PUNK | CSTVT’s unlikely route to Hot Topic

Beginning Tuesday anyone who walks into a Hot Topic will see a photo of Will McEvilly, guitarist for Chicago emo foursome CSTVT, hunched over a collection of effects pedals. It’s on the cover of Mixed Signals, a compilation of national DIY punk bands from Boston label Run for Cover—the CD version of which is sold exclusively at Hot Topic.

CSTVT recorded their contribution, “Bassett St.,” while working on a forthcoming full-length about six months ago. At around the same time, RFC honcho Jeff Casazza contacted them about the label’s 50th release, Mixed Signals. Front man Nick Wakim had written the tune as a tribute to Mitch Dubey, a 23-year-old New Haven musician who was shot and killed in March in a home invasion on Bassett Street.

McEvilly says he didn’t know that his picture—taken by Dave Summers at an Indiana VFW hall—would appear on the cover of Mixed Signals until Casazza e-mailed the proofs to the band. That’s also when Casazza sprung the news about Hot Topic—a store synonymous with corporatized mall-punk in the eyes of many DIY musicians.

“I’ve got this leather wallet; it’s the only wallet I’ve ever owned,” McEvilly says. “I bought it at Hot Topic when I was 11, and it’s still holding up—no big deal. Based on that experience, Hot Topic is OK with me, I guess.” 

Joshua Abrams soundtracks The Interrupters

In November 2010 bassist Joshua Abrams got a call from Aaron Wickenden, a film editor at acclaimed Chicago movie-production company Kartemquin. The Interrupters, its then-unfinished documentary about local antiviolence organization CeaseFire—now released and receiving widespread acclaim—had just been accepted at Sundance, and the company wanted Abrams to compose music for it. The rub was, the film needed to be cut down by an hour, which meant that as Abrams created its musical cues—carefully timed passages that underline onscreen emotions or signal scene changes—he’d also need to alter them to fit the new edit.

The bigger challenge was that Abrams had never scored a film, and he had only six weeks to do it all. “It’s funny, my brother and I had talked about the idea of writing film music last year,” he says, “but it’s one of those things where you don’t know how to get a gig like that.” He gave a handful of recordings to the film’s principals—Steve James, Alex Kotlowitz, Zak Piper, and Wickenden—and within days they’d agreed to work together. When Abrams went to Brooklyn over Thanksgiving to visit his brother, he hadn’t yet seen all of The Interrupters—just enough to feel certain it would be great. He began work on his trip.

Most of Abrams’s cues last between 30 seconds and two minutes; some are just somber, slow-moving piano chords, while others layer melodies over breakbeats built with an MPC. In mid-December he spent a couple days at Engine, loosely directing several musicians he often works with on the local jazz scene—vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz, guitarist Jeff Parker, reedist David Boykin, flutist Nicole Mitchell, and cellist Tomeka Reid—as they dropped by individually to improvise and play his written parts. Then Abrams edited those recordings into the cues he’d already composed—many of which he’d written in the same key so he could recombine material.

He and the film team worked down to the wire in advance of the Sundance screening in January (and the movie in theaters is further revised from the festival version). Abrams’s music is solemnly pretty without being dour and touched with hip-hop without settling into genre. “When I think back, it’s amazing to me that Josh pulled this all together in six weeks, having never scored a film before,” says Piper. “We didn’t need to license any temp cues for Sundance. He finished them all.”

The Interrupters runs through Thu 8/25 at the Gene Siskel Film Center and opens Fri 8/26 at Chatham 14 (210 W. 87th).

Kinsella, Nanna, and Trohman play the Cure for Girls Rock!

In late 2009, Girls Rock! Chicago was offered a date for a fund-raiser at Subterranean. There were two problems, though: it was an 11th-hour offer, and the date was the day after Christmas.

“Jennifer [Czajka], our fund-raising coordinator, who does all of our benefit shows, was like, ‘Huh, who do I know that can fill a room on short notice?'” says Melissa Oglesby, the nonprofits’s cofounder and outreach director. “‘Oh, what about Mike Kinsella?'”

Known for playing in Owen, Joan of Arc, and Cap’n Jazz, as well as just for being a Kinsella, he jumped aboard. He formed an ad hoc band of scene veterans—Bob Nanna (Braid, Hey Mercedes), Joe Trohman (Fall Out Boy), Dustin Currier (the Felix Culpa), and Drew Brown (Weekend Nachos)—to cover songs from Morrissey’s catalog.

“It was wildly successful,” Oglesby says. “We basically agreed right then and there to do another.”

Now Kinsella has reassembled the cast, adding Mark Rose (Spitalfield), to perform the songs of the Cure on Thu 9/1 at Lincoln Hall. Nanna will handle the role of Robert Smith (eyeliner included, with any luck), just as he played Morrissey; all proceeds again benefit Girls Rock!

“I think it was Jennifer’s idea, actually,” says Kinsella. “She approached us with, ‘When do you want to do that Cure cover band?’ Which is cool, because everyone who’s ever gone to high school or broke up with a boyfriend or girlfriend loves the Cure, right?”

Kinsella and Trohman have both been repping the show via Twitter for months, Oglesby says. It makes you wonder how often Kinsella will convene his all-star posse for future benefits.

“There are a handful of bands that come up every time we talk about it,” he says. “Danzig, Metallica, Fleetwood Mac.”

The show starts at 7 PM with openers the Blue Ribbon Glee Club; it’s all-ages, and costs $15, $12 in advance. For more, including info on the annual Girls Rock! Chicago autumn auction, visit girlsrockchicago.org.