Smile Politely

Netherfriends: Made in America

Photo by Glenn Ross

He’s only a few years removed from playing a set at Pitchfork Music Festival, and Shawn Rosenblatt has gotten out of his hometown of Chicago. Playing a festival like that shortly after a few EPs certainly can’t hurt your chances at getting to play in many, many more cities around the States (and probably the world). He’s no stranger to traveling around the country. Apparently he visited all 50 states in the same calendar year, which is pretty remarkable in itself. Did I mention he wrote a song in each state? This isn’t the Sufjan Stevens project, either (aka one that won’t ever be completed).

He has taken his project Netherfriends all over the country, touring and supporting his last few records, including Middle America, which had its proper release earlier this year on Kilo Records. His project is touring with label-mates Stephen Paul Smoker, and they’re stopping by Mike ‘N Molly’s tonight to play for C-U. We were interested to see what this part of the country should be expecting from him as he gets off his short break and starts his tour.

Smile Politely: So you’ve been traveling around the Midwest recently, which is coincidentally a lot of what your new album is about. How’s the reaction been? How has the tour been going so far?

Shawn Rosenblatt: The Midwest is tricky because most of the cities I play are college towns, which means a lot of the people you perform to will eventually graduate and move to another city. So the Midwest can have some crummy shows, but I also have lucked out and had amazing shows. I am currently on a monthlong break in Chicago.

SP: Does it make more sense to be able to play the tracks from Middle America in Middle America, or is that going to be a common misconception?

Rosenblatt: I guess so, but I will only be playing a couple Middle America songs. Majority of the world has yet to hear Middle America.

SP: Champaign-Urbana is pretty damn close to being as in the middle of America as one can get. You’ve played Chicago, St. Louis, and other surrounding cities plenty of times, but is this your first stop through C-U?

Rosenblatt: No actually, I have played Mike ‘N Molly’s before. I brought a friend along to help load equipment and he got really drunk, and at the end of the night he almost loaded a bar stool into my van because he thought it was mine.

SP: The new record is a bit different sonically than the last couple of releases: the more scatterbrained and floaty Alap and your previous breakthrough EP. Do you think this one is different than the others?

Rosenblatt: I guess it is. I take the same approach to making music even though the records might sound differently. I write and record the tracks as quickly as possible, then I’m able to spend a long time mixing all of them so they sound the way I want them to sound.

SP: Where did the inspiration for this one come from? Simply being in the Midwest as a Chicagoan?

Rosenblatt: Middle America is part of a 50 songs, 50 states project in which I wrote and recorded a song and performed in all 50 states in one year. The next album is the collection of songs from the south called The Sun Belt.

SP: Is it a coincidence that the most explosive track on the album is named after your hometown? How did you go about naming these songs?

Rosenblatt: I think it was because I had more time writing in Chicago, IL, because I spent more than a day in the city. On tour, I might have only had a day to write in a particular city.

SP: Who’s that on the cover of the album?

Rosenblatt: I’m not entirely sure — my Dad took the picture, actually. He told me it was his old girlfriend’s roommmate.

SP: What’s been the highlight of the first half of 2012 for you, since June is almost over?

Rosenblatt: Paying for a sublet apartment for June. It is the first time I have a paid for a place in over two years!

SP: Steven Paul Smoker is a pretty awesome guy to be playing with. What’s the story with your relationship with him and the guys he plays with?

Rosenblatt: Stephen is a special dude. We have been friends for a couple years now and first met at a show we played together in Madison, Wisconsin. We went on a walk together before the show and learned very quickly that we had very similar mindsets.

SP: What should we be expecting from you come showtime?

Rosenblatt: I loop everything live and try my best to never stand still. In the two years of touring, I learned how to entertain strangers.

Netherfriends takes the stage at Mike ‘N Molly’s tonight with Stephen Paul Smoker and Scurvine. Show starts at 9 p.m.

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