Jeff Schaller is a man who can’t stand still.
While most of the year he teaches music and special ed in Chicago, his summers are reserved for traveling the world. And those treks — or rather the lack of them in 2020 — partially inspired “Reckless Life,” the new five-song EP out Friday from Jeff Schaller and The Long Way Home.
Starting when he was 24, Schaller, who studied music composition in college, would spend summers abroad attending classical festivals: Paid tuition nets a musician a few weeks in Europe to take classes and lessons, write a piece, rehearse with an ensemble and have your work performed, all while networking with composers from around the world, he said.
“I got into one in Italy in 2014 and immediately the wanderlust hit,” Schaller said. “As soon as I saw a couple cities in Italy, I was like I want to see everything else there is to see. So pretty much every summer I’ve done one of those programs. And then just travel all over.”
Now 31, his journeys have taken him from Iceland to Taiwan, through the Middle East and to the pyramids in Egypt, Cambodia and Jordan, to name a few.
“I don’t stay in one place for too long,” he said. “That song ‘Reckless Life’ came from that lifestyle and, being in a pandemic, kind of mourning the fact that I wouldn’t be doing that. When I say I want to drink with people that don’t speak English, that’s a very real thing that I’ve experienced many times.”
The “Reckless Life” EP, co-written by Schaller and his The Long Way Home bandmates — Jake Cary, Matt Kistler, Troy Sennett, Liesi Siegel and Jeffeory Swenson, many of whom are friends and musical comrades from his younger years in Bloomington, Illinois — revels in that unrest, both the need to move and the need to change.
With songs that speak to disappointments and struggles over politics and religious choices alongside a harmony-driven and self-reflective beauty recognizing his own failings and faults, the EP reveals Schaller’s punk roots. He may be trained in classical music and now playing folksy-flavored alternative rock, but his early days in metalcore and pop-punk bands peek through.
“I’m always angry,” he said. “I just think I’m angry at what’s happening to people. Not usually specifically me, you know. I’ve been pretty good, all things considered, but there’s people out there that don’t deserve to be treated any differently.”
And when it comes to driving change, Schaller puts his money where his lyrics are. Since last summer, he and fellow Chicago musician Adam Gogola (of Blind Adam & the Federal League) have been working with Chicago’s Brave Space Alliance to help people in need after several homeless encampments burned down last summer.
Their People’s Pizza Party, in conjunction with a friend at Dante’s Tavern, started bringing pizzas weekly to people in need. And since July, they have raised more than $20,000 for the cause, now bringing all kinds of supplies and food weekly to homeless encampments around the city’s Northwest side. (Cash donations can be made on Venmo @PeoplesPizzaParty; contact them at @PeoplesPizzaPartyChicago on Instagram for donations of other goods.)
“I thought about the fact that there are people that still have to struggle through their entire life and shouldn’t have to,” Schaller said, talking about the new songs, but also reflecting on this project, “And organizing against these billionaires and politicians that don’t care about people and don’t act on their words to make it better for anybody. And the kind of organization that needs to be done on the civilian level to fix that.”