JC Brooks of JC Brooks & The Uptown Sound has made it to the Grammy Awards this year, but won’t be winning any awards…yet. As the lead singer of a Chicago-based post-punk soul band, Brooks is attending as a member of the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences to rub elbows and press the flesh, as the band’s final album on hometown label Bloodshot Records is due out next month and they are in search of a major label to help match their record sales to their critical acclaim.
A native of New Jersey, Brooks moved to Chicago in 2004 to work in the theater — which he calls his first love. He joined what became JC Brooks & The Uptown Sound in 2007 after answering an ad on Craigslist. Since then, the band has put out three records, performed all over the world, including large festivals like Lollapalooza and are looking to break out as a national force. While the band may be on the cusp of breaking out, Brooks still works a “regular job” at both a bar and a company that restores vintage cars. Perhaps it’s this fact that keeps him humble and allows him to relate to his fans or perhaps it is what helps his fans relate to him, but the love of his fans literally got him to Los Angeles for the Grammy’s — as they funded a crowd sourcing campaign to help pay for his trip. Whether or not it pays off for the band and for the fans one day where they can say ‘I helped pave the way for his first major record deal’ is yet to be known.
Brooks recently sat down with The Chicago Ambassador recently at a coffee shop in Uptown where he talked about the Grammy’s, the band’s upcoming record release and more.
Interviewed by Bob Chiarito for The Chicago Ambassador.
CA) You’ve been described as R&B meets post-punk, whatever that means. How do you describe JC Brooks & The Uptown Sound?
BROOKS) It does inspire questions. I like post-punk. I like soul. I’m not sure what the fusion is supposed to sound like. Our first album, we had that Stax sound. As we evolved, it was a more general sound with an edge to it. With our album Howl, I don’t even know how to classify it.
CA) Indie Shuffle said your sound is singularly yours and uniquely Chicago. Do you think there is a “Chicago” sound, and if so, can you describe it?
BROOKS) Not anymore. It depends on what genre you’re talking about. I don’t think so. I think it’s dangerous to try to keep things labeled. Some said we were supposed to be a throw-back soul band…
CA) Rolling Stone magazine said you have “enveloping stage presence and palpable charisma.” Why aren’t you on a major label?
BROOKS) Our goal was to work in Chicago and after our contract with Bloodshot was up, we were going to look for a large label. That’s where we are now.
CA) Was that your motivation behind your recent crowd-sourcing campaign to get you to the Grammy Awards?
BROOKS) No. I’ve been a member of the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences for a couple of years and you get invited to the Grammy’s, but the cost to go is like double my rent. At first I didn’t want to do the campaign because I didn’t want it to look like I was asking people to send me on vacation.
CA) But the goal is to network when you are there, correct?
BROOKS) Oh yeah, I’m going to network my balls off. The new album will be coming out in a couple months also so the timing is good.
CA) The Internet and social media allows you to interact with your fans a lot more than in times past. Do you take advantage of that?
BROOKS) People to get to engage a lot more. There’s no grey area when you’re on social media. It’s not like I censor myself in order not to piss off this segment or that segment. You do get to be more interactive and anyone can write to me at any time. I try to answer everything.
CA) I’ve talked to filmmakers and other musicians about this and their fans seem to kind of take ownership of their projects when they do things like help fund an album. Have you felt that with your fans?
BROOKS) Yes and with my crowd sourcing campaign we’ve given away some tangible things, like of demos and things like that. I also plan on tagging everyone on social media who helped out when I’m there so they can experience it with me. I’m trying to think of as many ways to give back as I can.
CA) Is your upcoming album a lot different than your last album Howl?
BROOKS) It’s definitely a lot more poppy sounding and there are songs you can dance to.
CA) Have you come up with a title for the new album?
BROOKS) JC Brooks is Dead. [Laughs]
CA) The band started in 2007 when you answered guitarist Billy Bungeroth’s ad on Craigsliist. He had a vision of a multi-racial band that made sexy and political music that you could dance to. Why isn’t it Billy Bungeroth & the Uptown Sound?
BROOKS) I don’t know. I didn’t want my name used when we did it because, it’s still the case now, I’m the only person in the band that can’t have a substitute. When we decided what we were doing, I was watching a lot of youtube videos and the name kinda tied in to bands who wore matching suits and had a specific theme.
CA) Are you planning on getting more political with your music?
BROOKS) Definitely. There will be at least one song on the new album that is not “fun.”
CA) As far as coming up with songs — everything I’ve heard and read is that you don’t have a consistent method. Can you talk about that a bit?
BROOKS) When you boil it down to a formula you lose some of your freedom. There are basically two ways I write songs. Sometimes a member of the band will write something and bring it to the rest of us and we’ll flush it out. Other times we’ll be jamming and we’ll come up with something. It doesn’t feel like like a process because it’s so organic, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. Right now we’re more of a collaborative band as far as songwriting goes.
CA) You have a theatrical background. As someone who has seen you live with your band, I would definitely call you a showman. How much of your persona with the Uptown Sound is a result of that?
BROOKS) Yeah. The theater has helped me feel comfortable on stage and not be afraid to be silly or be a ham. Also I feel that I’ve gotten a little more at ease with who I am…. People would come up to me after shows and start talking about a specific song and it made a real impact on me. That’s when I started fusing a lot more of myself into my songs because I realized people do want to hear your story because your story is relatable. I do know how to write about my own experience but I didn’t used to think it would be for the band, because the band wanted to make people dance and forget about their troubles.
CA) If you look at a group like The Temptations, who were super popular and super danceable, a lot of their songs were about big social issues.
BROOKS) Yes, social and very personal. My favorite song of theirs is “Can’t Get Next To You,” and it’s been in my head recently.
CA) Are you still involved in the theater?
BROOKS) When I can. It’s hard to find time.
CA) Would you say it’s your first love?
BROOKS) Yes. You can’t replace your first.
CA) You’ve done a lot of solo songs without the Uptown Sound. Any plans for a solo album?
BROOKS) Maybe eventually. I do have a cache of songs.
The next album from JC Brooks & The Uptown Sound, tentatively called JC Brooks is Dead, is scheduled to be released in March.