Dexter Tortoriello of Houses

Dexter Tortoriello of Houses

One part of the Chicago ambient duo on being mislabeled and writing personalized songs

When most travelers go to Hawaii, their days are lazy and filled with gentle sunbeams gracing their skin or shoving roasted pig into their gullet. But when you are Chicago ambient group Houses, things are different. They did manual labor on a farm during the day and worked on music in the evening. Upon their return to the Upper 48, things moved rather quickly for Dexter Tortoriello and Megan Messina. The duo recorded their debut record, All Night, quickly signed to Lefse Records—home of How to Dress Well and former home of Neon Indian—and performed at this year’s CMJ Music Marathon.

Now they have found themselves in a weird spot. They are now looking forward to performing at SXSW, and plan to tour on their way there, including a stop at Lincoln Hall on Jan. 12, but have come up short on money. So they came up with a unique way to fundraise: by writing people personalized songs. Tortoriello spoke with The A.V. Club about Houses, Hawaii, and the hospitality he’s received.

The A.V. Club: Conceptually, you compare your sound with bands like Four Tet and Eluvium, but as your music spread on the internet, you got lumped in with the Chillwave crowd.

Dexter Tortoriello: It’s funny. When we were in Hawaii, we didn’t have a lot of access to the Internet or any other music, so I missed the whole coming of the Chillwave. When I got back home, I heard Neon Indian for the first time and loved him, and then I kind of came into Toro Y Moi and Washed Out and stuff like that, and I really loved those guys.

AVC: Were you hesitant to lump yourself in with that crew?

DT: I don’t think it has a negative connotation, but people try to make it that way. I mean, I was making songs in my bedroom and then started a MySpace page, and then four days later, I was contacted by a record label. And this was by no doing of my own. I was in the right place at the right time. But now that the record is out, we’ve been getting reviews that kind of put us closer to the sound than I think we are.

AVC: What gave you the idea to fundraise by making songs for people?

DT: When Megan and I were working in Hawaii, we took donations, and we were hired to do things to like paint pictures or take photos to get a little money to get by. So it was fitting to get back to that same kind of notion, but now we have a bigger audience, so it’s a lot more work.

AVC: How much time do you spend on each song? It’s not just the same song with a name inserted?

DT: They are all extremely different. For most of them, it was stream of consciousness. The writing and recording takes anywhere from a couple hours to going back to it over a couple of days until it’s right.

AVC: How has it gone so far?

DT: We’ve been pretty fortunate. For the most part, we raised enough for what we are going to be doing on stage. I have set that I was writing these songs for $10, but we got some crazy donations that made this happen. One kid donated $100, other people would chip in $20. Yeah, it was for the personalized song, but I think they legitimately wanted to help us and see us tour.

AVC: Would you write a song for The A.V. Club?

DT: Sure, I’d love to.