Faith, Hope, and Family Ties

On first impression, the name “Forty Piece Choir” is a bit of a misnomer. With a current lineup of six members, there are far from forty pieces in this band. “Our band is actually only six members,” guitarist and founding band member Dan Dominiak says, “So that always throws people for a loop, which is probably a good thing and a bad thing. At least it attracts attention. The number in our band name doesn’t really signify anything. I think the inspiration for the name comes from church, or maybe a choir of children would be an example of what we were thinking of. There’s a pretty enormous strength behind a choir, and the more people, the merrier.”

“There was a time where I would go to practice and I would go across the street to this African-American gospel church where it was all black people. I was the only white guy there,” lead singer Dana Okon recalled. “They were really cool, though, they were so nice. I remember watching them sing. It wasn’t for fame or fortune or anything. It was all very humble, and it was all for God … that’s what it’s all about. Our band name has that kind of thinking behind it.”

When asked who he could share the stage with, Okon unequivocally replied, “Jesus Christ … because that’s a powerful figure. Music can be done for certain reasons, or it can be done for deeper ones.It’s more than just a power; it’s about love, and you don’t have to play an instrument or sing to get that across.”

“It’s not as though we’re a Christian rock band or anything like that,” Dominiak adds. “But, we do believe in positive vibes and are very family-oriented. We respect our families, and those inspirations make us the band that we are.”

Family is a huge part of the band’s creative and psychological orientation. Okon’s children provide influence and material for his songwriting, and he adds, “Without my family, I don’t think I would even be sane enough to play music and vice-versa. It’s like a balancing act. It’s very depressing to leave my family [to tour], but as soon as I go onstage for the band’s set, I feel like I’m flying for real. It’s an amazing feeling to perform.”

Dominiak says his musical influences include Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix, also citing band favorites like Wilco and the Jesus & Mary Chain and says, “The Beatles and Chuck Berry are the reason I play music … musicianship would be the major attraction [to them], but perseverance in art, not necessarily just looking at music as a commodity. People back then used to make art, make great music and not have any expectations about how well it might sell.”

“Our music is very abstract; it’s always changing. There are no formulas, no set way of thinking. We have kind of a band philosophy to be positive, to do good things,” Okon said. “We just try to get out there and present the soul of the music and get the energy up.”

Forty Piece Choir’s upcoming show at the Canopy Club this Wednesday marks their fourth visit to the Champaign-Urbana music scene. Dominiak and Okon had similar impressions of the difference between the local scene and that of the band’s native Chicago. “Chicago is getting tougher,” Okon comments. “In Champaign, there are so many young people, and I think college kids really listen to music, and their minds are a lot more open to things that aren’t so corporate. Their minds are fresh and new, and so they are more open to ideas that are unusual and not just force-fed.”

“I think in Champaign, there’s maybe a bit more solidarity within the musical community,” Dominiak observed, saying, “I guess pretty much any band might have that perspective of another outside city or town by being welcomed to play there.”

Although they love their home scene, Okon remarks, “Sometimes the Chicago scene gets a little jaded. We’ve seen so many bands in Chicago, so it can get a little bit stale sometimes. I think Chicago’s great, but I’m glad to go to Champaign … sometimes you’re accepted in other places more than your own home because you’re new; you’re fresh.”

Both Okon and Dominiak were presented with the challenge of summing up their band’s sound and attitude in three words, and “spiritual” was the one they had in common. Dominiak’s other picks were “positive” and “artistic,” while Okon went with “abstract” and “hopeful.”

“There’s a philosophy behind the band where we try to be positive and to do and sing about good things, such as love, God, positivity, energy, things like that. The band is more like a family. It’s definitely not a business band.”

“Forty Piece Choir is a pretty positive band,” Dominiak agreed. “Anyone can just take out some positivity in the music or the message. The lyrics should have something good to say. As far as performance goes, we try to put on a great show and be as entertaining as possible.”

Forty Piece Choir will be playing at the Canopy Club in Urbana on Wed., Nov 16th with local favorites Tractor Kings, as well as Pulsar 47. Doors open at 9 p.m. and cover is $5.

About An Interview with Dana Okon and Dan Dominiak of Forty Piece Choir

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