Posted in: Iowa City Owl
It’s 8:45 p.m. on a Thursday. Amid the downtown disarray, three twenty-something-year-olds are illuminated under green and pink stage lights. They pluck the strings of their guitars and stroke the snare heads for last minute tuning adjustments. The crowd waits in anticipation. Their set begins.
University of Iowa seniors, Griffen Harris, Elliott Beenk and Tim Cigrand make up the indie folk rock trio, Chasing Shade. The group released their debut album Pen to Paper earlier this year and offer it as a “pay what you like” download at www.chasingshade.bandcamp.com.
The group’s collective Rorscach-esque headshots on Pen to Paper cover don’t give the album due justice. Considering these cat’s talents, they already boast an impressive line-up of performance highlights, including first place at ICYC/New Belgium/Flat Black and Summer Camp Festival’s Battle-of-the-Bands and a bold unveiling at South by Southwest.
Though the crew has roots in Dubuque (Harris of Dubuque, Beenk, of De Witt and Cigrand, of Cascade), they met during their freshman year at college. With music streaming through their blood, it was only a matter of time before their collaborative efforts crossed paths.
Cigrand and Beenk began their jam sessions while they lived on the same dorm floor. After hearing Cigrand play the guitar, Beenk insisted that he try to dabble with bass guitar. While Cigrand’s comfort zone spanned further than most (experimenting with guitar, tuba and trombone since middle school), his intentions of picking up bass were uncertain. Beenk persevered until Cigrand became the band’s bassist.
Several months later, Cigrand and Beenk went to see another band perform—little did they know that their trio would soon become complete. The guys approached Harris after the show and the rest is history.
Harris joined Chasing Shade as a drummer.
“We had different lead singers for a long time, but it never really worked,” Harris said.
“We were better as a trio,” Beenk explained. “I knew Griffen could sing, so I forced him to try drumming and singing.”
Harris was a musician since an early age; when he wasn’t improvising drum patterns, he was tickling the eighty-eights. Between private percussion lessons outside of school, jazz band and concert band, Harris formed his first group in high school. In pursuit of finding his musical identity, Harris also picked up the acoustic guitar during his senior year after working in a music shop. Being the lead vocalist in a band never crossed his mind.
“My biggest influences are the Avvett Brothers, Bon Iver and My Morning Jacket, so I know that it’s normal for voices to crack and break…I then realized that the falsetto voice wasn’t so…lame.” Harris joked.
Though they are only three men strong, their harmonious sound is mystifying. Everyone in the group sings, but they are continuously creating innovative ways to keep it interesting. Harris is the lead singer, percussionist and plays the acoustic guitar, Beenk plays electric guitar and banjo and Cigrand plays bass and piano.
“We’re always finding new ways to fill in for other ‘non-existent’ members.” Beenk said. “By adding a synth pedal to our repetoire, Tim can play piano while he plays bass.”
“…and that allows me to play drums and sing.” Harris added.
The band grew from a wide variety of influences, but came together to create a unique sound. By traveling with at least a half dozen instruments, they set themselves apart from other-up-and-coming indie bands of the like.
Pen to Paper is a solid, 10-track freshman effort expressing the ebb and flow of college relationships, successes and failures.
“Each song is its own thing, not much continuity…not like a soap opera.” Harris clarified.
“Our music actually has many environmental undertones, there is a lot of subtle talk about sustainability efforts in ‘Echo’ and ‘Little Brother’.” Beenk explained.
“We’re still experimenting with that theme.” Cigrand laughed.
Harris concluded that, “It’s just another motive to gain a wider audience and get in touch with other people with the same interests.”
After a recent tour through Lincoln, Boulder and Denver, the three compounded their natural obsession with Colorado to expand their market.
Beenk said that, “Each friend brought a friend to the show and we expected them to talk to everybody they knew, including family, friends, friends of friends…really whoever lived out there.”
With decent numbers in attendance, Chasing Shade played one of their best stripped down sets at the Laughing Goat Coffee House in Boulder, Colorado where they got approached by one of the baristas.
“We thought it was just some coffee guy asking us to come record in his basement.” Harris said sarcastically. “But it was a legitimate office building—truly a beautiful environment—we were surrounded with professional technology and Grammy winning producers who toured with [American songwriter and producer] Citizen Cope.”
After six hours of free recording, the guys released their first single “Sunburned Bones” and are donating the proceeds to charity.
With graduation approaching in a mere five months, the question on everybody’s mind is, will they stay together?
Between grad school and professional lives, the three looked at each other with the same smirk.
“It’s the same question we keep getting asked.” Harris chuckled.
Beenk assured me that, “they are going to make it a priority.”
In the meantime, the band is looking for a stellar t-shirt design equipped with original artwork and the band name. Further information about this opportunity will be available on the group’s Facebook page.
Now, to fuel your creative juices, Harris will give you one hint: “When you listen to our music, what do you think of?”
Find Chasing Shade at chasingshade.bandcamp.com and on Twitter at twitter.com/chasingshade.
This article is from Verum, a magazine with headquarters in Iowa City. Updated with the correct author attribution.
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