Smile Politely

Don’t be a Stranger

Stranger Waves are just out of high school, but already they’ve been named the best rock act in Chicago by The Reader. That’s pretty heady stuff before you’ve even had a proper first tour, but they seem to be dealing with it just fine. The garage-rockers are putting the final touches on an EP that they’re bringing along when they head out of town.

Next Tuesday, July 28, you can see them for free at Mike ‘n Molly’s at 8 p.m., along with Catfish Haven and Man Made Blast (bring a couple bucks to throw in the hat for the bands). To get you prepared, we talked with Stranger Waves guitarist Ziyad Arif on the phone yesterday to get an idea of what it’s like to be a band on the rise.

Smile Politely: Can you give a little history of Stranger Waves, how you guys know each other, etc.?

Stranger Waves: I met Malcolm at a concert when we were younger, and Malcolm and Jake (the other guitarist) met each other in high school. They both went to Jones College Prep in Chicago, and I went to North Side Prep on the other side of the city. We played in a couple of bands over the years, and about two years ago Jake and I formed a band with our friend Hal on drums. Later on, Hal quit and Malcolm came on, on drums, and that’s how we became Stranger Waves. We played our first show last November.

SP: So, have you been playing shows regularly since then?

SW: We’ve had consistent shows since November, because we got in touch with Ahd from Victim of Time — it’s a garage rock magazine in Chicago — and he hooked us up with our first show. From there, basically a bunch of booking agents contacted us. So, it was back and forth with booking agents contacting us about shows and me booking shows with bands that I like.

SP: Is this your first extended tour, then, with Catfish Haven?

SW: Yeah, pretty much. We played in Milwaukee and Madison in late June, and that’s about it for us. So this is our first little tour.

SP: How did you get hooked up with Catfish Haven?

SW: Miguel, their bassist, came to one of our shows in this little crappy bar called the Risque Cafe. It was St. Patrick’s Day weekend, and people were puking all over our equipment, and Miguel came to see us because he heard we were playing there. He was like, “Yeah, I really like your band.” And we just got contact information then, but in a couple of weeks, he started contacting us, saying he could hook us up with all these shows. He hooked us up with a show at Schuba’s, and people liked us, so we got another show from that. He’s been a really great guy to us, and basically hooked us up with this whole tour.

SP: How did this whole thing about getting named the top rock act in Chicago by The Reader come about? Was that totally out of left field?

SW: It was kind of out of nowhere. Miles Raymer, he’s the bassist in Mannequin Men, he saw us at the Empty Bottle in late November — that was our second show at a venue. He really liked us, and after that show he wrote a little blog for the Reader about us, and he said something like, “Look for these guys in my column soon.” We hadn’t heard much from him since that, and then a couple of months later, he contacted us, and said he was going to do a little piece on us, and he didn’t say what for. When it came out in the Reader as the best pop or rock act in Chicago, it was a surprise, because he didn’t say what it was about.

SP: That had to be an honor.

SW: Oh, it definitely was. I was blown away by it. It was something to show all the family.

SP: So, you guys are not too far out of high school, correct?

SW: No, I graduated in January, and Malcolm and Jake graduated in June. Just out of high school.

SP: So, college in the fall, or what’s going on?

SW: Yeah, we’re all going to separate colleges. I’m going to U of I, actually, and Malcolm’s going to Kalamazoo College, in Michigan, and Jake’s going to CalArts, just north of L.A. College has pretty long breaks, so I’m going to try to book some shows in the next couple of months for winter break. We’re thinking about going down to Puerto Rico, I don’t know. But we’re definitely going to be playing shows and recording, just not as often.

SP: Do you guys have plans to release an album or an EP?

SW: We record everything ourselves nowadays. Which I like more, and I produce it and mix it. We’re putting together a special CD for the tour. I think it’s going to be pretty different from our other recordings.

SP: Have you ever been compared to another band that you didn’t think fit at all?

SW: The Jonas Brothers (right).

SP: Ouch.

SW: That’s the main one, that’s the biggest one. We went to Madison, and there was some drunk cougar sitting at the bar, and she was like, “You guys are just like the Jonas Brothers.” We get that at every show, it’s really funny.

SP: Are they trying to be mean, or they just don’t realize it’s offensive?

SW: I don’t think so. That lady was just trying to be cute. They’re not trying to make fun of us or anything, but people definitely like to make a big show out of the fact that we’re really young.

SP: Did you guys play a lot of house shows, or how did you get going?

SW: We got going because I know all the guys in the Smith Westerns; I went to high school with all of them. Our old drummer, Hal, actually plays drums for them now. They started playing shows before us. They got hooked up with Todd from Hozak records a few months before we played our first show. They were playing quite often, and I set up a house party in my second-floor apartment — I live in a three-flat — and I just had them play, and they played. Basically, we started playing at house parties that I threw. That’s how we got our first show.

SP: That’s a good way to do it.

SW: Definitely. It’s a good way to just start playing for your friends. I love playing house parties.

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