There exists an old Rilo Kiley lyric that says, “Of those old memories, you can push them out and prep yourself for brand new information.” For six-piece (sometime seven-piece) local outfit Ambitious Pie Party, this rings particularly true, especially in their range of music and the way they present themselves. The band constantly reinvents themselves musically, reformulating and changing to be the best they can be.
Given guitarist/vocalist Kelly McMorris’ background in theatre, it’s entirely understandable that he would believe in the importance of the whole package: the sights, the sounds and the atmosphere of a show. Kelly and bassist Craig Jacobson met with me in the main lounge of Allen Hall to talk with me about what it was like to produce their first album, what it’s like to be a local band in the Champaign-Urbana scene, and their constant reinvention of their inimitable blend of sounds and general, all-around panache.
“You know in theatre, they really teach you to talk about the art, so that’s what talking about music is like. Even with what the process of songwriting is like, my strategy of how to do that has all been coached by U of I acting, you know,” Kelly said, laughing.
“You want to see something you’ve never seen before. It’s not just about hearing something, it’s also about seeing something,” he added.
“We can always be better. I don’t know, I’ve got these visions of these circus-esque … you know, a lot more theatrical shows. There’s a fine line between doing something that serves the music and something that’s a gimmick, though.”
The band also understands the importance of having the whole package with their production methods and in their style. Ambitious Pie Party brings a huge medley of sonic designs to their debut album, All I’ve Learned is Pushed Aside, produced mainly by Adam Schmitt.
“I mean, we were at Adam’s house the hottest days of the summer… we were there for like 10 hours, and he didn’t have air conditioning… it was like 110 outside, and we were inside, drinking beer and making music,” Kelly said.
“You know, we weren’t in the studio every day, we did a lot of the recording in the beginning and then I guess took a break for a little bit…” Craig, who has a background in jazz bass and is in his senior year at the school of engineering, said. Their long stint producing, from the beginning of April until the end of August, allowed them the time to take the music home and mull it over, giving them insight. “Like on ‘Shine Alone,’ a whole new vocal part came about,” Kelly said.
They recorded all the basic tracks on the first day in order to create a framework for all the songs in order to form a basis for the seven-track album, worrying about time signature and layers later. Then, to flesh it out, they also brought in Craig and Kabir Herman (vocals/guitar), because Chris Baker (drummer), percussion major at the U of I, tends to be extremely busy. “He’s jazz. He’s super jazz,” Craig said of Kelly.
“The two of them, Kelly and Jon Langley, they collaborate, and they’re from completely different backgrounds of music. When they come together, I think it produces really cool unique rock that’s still grounded in … well, Kelly’s got this great way of writing really great lyrics and John’s really into very experimental stuff … putting them together creates a really good dynamic,” Craig said. They even brought in the old music director at the Chancellor Dinner Theatre.
“I was just thinking over the summer, if she’d play some harps or string or piano. She’s just this crazy wonderful lady, and she’d smoke and play the harp at the same time,” said Kelly.
“I try never to hold on to those original visions you first have when you write it, because as soon as you bring it to the group … just one other person … it changes. Just four or five years ago, that was something that was really scary for me. But the people in the band are my best friends. It’s really like a family. We’re cooking for five or six people, you know. Now, I embrace the fact that it’s going to change, and that’s exciting,” Kelly says.
“It’s always for the better,” Craig said. “Even if you can’t see it until later.”
He added, “You know, we’re not indie pop. We’re not jam.
We don’t really fit into a cookie-cutter genre. Sometimes that’s hard, because we don’t have that label for people to grasp on. And yeah, it’s also hard with seven to eight minute songs, but at the same time, we go into the studio and we play what we want to play.”
“We all really love the way it sounds, so, why not just do it like that and share it with everybody the way we see it?”
Ambitious Pie Party will play at Cowboy Monkey on Friday, Dec. 16 with Elsinore, the Wandering Sons, and Favorite Saints. Cover is $5. Show starts at 10 p.m.