Last month, up-and-coming local musician John Schaak brought his vision to life after more than two years of working on his debut album. Support from The Zannies and Devin and the Dead Frets bolstered strong support to get the crowd going before his band, Cønrad Shøck and the Nøise, ripped through their debut record, Red Skies and Pyrrhic Minds, on the night of its release.
To get a better idea of everything that went into this release and find out what’s next for the band after their stellar debut, I sat down with John to ask some questions.
How long have you been working on this, roughly? The album as it is, Cønrad Shøck and the Nøise, whatever you see in this project.
I started out playing in metal bands in high school, playing guitar and other things. I didn’t take my own writing as seriously as playing in a band, but as time went on, I thought, “Hey, I’m sitting on a lot of material!” When I moved to Grand Rapids, I probably had about five songs written for the album.
The songs are in chronological order of when I wrote them on the album — I wish I had dates for each. The first half of the album I wrote on an acoustic guitar in my basement, but I always imagined it in a garage rock element. All in all though, from the start of the recording process to the release, it took about two years. I got the drum tracks recorded first, so I had something I could listen to, but aside from that, violin, and saxophone, I played everything else on the album — bass, keys, guitar. It really represents my vision, which is cool for a debut.
So where did you move to Grand Rapids from?
Originally I’m from New Jersey, and around high school I moved to the Three Rivers area near Kalamazoo. Around there I kinda grew up, and I was looking at colleges, and I picked Aquinas more because of the Eastown/downtown area than the school. I was working a job back in Three Rivers, and the guy I was working under used to live in Eastown and went to Aquinas. He told me, “Oh you have to go there, you’ll love it.”
One thing I’ve really noticed is the community in the house show scene. It’s so cool. Playing The Pyramid Scheme, I couldn’t think of a better place to release the album, but there’s something very intimate about removing the middleman — it’s just you and the fans. Getting more involved in the house scene is something I want to do. I’ve been to so many house shows in Kalamazoo, but it’s not the same. There it’s like house party first, music second. Here, people are there for the show and super excited about it.
Blending genres has always been important in music, and it’s definitely heard in yours. The influences of psychedelic rock, especially with the keys, Doors-ish vibes there, while also having a funky, soulful groove to it — that’s your foundation — and punk sensibilities in the way you sing and perform. You have a great voice, but it’s not….
It’s funny you say this, because I’ve been getting a lot of backlash about my voice recently. I have, I’ve started to change directions. When I do live vocals, I get a little more shouty, and some people say, “Oh, you have such a great voice,” while others say, “I like your energy!”
Yeah, I think the response to that should be, “You have such a great voice, keep doing that!” The shouting creates energy, and it’s important to place it well, but I felt there was a controlled energy there.
My first experience in music was my brother’s music, a lot of Eminem, and also darker stuff like Korn and Marilyn Manson. When I was 5, my dad took me to see Aerosmith. I’ve always been around music in my life. So I kind of worked in reverse — I started there, then found my own groove in the punk and post-hardcore scene.
But then I hit this transition when I heard The White Stripes for the first time, and I heard The Black Keys for the first time. When you listen to Jack White’s guitar tone, Dan Auerbach’s guitar tone, it has that angst and all that stuff that you find in punk, but it’s just in the tone. Then I started getting into Delta blues and slide guitar, but it was hard to always be changing tuning.
And artists like Rage Against the Machine and Red Hot Chilli Peppers, those gave me the funky element I have. All of those influences add to what is under the album.
How many tickets did you guys end up selling for the show?
All in all, between presales and everyone they counted walking in that night, it was just over 200. I felt like I should be opening for all the bands playing. I remember the first time I saw Devin and the Dead Frets, they were opening for J Roddy Walston and the Business. If you haven’t checked them out, imagine Cage the Elephant, but with distorted piano, like they had a baby with Trent Reznor.
I had Lipstick Jodi, and they ended up getting that Plan B event and double booking themselves, which happens. And we had Melophobix, and when we got the confirmed date and told them they had just been booked to open for Badfish at the Intersection. So it was me and The Zannies when The Pyramid Scheme confirmed the date. I had been listening to a lot of Devin and the Dead Frets lately, so I asked them, and they were like, “Yeah we’ll do it,” which ended up working out great. We were able to play through our whole album, and the crowd was great.
So what’s coming next for you guys?
I hate that we can’t announce it, but some festivals around Grand Rapids are coming up that we’re booked for, and that’s part of our goal. We want to keep booking and booking. Now that we’ve released the album, this summer we’re trying to play anywhere and everywhere.
We want to keep a lot of our focus on the Grand Rapids area — house shows, that’s a big priority. We’re looking forward to playing around, getting acquainted with all the bands around here, and because of the way the music has grown, we’re wanting to do a live CD. We’ve done a trial of it; we recorded a live set before the show and recorded it a few times. I don’t think we’ll release it as a CD, but we want to do a video of a live session of the album with MP3s — I want to get that sound out there as well because it is so different.
In terms of writing, I already have a second album that I know the songs I would want to put on it, and even past that I have this book that just says “riffs and shit.” The release of the debut was so warming that we’re trying to do everything we can, and luckily everyone in the band is down for it. Having people just as into this as I am is really nice, and I’m excited about everything to come.
The band has since announced they will be playing Cold Creek Campout this October, and if you want to catch them soon, you can see them this Thursday, February 23, when they play GR Live at The B.O.B. at 12 PM, and March 31 at Papa Pete’s at 9 PM.
To give fans and newcomers a taste of their live sound, the band just released their practice session for GR Live. Check it out here.
Written by Connor Dirksen