After the splash that Chicago’s Office made this past year at SXSW, the 5-piece band has been on a constant roll. With so much music happening in every crevice of Austin during that time, it’s everything a band can do to use every prairie dog tactic and rise above the masses.
Standing outside some venue down the street from some other venue, Anneliese and I huddled with the band for a quick chat, which including us pouring glorious accolades about their performance earlier that day.
“It involves lots of posing,” jokes lead singer, rhythm guitarist and songwriter, Scott Masson, as the rest of the gang joined in on the sarcasm. In just that short moment it was easy to tell how much chemistry there was between them, not only on stage but in their off time.
It’s been a little over two years since the band was a mere twinkle in the eye. As most ‘how the band started’ stories go; the meshing of this Office party came about through prior band relationships and friends of friends connections. But that was before lead guitarist and vocalist, Tom Smith, ran as a solo act. “I had a drum machine and an acoustic guitar,” and then shaking his head as if he was back in that time, “Then I said, ‘I can’t do this on stage.’ It was really self indulgent and dumb. So I felt really comfortable with everybody…”
“And we cheered him up,” added drummer, Erica Corniel.
“They definitely cheered me up. I thought, ‘This is cool. I have friends now,’” Smith stated, smiling. He continued to explain how things evolved from there, “We used to have secretaries on stage last year, and Jessica was one of our secretaries.”
Jessica Gonyea, who brings keyboards and vocals to the mix, starts mimicking her stage performance of typing, right on queue. Just then, Masson added, “Then she got promoted.”
Those office innuendos never stop. Take a look at the photo shot for the cover of 2005’s demo release, Q&A, where the group is strewn across the floor in front of a copy machine, as if someone put valium and wine in the water cooler.
In keeping with the theme, some office politics ensued as romantic fishing was taken away from the company pier. “I’m marrying the other secretary,” Smith stated.
Who is the other secretary? One of the other band members?
Smith quickly corrected me. “Oh, no, no, no. One of the girls playing a secretary was my girlfriend, and now she’s going to be my wife. But she’s no longer in the band.”
Bassist Alissa Noonan added to the clarity, reenacting the conversation, “One of you gets to marry Tom and one of you gets to be in the band.” And as the group is laughing once again, Masson looked at Smith knowingly, throwing out a sly remark that his fiancé made the right choice.
Aside from the poking fun opportunities, Smith explained that there are some concepts behind their presence. “We think about the whole idea of work in general. Working on music…this thing, this job that you have in life. We like the idea of having a staff of people come together to make music. It has really become a collaborative project.”
In the way they play off each other just in conversation, the same things happen when the band begins to give birth to a song. “I start with just a skeleton, with some chords and some lyrics…”
Then Corniel popped in with, “and then I add the bottom…” cutting Smith off. And it just continues from there.
“I come in with the hair. A lot of hair,” said Masson, who sports a cleanly shaven scalp.
The band’s popularity has grown significantly and far beyond the radius of their hometown in Chicago, and this still surprises them when they finally make it out of the house. Even Jessica joked about how weird it is for her when she’s recognized on the streets, “How can they know me? I haven’t left the house since it turned 30 degrees?”
It goes back to the original essence of Office, which is work, work, work. As Smith states, when they’re not in the rehearsal space or on tour, they’re in the recording studio. I suppose it comes down to having that envious position that most people would kill for: doing what you love for a living.
You can hear their passion in every song, including the first single, “The Big Bang Jump,” off of their 2007 debut, Night At The Ritz (New Line Records). From the chiming rhythms of the keyboards and vocal harmonies, to the slap-your-ass breaks and kinetic magic, it begs to be played again and again. After all that, it’s hard to fathom those solo days when Smith sat alone with a drum kit.
For their title release, “Night At The Ritz,” they hired Adam Neustadter (adamneustadter.com) to direct the video, which was created around a 1984 adult film theme starring porn stars Randy West, Peter North, Tom Byron and Melanie Moore. In true Office fashion, the “Oh My” video is colorful ‘80s kitsch, with plenty of point-and-wink sarcasm, and of course, a jump-and-high-five ending.
After their current tour, which includes a stop at Larimer Lounge this Saturday, December 8, they make their way back to home to support Common at the “Dare to Dream” benefit (www.platform-1.com/events.html) and other efforts beyond the scope of their own musical and personal lives.
From the road, keyboardist Jessica Gonyea explains how and why they got involved in this and other charitable efforts.
“The organizers of the Common event were kind enough to ask us to be part of the performance at House of Blues. We happily agreed, as it’s helping Chicago area school children through two great non-profits (Common’s own The Common Ground Foundation and the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship).
Education reform for Chicago’s kids is a very easy charity to get behind, and being able to do that by playing a show with one of Chicago’s best known and most successful homegrown artists is really exciting for us.
Taking part in benefit shows is nothing new for us, really.
Three days before our show with Common, we’re taking part in a very special benefit show for Chicago Public Radio, and earlier this year, we organized a small event to help a friend raise money for a documentary film called Learn To Fish
(www.catawampusfilms.com/catawampus/projects/). It’s a really inspirational project that follows a group of Wake Forrest MBA students in their efforts to help create economic change in a small community in Nicaragua.
Sometimes as an artist, it’s easy to get wrapped up in your own self-created world. Being able to use our art to assist other organizations in creating positive change is an incredible experience in itself.”
Amen to that sister.