Eli Schmitt, 20, moved to Chicago a couple years ago to attend DePaul, where he studies journalism and art history. In that time he’s become a crucial connector in an emerging youth arts movement best known for its bands, which include Lifeguard, Post Office Winter, Friko, Dwaal Troupe, and Horsegirl. Schmitt wears a lot of hats in the scene. He plays the bands’ music on his Tuesday-night Radio DePaul show and books local DIY concerts. In his apartment, he shoots the live-performance YouTube series New Now and hosts an ongoing informal music-listening hangout he calls Record Club. Schmitt also documents the scene via the zine Unresolved, whose third issue he expects to have printed by June 5—in time to sell it at Horsegirl’s Thalia Hall record-release show that night. Schmitt will be onstage too, playing drums for Post Office Winter.

As told to Leor Galil

I started out just doing a radio show through DePaul, Mother Night Radio Hour, in the fall of 2020. I’d always wanted to have a radio show, and so for a while that was the only thing that I was doing—until about a year ago, when I had the idea to do a “locals” episode of the radio show. I would play local musicians, and that got me in contact with a lot of musicians, including Horsegirl. 

So now, along with the Mother Night Radio Hour, I do a program called New Now, where I record live bands from Chicago in my apartment. I originally wanted to do that in the DePaul studio, because they have nice equipment. They wouldn’t let me do that. They were just like, “Oh, you can do that over Zoom.” I was like, “That’s not happening, it would sound terrible.” I figured if no one else was gonna let me do it, I would just do it myself. I’ve been doing that since October. I also have a zine called Unresolved, which attempts to document the current art scene in Chicago—not just music but also visual art, poetry, photography, and people that I think are doing stuff that’s forward-thinking. 

YouTube video
A January episode of New Now featuring west-side neosoul artist Gayun Cannon, daughter of bluesman Toronzo Cannon.

I also drum for Post Office Winter. I started doing that in January of this year. Before January, I’d never picked up drumsticks; they asked me to play with them. I said, “You know that I don’t know how to play drums, right?” They were like, “Yeah, but that would be awesome.” I started playing with them at the Beat Kitchen show, which was on February 27. I’m really excited to play at Thalia with them. 

I paint. That was the first thing I really did. I enjoy experimenting with materials. Recently I’ve been working plaster and fruit—like, ground-up fruit—into pigment. I’m interested in maps and landscape. Saying all that out loud makes me think about how it seems like a common theme with my work and my artistic interests is documenting—things that are very fact-based. Maybe that stems from my majors—as, like, a journalism major, and my interest in art history, which is my minor at DePaul.

I grew up in Indianapolis, which wasn’t a city that had a lot of an arts scene that I was interested in. There was really nothing going on for kids. Indianapolis is a great city to be a little kid or to be an adult in. There’s no space for teenagers to go, because all the clubs are 21-plus, and there’s no real space for people to get together and grow a community. The only place that I found was Luna Music, which is a record shop near my house. 

I started going there when I was 13, like, every weekend. I would just go hang out there on a Sunday afternoon. I ended up getting a job there when I was 16, and that was really a godsend for me. It was really a place that allowed me to explore all these interests in music. Just being around other—they were all 40 years old, all my coworkers, but they got it on a level that I felt like I could relate to, like, as an artistic individual. 

I moved to Chicago in the fall of 2020. I didn’t know anyone, really—I think I knew three people here. I’ve always been someone who enjoys being by themselves, but it was hard to not have a community. I couldn’t really find that with people at DePaul, for the most part. There weren’t people that inspired me and really pushed me. There were people that were “artsy,” in the common sense of the word, or “indie,” in the common sense of the word—where they dress that way, and they might like art. But there was something missing.

I was really lucky to find Horsegirl. I met them at an art show—they came up to me, and I was really nervous that they were there. I saw them come in, and I was like,  “Oh my gosh, it’s Horsegirl, I’m gonna freak out.” I wanted to talk to them, and they ended up coming up and talking to me. They were like, “Hey, thank you so much for playing us on your radio show, it was really cool.” 

Horsegirl’s EP from November 2020

We ended up talking about music for a while. By the end of the conversation—we talked for about an hour—I was like, “Hey, I had this idea for this thing called Record Club, would you be interested in coming?” They said they would love to come. 

I have people over at my house every other Friday and just hang out and listen to records. It’s still going on today—it’s been one year of doing it. Record Club gave me that home. It gave me that space to create for myself and also for others, to be around like-minded people that had drive and were creative—but also very kind. It’s never been a very cliquey or pretentious space. I think that was, like, the clicking moment for me.

There’s an Instagram group chat, which everyone is in. I just text them, “Hey, there’s gonna be a meeting.” So people just come, and they bring records, and we just hang out for, like, six hours. And there isn’t really any structure, or things that we need to do, or things that we need to accomplish. 

It’s not like a normal club. It’s more of, like, a very informal gathering. It doesn’t feel only important to me, but it feels so important to everyone else that’s a part of it. There’s people that you only know through the Record Club. . . . I’m getting used to opening my apartment to people that I don’t know at all. Like, sometimes people just show up, and I don’t really know who they are, but I always try to welcome them with open arms, because I know that they might be in the same position that I was in at one time. 

I think it’s created something that feels important and lasting. And I know, just from experience, that things don’t last forever, in that the things that you create change and flow. I feel so thankful to be in the community, right here, right now, and it feels really right, and I never had that before. It makes me lucky, because so many other people in Record Club never had that either. I feel like we’re all discovering this thing all at once. And especially it seems like there’s more momentum within the music scene in the last couple months, especially Horsegirl, Friko, Lifeguard, Post Office, Dwaal. It seems like there’s more momentum, and just more love, in the community.

The debut album by Post Office Winter, released in June 2021

I have this feeling that I always need to be doing something. I have a fear of wasting my time, and I feel like I always have so little time to do the things that I want to do, and so I need to just go out and do them. I’ve never been someone that procrastinates either, so I think that helps a lot—that I’m someone that feels very passionate about the things that I do, and I’m driven to do them, and feel like I have the energy to do them. I’m very dedicated to this idea of DIY, in that there’s no one else that can do it better than you for yourself. It’s like, “OK, we want to have a show. Let’s just do it ourselves—that way we have control over all the elements of it, and we don’t have to be reliant on other people that might not get what we want.” 

I’m really inspired by so many other punk artists who’ve done the same thing. Like the Raincoats—the drummer, Palmolive, is a big inspiration for me, in that she’s a self-taught drummer and an artist. She didn’t really care about the traditional conventions of drumming or anything like that, and they just went out and did that. And I’m really inspired by bands like Fugazi, and the scene in Olympia in the 80s—like, with K Records, and how much they were like, “OK, we’re gonna do this ourselves, and we’re gonna have this be an all-ages thing, and it’s gonna be cheap and affordable,” and really opening that to the public. And I feel like I share those sentiments a lot with Kai [Slater] of Dwaal Troupe and Lifeguard and Hallogallo.

There’s this great Pharrell song with the Clipse, “You Can Do It Too.” Don’t let anyone else tell you, “It has to be this way, you have to follow these set of rules.” Go out there, do it, and figure out the rest later. Just take that leap. 

I met someone on the beach once, and they told me this: “To be a sturdy stick in a swift river.” Be confident in who you are and what you believe in, and let the world take you where it may. Be open-minded and let the stream of life figure it out for you, but know who you are, and make the decisions that you believe in, and don’t compromise if you don’t have to.