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Catching Up With The Autumn Defense

It's rare that you'll find a festival that has the same artists perform multiple times in one weekend, while still providing completely unique and once in a lifetime performances. Enter Eaux Claires, Pat Sansone, and John Stirratt. Sansone and Stirratt performed twice on Friday as The Autumn Defense, before closing out Saturday with Wilco's headlining slot. In the early evening on Saturday before Wilco battled the oncoming storm for the final set of TROIX, the Chicago music veterans talked about their Eaux Claires experience, balancing multiple music projects, and working with other artists. Here are five things we learned while catching up with The Autumn Defense. 

Patrick Sansone and John Stirratt of The Autumn Defense at Eaux Claires 2017

Patrick Sansone and John Stirratt of The Autumn Defense at Eaux Claires 2017

They Were Shocked At Their Crowd Turnout

The Autumn Defense got cozy with the crowd in the woods twice during the festival's first day, playing The Oxbeaux Stage, which sits in the middle of the forest as a hidden gem. The pair discuss their favorite part of their two sets. "I enjoyed the fact that there were a lot more people there than I expected. I knew we were gonna be playing on a small stage in the woods. It was very much how I pictured it, but I was pleasantly surprised by how many people came and listened to us. It was a great crowd...a beautiful setting," Pat Sansone reflected. 

John Stirratt adds his praise of the festival in general and how great they've done on setting the scene, saying, "I think they’ve done a better job, much like a lot of the smaller European festivals that seem to be more of the trend now. What they do is they really focus on the spaces where people are and try to make some kind of gear or nighttime lighting in the woods. You see that at Green Man in England. I think just really concentrating on the spaces and how it looks in the daytime and the nighttime...There’s a magic quality to that, especially in the woods here." 

Sansone says he 100 percent agrees with Stiratt's observation, adding, "Yeah, curating such a good feeling, it takes care and it takes vision. The immediate feel of those things when you come here..." 

Their Collaboration Wish List is Endless

In addition to the magical and beautiful setting that the team behind Eaux Claires curates, there is a strong focus on collaboration and improvisation between bands on the line up. Wilco alone had multiple spin off groups at Eaux addition to Stirratt and Sansone performing as The Autumn Defense, there were also sets from Tweedy and cup, featuring Wilco members. Sansone and Stirratt discuss other possible collaborations between musicians on the lineup and themselves. 

"I’ve never played with Jenny Lewis. That would be fun to do something with her," Stirratt says, mentioning that they're friends so it's weird they have yet to collaborate.  "I just ran into Leslie Feist, and we worked with her on a Wilco song...she sings on Wilco song. It’d be great to do something with her again. So many great people. Justin [Vernon]," Sansone chimes in. Stirratt also suggests playing with Aaron Dessner before Sansone throws out the possibility of working with Chance. "I think Autumn Defense and Chance The Rapper could really find some common ground. I think we could kind of give him the bump that he needs to get out there, on a bigger platform," he joked. Funnily enough, after the interview, I stopped by the merch booth and noticed they had separated headliners Wilco and Chance The Rapper merch from the rest of the artists' and festival merchandise. Maybe that's a sign that something could work out between the Chicago musicians. After all, anything's possible at Eaux Claires. 

Speaking of epic collaborations, Sansone and Stirratt gave their suggestion of a cross between some of the other musicians on the 2017 line up. "It’d be cool to see Paul Simon and John Prine link up. That’d be pretty historic," Sansone says. 

They Rely On Muscle Memory For Their Different Projects

Working in multiple active projects has got to be tough to keep up with, but Stirratt says they've got the routines down. "It’s kind of, at least for me, it’s kind of like we’ve played with both entities for so long, there’s a lot of muscle memory there. We bring in the Autumn Defense guys, and really, we’ve played long enough with them, all it takes is one short jam and they’re right back. It’s really wonderful, and quite economical too. So you can do these things without really dedicated rehearsal days and rehearsal spaces. You can make it kind of informal. Wilco sort of does that as well. It’s definitely great to have that history with all those folks," he says. 

They're "Looking Towards Looking Towards" A New Album

It's been a minute since the 2014 of The Autumn Defense's fifth album, appropriately titled Fifth, but it might not be too long before a sixth LP is in the works.  Sansone talks more about the current status of new music from The Autumn Defense, saying, "We haven’t really started looking towards a new album yet. We’re looking towards looking towards a new album right now. It’s been a busy couple years since we put out our last one. With Wilco, and John and I have other projects that we’ve been consumed with. It’s definitely something that’s close to us, and we’re looking forward to when we can carve out that time." So while the process of the new album isn't really in motion yet, at least it's at the front of Sansone and Stirratt's minds. 

As far as their writing process when inspiration does hit, Stirratt says, "I tend to write really for Autumn Defense only. I used to contribute songs for Wilco over time and I realized it wasn’t the best use of my time. For a long time it’s been for The Autumn Defense. That’s the main writing outlet that I have. I personally can’t delineate where it goes." 

They're Still In On The Chicago Scene

Although Sansone and Stirratt have been touring the world with Wilco, they still manage to keep up with some hometown musicians. While talking about some of their favorite newer or up and coming Chicago artists, Stirratt says, "Well Whitney is way beyond up and coming, but that record [Light Upon the Lake] was a big record for me last year."

Sansone shares his new local favorites, saying, "There’s a guy named, well the project is named Jagged Jaw, and it’s one guy. His name is Bobby Lord, and he had a record that came out last year. He does everything himself. Self released. It’s really great. I produced a record for his previous band which was called Future Monarchs, and he kind of went off in secret and made this record. I was just completely blown away. I hear he’s working on a new record. He’s keeping it very under the radar." 

Although Sansone and Stirratt have been making music professionally for years, they say that newer artists probably have a leg up on them despite all their experience. "It’s a whole new world. I kind of feel like a lot of these musicians and younger bands probably have stuff to teach me," Sansone admits. 

Stirratt agrees, saying, "I feel the same way! I feel like things were way easier. Getting a deal was easier back then. It was just--," he pauses before adding, "There’s people with all these different disciplines, you know. The ability to record and produce and arrange and do it all on a really high level."

Keep up with The Autumn Defense here, and listen to their last record Fifth below. 

Catching Up With This Is The Kit

It's about half past 5 during the first day of the third annual Eaux Claires, and as I head to the media tent, the sound of Tweedy's set drifts through the main grounds of the festival, still audible as I find the members of This Is The Kit staked out in a corner of the tent. Earlier in the afternoon, the England-born, Paris-based band consisting of Kate Stables, Rozi Plain, and Jamie Whitby-Coles had performed on The Flambeaux Stage, one of the two main stages. Known for having a shifting line up always fronted by Kate Stables, the band played some new tunes from the upcoming record Moonshine Freeze with the help of Eaux Claires curator Aaron Dessner. While I caught up with the trio in the media tent, we chatted more about their live show, their dream collaborations, and folk tales. Learn about all that and more before the release of Moonshine Freeze on July 7th in our chat with This Is The Kit.  

Kate Stables, Rozi Plain, and Jamie Whitby-Coles at Eaux Claires 2017

Kate Stables, Rozi Plain, and Jamie Whitby-Coles at Eaux Claires 2017

Frontwoman Kate Stables Isn't Big On Planning

Diving into the story behind the new album, Stables recalls the group's songwriting process as being more organized than their previous records, their latest being Bashed Out in 2015. "Well songwriting happened between the release of our last album in--" Stables pauses, questioning when the last record was released before confirming 2015 as its birth year. "So since the release of Bashed Out and now. It was nice, we went into the studio and all of the songs were written. Some of them even had the arrangements worked out. Which is sort of new for me, cause I’m unorganized and often running late," she continued. Stables also gave recognition to their producer, John Parish, calling his work brilliant. 

The band's live lineup especially is never set in stone, but the band don't seem bothered by that at all, and have managed to sound incredible live with a variety of different setups. "We can’t always do everything that happens on the record, because there’s only--well normally there’s four of us, but today there’s only three of us," Stables muses about the live arrangements of the new material. "I’m not very good at planning," she admitted. Rozi Plain interjects to say that they've managed to remain flexible, adding "Often things get worked out and changed while we’re on tour. Sometimes just trying things out as we’re playing them." One of the best facets of the gem that is Eaux Claires Fest is the improvisation that occurs each day, so This Is The Kit fit perfectly with that sentiment. 

Saxophones and Storytellers Have Shaped The New Record

Kate Stables has stated that Moonshine Freeze focuses on the concept that stories and truths sort of evolve over time, told differently as time moves on. She elaborates more on her inspiration behind the songs and her fascination with storytelling, saying, "I’ve been reading a lot of Ursula Le Guin and she talks a lot about stories changing over time. Also, I listen to a lot--and read to my daughter, a lot of folk tales. And there’s always different versions of those." She continues, "There’s a particular collection of African stories that Hugh Tracey collected, and there’s recordings of him reading them. There’s a story about a rabbit and tortoise where it sort of talks about truth and lying, and I’ve been thinking about that."

While Stables is able to pinpoint a few authors and storytellers as inspiring that notion behind Moonshine Freeze, she ponders for a while about other influences, saying, "I don’t know if they’re ever sort of conscious. You look back and you think, oh, look at that, that matches up with that." She pauses and asks Plain and Whitby-Coles for their input. Plain mentions that they draw inspiration from life experiences as well. 

Stables bounces off of Plain's comment, saying, "Yeah, we’ve been playing a lot with a saxophone section over the past year or so, and so it was great to have them in the recording session. That’s really shaped the album." Speaking of saxophones, Eaux Claires' resident sax choir The Sad Saxes joined This Is The Kit for a lovely Saturday afternoon performance at The Oxbeaux Stage in the woods, which earned a standing ovation at the end. 

Aaron Dessner Acted As a Correspondent Collaborator On Moonshine Freeze

Not only did EXC curator Aaron Dessner join This Is The Kit for the aforementioned Oxbeaux Stage performance and their Friday afternoon performance at the festival, but he also contributed to the recordings on the new record. Stables has been working with Dessner for longer than that, though. Describing their working relationship, she says, "Well, it’s great, we made the last album with him 100%. This one, it was kind of like a correspondence, pen-pal recording project. We sent him some of the songs, and then he recorded some bits of it. Then we sort of sorted out which bits could stay. It happened long distance."

Speaking of arranging parts of the new tunes, Stables and Plain reflect on playing some of the new ones live for the first time at the fest.  "Since we recorded it, we haven’t played many [shows], so it’s just sort of fun to play the new ones," Plain says. Stables echoes that excitement, saying, "Yeah, because a lot of the arrangements weren’t finished, or just were started from scratch in the studio. So now that they’re sort of established, it’s nice to be able to play them when they’re finished."

They'd Like To Work With Tweedy, Francis, and Sam Amidon

Speaking of collaborations, the trio share which of the other acts on the lineup they'd love to collaborate with, since that is the name of the game at Eaux Claires. Pausing to contemplate the abundance of possibilities, Stables suggests they each pick an artist, since it's too difficult to land on only one unanimous decision. "I'm really liking Tweedy...I'm really enjoying this," Whitby-Coles decides, while Tweedy's set continues throughout the interview. Stables takes her pick next, saying, "I’d love to to one day do some singing and banjo playing with Sam Amidon 'cause I think he’s brilliant!" Plain remembers Francis's dance lessons on the Decorum Stage, saying, "There was someone teaching everyone some great dance moves--let’s do a collaboration with Francis!" 

While we didn't get to see Francis's dance moves combined with Stables' banjo playing this time around, there's always next year, and we did get to see Stables join Justin Vernon for a song during The John Prine tribute on Friday evening. 

They'll Be Back In America In October 

The band were recently announced as part of Pitchfork Music Festival's lineup in Paris, but that's not all they're looking forward to later in 2017. "We're coming back to America in October" Whitby-Coles excitedly shared. Stables says those dates are still to be confirmed, but once they have dates in place, they'll be even more excited for the return. Make sure you keep your eyes out for that tour announcement because if you think the recordings from This Is The Kit sound great, just wait til you catch a live performance. Plain and Stables voices blend so well together, and when playing with a sax section they're able to add even more dynamic to their layered and thoughtful songs. 

In addition to the tour, what else is the band setting out to do this year? "Changing the world," Plain enthusiastically suggests. In sync on and off the stage, Stable echoes Plain, saying she's planning on getting more involved in local politics this year. 

As our time together comes to end, This Is The Kit left us with their best festival advice: Buy a rubber walnut. Explaining Plain's advice about these walnut erasers, Stables says,"In the local shop [at the festival], they’ve got rubber walnuts and acorns. They look like real ones, but they’re actually meant for rubbing out your drawings." They also suggested drinking enough water and bringing a mac (British slang for a rain jacket)....which was definitely needed during the big storm on Saturday evening. 

Our advice to you? Pre-order Moonshine Freeze by This Is The Kit here, and keep up with all their news, including new tour announcements on their Facebook page. 

Can't get enough of This Is The Kit? Read our highlights of Eaux Claires, which feature the band on Day 1 and Day 2