change?
By the 80’s, rock/pop music itself had changed, of course, but while our band had crazy success, we lost the energy and passion of Terry Kath.
Terry Kath died in 1978. What would he have thought of the band evolution from the 80’s until now? And is he still present in the band’s life?
Assuming he would still be in the band, the evolution would have been entirely different. I think he might have mastered the technology. Obviously, the songs we play each night which he helped to shape, contain memories as well.
Which of Chicago’s album are you particularly proud of?
CTA for its innovation, #5 for the variety in the song writing, Night & Day/ big band for having the courage to do something so odd! And NOW #36 for remembering who we are.
The horn section is a distinctive feature and an advantage of Chicago. Do you bear that in mind in the songwriting process or do the brass arrangements come later once the songs are already written?
I have recently realized that the most interesting of Chicago’s music are not ‘songs’, but rather, ‘compositions’. My writing always included sections for not only brass, but solos as well, and just as importantly, there must be spaces without brass. Horn parts must surround the vocals, not cover them.
In the NOW album, each of the band’s songwriters becomes the supervising producer for their compositions. Is it collaboration between different artists or a real band work?
You must remember that the best of all of Chicago’s work is collaborative, but in this album, the composer needed to be responsible for certain decisions. We allowed each other the freedom to choose the material.
Could you tell me about this mobile recording system dubbed “the Rig” that you have used to record the NOW album?
Pro tools HD, various new and vintage mics, Audio Technica headphones, Hear Tech/hearback…
The system works, and we gradually reduced size of rig and we refined as we went along. We will continue use it, it is efficient, and inspiring.
You have recorded the album in different locations, mostly hotel rooms. Does this new recording process have an impact on the sound of the album?
Our experience was that, with basic attention to ambient noise, location did not adversely affect quality. Keeping in mind, we were not recording Mozart trios, but rock music.
Did you test the new songs in your concerts and what was the audience reaction? And will you play some of these new songs in your upcoming show in Paris?
We have performed only two new songs and will do them in Paris.