The Hypnotic Indie Rock of Chicago’s Modern Vices
Featuring conversations with the band and their music video director
By Katie Ingegneri
Photography by Jordin Gignac
Let’s just start by saying that Modern Vices are a band you absolutely need to know about. Tune in now if you like indie garage rock, shimmering post-punk with fuzzy guitars and gorgeous retro melodies, wild-voiced and wild-haired lead singers, and songs you can both mosh and slow-dance to. Evoking everything yet imitating nothing, Modern Vices are proof that indie rock is still very much alive and kicking, and it’s coming straight from Chicago.
A group of good-looking, shaggy-haired kids barely out of their teens, Modern Vices have recorded a self-titled debut album with a sound that is incredibly coherent, reassuringly familiar, thrillingly unique, and compulsively listenable. “Dirty doo-wop” is a term they float to describe their music, as their songs are pulsing with late-night lust and longing, the romanticism of 50s pop with the raucous energy of post-punk rock. I honestly can’t get enough of it. The band seems to have sprung fully formed, like the Greek goddess Athena, from the mind of a 21st century rock n roll fangirl like myself, who grew up on the likes of The Strokes, the Velvet Underground and Interpol. They’re like the fulfillment of some early 2000s indie rock dream I never knew I had.
Coming out of the same suburban Illinois town as other precociously good bands The Orwells and The Symposium, Modern Vices are revealing themselves as a force to be reckoned with on the Chicago rock scene, and with their performances at SXSW this year are a band that indie rock fans everywhere should be turning onto as soon as humanly possible.
Fangirls of America and beyond, watch out for these ones — because to use Tumblr speak, they are about to ruin your lives with their talent and good looks. Whether on a stage or in a living room, their raucous, romantic rock energy inspires serious moshing and shoving from the boys, and hypnotized, starry-eyed swaying from the girls, although sometimes the roles are reversed. Their live shows are an addictive experience that leave you totally satisfied and still wanting more.
As this is the brand new houseshow magazine, it seems only fitting to tell the tale of how I came to discover Modern Vices, and how they became one of my favorite bands (not just in Chicago but anywhere), and how it all happened because of house shows.
Your New Favorite Band is in the Living Room
Before moving to Chicago, I had never been to a house show like the ones I’ve been going to here, where I first found the Vices. Growing up in suburban Massachusetts, my friends had some great bands in high school and we had some great parties, but we never got too wild — too afraid of the college-acceptance-related consequences, too young to buy enough beer. The house shows in Chicago are the American party in its purest form, the eternal youthful energy of rock n roll colliding with booze, drugs, and late-night possibilities — what pulses under the Modern Vices’ sound.
The first time I saw Modern Vices was at one such house show at the end of January 2015. I was one of the oldest people there (27, holy shit!) and didn’t know anyone except for The Orwells lead singer Mario Cuomo, after the interview we did, and his friend Benny Goetz, whose house it was. Both natives of suburban Elmhurst, Illinois, Benny is the bassist for The Symposium, a great rock band I had gotten into through Mario’s posts on Facebook, and through them I also heard of fellow Elmhurst natives Modern Vices.
I listened to their self-titled debut album and enjoyed it (released in late fall 2014 by Autumn Tone Records, the same label that released albums by The Orwells and Twin Peaks), but at the time of my initial listening I was in the midst of writing my thesis-length article on The Orwells and they were the only band I could really think about. The same day I published my Orwells pieces I went out to see The Symposium and Modern Vices play at Benny’s house, by myself. An unintentionally bold move on my part, because I didn’t take into account that what I saw as an event featuring really great bands was really a house party of a lot of hometown friends who had grown up together in the suburbs, some of whom now lived in the city. I had also been out of graduate school by the time most of these kids were graduating high school, so there was that too. Who’s the narc-mom in the corner? That would be me.
I got to Benny’s early and began processing that not only were The Symposium and Modern Vices going to play, but all of the members of The Orwells and Twin Peaks were hanging out as well, with whispers that both bands were going to play too. Good thing I had brought my single tallboy can of PBR for the evening. (This was a night of many amateur moves.) The party ended up getting pretty crowded and the bands started playing in the main living room that the front door opened into.
I wandered around the crowded apartment, awkwardly introducing myself in a stoned-and-starstruck way to the rest of the Orwells boys whom I hadn’t met after my articles came out just hours earlier (a pretty surreal experience to meet your 20-year-old rock idols at a house party), and chatting with new friends. I made my way back to the living room just as Modern Vices were playing a song that I would later recognize as “Smoke Rings.”
The room was hazy, the crowd was swaying in a sweaty rock n roll mass and I was instantly hypnotized. In the front of the crowd was lead singer Alex Rebek, with a larger-than-life mane of wild hair, green eyes, Jagger-esque lips, and a devastatingly powerful voice. All I could think was “whoa, who is that?” I’m not sure if I even saw the rest of the band, who turned out to be Peter Scoville and Thomas Peters on guitar, Miles Kalchik on bass, and Patrick Hennessy on drums, all creating the perfect low-fi, high-energy sonic backdrop to Alex’s striking vocals.
Overwhelmed, I didn’t stay in the main room too long, but I knew I had witnessed some pretty damn exciting music. Later I introduced myself to Alex, soft-spoken away from the microphone, when I found myself standing next to him in the kitchen. I soon thereafter excused myself from the party at the very late hour of 12:30 am (seriously, I was so unprepared) and said goodbye to Mario and Grant Brinner like we were old friends (I wish, they’re such sweethearts). I started listening to the Modern Vices album again in earnest, picking out the song that they had hypnotized me with, and realized just how much I loved the whole thing.
So I went to see the Vices play again, this time on a stage, at Abbey Pub with other great Chicago rock bands American Breakfast, White Mystery, and Gold Web. Onstage, you can see that the Vices really have a presence beyond just driving kids wild at a house party, with Alex whipping his wild hair around (as the lyrics say in “Smoke Rings”) and Peter, Thomas and Miles advancing and retreating on the stage, embodying the energy of the music with a modern-retro style. I bought their vinyl from Alex and ended up listening to it back at my apartment with some new girl friends as we shared a joint — the perfect late-night album, an instant classic.
Modern Vices played another house show after that where there were maybe 100 kids in — and spilling out of — a small apartment near DePaul. I drank a bunch of coffee and brought a bottle of wine since I had learned how these nights go. It was an evening of great rock bands of the scene, with The Walters playing their first live show, then The Symposium came on, then Modern Vices played just as the crowd started to reach its wildest point. They took everyone over the edge, with a sea of bodies jumping and swaying and the band at the eye of the hurricane. I realized after the fact when looking at pictures that I had barely seen them playing that night.
It was better to see them again a week later at Treehouse Records, where they played a great set to celebrate the local recording studio’s first anniversary, and where they are now recording new material. After an exciting but grueling few weeks of shows, I sat out for another show the Vices were playing at Abbey Pub to give my mediocre immune system a break, but immediately regretted it when I saw clips of their performance on Facebook, including a cover of Jay Reatard’s “Blood Visions,” which gives a glimpse of the energy of their shows.
This is why you have to see them live if the opportunity arises, even if it means coming to Chicago (and why wouldn’t you, Chicago is awesome). Come see them on their home turf. You will not be disappointed. While their album more than stands on its own, the full Modern Vices experience isn’t complete without seeing them in person. Until you’ve swayed to their melodies like you’re at the high school dance drunk and dancing with your crush, and moshed to their loudest rock, shoving the people around you, you haven’t truly felt it.
And the album is just fantastic. I’ve been playing it almost continuously since really getting into them. It’s a distinct sound and feel from start to finish, reminding me of when I used to listen to Is This It over and over. My personal favorites on the album include “Cheap Style,” “Smoke Rings,” “Keep Me Under Your Arms,” and a perfect end of the dance song, “Baby.” Except this dance is in someone’s living room and you may be wasted or high as hell, possibly getting crushed by strangers, but you’re surrounded by the peers of your generation all experiencing the same great music. On songs like “You’re So Special,” they set the tone for what these nights are like, with a call to arms: “let the night begin, let it never end.” Modern Vices should perhaps be a summer album, those warm nights when anything is possible, but as Chicago is a wintery town it seems fitting to experience this shimmering, late-night vibe during our eternal cold season.
Apart from the album, Modern Vices recently showcased their punk side with an EP of Misfits covers, “Angelfuck” and “Hollywood Babylon.” I adore these covers and they pull them off incredibly well, like “Blood Visions,” but I must say I ultimately prefer their originals that mix the punk energy with more of the lovesick rock n roll side — which bodes well for them as a young band, already proving their originals are something to pay attention to, not just that they can adeptly cover other people’s music.
I’m also wholly and irretrievably obsessed with “New Song 2,” so far the only original song they’ve released apart from their album, captured during their great Audiotree session. I’ve been listening to it just about non-stop since it was first made available and somehow I’m still nowhere near to overdosing on it. It’s a catchy, vintage New Wave-y mix of rock energy and romanticism, with an expansive drum sound and Alex’s powerful vocals as always. A little brighter and poppier than the songs on the album, it seems to indicate where they may be going, and I am definitely on board.
So who are the Modern Vices?
Let me attempt to stop being flabbergasted that college-age kids are putting out such great, coherent, exciting rock n roll. I did it enough with The Orwells, I’m sure, and yet it’s still happening with the Vices. Even though I’ve known many young and talented musicians in my life, I guess I had never known young bands that inspired in me a Strokes-level of fangirl appreciation (based both on style and quality of music) until I moved to Chicago and stumbled onto this scene of bands.
With the Vices, it’s easy to quickly become a fan because their music is fantastic and gets under your skin, plus they’re a wildly charismatic bunch. A lot of bands only have one or the other of those qualities, but the Vices have both in spades, another way they are direct heirs of The Strokes. Like that New York bunch with Julian Casablancas, Modern Vices have an enigmatic and magnetic lead singer in Alex Rebek. Powerfully dynamic, with passionate vocals that tear right through your heart, he ranges from angelic falsetto to screaming punk in a way that’s part Richard Hell (particularly on “Taller in the Sunshine”), part Jim Morrison, part Glenn Danzig, and still somehow refreshingly new — in the world of indie rock and post-punk, a seemingly impossible feat.
At their shows, Alex is a blur of energy, the conduit between the band and the audience, letting the music tear out of him to drive everyone wild. But in the tradition of many performers, Alex is quietly confident off-stage, sweet and low-key. He’s health-conscious (“one of three people from Elmhurst who doesn’t smoke cigarettes,” the group says) and recommends cayenne pepper and hot water to me as a throat remedy after I complain about second-hand cigarette smoke, saying it saved him when he had strep as the Vices were opening for Twin Peaks at the Metro in January.
Any band with a dedicated non-instrumentalist lead singer tends to make people pay more attention. In this way the Vices are setting themselves up for tremendous success by having a singer like Alex, who is effortlessly rock star glamorous in this wild yet very mellow way, with a voice that seems like he’s been mastering all sorts of rock genres for lifetimes. And all this before even turning 20.
He seems born to be on stage. All the boys in the band do — effortlessly charismatic and cool but not standoffish, they’re a well-matched group of energies and styles, fun to watch on stage and talk to. You can tell they’ve known each other for years, with the kind of nonstop banter and playing off each other that only young men who grew up together have. For one thing, following the trend of their fellow suburban bands, two of the members are related — drummer Patrick Hennessy and guitarist Thomas Peters are cousins. Thomas seems instantly familiar, with an friendly vibe like your long-lost buddy from high school, while Patrick’s varied facial hair styles make him look like an original member of retro rock scenes (I seriously think any picture of him has got to be like some famous drummer from the 70s, it’s great), and Peter Scoville and Miles Kalchik give off Strokes vibes with hipster-in-the-Beat-Generation-sense, art-school style. They’re a talented and photogenic group of hometown friends that you can tell is going places, with their genuine camaraderie and well-matched musical talents setting them up for serious success.
This may be yet another group of boys from the American suburbs, but these days in Chicago, that’s where some of the best music is being born — before migrating into the big bad city where it can truly thrive. Today, the Vices have escaped suburbia by living in a communal house in downtown Chicago, also with Twin Peaks guitarist and singer Cadien Lake James, writing and playing music in the house, pissing off some neighbors, and enjoying life as a young rock n roll band on the rise. They seem to be having a pretty good time making great music. I got to know them better as a group when I ended up at their house St. Patrick’s Day weekend.
Getting Personal: A St. Patrick’s Day “Interview”
After going to nearly all their shows since 2015 started, I made vague plans with the band to interview them as we got to know each other more. Vague to me at least, if only because I’d never interviewed a group of people before and didn’t totally know what I would ask, despite being obsessed with their music and intrigued by them as a band. But I definitely wanted to get to know what they were all about.
Our interview ended up happening at their house on St. Patrick’s Day weekend, when it was 65 and sunny and everyone in Chicago was drunk by 11 am. I came to their house armed with a large iced coffee from Dunkies, which they promptly helped me fill with Jameson. Half the group was still recovering from the show The Walters and The Symposium had played the night before at Young Camelot in Humboldt Park, which had culminated in a crazy afterparty at Benny’s house (including the Orwells after their own show that night) — the original scene of where my story with this group started. I had been at the Young Camelot show and the afterparty too, which is why I had the giant iced coffee and was intensely glad that I had decided to stay sober the night before. Sobriety, however, was not on the table for any of us by the time the interview started.
We sat in the high-ceilinged living room: the band (minus Peter), some of their close friends, me, and Jordin, with Mala the cat wandering around, the table covered in coffee cups and remnants of Irish car bombs, impressive-looking books like the Lydia Davis translation of Marcel Proust’s Swann’s Way just casually floating around, and music posters plastering the house.
My recording is a funny jumble of buzzed conversations and side-conversations happening between band members and friends, people playing guitar and keyboard, everyone saying things at the same time, shushing each other, a lot of slightly drunken joking around and smartassery mixed with a very genuine stab at earnestness in answering my own buzzed questions that I was basically making up on the spot. Which is pretty much how I’ve decided (or been able) to transcribe it.
How long have you guys been playing together?
“Three days.” “No, about a year and a half.”
You guys are all from Elmhurst?
“Yeah. We all went to high school together — everyone in this room, actually.” “Thomas, Patrick and Peter graduated in 2012 and [Alex] and Miles graduated in 2013.”
So did you guys have other bands before that?
“[Patrick], Thomas, and Alex, and Miles for a brief period played in a band called Star Spangled KGB…” “You can still find Star Spangled KGB on Bandcamp, yeah, look that shit up.”
So where did you get the name Modern Vices?
“We kinda just shit it out one day…no, after a thousand names Peter was like what about Modern Vices, we were like yup, let’s do it.”
I work in advertising & I’m learning that naming shit is the hardest thing to do.
“It’s very hard, yeah.” “We were super stressed about it because we were Baby Baby before, and we got signed as Baby Baby, then we were like, shoot, we should change the name.” “There’s another band that’s pretty popular that’s called Baby Baby right now. They played, uh, Pitchfork last year.” “No, Riot Fest.” “Peter came up with Pillow Talk, and that one sucked, we still give him shit for that…we were Zebra Print for a day, I’m down as hell for that still.” “Sorry Peter, Pillow Talk is just funny, it’s not terrible, but it’s just like…” [Peter was still sleeping upstairs.] “Tiger Lily? Oh no, no, no.”
How did you get signed — how long had you been playing together?
“We were playing together for like three months at that point, we recorded an album, played one live show. So we had the album out there, and then from there we sent it out to Autumn Tone, and they liked it so we kinda started working with them and remixed it a little bit, same recordings and stuff as our original Bandcamp release. We touched it up a bit, and here we are.”
Are you working on your next album now?
“Yup, working on it last night, things coming together, sounds real cool…got some weird shit going on…”
I really love New Song 2.
“That’s actually the first one…” “Lot of new songs.”
Are you gonna be playing more of those newer songs at shows and stuff? “Um…slowly.”
Are you still continuing with the same kind of sound you had on your first album?
“Kind of but not really.” “We’re just trying harder.” “It’s a lot more collaborative.” “The first one, it was fun to make, but now we’re like, let’s grow some beards and some long hair.”“When it came to our first album we really had no specific sound we wanted to go for.” “With the album we kinda just recorded the first 10 songs that we wrote, but now we’re sifting through a lot more material to see what we want to release.” “It’s more Modern Vices, we spent more time writing it, it’s more our own thing.” “We kinda all have an intuitive sense what we’re going for too, we don’t really discuss it much, we just start playing and it works out.” “This could be longer, this could be weirder, this could be trippier.”
That first album does really have that kind of coherent sound, which is cool, I don’t think a lot of band’s first albums have that kind of coherence.
“Always trying to be coherent, don’t wanna be too wild, you know.”
Do you guys all listen to a lot of the same kinds of music to inform your stuff?
“We kinda all listen to different shit but we go through phases where we’re all like ‘we have to listen to this band,’ we all have one band that we binge on at once, right now it’s Women, then it was the Balkans before…” “Gotta respect the canon, like the Beatles and King Crimson…” “Beach Boys.” “All the classics.” “Gong — Gong is a big one. Rest in peace, Daevid Allen.” “Died yesterday, it was sad, he was a great musician.” “Tom Hanks.”
So did you grow up on the Strokes and shit?
“Tom Hanks, he’s a great guy.” “Forrest Gump soundtrack.” “Remember that part when he runs for like three years?” “What did you say, what was the question before Tom Hanks?”
Just, growing up on stuff like the Strokes, and…
“Like everybody else?”
Like everybody else.
“I mean, yeah, the Strokes were fun, Radiohead was — better, so much better. But yeah, everybody goes through that phase, cause Strokes kick ass, that’s not a denial, but you slowly and surely grow…” [Whole discussion follows about girl from Perfect Pussy who doesn’t “get” Radiohead]
It’s kind of crazy, all these bands coming out of Elmhurst.
“Where?” “What’s that all about.” “It’s cool, it’s just what you think it is…” “It’s like, what else is there to do in the suburbs.” “It’s just ironic, all these kids all really like music.” “The insanity of the music keeps us sane.” “Can that be the interview?” “I just wanna jam.” “‘I just wanna jam,’ all of our interviews end at this point.” “Can I jam right now?”
It’s just really crazy that all these really good bands are coming out of there and you’re all 20 years old, and you’re all from this one town…
“Oh, you shoulda heard some of the bands that didn’t make it out of Elmhurst.” “You ever listen to Pisces at the Animal Fair? We’re playing music today because of Pisces at the Animal Fair.” “Very big influence on us, just the whole DIY scene…they’re an awesome Chicago band, they’re awesome, they’re so fucking good.”
Do you think you guys are gonna stay in Chicago and be part of the music scene here?
“Yeah, I mean, obviously we’d like to go somewhere else at some point, but that’s what anybody else would like to do, just to try it out.” “We’re just gonna get tattoos here, on our back.”
Yeah, hometown pride…
“Oh yeah. I got the skyline on my chest, dude, so, you know…”
Do you really?
“No, no. That would suck ass. Need a faux-hawk, too. That would suck dick, dude.” [Lots of laughter, organ sounds in background, friend playing with lighter that’s spurting lighter fluid]
What are your favorite current bands around here?
“Twin Peaks, Strange Faces, Boxers, we played with the Boxers and it was fun…”
Oh yeah, we missed that.
“Other Elmhurst guys, two-piece — Hoof…”
Yeah, Chicago seems to be the place to be for music these days, at least for rock n roll.
“Yeah, it’s growing…”
So what do you think is next after you get back from SXSW?
“We’re gonna be recording, then we’re going to the East Coast. New York.” “Play some shows at the college [Alex] went to, Skidmore. A few shows in the city, then on the way back we’re gonna play at Kenyon College, so that’s gonna be fun.” “We played there once and it was awesome, it was a house show, we were still in high school.” “Different vibes from a Chicago house show, people weren’t going too insane, like moshing…it seems like there’s some younger kids who come to our shows here…” “In New York everyone was more tame but thoroughly enjoying it.”
Yeah, people get pretty rowdy at these ones here, like that last house party you played at that kid’s house, that was really intense.
“Yeah, that was a lot of fun.”
There were a lot of people.
“In that little tiny room.”
Is that apartment still, like, standing?
“They had to throw out the couch, it was completely soaked.” “We talked about playing a show there tonight…” “End the interview with the Tame Impala song is actually pretty dope. The new song.”
I haven’t listened to it yet.
“It’s a little more dance-style, got a groove…have like three shots, you gotta be kinda buzzed to hear it and get into it, otherwise it sucks ass.” “I don’t know if it sucks ass.” “It’s nothing like they’ve done before.” “It doesn’t suck ass, but it’s the worst Tame Impala song.” “I wouldn’t say that.”
I’m not the biggest Tame Impala fan.
“Oooh, that’s a shame. Just kidding.” “No, I get that.” “That’s a major influence on this band. We just love them, I just think they’re so amazing. That’s something to strive for, how tight you can be like that.”
So hopefully by next year you guys will be playing the big Coachellas and whatever, with Tame Impala maybe…
“Oh man, one can dream.”
The group had to go shake off both their hangovers and their buzz as much as possible to get ready for their SXSW send-off show at The Hideout so they departed to showers, while the rest of us milled around drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes (not me) and sitting outside in the sunshine. I wondered if the group of St. Patrick’s Day partiers hanging out on their back porch, facing the Vices’ front porch, knew that they were looking out at one of Chicago’s great up-and-coming bands.
Visual Style: Music Video Director Ryan Ohm on Working with the Vices
Modern Vices have two official music videos to date, both directed by local Chicago film director, and yet another Elmhurst native, Ryan Ohm. Having also worked with Twin Peaks, Ryan and his company Weird Life Films create a visual embodiment of the energy of this music scene. With Modern Vices, he’s directed videos for “Cheap Style” and “Smoke Rings” that capture both the vibe of the music itself and what it’s like to actually experience it in person. Late-night frenetic energy filled with hazy neon, smoke and make-out sessions, the videos are stylized glimpses of Chicago’s youth and newly born rock n roll.
Recently released, “Smoke Rings” is as close as you can get to what these house shows are like without actually being there.
Ryan and his crew weighed in on the production, featuring the Vices, some members of Twin Peaks and many of their friends.“What resonated with me the most was the contained madness of the production,” Ryan says.
“In the backyard of a Wrigley apartment we had a killer group of people on a frozen night, dancing and smoking a record number of cigarettes of any film production ever...Coordinating the camera drifting through the foggy shindig was wild and fun, Jeff B was following lead singer Alex Rebek weave in and out of folks while other crew had lights on the move just behind camera. Simply put, the Modern Vices boys know a thing or two about cigarettes. From ‘Cheap Style’ to now ‘Smoke Rings,’ the wildness has increased in different capacities, with hopefully some more bizarre collaborations in store for all of us.”
Steadicam operator Jeff Bruninga remarked, “this was a pretty unique shooting experience, with a fun and relaxed vibe throughout the night…I’d play a rowdy game of cards with this bunch.” Ryan also notes that Modern Vices and “a baker’s dozen” more Chicago bands will be featured in Weird Life Films’ (Jackson James & Ryan Ohm) upcoming feature-length film “The Night the Sky Fell in New Haven.” I can’t wait to see how that shapes up. It’s also further indication that this burgeoning scene is more than just a couple hometown friends picking up guitars and drums because they were bored in the suburbs. This is a complete audio-visual experience of the art our generation is creating today, and Chicago is one such stage, one such birthplace.
Modern Vices may be one of the rightful heirs of the Strokes (among many other great bands whose rock DNA they carry), but while they evoke the stylish garage rock cool of the Strokes, Modern Vices do it with more emotional sincerity and less ironic detachment. Sincerity, as I also said about The Orwells, is becoming the order of the day in this particular music scene, or maybe this whole generation. We’re looking for the kinds of genuine feelings that only music can really communicate, away from the oversaturation and sedation of life today. The Modern Vices sound is about a return to the spirit of late-night parties, rock n roll, the uncorrupted energy of youth. For anyone who is still young, or wishes they were — I say listen to the Modern Vices. You’ll be glad you did. Thank me later.
All songs, videos, and photographs are property of their respective owners, not me.
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