Donnie Biggins, leader of Chicago’s The Shams Band and owner/promoter/head of Tonic Room, Harmonica Dunn and the annual Dunn Dunn Fest, will be dropping his solo debut, Profiles, on Tuesday, Nov 29. He will be celebrating the release with back to back shows at Tonic Room in Chicago on Dec 2 & 3.
Glide is hosting an exclusive stream of Profiles (below), featuring contributions from Ryan Joseph Anderson, Dan Ingenthron and Jamie Gallagher (both current members of Weepin’ Willows). As for under the radar best of 2016 releases, Biggins delivers it all: brooding openheartedness, razor sharp lyrics and divine Americana featuring A level musicianship. Glide also had a moment to talk to Biggins upon the eve of Profiles’ release to learn more about his work process and new album…
Glide is really looking forward to hosting the stream on Monday! I must say I was extremely impressed with the authenticity and quality of the songs. With this being your solo debut, did you compose these songs over a short or long period of time? Based on the quality, it seems almost impossible that you had written these so quickly?
Thank you for the kind words. These songs were written throughout the last ten years of my life. When I went into Pieholden [Studios] to record, I came prepared with 27 songs. We cut that down to 11 and got to work.
An album of this caliber really deserves to be heard and appreciated outside Chicago- can you see yourself pushing these songs to cities like Austin and Portland and beyond?
I would love to see this record getting digital plays and vinyl shipments to other cities outside of Chicago. I plan on using my promoter network to help spread the record. There are hundreds of bands that I have worked with from Nashville, to Colorado, etc. and I plan on asking the ones that enjoy it to please share it and keep playing it. I am currently not in a position to tour off of the release due to having young kids at home. But I plan on doing so when appropriate.
Can you talk about your Chicago scene and what artists assisted you with the album and played important roles?
Our Chicago music family is very close-knit and supportive. I have been blessed to have so many talented artists surrounding me throughout my life. Three of them played major roles in creating the record. Producer, Ryan Joseph Anderson, helped shape and build these songs into what they are. We started each track with just acoustic and vocals and added the layers from there. Pieholden Suite Sound has a huge variety of keys, guitars and amplifiers, and we wanted to use as many different instruments as possible. Dan Ingenthron came in to lay down all the bass tracks and many of the piano and key tracks. With the addition of Jamie Gallagher on drums, it really all came together nicely. The cherry on top was the mixing done by engineer, Matt DeWine. I am very grateful to have worked with these guys, and I hope to do so again on another record.
“Closer To You” is about as in your face a rocker as you can get in terms of jangly pure pop rock. When writing a song that’s been done before in many different forms, how do you put an artistic stamp on it [that is] all your own like you did this one?
“Closer To You” is simply a tip of the hat to the bands that I love. When we started recording this song, we had a mission to make it sound timeless. The lyrics are literal and honest – our bedroom is freezing at night. I think writing honestly will always make something your own.
The album has a very mature blend of Americana and 70’s singer songwriter (“People Killing People”) – as a solo artist how much of these songs are personally therapeutic?
Every song on the record is therapeutic. I was in tears when I wrote “People Killing People” because of the video of the Chicago Police Department murdering Laquan McDonald had just been released to the public. Gun violence in our city is an epidemic, and I don’t have a solution to it, but it could start with promoting education and changing our gun laws. All the songs on this record stem from my life and I always turn to songwriting to help me get through an emotional situation in my life.
Can you talk about the track “Yes, It’s Hard”? I imagine that it can evoke some sing-along’s and pull a chord with some of us father/husbands out there?
I wrote this song while building IKEA furniture. My wife has turned me into a professional IKEA furniture builder, in case anyone is looking to hire. It’s Legos for adults. I was having a difficult time with this certain baby crib I was putting back together, I took a break, cracked open a beer and wrote, “Yes, It’s Hard.”
As leader of the Shams Band, what does Donnie Biggins solo allow you do to do creatively that you wouldn’t be able to do with your other band?
I’d call myself more of the organizer in the band. I took on the role of booking and promoting the band, which eventually turned me into a concert promoter. The Shams Band is a five piece band with friendships spanning over 20 years. We all play important roles in the band, and if one of us is removed from it, we are not The Shams. Doing a solo record allowed me to do exactly what I wanted to do with my songs. It allowed me to be more selfish, and that can be a good thing when creating something for yourself.
How would you describe your sound and how much of it has evolved through what has come through the doors of Tonic Room? What particular artists have most had an impact on your sound?
I like to think that my sound is easy listening, lyrical music. Booking thousands of bands has allowed me to listen and witness so many different artists and sounds. It is hard to say exactly how that has had an effect on what I want to sound like. But, it has helped me define what sounds I do like, and which I do not. My songwriting heroes are Jeff Tweedy, Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, David Bowie and Neil Young. The first concert I ever went to was Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers when I was 9 years old in 1995, and I got pretty hooked to listening and seeing live music after that.
Thoughts on 2016 so far? Its been a tough year for many with the election and notable musician deaths. What can we most look forward to in 2017?
2016 has been a life changing year for me personally, and in a good way. My wife gave birth to our third child, Otis. I bought Tonic Room in Chicago and I finished my first record. On a national level for politics and musician deaths, it has been dreadful. It is hard to say goodbye to so many influential artists. I am glad that many of them were able to come out with some final records before they passed. I hope in 2017 we can find a way to respect the professional musician and the producers behind the music that we love. It is not an easy life for us. The amount of other work we have to take on to afford to live an average life limits the creative process. Society should think about how much they support the musicians that they love. Every person on this earth listens and loves a form of music. I believe that if you love something, and you believe in it, you should consider paying for it and help support the ones who created it. Your generosity will go a long way and allow that artist to continue to create what you love.