All good music represents a journey of some sort. From here to there, from birth to death, from naïvete to understanding — there is invariably a destination involved. But getting there is always the fun part.
Fitting neatly into this notion is Running From a Gamble, the sophomore album from the Chicago band Company of Thieves. Having established itself with the infectious single Oscar Wilde and a sound full of soul-infatuated pop confidence, the indie rock troupe founded and fronted by vocalist Genevieve Schatz and guitarist Marc Walloch has designed Running From a Gamble as a journey of discovery that is not unlike the one the young ensemble has embarked on.
"We met when we were 18 years old and had just left our homes to take care of ourselves," Schatz said. "We were learning what it was like to make that transition from depending on your parents to this new phase where we were much more independent and autonomous. We were on to a more self-governed way of living, and I think the new record reflects that.
"Touring all over these past couple of years, you basically have a new home every single day, while every single day seems brand-new. The only way to embrace that and to grow with all of the changes was to kind of crack ourselves wide open in our hearts and in our minds. So a lot of the thoughts that are stirring around on this album are very much about independence and just seeing things in a brand-new way."
That meant examining some of the changes and fortunes that came the band's way in recent years. The debut Company of Thieves album, Ordinary Riches, was a 2007 work that began to click in some unexpected ways upon its re-release in 2009. Among the champions of the band's soul-informed sound was Daryl Hall, the '70s and '80s pop-soul star of Hall and Oates fame, who invited Schatz and Walloch to perform on his online music show, Live From Daryl's House.
"Who would have thought that out of everyone, he would have dug us?" Schatz said. "And it's cool because our parents were totally into Hall and Oates and played their music when we were younger. While it was kind of a surreal experience, really, it sure feels good to have such a great singer-songwriter showing interest in us. Daryl has even asked me to sing Every Time You Go Away (a 1985 Hall-written hit for Paul Young) with him again this summer. My mom thinks that the coolest."
Company of Thieves' figurative journey began in Chicago, a longtime breeding ground for all kinds of roots-generated and progressive music. What Schatz saw instructed her not so much on the kind of music to make but the level of drive required to make sure people got to hear that music in the first place.
"I grew up going to shows when I was 12 or 13 years old," Schatz said. "I watched all these independent, do-it-yourself bands bring their own audiences to their shows. They were influential in that they knew how to hustle. Just by example they taught us that to get the word out, you have to sometimes stand outside of a venue in the middle of winter handing out fliers or demos of your songs that you burned onto a CD. So we got to know about that kind of guerilla marketing.
"When Marc and I first started writing songs, we didn't really know how to share them with people. We didn't even have a full band yet. It was just me and him. So we scoured the local papers for open mike nights. We knew we had to get out there and hustle. Learning that was huge for us."
There are more literal stops on the journey that Company of Thieves takes on Running From a Gamble, too. As the album heads into the home stretch, it offers a song called Tallulah. Lyrically, the tune is despondent as it reflects a real-life journey to New Orleans that included a drive through the deserted, decimated streets of nearby Tallulah, La., in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. But musically, the tune is all Motown-inspired, horn-driven pop soul. It might just be the cheeriest tale of sadness you will hear all year.
"That one was so much fun to record," Schatz said. "We were very much enveloped in the world of Motown after watching the documentary Standing in the Shadows of Motown," she said, referring to the film about the careers of the backup musicians known as The Funk Brothers who played on Motown's biggest hits. "So we thought, 'Wow. We want to make a song that sounds like that.'
"And that's something I love about Company of Thieves. We don't pigeonhole ourselves. We don't limit ourselves to a certain genre. To contrast these kinds of dark lyrics with this sassy delivery and having that Motown sound in there with all the horns, ... oh, it was just the best thing ever."