“[The Electric Shoes] play springtime music,” guitarist and vocalist Grant Sabatier declares from his pea-green tapestry couch. Looking out the window of the carriage house that acts as Sabatier’s home and the band’s practice space, you’d figure the band would be in a creative slump, what with the entire city being caught in the icy embrace of a winter that doesn’t want to let go. However cold it is outside, the group is basking in the warm glow of sudden recognition and success.
Though the band cites an episode of the TV show “The Wonder Years” as their inspiration to start the band (Kevin [Frank Savage] and Paul form a band they called The Electric Shoes “to combat boredom with rock”), the “seeds were sown” during a study abroad trip Sabatier and Ben De Vera (guitars and vocals) took to Oaxaca, Mexico during the University of Chicago’s Winter Quarter in 2006. The two played their guitars and sang on their host family’s rooftop before bringing their sound to Oaxaca’s cobbled streets and “the beaches of the Pacific,” Sabatier reminisces. Each brought his own songs to the other and the duo found a common thread despite their sonic differences. “Ben turned me onto writing pop songs,” Sabatier says. “I quickly put my folky ways aside and was won over by the catchy melody.” Combining their song writing skills, De Vera and Sabatier started writing new songs and had formed a band by the time they returned to the States.
The task of really becoming a band was difficult. Though the two had played a few open mics on campus (an Office of Minority Student Affairs [OMSA] open mic) and downtown, they didn’t feel like they’d found a way to “actually become the ‘Electric’ Shoes.” “We were jamming a lot but it didn’t feel like a group yet,” De Vera remembers. They drifted in and out of practicing for the rest of the quarter but in the summer, Sabatier invited De Vera down to Virginia to record a demo in three days. “[The demo] is quite rough, but people often comment on the simplicity of the lo-fidelity sound. It makes us seem like we don’t take ourselves too seriously. The rawness merely furthers the music’s energy.”
Demo in hand and the school year just beginning, the boys had set their eyes on performing at the Smart Museum in May. “But by that time fourth year started to move quicker than we had imagined,” Sabatier says. “It was already winter and we needed to get our act together.” De Vera and Sabatier began auditioning drummers and bassists in the fall, trying to find two more members that would mix well with the low-key and fun energy the original members already had going for them. Daniel Schnitzer () and Miles Russell (bass) completed the new Shoes lineup. In January of 2007, an A&R intern at Columbia Records contacted the band with interest in hearing their demo and receiving a press packet. It was the kick in the pants the group needed to get serious. Though Columbia’s interest eventually waned (claiming the Shoes were “too left-leaning” for their label), they felt the group had promise and suggested they look at indie labels. The band sent out their demo and pictures to record companies and got positive feedback. Chicago bars and clubs began calling to book their act. The Electric Shoes have a packed schedule for the spring, including a show on April 17 at the Subterranean, a popular Wicker Park music venue, and at Silvie’s Lounge on May 25. The Subterranean gig has the promise of placing them as a weekend act with a larger audience, which equals more visibility. Fire Escape Films will be filming the performance, providing media to add to their clout.
Though the group’s catchy tunes (their influences include the Beatles, Weezer and “good vibes”) focus on the simple, their aspirations are high. They hope to get one of their songs on a Volkswagen commercial or be the latest song Apple’s iconic silhouetted bodies gyrate to. “We’re just seeing where this takes us,” Sabatier says. Both Sabatier and De Vera have jobs lined up in Chicago following their graduation this quarter, Sabatier noting the only reason he’s staying in the Midwest is for the band’s potential to make it big. De Vera laughs, saying he would quit his job if massive success were to actually happen. The group is trying to “solidify the foundation…we’re looking towards the future.”
As of now, the future looks bright for the Electric Shoes. The band’s popularity and fanbase is growing, thanks in large part to their Myspace page (http://www.myspace.com/thelectricshoes). Over 62,000 visits, 10,000 total song plays and 800 friends expands their fan base from the US to the world; the Shoes have a large fan base in Japan and France. Seriously. The Chicago music scene is opening up to them as well: a few weeks ago, they were contacted by the guitarist of the Ike Reilly Assassination, a local indie band, who wants to produce their full-length album or EP which they hope will be out in early summer.
“We play springtime music,” Sabatier says. “Catchy, fun, happy music to combat the cold and traditional UofC rigor. We just want to show people a good time. We want them walking away humming our tunes. You know. Bah bahda bahs and woo hoos.”
And who doesn’t love a good woo hoo?
For more information on the Electric Shoes, visit their Myspace page. They will be performing Tuesday, April 17 at the Subterranean on 2011 W. North Avenue. Doors open at 8, show at 8:30 PM. Tickets are $6. 18 & over.