NOW HEAR THIS: Save the Clocktower – Carousel

Save the Clocktower

It rarely ever works out this way. Three friends who have known each other since childhood grow up, form a band and take their city by storm. It’s a cliché and pipe dream rolled into one. Something you see in the movies, yes, but in real life? Not so much.

And yet here is Save the Clocktower doing just that, their very name a nostalgia-ridden call to arms plucked directly from the annals of Hollywood (Google it if you don’t catch the reference). Formed in 2007 by longtime friends Greg Newton, Sean Paras and Jimmy Shenk, the Chicago-based trio have spent the past couple of years captivating the Windy City with their blend of melodic, guitar-infused pop and hypnotic electronica. On Saturday night the band celebrated the release of their sophomore album, Carousel, a 10-song journey through swirling synths, ethereal guitars, looped dance beats and well-textured dreamscapes. It’s an impressive display of pop craftsmanship—quite a feat for a band that formed haphazardly on a whim.

“We kind of kicked off Save the Clocktower,” Shenk explains, “when we quickly recorded a 3-track demo over a school break on some equipment our friend let us borrow. At the time, we all went to different universities across the country. Sean went to the University of Illinois, Greg went to the University of Colorado-Boulder, and I went to the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The demo wasn’t bad, which got us all thinking. I believe it was the following year that we recorded our self-titled debut album.”

Still, Save the Clocktower remained more of a hobby than a serious venture. After the three graduated from college, Newton remained living in Colorado where he spent some time playing in a live drum and bass band. But as fate would have it, the three found themselves back together in Chicago on Thanksgiving weekend in 2007. Over the course of the holiday, they began laying down the basic frameworks for the songs that would eventually come to form Save the Clocktower. Newton took the tracks back with him to Colorado, where he began to whittle away and carve them into shape. Their debut album was released at the end of 2008, but it wasn’t until he moved back to Chicago in 2009 that the band began pursuing their music in earnest.

“That’s basically how Save the Clocktower was formed,” Shenk reveals. “From the beginning, we had no real idea what we were trying to achieve musically. We kind of let our creativity dictate the direction of the music. We all have very eclectic tastes, which I think helps derive the unique style. Our goal, theoretically at least, was to create music that was fresh, something that could stand up over time, and something that people—including ourselves—could enjoy. We wanted to create music that was undeniably good.”

Save the Clocktower

The band has spent the past two years refining their music, experimenting with different sounds and updating their technology in order to fill out their live sets. Playing shows has also helped to give the band an understanding of what works most effectively in that setting and how to best organize and deliver their densely layered songs. This patient, open-ended approach has allowed Save the Clocktower to grow their music organically and to spend considerable time working out all the details that go into their heavily orchestrated compositions. In Shenk’s words:

“We are very into creating layers and textures for our music. It’s really fun because, as huge music fans, we all get to bring our influences and what we have learned from listening for our whole lives into the mix. When we write music, it’s not about being flashy, but we are really focused on crafting timeless music that people can relate to. We take individual parts that on their own may be considered to be simple, and we create a complex whole. At the end of the day, it’s not about what we can do with our instruments, but rather about writing songs.”

If this process seems obsessive or unnecessarily taxing, the payoff is in their recordings. Carousel is driven primarily by a healthy love of ‘80s synthpop and pulsing electronica, but throw on a pair of headphones and you’ll also find the subtle interweaving of airy space rock, minimalist shoegaze and classic pop balladry, which when added together point to something much richer and penetrating. The near deadpan vocals, delivered by both Newton and Paras (his is the lower voice of the two), are a mix of breathy yearning and somnolent cool, which helps to lend the songs an air of dark romanticism. Carousel is a gripping record, but it’s also comfortable and familiar. It’s defining trait may be it’s wide appeal, an enviable attribute that fits especially well in Chicago’s diverse local music scene.

“I think one of the really cool things about Chicago is that it’s really not defined by anything musically. There are a lot of different pockets or scenes here that a fan can really appreciate. There’s a lot of good electronic music and DJs, great indie bands, folk artists, music virtuosos, etc. We’ve been fortunate enough to play within multiple scenes, which is definitely fun for us. At the end of the day, we really love Chicago, and we would like to be able to contribute to the body of music and history that the city encompasses.”

Stream: Save the Clocktower – “Far Apart”

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Carousel is now available for purchase via iTunes.

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