By Ruthie Kott
Absinthe & the Dirty Floors is kind of on a break. Just from performing live, though—the four-person electro-rock band, headed by Chicago singer-songwriter Jessica Risker, spent an intensive two months last fall recording and mixing an LP they pressed on vinyl. They recorded and mixed the album at Chicago’s Earhole Studios, the family business of Absinthe drummer Adam Wiebe, a studio producer—his “pops,” as Wiebe calls him, founded Earhole about eighteen years ago. It’s a nice capstone on the band’s almost two years together: The studio played an important part in the band’s origin story. In addition to Wiebe, guitarist and bassist Matt Harting works at Earhole as an engineer, and Risker spends several hours a week there as an engineering intern. Absinthe’s fourth member, keyboardist Joshua Wentz, knew Risker (who also performs solo under the name Deadbeat) from doing the RPM Challenge, an annual contest that invites musicians to create an entire album in one month.
Absinthe has inspired a contest of its own as well. A song from their first EP, “Black Ice,” was the inspiration for a contest organized by iPhone photo app Hipstamatic, where people could upload their retro-looking photographs. The band judged the contest winners and used the winning photo as art for their LP’s liner notes.
I talked with Wiebe and Risker at Innertown Pub in Ukrainian Village.
Why did you decide to press the LP on vinyl?
Wiebe: I think nostalgia was a lot of it. We’ve all grown up listening to vinyl and loving what it brings to audio, and the fact that a lot of my idols from back in the day, that’s how they would release their stuff. I’m such a Bonham head, and I love Rush—Shhh, don’t tell people that. Being a drummer, I have to love all the drumming greats, whether it’s Bonham, Peart, all those guys. All their stuff was originally done on vinyl. The idea of having the needle drop, and you just have to experience the entire side, all the way from start to finish. There’s no skipping between tracks; there’s no rewinding; there’s no fast-forwarding. Really, it’s one experience, so you just sit back and just enjoy it. And I think that’s lost.
Right, there’s a curation of the song order.
Wiebe: You lose that. You lose the overall artistry.
Risker: All of us in the band have record players. We don’t just listen to records, but we definitely all like it. We think it’s fun. I find that when I buy a record, I value it more because I’ve put money into it, and I’m willing to give it a lot more chances to listen to. When it’s just something online, it’s really easy to move on to the next thing. I have a different relationship with something physical.
Wiebe: Definitely, the physical nature is key. Plus, the liner notes are always fun.
Risker: My parents were still listening to records and CDs and stuff when I was in high school—we’d still put records on—but I didn’t really get mine until a few years ago. I got it used off of Craigslist. It was like $60. And it’s such a pleasure to go into a record shop. My favorite thing to do is to pick out something that I’ve never heard of before, and I’ve really gotten a record collection that I really like.
Wiebe: You got some good gems that you don’t expect. What’s that one that you left at the studio?
Risker: Oh, that—see, I forget them. I don’t know. It’s, like, a funk album.
Wiebe: It’s like a music score to a movie that doesn’t exist.
Risker: I’m trying to remember the name of it. My favorite one that I’ve gotten is Kid Congo and the Pink Monkey Birds. That was a good one. BEAK> is probably the best one I’ve got. And SJOB Movement—it’s an African funk album that’s awesome.
How did you get involved with Hipstamatic?
Wiebe: I played drums for a couple years before Absinthe even started with a good buddy of mine named Doug Lambert, who’s been around Chicago for years and years and years. He had been working at one place, but he left that job and ended up getting hired on at Hipstamatic as their chief operating officer. So he moved out to San Francisco, started doing that. In the interim, while he was still trying to figure that out, we had started Absinthe, and we had played a couple shows with him—he’s the biggest sweetheart you’ll ever meet—and [he told us], “I’m playing the Absinthe EP for the guys all the time. I’m really trying to get them into it.” In October Hipstamatic launched a new Wicker Park HipstaPak [photo filters inspired by the neighborhood], so they’re like, “You should have a Chicago local band promote it.” Jess and I actually went out one night and just took a bunch of photos for them, which was so much fun.
And in addition to that, they set up a contest for us, and they put one of our songs up on the contest page, and they had people just take pictures that they felt emulated the emotion of that song.
How did you choose the song?
Wiebe: Well, I guess that song, “Black Ice,” from our first EP, was the one that resonated with a lot of people.
Risker: A lot of people liked it. And then the other kind of cool thing was, in the song, we actually used the sound of the Blue Line in it, so it seemed really appropriate for the Wicker Park Pak. If you listen to it you can hear the train.
Adam, do you feel threatened?
Wiebe: I cannot compete with the “L” train. Not even attempt. We actually did cross fade my drums with that. I lost that battle, but that’s okay.
Deadbeat (Jessica Risker’s solo project) plays Double Door, 1572 North Milwaukee, (773)489-3160 on March 13. The album will be released in all digital formats that day, with vinyl coming in April.