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The 1900s

Rock you like Belle & Sebastian...or like a Murph.
Wednesday Apr 05, 2006.     By Scott Smith
Centerstage Chicago Nightlife City Guide Arts

The 1900s, left to right, Mike Jasinski, Edward Anderson,  Caroline Donovan, Tim Minnick, Jeanine O'Toole and Charlie Ransford.
When he set out to form the band that would eventually become The 1900s, guitarist Edward Anderson had a not-so-modest goal: "I had this dream band in a perfect world."

Bringing together a group of "old friends, lovers and ex-lovers" into a creative, musical melting pot might seem like more of a nightmare than a dream come true. Yet it's obvious by watching The 1900s that they've fallen into an easy push-pull rhythm. Like any group with a shared history, they're constantly finishing each other's sentences or telling stories they've likely repeated several times before.

Their closeness is, in part, due to the "intense pressure" they put on themselves in the year they spent honing their sound before playing their first live show last September.

Anderson formed the core of The 1900s in mid-2004 along with high school friends Tim Minnick on drums and Mike Jasinski on keyboards. They later recruited bassist Charlie Ransford, having long admired his work with the band Turnerjoy. Singers Caroline Donovan and Jeanine O'Toole (who Jasinski would later christen "The Murphs") joined the group in the fall of that year after a casual conversation at a dinner party led the duo to compose three-part harmonies "on the spot" for some of the band's early demos. Multi-instrumentalist Kristina Dutton of Smallwire filled out the lineup.

As any new band must, The 1900s struggle with how to establish their own identity in the face of comparisons to those that have come before them. "Every review we've had, they mention Belle and Sebastian and the Velvet Underground," says O'Toole. "Both are high compliments. I don't really see that, but we're not the most objective."

Their debut EP "Plume Delivery" (out on Parasol Records in late May) should help to define The 1900s' sound for anyone who hasn't caught one of the group's live shows at Schubas or Empty Bottle. While there are nods to the oeuvres of Stuart Murdoch and Lou Reed, fans of '60s psychedelia will find plenty to love with skittish guitars and "96 Tears"-style keyboards that stretch out on a bed of sun-kissed harmonies.

The evolution of The 1900s came naturally without any designs on becoming a psych-pop revival outfit. "The instruments that we used were just stuff that we liked," says Anderson. "We just put mics next to ourselves and that's what we sounded like. It's not blatant or purposeful."

With Dutton no longer a part of the group, The 1900s recently welcomed two new members with open arms: Whitney Johnson on viola and Audra Kulan on violin. "We really like [them]" says O'Toole. "We think they could be just as close with us as we all are with each other."

"We're just keeping our fingers crossed that no other members start dating," says Anderson.

Tell me who you are:
Edward: We're not like one of those people who says 'I can't describe my band.' I usually say we're psychedelic orchestral pop music with vocal harmonies, strings and a little folk in there. We're not trying to be crazy or avant-garde.

In the beginning:
Jeanine: At the Courtyard in Champaign, IL with Bobby Conn. It was not very crowded.
Caroline: It was in the student union. We probably played to 15 people. Not many people go there because there's no smoking and no drinking.

Here I amórock you like:
Jeanine and Caroline: A Murph!

What's cool in your neck of the woods:
Jeanine: Rainbo. That's our after-practice spot.
Edward: The Hiawatha Inn. It's on Chicago and California. We in there once and there was, like, one guy spinning old 78 records. It was just him and us...and a dog.
Jeanine: I didn't know that place had a name.

This band blew my hair back:
Edward: Andrew Bird. He's one we're all obsessed with.
Jeanine: I followed him around last night.
Edward: I am really crazy about Palliard that we're playing with. I heard their recording, but when I saw them live at Schubas I kept going to Charlie, 'These guys are a-ma-zing.'

After a gig:
Jeannine: We usually hang out wherever we played. I'm always the first to go home. Everybody else stays out until dawn.
Caroline: One time, we were playing the Hideout and Kelly Hogan was sweeping the floor. She was like 'I totally love you guys, but I gotta go home.'
Edward: And we were begging her for beers.

On a Sunday afternoon, you'll find us:
Edward: On my couch.
Caroline: I'd be on Ed's couch too.
Jeanine: I'd be asleep on this couch. We're all couch people on Sundays.

Fresh from the woodshop: Plume Delivery, out May 30 on Parasol Records

Coming soon to a bar near you: April 13 at the Hideout with Palliard & Children vs. Children of Doom.


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