- Courtesy Two Piece Fest’s Facebook page
On the surface Two Piece Fest Midwest looks like it’s been designed to appeal to music fans with a thing for numbers. The daylong DIY event is a celebration of bands with only two members, and it takes place on Saturday, which is 2/22, and there are 22 bands on the bill. In reality Two Piece Fest wasn’t created just for this weekend, and it’s got a bit of a history: Philadelphia punk dudes Peter Helmis (of Algernon Cadwallader) and Craig Woods (of Towers and Hot Bagels) started it years ago as a way to celebrate their own two-piece band, Peter & Craig; last weekend they put on the seventh installment of the Philly fest.
Dave Collis, who fronts eclectic local punk outfit My Dad, grew up in Philly and caught the third Two Piece Fest in 2010. He wasn’t a fan of every group that played, but Collis was taken by the way nearly two dozen disparate bands could be united under the unusual but basic criterion indicated in the event’s name. After moving here to attend Columbia College in the fall of 2010, Collis wanted to bring Two Piece Fest to Chicago; he even e-mailed Helmis and Woods to get their permission to launch a local version. But the gears didn’t start turning until Collis ran into Woods at an underground blowout Collis put together called Gnarfest back in August. “Woods was like, ‘I just moved here,'” Collis says. Their conversation eventually turned to Two Piece Fest: “He [Woods] was like, ‘I want to do a Chicago one.'”
Once Woods got settled in town, he and Collis began planning the first local Two Piece Fest. They came up with a list of bands, including acts that played the event in Philly and groups Collis pinpointed going through his record collection, and Collis set about contacting everyone on the wish list. “Some I didn’t hear back from, some wanted a lot of money, some had to deal with bullshit agent stuff,” Collis says. But, he adds, “some were really excited about it.” Plenty of groups were enthusiastic about the idea of performing with other bands that only had two members even though they don’t all play the same type of music. Sure, a lot of the acts slated to perform Saturday can be filed under the general umbrella of “alternative” or “punk,” but there’s a nice blend of hardcore, math-punk, grindcore, scuzz-punk, sludge-pop, and noise—that’s not always something you can see on a bill for an underground show.
Headlining the whole shindig is Seattle powerviolence outfit Iron Lung, who are supporting last year’s White Glove Test, an album Reader critic Kevin Warwick says is “18 tracks of pell-mell quick-change power chords, rapid-fire snare thrashing, tough-guy yelling, and sudden hardcore breakdowns that offer a fleeting moment’s chance to catch your breath.” Collis is particularly excited about Iron Lung’s set, as he missed the two local shows the duo played in Chicago last spring, and he’s putting a lot into getting the group out here. “I’m flying them out,” he says. “It’s kind of scary to make that financial decision to fly a band out of pocket.”
Collis did more than pour his own money into Two Piece Fest. He also started his own two-piece band called Flesh Seeds for the event after he heard that jittery Philly punk duo Best Friends formed to play the inaugural Two Piece Fest. “Craig encouraged me to try it,” Collis says. “It’s challenging me as a musician to make it work without sounding empty.” I’m not entirely sure what Flesh Seeds will sound like, and that’s not the only group making its debut on Saturday—avant-pop musician and DIY-punk jack-of-all-trades, Nnamdi Ogbonnaya, and one of his bandmates in Water House, vocalist-guitarist Ian Sutherland, will play their first show together as Abejas Negras. As Collis begins to tell me about Abejas Negras over the phone, Sutherland pops in the room and offers a description of his band’s sound. “Ian’s waving a knife at me and he’s pointing it towards his wiener,” Collis says. “He says that’s how extreme Abejas Negras sounds.” Beyond that description Collis doesn’t really know what to expect from that band, but Collis decided they’d be a good fit—they match the criteria and the sprit of the festival. “There are a couple bands on the fest that I really have no idea what it would sound like,” he says. “I thought, why not?”
Two Piece Fest Midwest starts at 1 PM on Saturday at ChiTown Futbol in Pilsen. Head to Soundboard for the entire lineup. Tickets are $15 and are available at the festival’s Storenvy site until sometime on Wednesday and at the venue on the day of the show. To get a better idea of what to expect at the festival, I decided to give Craig Woods a call. We talked about the history of Two Piece Fest, some memorable sets, and how the event’s grown since 2008:
Leor Galil: How did Two Piece Fest start?
Craig Woods: We started it in Philadelphia, actually. My friend and I started in a two-piece band because we had a three-piece band and one of our members chose not to show up. We started jamming that way and got excited about the idea of being in a two-piece band. We went on tour, met a bunch of other two-piece bands, and decided that it would be really cool to celebrate the excitement of two-piece bands. So, in Philadelphia, we started Two Piece Fest. We had our first one in 2008 and we had 19 bands play. We’re doing our seventh one in Philadelphia this year—as well as in Chicago—and every year since the first one has been 22 bands, I believe. Except one year in Philly, we did two days, 20 bands each day, which was crazy.
What year was that?
That was not last year, but the year before, I believe. Two Piece Fest five. It was a Saturday and Sunday, 20 bands each day, so it was 40 bands. It was the craziest thing ever.
What was so crazy about it?
In terms of organization, booking, and keeping track of all the bands, it’s such a crazy day. The organizational process of having 20 bands in one day and just dealing with it two days in a row is just tiring. It’s just my buddy Peter [Helmis] and I, and it’s just tiring. We decided we don’t need that. We’re good with the one-day thing. It should be cool.
And the band that inspired Two Piece Fest, is that Peter & Craig?
Yeah. That’s Peter & Craig.
And Peter is still in down Philly, correct?
Yeah, Peter is still in Philly.
And you guys are performing at the Chicago version. Are you also performing at the Philly one?
Yes, we are.
Given you moved here in the fall, how are you able to keep the band going?
Not sure. I did just move here. Before I moved here, we knew we were going to do Two Piece Fest here. Being a two-piece, we’re exploring our options in ways to keep things going without being together. We haven’t done it yet, but sending tracks back and forth maybe, recording that way, and making songs that way.
We tried practicing over the phone one time, which was crazy. It didn’t work. We couldn’t hear each other. We’ll still get together and write songs. We weren’t doing it full-time anyway when I was in Philly. We just did it whenever we could. We always had other bands going on. We were always busy. Peter & Craig was always a constant for us to keep it going. There was nothing we ever took superserious. We’re just having fun with it, writing songs superfast whenever we did, recording it, releasing it, and whatever.
Do you have any new recordings in the works for that?
We do, actually. Right before I left, we were trying to get a lot of stuff done. I was trying to do a lot of stuff with a lot of bands, ending at that time, or stopping for the moment. We had a plan to try and release a 30-song LP. We never released any full-lengths. We always had short splits or seven-inches or tapes and stuff. We never released an LP, which is crazy because we had so many songs recorded. We were trying to make that goal, but it was too crazy of a goal. I think we only recorded ten songs, and they’re not complete. But at some point I would really love to finish that, among other projects that we did not finish. There are many unfinished recordings that need to be put to rest at some point.
What was it like setting up Two Piece Fest in a brand-new city?
It turned out [it came] together very, very easily because I had one of my good buddies here, Dave Collis—he’s in a band, not a two-piece, but they’re called My Dad, they’re really awesome. He’s a sweetheart, and he’s from the Philadelphia. He was really stoked about the idea of bringing Two Piece Fest to Chicago and already has connections with venues and lots of DIY bands who were stoked about playing a potential Two Piece Fest.
So we got everything going, got everything organized. We worked together on getting the bands and everything. Having Dave, he was going crazy with it, really getting people stoked about it, bands trying to get on it. It actually worked out very easily thanks to Dave Collis.
I ran into him recently and I think he was off to his first practice for his two-piece that he’s debuting. He was going to pick up some drumsticks.
Please, whatever you do on this about Chicago, definitely mention Dave as being a huge part of it. He really got it together. He was inspired by the Two Piece Fest, and it was my idea to bring it out here, but he really went crazy with it and really organized most of it here.
The lineup is really fantastic. Did you guys collaborate on picking bands?
He got most of the bands. It’s weird. We get a shit ton of e-mails and messages of bands trying to play, so we’ve created this huge list of bands that wanted to play, then we’d have our bands that we would want to play. Then you kind of go from there, and collaborate on which ones we would want—we keep in mind genres and bands being from Chicago or the area.
Most of that was still Dave. He was just running everything by me, any decision that he was making, as if I were the boss. But he did most of it.
With Two Piece Fest branching out into another city, did you ever expect it to get to this point? To get it past a single year to become this annual thing that’s close to reaching a decade?
No, never. Like I said, Peter and I were just so excited about the idea of being a two-piece. The first Two Piece Fest we had to bother people and ask around, “Who wants to play Two Piece Fest?” But we worked so hard to get people excited about it.
After that first year, everything came so easily. People were asking us, and everyone was expecting another Two Piece Fest from the first one. So many bands every year e-mailing and asking to play from all over. It’s just kind of amazing. We just have to do it. Especially in Philly.
It might feel that way in Chicago as well. Everybody’s so excited about it, and it’s awesome. We’ll just keep it going. It’s such an easy thing to put together. I think it’s unique and special and awesome. It’s a cool thing to have people come together in a DIY atmosphere creating unique and creative music together.
Yeah, and in some cases, it seems like people creating that unique music specifically to play Two Piece Fest. Dave’s got a project he’s debuting there. He mentioned that Best Friends started out as a band that specifically wanted to play Two Piece Fest. Are there other bands like that?
Best Friends definitely did that for the first Two Piece Fest, but I don’t think that there was anyone else who started just for Two Piece Fest. I like the idea of that, and I always have people saying, “I could always get this thing together if you need an extra band.” I’m like, “Well, there are these bands that have been playing that are actual bands who would like to play as well, so I’d rather have these guys do it. Maybe if you get a recording down and send it to me next year, we’ll do that.” I try to stay clear of that. Those are examples of people creating it because of the idea, which is cool, but when there’s bands waiting to play, I’d rather have those.
What have been some of your favorite sets in previous years?
I always like to see Hulk Smash in Philadelphia. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of them. It’s a good buddy, B.J., who sometimes plays an eight-string bass out of bass amps and has different drummers sometimes. It’s always B.J. and a drummer, and it’s just beautiful, heavy, kind of stoner-rock metal Neil Young, if that makes any sense.
It’s so wonderful. They played many of the Two Piece Fests. Unfortunately, not this year because B.J. and Curt, the drummer, both just had babies, which is crazy. They’re missing Two Piece Fest this year. Also this band called Cat Jack, who is playing this year in Philadelphia—unfortunately not in Chicago—who are two brothers from Washington, D.C.
Their mother actually wrote me and asked to get them on it last year. They’re like 13 or 14 now. I think they were 12 and 13 last year. They play awesome punk rock. They’re just like little kids playing punk rock, and it’s so good. They’re amazing. I’m really stoked to see them in Philly this year.
There’s so much awesome stuff because it so diverse. Hip-hop, noise, metal, some of the loudest music I’ve heard in my life came out of a two-piece band. It was crazy. Peter & Craig was really fun because we don’t play that much. It’s always an event for us.
I saw some video of you guys. I think it was at the fourth Two Piece Fest. Where those papier-mache?
Bobbleheads. We’ve had a lot of stupid gimmicks over the years, and that was one of them, spending an entire day creating a bobblehead to wear at the show for 15 minutes. There is a real bobblehead that still exists in Peter’s warehouse that he lives in in Philadelphia.
Do you have any similar plans for your Two Piece set in Chicago?
I wish we could say, “Look out for some crazy surprise,” but, to be honest, we’ve gotten so lazy over the years that I think our new gimmick is not having a gimmick and actually playing. But we’ll see. You never know.
Do you have any tips for properly preparing for Two Piece Fest Midwest?
Be prepared for a long day of awesome bands. Please start a band and create a recording and send it to us, and we’ll keep it in consideration for next year. Be on the lookout for new Two Piece fests. There’s one starting up in New Zealand and one in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Both have e-mailed us this year asking permission if they could do it, and I was like, “Are you seriously asking me permission? Like, fuck yes, do it!” Then there’s another one in Toronto that is supposed to possibly happen a week after the Chicago one, but I think he’s going to wait until the spring to put it together. They’re popping up, and I want to try to get one on the west coast next year.