This year’s pandemic has left many of us feeling locked down. But as the members of The Early Sixes were writing the new full-length LP, “Navigate,” they found a freedom cruising along arcs of journeys, storylines of discovery (and self-discovery). The new album, out today on streaming services, sparkles with poppy influences as the Chicago-bred foursome forces us all to face our troubles, to face what’s holding us back and to push forward.
The Early Sixes answered a few questions via email interview about the band, the new album and what lies ahead:
Who is The Early Sixes?
We’re really a group of friends who all happened to play music from all around Chicago – from the Northwest side of the city all the way to Rockford. The band is made up of Matt Charoenrath (vocals, guitar, piano), Dan Zuba (guitar), Sam Zuba (bass, drums, vocals), and Nate Meyer (cello). We started playing together back in 2012, as many bands do, playing covers at various bars/restaurants in the Chicagoland area. We found ourselves really gravitating towards putting our own spin on the cover songs and in 2018, eventually shifted our focus to original music with our first release “I Want That for You.” That first album was really rooted in our live shows at the time with an acoustic/singer-songwriter/folk feel. For this release, we really tried to expand the instrumentation and bring in more of our influences. The music still definitely began with that singer-songwriter approach to writing, but in production, we worked on experimenting with bringing in bigger drums, electronic beats, and synths – drawing inspiration from a wider range of our favorite genres and artists.
Because of the pandemic (and band members’ locations), the recording process was pretty unique for “Navigate.” Tell us about that:
It’s safe to say the pandemic – coupled with the fact that the four of us are now spread out across the country in California, Illinois, and Florida – pushed us to record “Navigate” in a rather unconventional method. We wrote, recorded, produced, mixed, and mastered the entire 10-track LP without ever seeing each other face to face (unless you count Zoom). It was quite a departure from “I Want That For You,” which was recorded in our basement home studio in Arlington Heights.
Life in quarantine really pushed us to find creativity that we didn’t know we had. Each track started with one of us sharing a rough melody, chord progression, some lyrics, or even just an idea with the rest of the band – usually texted over in a voice memo. From there, we’d build out a basic framework and then each band member would take their turns building out the full song. We also had the opportunity to partner remotely with Grammy-nominated producer Rob Kleiner (Sia, David Guetta, The Weeknd) in the production, which was an incredible experience. We’re eternally grateful to Rob for his guidance and support throughout the entire recording process, and of course the amazing final master of the album. We definitely learned a lot about production throughout this process and have a ton of knowledge we can carry forward into future releases.
While unconventional, we all really believe this process helped push us to new heights and allowed each band member to truly put their unique spin on the song. It forced us to eliminate the normal constraints of time so we were able to really work our parts until we felt they were ready. It’s safe to say that when life hopefully gets back to some semblance of normalcy, we’d expect to continue to carry through a good deal of this approach in our future recording process.
A theme that seems to permeate the entire album is going, moving, exploring: “Navigate,” “Chase the Sun,” “Home.” And even songs like “If We Can,” “I’m Sorry” and “Recover” embody this sense of journey, of weathering a storm and forging ahead through troubled times. What is it about those ideas that fascinated you so when writing this album?
Matt: So it was definitely organic as the album came together. We didn’t set out to follow a theme but we found that a lot of songs started to revolve around these ideas of a journey, forging ahead, or working your way through. I think a lot of the uncertainty of this time, coupled with big changes and moves personally for each of us just naturally permeated through the writing. Actually, the title track “Navigate” was a song that I had been working on for some time, but was always a collection of ideas missing something to tie it all together. As the other songs started to highlight the themes you mentioned, I just put that single word “Navigate” in my running list of lyrics in my Notes app. When I came back to that song that idea really tied it all together for me and gave that missing piece to finish it, and then in pretty short order we each came to the conclusion it would be the right title track.
Sam: “If We Can” specifically was written during the first few weeks of the pandemic. When lockdown restrictions first started rolling out, there was this palpable feeling of “What on Earth is going?” and “Will we ever get out of this thing?” Some of those questions still remain, but I think the song speaks to that helpless feeling of seeing the world crumble around you, not knowing when or if we’ll make it out.
Dan: We’ve all had our own unique journeys over the past few years. Whether it’s moving to one of the coasts, getting married, starting a new career or having another child – these life experiences helped shape the songs that came to life for this album. You mix that with a global pandemic and the themes of getting to the other side, forgiveness, moving on and a sense of hope & happiness come through.
Nate: Yeah we really found ourselves in entirely different situations and I think these themes really took shape as we developed the album. I don’t think we set out to have this exact overall theme, but as we collaborated on the album these themes naturally came to the surface. Really we were working through our own personal changes and also – navigating – this new way of putting an album together.
The Early Sixes has released a few singles and videos leading up to this album release. What’s coming up next for you guys?
We’re in a unique world now where the idea of going out and playing shows is few and far between, but we’re trying to really lean into what’s available and try to figure out what this looks like in 2020. We actually have our first “live” stream show coming up on Election Day, November 3rd. We were honored to be asked to participate in the iVoted music festival, which is being run remotely via livestream to encourage voter turnout. Aside from that, we will be working our way through the album, standing up lyric videos for the remaining tracks and putting those out over the next few weeks.
One thing that we’ve seen so far in shifting our efforts into these digital/remote experiences is that we’re definitely reaching a whole different set of people, which has been amazing. So much of the outreach around the last album centered around playing local shows – which we really hope we get back to someday. But for right now we’re kind of just channeling those same efforts into things like creating lyric videos or working on live or semi-live streaming shows. So I would expect more of those types of experiences from us coming up pretty steadily in the near term. Other than that, we really are keen to get back to recording again. We’ve talked about maybe recording a collection of some of the cover songs we’ve worked out over the years, which we could jump into sooner rather than later. Also, we definitely have some songs that didn’t make this release that we’re sure will flow into our next project.
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