The Low Tide Trio’s members—LeRoy Bach, Matt Lux, and Dave Hilliard—have an impressive résumé. Between the three of them, they’ve have played with Wilco, David Byrne, Beth Orton, Iron And Wine, Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Liz Phair, Andrew Bird, and Pharoah Sanders. Due to major world tours, Broadway shows, and family obligations, they’re rarely in Chicago at the same time. Although the trio has played in nearly every corner of Chicago, it only takes a few months to lose sight of the city’s cultural pulse. So, with its new monthly project, The Low Tide Trio is determined to find that heartbeat again. The Low Tide Trio recently sat down with The A.V. Club to discuss their new concept, house music of yesteryear, and their upcoming gig at The Hideout Dec. 23.
The A.V. Club: When did you three first start playing with each other?
Matt Lux: For the three of us, it had to be 1999 or 2000, leading up to the Presidential election. We played a Ralph Nader Rally at the UIC Pavilion. That was a good night. I got Studs Terkel in with my event pass. He couldn’t get in, and I was leaving, so I was like “Take my pass, man!” [Laughs.] But pairs of us have been playing together since the early 1990s.
AVC: So the actual group formed later?
LeRoy Bach: I don’t know when we started using the name. It might have been in 2003, when The Shaggs came to Water Tower Place and asked [us] to play a set after them. But the name is more a recognition that we’re a rhythm section instead of a band.
AVC: What’s the difference between a rhythm section and a band?
ML: It’s like we’re the building blocks of a band. We don’t have a concept; we just like to make things happen together. So we can work with any kind of singer or performer.
AVC: You’ve all been in bands in the past. Is being in a band more limiting than calling yourselves a rhythm section?
Dave Hilliard: The difference is really the expectations of the audience. When you’re a band, expectations might be higher.
LB: I was just thinking, Tortoise started as a rhythm section.
ML: And then they made the mistake of becoming a band.
AVC: So you’re allowed more freedom without the title of “band”?
MB: Yes. A lot of people think of us as indie rockers. We’re not that at all. We can do a number of things: boogie, country, reggae, funk. If we don’t become a band, we can be any of those things. We can be anybody’s band.
AVC: Why are you considered indie rockers?
LB: Because we’ve all worked with bigger groups with more money behind them, so that’s where the spotlight shines.
AVC: Like who?
ML: People might know Hilliard from The B Side, or as David Byrne’s drummer, or as Beth Orton’s drummer. Some people might say Bach was in 5ive Style, or that he played on Liz Phair’s record, or that he was in Wilco.
LB: You fuck one sheep …
AVC: Do you explore more musical territory as rhythm section?
DH: Oh yeah. We’ve backed up singers like Sonny Smith, Marvin Tate, and Theaster Gates. We’ve done sessions with Jeff Harms and Tina Howell. I’d love to play for Rosanne Cash, if you know her. [Laughs.]
AVC: That is lot of different styles.
ML: You’ve got soul, R&B, psychedelic rock, poetry improvisation, pop, country, reggaeton …
AVC: What makes you a good rhythm section?
LB: Lux and Hilliard are just a super tight, muscular group. Even on a country ballad, they have this amazing identity together.
DH: There is a kindred spirit between Matt and I onstage. It’s trust—trust and love.
AVC: Dave, do you remember when you first heard Matt play?
DH: I’ll never forget it. Back in the day, it was at The B Side; he was just booming away. Johnny Machine was on the drums, and I was just like, “Gotta go work, gotta go practice, because I gotta play with that guy Lux.”
AVC: And here you are, about 20 years later. How would you describe the music you’re playing during these new monthly gigs in Chicago?
ML: Improvisational house music. But I’m an old-school house head, so that’s how I want to see it.
DH: And when the drummer gets tired, it’s a groove break. [Laughs.]
AVC: What does that mean?
DH: Theoretically, Matt plays a cool house baseline. Leroy plays the psychedelic stuff. And I might add a reggaeton beat to mix it up. It’s all old-school because it’s dance-driven.
AVC: What is old-school house?
ML: Sometimes it’ll sound like weird rock; sometimes it’ll sound jazzy; and sometimes it’ll sound disco—but basically it just makes you dance. The height was the ’80s, but over time the genre got smaller and smaller.
AVC: How does house music fit into the Chicago music scene today?
ML: We’re just trying to reclaim acoustic dance music. Dance music has become all electronic, and we want get the same mind state and energy that an excellent DJ gets. We want people to keep dancing for 16 hours in a row, all sweaty and crazy.
AVC: What about these monthly gigs? You’ve had two already already.
LB: There are some amazing singers in town, and they need rhythm sections to support them. Each month we support a different singer, and that feels like what needs to happen. One thing Low Tide knows how to do is move the dance floor.
DH: Our objective is to create good music and good vibes. We want a certain amount of success, and the best thing about Low Tide is we’re not afraid of the work.
AVC: Matt, you’ve been touring with Iron And Wine for a while now. Are you going to be in Chicago for the foreseeable future?
ML: I’ve been on the road for 13 months. The tour’s ending, so I’ll be here a lot more for the next six to seven months. I enjoy touring, but it sort of wears at you after a while. I could easily not do it as much. But, Sam [Beam, of Iron And Wine] is a friend, and if he calls me, I would consider going on the road again.
AVC: Won’t that affect The Low Tide Trio?
LB: That’s why we’re The Low Tide Trio. If one of us gets pulled away for a while, it’s not like we’re ruined. We just wait for them to come back around again.
DH: It’s simply low tide.