Chris DeMay's Small talk
The Milwaukee singer-songwriter preps new EP Bigger Than Small
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After moving from Chicago to Milwaukee 10 years ago, Chris DeMay transitioned into the local scene with West Of Rome, an alt-countryish outfit that went to work with ex-Wilco member Jay Bennett. Under Bennett’s influence and friendship, DeMay made his first EP, the rootsy and introspective I Won’t Be Me, in 2007. Lately DeMay has been busy as a member of a rough-hewn Milwaukee folk-rock band Juniper Tar, but he hasn’t left his own music behind. Friday's show at Linneman's will mark the release of the new EP Bigger Than Small, which is being put out by local band The Championship’s label Bear Rifle Records. DeMay talked to The A.V. Club about the EP and his memories of his good friend Bennett.
The A.V. Club: What’s been more gratifying—working with Juniper Tar or doing a solo record?
Chris DeMay: Both are really gratifying, but each is really different. Solo, I’ve been doing stuff that’s pretty much finished and asking other people to add to it. I’ve found that I really like working with other people rather than just being alone, you know? I think that’s probably why Bigger Than Small was more of a band record than my first solo EP. It’s just basically me doing the songs, the overdubs, playing most of the instruments. This time I wanted to work with a band more and not be so alone. [Laughs.] The band that I performed at WMSE’s Radio Summer Camp with—Shane [Hochstetler] and Aaron [Schleicher] and Allen [Cote] and Quinn [Scharber]—that’s the band that will back me at the release show. It’s really effortless and I feel really confident with them behind me.
AVC: You made Bigger Than Small with Hochstetler of Howl Street Recordings, who’s seemingly working with every local band lately. What makes him a good engineer?
CD: He makes records on an indie level, which is great, when you’re one person paying for a recording. He’s also got a real piano in the studio, so that was a clincher. Subsequently, Juniper Tar recorded with him and I’ve recorded more songs with him since the making of the EP. Now, I consider him a really good friend and collaborator. Milwaukee is lucky to have him. Shane’s the man.
AVC: You’re releasing your EP on Bear Rifle Records. How did that come about?
CD: Joe [Crockett] was really enthusiastic about having me and expanding the label; not just have it be The Championship’s label and having other artists on the roster, too. I like when there’s a sense of community and to me that was all part of that. Being with them might not necessarily reward me financially, but in other ways, it’s rewarding to be part of something that’s going on and people are making good music and that they’re excited about the music that’s being made in Milwaukee rather than being dismissive of it.
AVC: You started recording your own songs after becoming friends with the late Jay Bennett. How did he influence you?
CD: He was very encouraging, always letting me know I was on the right path. There was a certain amount of validation in his mentoring and friendship. He dug what I was doing, and that really meant a lot to me. He encouraged me to keep doing my own music and to make a solo record that was outside of West Of Rome. It means a lot when you already know someone’s work and you respect them already to have them say what you do is good, and that you should keep doing it. Unfortunately, we talked about doing some things in the future, and that’s not going to happen, so I’m sad about that, but I’m mostly sad about the loss of a friend, and the loss of his music that he would be making in the future. He’s more in the forefront of my mind now that he’s not just a phone call away. I would’ve definitely liked him to have heard this EP.