When CalicoLoco’s lead vocalist and songwriter Dani Robles talks about the band’s newest single — “Church Trauma Song,” which hit the scene last weekend — the word “normal” really gets put under a microscope. What is a normal upbringing? A normal family? Feeling normal versus appearing normal?
Growing up in a strictly religious household that didn’t celebrate holidays, Woodstock native Robles said they didn’t really know any differently.
“Growing up, I was just so used to everything, I always felt like everybody must do things this way. Everybody must go to church three times a week. That’s a totally normal thing to do,” they said. “When I was a kid, during the holidays they’d be like, ‘Oh, we’re watching “The Grinch” in class in third grade,’ and I’d be the kid out in the hallway doing a work sheet. This is totally normal. And then a lot of the song is just about me growing up and thinking ‘This is not normal.'”
Jangling its way through several movements, the indie-pop group — Robles and fellow Woodstock artist Curran Chapman, bassist Sara Call and Ricky “Hendrix” Georgen on drums, both from Palatine, and riffmaker Zeke Ramsey of Arizona-now-Chicago — charts a child’s exploration and growth, pushing back against the perceived norms and figuring out what’s right as an individual. And although it paints a picture of a struggle, it’s not a song about resentment or defiance, but instead, acceptance of who one is — something of an act of rebellion in itself.
“For me, when I started noticing ‘This is weird,’ there was a lot of self-discovery,” said Robles, now 25, who started their journey of independence while studying at Lake Forest College and then Evanston’s Northwestern University. “The song is not a resentful song. I love my parents. For me, the song is about getting over it. It’s kind of blunt, but just learning to accept this is how things were in the past, here’s how we’re going to make things better. And trying to move on, moving past things, making you a better person.”
With its closing affirmation, a repeated “I love myself,” the single joins CalicoLoco’s catalog of upbeat and uplifting songs exploring humanly flawed but totally normal characters and stories.
Together for a few years but only playing shows since about a year ago, the band specializes in sparkling melodies and relatably sincere lyrics, punctuated by complexly charming rhythms courtesy of Georgen.
“What would Mitch Mitchell do? A lot of those drummers from the mid-’60s were jazz cats prior to playing rock and have a loose swing-like feel. That drumming really resonates with me. It’s a combination of styles that have brought life to my playing,” Georgen said. “I feel like what I brought to that specific part was a conversation with some of my idols as well as a free and loose groove.”
That loose vibe is a hallmark of CalicoLoco’s music as it traipses through poppy soundscapes, sometimes synthy, sometimes dreamy, sometimes leaning on twinkly guitars or rock riffs. But always smile-worthy, even when the songs veer into deeper territories.
“We’re honestly kind of anti-genre,” Ramsey said. “We just hop around genres. Even our own music doesn’t really have a consistent genre, in my opinion. We like to mess around and try different things and styles. I feel like our scene is kind of just hanging out with people from different scenes that maybe aren’t really like what people view us as.”
After last weekend’s release show, Chicago-area audiences might have to wait a bit to see the band as it normally is. CalicoLoco is currently out on a two-week Midwestern tour. And when they return, they might not be feeling a lot like themselves as the fivesome next plays a pre-Halloween set as My Chemical Romance, along with PINKSQUEEZE as the Spice Girls and OK Cool as Jack Black’s School of Rock at Chicago’s Golden Dagger Friday, Oct. 28.
But with a semiregular release schedule and a drive to share the scene with other Chicago-area bands, it undoubtedly won’t be long before more shows hit the calendar.
“I feel like we’re just consistently meeting new people and playing with new bands, like we’re floating around, which has been really great,” Ramsey said. “Oftentimes, Dani books shows and tells us who we’re playing with, and I haven’t heard of them, which gets me excited so I can meet new people. We’re not just playing for a certain scene.”