Photo credit: Andrew Ballantyne

The Safes are performing Wednesday 11/21 at Schubas in Chicago. The Safes, an “atomic pop” group from Chicago which has shared their music far and wide (think: Japan!) just put out a 7-inch record tribute record to artist Juliana Hatfield that was engineered by Steve Albini. Chicago Music Guide took a moment to talk to the band about their new release and upcoming show:

CMG: The track “Universal Heartbeat” is from the 90’s era of alternative rock where pain became part of pop music. Hatfield’s lyrics like “I’m bleeding pretty colors” is playful and nullifies pain and is almost fun. This is reflected in the video with the happy roller skates. The upbeat song has traces of anger and unrest, infused by the rhythm section from Material Issue. What part of this song was your favorite? Is the song about embracing the bad with the good? Did you get philosophical with it or just rock out?

Yes to me “Universal Heart-Beat” is an anthem of the 90’s with the hallmark of that era you mentioned for sure! We did not get philosophical; we just rocked out. My favorite part of “Universal Heart-Beat” by Juliana Hatfield is having the pleasure of listening to it over and over.

In one interview when the term retro was used you came back that the sound is leaning to futuristic. How do you push your music into new territory while still keeping the staples that make it great pop music (harmony vocals, easy to get to melodies and punchy delivery)?

I’m pretty sure I was joking when I mentioned our music being futuristic. I don’t remember saying that, but it does sound like something I’d say if our music was called retro. Ha! Modern, retro, classic, future, sometimes I joke about music because I think it is funny to have a lifetime of work reduced to one word. We never push when writing our music; thankfully for us our music just comes to us! I’m happy to say I feel we’ve grown which has led to us reaching new territory but this is more a result of living, loving, losing winning, praying, sinning you know real life experience… and just letting the music come out. We are eternal students of music, and popular music changes all the time! For The Safes it’s not really anything we aim to do, I find we have more music than we can formally release and perform behind we have amassed a catalog of unreleased music that stylistically is all over the place. I’m excited about getting to recording and releasing all of this music. Getting to write, record and perform music is a great privilege that I am beyond able to express my gratitude for. I feel blessed and appreciative that I have the opportunity to be involved with music so deeply, perhaps this is how and why The Safes continue to grow?

In “I See You” your version adds more rock and grit (the original version by Hatfield is light breezy and polished) how do you balance grit and charm in your sound? Did you intentionally add more Bite to this tune or did it happen naturally?

I can hear that! It wasn’t intentional, we just rocked out! I think we’re playing it a bit faster and heavier; I can hear that for sure. Charm and grit, two great traits! Happy to hear you think we balance them in our music, I never thought of it like that. We do that unintentionally too, ha! But now that you put it like that I totally get it. Thank you.

You described Hatfield as one of rock and roll’s all-time greats. What puts her music into this category for you?

Juliana Hatfield is like Stevie Wonder, to cite one example, in that she can write, sing and play almost all if not all the instruments on a record she makes. She has her own voice and songwriting traits that are singular to her in my opinion! And proven, can’t forget that.

What is your favorite part of her work, style, presentation, or her work at the time of these songs?

We’ll first and foremost her songs – with her vocals a close second. Again, the fact that she can really play multiple instruments so well!

Did you emulate her guitar style or come up with your own approach?

No, my guitar style is very different from hers. Approach? I don’t know, one thing people tell me about my guitar playing is that I’m coming at it from a different angle and they can’t put a finger on it. That is what I hear, if I ever hear anything about my approach to guitar. I myself am just trying to be a great songwriter, the guitar was just the first instrument I starting to mess around with.

What guitars were used on the two tunes? How were they recorded?

My Charvel Surfcaster and Patrick’s Gibson Black Beauty Les Paul. Pretty sure they had both a Neumann large diaphragm condenser along with a big ribbon mic blended together for each of our combo amps.

Although she is from Boston these tunes are from an era important to 90s in Chicago what is your history with that scene as a musician or fan?

As a music fan, the early to mid-90s is one of the great periods for popular music! It was a time when weird new rock n roll was popular all over America. As for Chicago, Material Issue, Urge Overkill and Liz Phair are near and dear to The Safes!

Albini was responsible for hits from this era as well, as well as being a behemoth in recording. How was working with him? Why did you choose to work with him?

He really seemed like the man for this single, and it turns out this was a good decision from what I’m told!

Your videos have highly imaginative animation and imagery from pop culture and visual play. Did the ideas for these videos come about before after or during the recording process? Do you work with a team collaboratively, come up with the Concepts, or hand the tunes off to videographer and have them run with it?

Video credit goes completely to Wendy Norton of Norton Videos for the “Universal Heart-Beat” video and James William Glass for the “I See You” video! We’re very lucky to have talented friends like them. We love all their videos!

As family band what are the challenges and strengths of that? How is that dynamic?

Well, family doing anything together gets ugly at times. But genuine love is a strong force to mess with so, I think having family in the band helps, even when it hurts because you need to work things out to grow and improve! And when you stuck with each other sometimes it all blows up and falls apart. For us it’s largely Patrick and I pulling it together with the great help of our extended family of friends of musicians, in addition to our blood.

With a unique sound, being brothers, touring Japan and coming up on Spain, how is it to be back in Chicago — and what can fans expect to see Wednesday night? How is this show significant for you?

Touring Japan and Spain this year was an amazing dream come true! There are far too many words for me to express in full how unbelievably life changing this past year has been. It’s always great to be home. Fans can expect nothing short of what they deserve, which is our very best. Well Black Wednesday shows have become a tradition for us here in Chicago; we usually do our record release and final tour date on Black Wednesday in Chicago this one being our 15th Annual! Which is very special to the band.

What’s your favorite memory about coming up musically in Chicago?

Far too many to pick just one!


This show is also a record release show for The Differents, and you’ll also get to hear The Safes, Baby Money and the Down Payments, and The Marcatos