HT: Is that a Sexfist right of passage to have a cool name?
CO: Yeah! We all have Sexfist Facebook pages under our Sexfist names. What’s funny is that once a year people will come up to me and wish me a happy birthday, on a day that’s totally not my birthday, cause it’s the random day I put in as my birthday under my Chuck Oakton. So now we kind of celebrate our birthday’s twice a year, because a lot of people know us as our Sexfist names and that’s it. Just outside someone came up to me asking what my name was, and I had to go in my head, I was like “what am I going to tell this girl?” And I was like “my name’s Chuck.” I mean when someone tells you their name they believe it. My name’s Chuck, cool Chuck.
HT: Does Chuck have a different persona than your everyday self?
CO: No, not really. We don’t go that far with it.
HT: Sexfist has gone through some line-up changes in the last year; have the changes altered your sound in any way?
CO: Line-up changes are part of being in a band, and that’s something I have learned over the years. The couple few times I was devastated, honestly I really was. And then it just happens like this is my and Jon’s (bass) baby and people are going to come and go. As long as he and I stay consistent on it that’s how it’s going to be. I know other bands where it’s just one guy, and it’s his band and he brings in the ringers. He hires some guys that might stick around for a year or two, and then they’re gone…It’s hard to loose people but it also is exciting sometimes because you get new, fresh blood in.
We just got a new mandolin player Peter Briarwood, he’s 22 and a smoking mandolin player. He’s like one of these phenom kids whose been playing since he was seven, it’s so exciting. He has never been in a touring band so he’s like learning from us on how to run a business, but he’s also learning how to be in a band…but he’s also teaching us because he’s such a smoking musician. He just keeps getting better so fast and it is really exciting to see.
With the bad of line up changes comes the good, and luckily all of our fans pretty much embrace anybody we bring in, because we’re very selective as to who we bring in. We’ve been doing this long enough now that we don’t have to take the first person that comes along if we don’t want to. It’s so important to find the right people, so yeah it’s difficult but like I said it’s also very exciting. It allows the band to breathe and grow, and it certainly helps me grow as a musician.
HT: Has your sound changed at all adding new members to the band?
CO: We are a bluegrass band and we always will be. Yes, inevitably bringing a new voice and a new instrument it’s going to change, everyone has their own style. (Brief room interruption and hello’s all around followed by Jon aka Bradley Longwood’s entrance.)
CO: You know you’re being really rude Jon. (Laughs)
Bradley Longwood : What’s going on?
CO: (Laughing) We are in the middle of an interview and you’re gonna have to leave.
BL: Everything he’s saying is false! (Laughs, sits down and joins the conversation.)
CO: I was just telling her the advantages and disadvantages of line up changes.
BL: There are lots of advantages and disadvantages. The longer a group is together the tighter you get as a group. So in that respect, it’s great to have the same members. Bringing in new members, the advantages are you feel other influences, you hear and feel other ways of playing. So it kinda can expand the sound of the group and that’s a good thing.
HT: You’ve changed resident venues two times in the past year; has that helped or hurt your following?
CO: Moving here [Kinetic Playground] helped, moving to the place we were at in between [Jerry’s] the Red Line [Tap] and here, it didn’t grow us any…it maintained it. We also like the Kinetic Playground a lot. The vibe here is cool, and there’s parking…I love Uptown personally it’s a good neighborhood…This is where I moved when I first moved to Chicago 10 years ago. I lived a block from here.
It’s funny, when I moved here, not being a musician at all, if I’d known I would be playing every Tuesday night here, I mean I remember when this place was gonna be built. They were putting this place in and the neighborhood was up in arms, and I was at the neighborhood meetings where people’d be protesting and I was protesting along with them. (Laughs) Yeah, ha-ha. I was like “This place is gonna suck for the neighborhood!” Now I make my living here! (Laughs) Moving here has been great for us, Kinetic Playground is a kickass place. It’s interesting because the Kinetic Playground has a lot of people coming here for certain types of music, like dub-step and electronica music. Ironically those people like this kind of music too. They like to dance, that’s it, dance. Our music is good for that too.
HT: What is your balance between original compositions and standards?
CO: I would say 60 [percent] covers, 40 [percent] original…it depends on the show. If we’re playing a show in front of a listening crowd then we are gonna pull out more of our originals. But if we want to keep the crowd moving we are going to play more to the tempo. If we want to keep things moving we’re not going to be able to keep pulling out fast tunes over, and over, and over again because we don’t have an unlimited amount of it. But there is an unlimited amount of traditional bluegrass tunes that people can dance to. If we put out an album, it’s as many originals as possible like 80/20, 80 percent originals. At a show it’s usually half and half, or less even.
BL: I’d say at a show like this definitely more traditional, standards, covers, whatever you want to call them. In bluegrass it’s traditionals, in jazz it’s standards, in rock it’s covers.
HT: That gets confusing; they all kind of meet somewhere. I love your Helter Skelter cover…or traditional. (Laughs)
CO: Or standard? (Laughs)
HT: Or all of the above. (Laughs) Can you describe bluegrass music in Chicago, is there a bluegrass scene? It seems like it’s been on the rise a little bit in the past years with more bands popping up.
CO: There’s two very different crowds; there’s the bluegrass crowd that’s an older crowd, people who love bluegrass but don’t come out on Tuesday nights to see Sexfist…there’s another band in town they go see called the Henhouse Prowlers. There’s other local bands too, but then there’s also the jam scene which is like Cornmeal, who’s kind of the kings of that gear, and that’s this crowd. They’re [types of fans] pretty divided down the middle and it’s not very often that they cross. But the beams cross and it’s good…
BL: It’s fun when they cross. (Laughs)
CO: It is but it’s good that they don’t because it’s awkward. There’s people who want to sit and listen and then there’s all these kids who want to dance…it’s better that there’s two different scenes.
HT: Who or what are you listening to these days?
BL: I listen to a lot of different stuff, lately I’ve been listening to a lot of Miles Davis 1960s stuff. I listen to a lot of Grateful Dead, Widespread Panic, that kind of thing. In a round about way, like many of the people you see here at the Kinetic Playground, came to be introduced to bluegrass in a round about way through the jam band scene.
CO: I’m a bluegrass nerd. I’m not the biggest music consumer, and generally I don’t listen to a lot when we are on the road. I don’t listen to a lot of music; I listen to a lot of podcasts and radio. If I’m gonna listen to music it’s going to be bluegrass. I listen to a lot of Pandora. I love the Lonesome River Band, I love Blue Highway, I love Cherryholmes, I love the old stuff, Flatts & Scruggs, and Bill Monroe, it’s lame I understand…
HT: What about Ween?!
CO: And Ween!! (Laughs) I actually got the band into Ween!
BL: Yeah, La Cucaracha!
CO: And also Chocolate and Cheese, and Country Greats is kickass. It’s funny Ween is kind of left over from my pre-banjo days. When I didn’t play music I listened to a little more and Ween was at the top of my list. Somebody got me into them one day and they are brilliant. They’re brilliant! And their lyrics are just fucking brilliant! Even their weird ass songs, if you listen to their lyrics and pull them out of the music, because the music can sometimes be distracting from the lyrics, there’s some really poignant shit going on there. It’s not like you’re gonna have a revelation about life by listening to Ween. But you can tell they’re witnessing life and laughing at it…Yeah I do love Ween.
BL: I also have to say I’ve been listening to a lot of rock n’ roll oldies. When I was in high school I listened to a lot of the oldies station. That’s where I learned harmonies, just singing along to those songs on the radio. Oldies are just so related to bluegrass, just very easy to follow melodies and chord progressions and harmonies.
CO: For Halloween we were Buddy Holly and The Crickets, we’ll bust some out during the second set…
HT: Lastly what is 2011 looking like for Sexfist?
CO: (Thinking, looks at Longwood) We will be here every Tuesday as far as we can tell, and once or twice a month we’ll play other shows in the city.
Man – I get jealous at acts like this – production so simple & stripped down, gigs are easy, vibe is “entertainment”, not “sturm und drang”. Maybe its all in a porn stage name: “Clutch Johnson”?