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Not So Common: The Secret Lives of Common Loon

A law school student and a maker of dental bridges seems like an unlikely pairing for an ethereally hypnotic band. Then again, Common Loon isn’t your run-of-the-mill pair. Their band is only one piece of a cryptic life puzzle for two of Champaign-Urbana’s most reserved men.

Matthew Campbell and Robert Hirschfeld are the guarded duo behind the band Common Loon. The two have spent years together and apart, and worked odd jobs in odd places along the way. They balance life, school, work, significant others and are working on their first full-length album. And you thought econ was hard.

Campbell and Hirschfeld met at the ripe age of 5 in kindergarten. The two can’t remember the exact moment destiny brought them together, but I bet they shared a blue crayon or bonded over bologna sandwiches. They spent summers together in Champaign-Urbana, Sandlot style. Campbell attended Centennial High in Champaign while Hirschfeld was shipped away to Marmion Academy, an all boys Catholic-Benedictine college prep school in Aurora.

The two men were low-key over a pot of Monk’s prayer tea until the subject of high school emerged. “I could talk for days about high school, and explain everything there is to know, and I still couldn’t quite get across what it was like to be there,” Hirschfeld said. The students wore their military greens with a shirt and tie every Monday, Thursday and Friday. They were systematically hazed, and the school was run by Benedictine monks from the Abbey.

After high school Hirschfeld headed to the University of Puget Sound, a liberal arts school in Tacoma, Wa., and Campbell moved to Bloomington to attend Illinois State University. At Illinois State Campbell roomed with Seth Hubbard who currently works in San Francisco for Polyvinyl Records. After college, Hubbard moved to Champaign to start the band Colonel Rhodes. Campbell was in Colonel Rhodes for a year and Watery Domestic with Hubbard for 9 months. After he split from those, Common Loon was born.

They started off tracking songs in the basement for their 7”, which was released by Hubbard in early spring of 2008. When a band starts off in the basement, things can only go up. Drum tracks began to emerge in 2006, and they admit it’s been a painstaking process to piece together an album. After years in the works, their first full-length album is set to drop sometime late this fall.

The band is limited in its live performance because of the amount of layered tracks in studio. During live shows, Hirschfeld plays guitar and Campbell takes a seat on drums with backing tracks primarily from synthesizers. They’ve had some of the greatest and most frightening times playing live shows. Recording gives them time to mix and perfect the layers to their utmost satisfaction.

I was lucky enough to pal around with the duo in the home studio of Adam Schmitt, the recording guru behind Hum and Tommy Keene. The room was filled with various sizes of knobs, switches and colorful cords. Layers floated across the screen like a musical EKG while Hirschfeld and Campbell munched on Thai food. Regardless of the dozens of layers, their music still sounds natural and clear. Their attention was concentrated on a song with the working title “Greenland”. I was amazed at how beautifully calculated the track is. With a plethora of layers, sounds, melodies and vocals it’s a wonder how it all comes together in the end in a neat package.

“Some of it is arranged and specific, but it’s more trial and error,” Hirschfeld explained. “We just kind of throw stuff at the wall and see what sticks.”

Success – it’s sticking.

The rare Common Loon can be seen playing at Cowboy Monkey this Thursday, Oct. 16, with Hathaways and World’s First Flying Machine. Keep your ears peeled for their upcoming album, which they hope to drop before Dec. 1.

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