Dark Fog: The Woodlawn psych-rockers blaze their own path

Last Thursday, Kevin Walsh awoke to discover a discarded pair of pants on the lawn of his Woodlawn home. They had been taken from a stolen car that had been abandoned on his block for four days. Raided again and again by various passersby, everything valuable had already been taken. Though it was parked directly in front of a fire hydrant, the car had yet to receive a ticket. Walsh likes his block and has great neighbors, but he has some complaints about his neighborhood. The roads are bad, public transportation stinks, and the police don’t stop for anything.

Alongside guitarist and singer Ray Donato and drummer YT, Walsh plays guitar and bass in Chicago psych-rock band Dark Fog. Sick of renting practice spaces and looking for a permanent place to set up his home studio, Walsh bought the Woodlawn house five years ago. A former flophouse, it was decrepit and condemned. Gutted and remodeled, it now houses Dark Fog’s practice space and Original Sound Recordings, a record label established by Walsh and Donato.

The members of Dark Fog list krautrock, Jimi Hendrix, and soul among their influences. Asked about their non-musical influences, they include beer, sex, and the occult. At times compared to bands like Hawkwind and My Bloody Valentine, Dark Fog’s music is swirling and hypnotizing. Indeed, Donato, who wrote the majority of the songs on Dark Fog’s first two albums, explains that all the songs he writes are written in a “ritualistic trance.” Currently, Dark Fog is busy recording their third album, “DF III.”

A Do-It-Yourself ethic permeates many aspects of Dark Fog’s music making. The group’s previous album, 2007’s “The Ultimate Cult of Psychedelic Psychosis,” was recorded and produced in Walsh’s home studio and released on Original Sound Recordings. This DIY approach even extends to the band’s website, which is hosted on a server in the Woodlawn home. Such an approach affords Dark Fog flexibility and precision. To dial in the perfect tone, Donato builds his own amplifiers and effects pedals under the brand Screaming Baby Amplifiers. Such exactness also appears in the production of Dark Fog’s music, which is conducted meticulously and informed by a keen production philosophy.

Aware of changes in the music business, Dark Fog has had to reevaluate its approach to making music. Walsh says that the band members have become somewhat disenchanted with the respect that underground, hardworking bands get today. He points out how little bands get paid compared to the money venues make off the bar and suggests that promoters don’t care about promoting good bands and are simply interested in making money. According to Walsh, the band has a great passion for what they are doing, but they are “allergic to bullshit.” As a result, Dark Fog has lately been selective about playing live shows and does not want the hassle of performing live and arguing with clubs to get in the way of playing music.

Dark Fog’s approach to making records has also changed with shifts in the music business. A double LP made with colored vinyl, “The Ultimate Cult of Psychedelic Psychosis” is an aficionado’s record that would sit regally on any collector’s shelf. However, printing the record proved to be a ton of work with little payoff. As a result, “DF III” will be a freely available, Internet-only release. Dark Fog is into music for the love of playing and values its independence as a band–such an approach is liberating.

Dark Fog performs live on Pure Hype, WHPK 88.5FM, June 13. Friday, 9pm. (Dave McQuown)