Artists have a way of latching onto pivotal moments, alchemizing them into inspiration and motivation. For Alex Santilli, such moments in his younger years became signposts pointing the fledgling drummer along the path to his The Adventures of Anacleto project and today’s release of its fourth single “Try Again.”
The song, a colorful expression of determination shared through its funk-infused, jazzy rhythms, reminds us to get back up again after life deals out its worst.
“You have to fall,” Santilli said. “You don’t become a whole person unless you fail, right? You need darkness to appreciate the light.”
“It’s also just that notion of we need to fail, we need to suck, we need to get laughed at because it makes us grow. Nothing can be always good, you know, and that’s what I tell people all the time. I struggle with depression, but that’s just learning. Like you’re learning right now about yourself,” he continued. “One day you’re gonna wake up, you’re gonna feel great. And you’re gonna know the lessons that you had from the sad times.”
When his family moved to Arlington Heights, the Elmwood Park native started to take drums more seriously while a student at Buffalo Grove High School, mostly to be more of a part of the pop-punk/hard-core scene in the Northwest suburbs at the time. He also spun off in a new direction musically after developing an appreciation for jazz.
But a family crisis pushed him deeper into the music life. When he was 18, Santilli said he watched as his father’s business fell apart.
“The immigrant dream, this amazing thing my father did which meant that we had money or that we had stability, it kind of just drifted away,” he said. “I’m watching my dad just kind of crumble and I was like, ‘I’m not chasing money. I’m chasing my soul.’”
Santilli channeled his buoyant passion into his music, winning the Daily Herald’s 2015 Suburban Chicago’s Got Talent contest with the band Burke Valley (“It was a really good experience,” he said. “It put a lot of gas in our tank musically.”) and busking in Chicago after moving to the city.
He found growing success drumming with the psych-soul quartet Late Nite Laundry, which he had been part of for the last four years, but the COVID-19 pandemic threw a little more adversity in his path. Early on in the lockdowns, when fear was at its highest but little was still known about the virus, Santilli was laid flat for more than three weeks with intense fever spikes.
“I unfortunately got crazy, crazy sick, and I almost died,” he said. “But those kinds of things in life, it’s how it opens you up, you know? It makes you realize that every breath you take is a gift. And anything that reminds you of that is a beautiful thing.”
With his band locked down after he recovered, Santilli said he realized he couldn’t be a sideman without a band, and he started focusing on his own compositions under the new personal project The Adventures of Anacleto, named after his grandfather. Fellow Late Nite Laundry members Ari Lindo and Brendan Cabrera, as well as gig bassist Connor Roe started fleshing out the bones of the project.
“As a person with all that dark … all the stuff that’s happened in my life, the drums have really been like a channeling thing. I think for me, especially with anger and frustration, not getting it out in a healthy way is just really detrimental. … Luckily for me, the drums are a perfect anger device. I mean, there’s nothing more perfect about it.”
Santilli, who also takes the stage with the Alex Santilli Trio, said he told his compatriots to bring some rage to their latest gig at FitzGerald’s.
“I literally told the boys to think about the most angry memory you’ve ever had. And then we’re gonna bring that on stage and play,” he said.
Santilli said he has plenty of songs in the works to release under the new project while Late Nite Laundry is getting back on its feet, but this one in particular is important to him in its lessons and its nod to those who came before.
“I feel like the song is extremely Chicago. I definitely wanted to give an ode to the greats in Chicago, the unseen voices, the elders, the people who shaped the music in the city. It’s really some Chicago neo-soul music that we made,” he said. “This song is 100% influenced by the insane musicians that the city has to offer, and it’s the greatest music city in the world. It really has the most soul. It’s really incredible.”