Used to be that when people asked me about the proverbial “next big producer out of Chicago,” the first name that came to mind was Kate Simko.
I’m an unabashed fan – I bought Lights Out and Music From The Atom Smashers early, on day one, and with my own money and not for the purposes of review or content but for my own listening pleasure.
The second name that came to mind was Tevo Howard. This needs less testimony, because I’ve testified about him before, and recently.
So it was with some consternation that both Kate and Tevo moved abroad, or “stay” there as we say in Chicago. But before leaving, they had welded together most of the structure their new album, PolyRhythmic. “Most of it was done in Chicago,” Kate says. “I would say probably 90%. The last 10% was sort of me recording vocalists and both of us working from afar. We linked up in London & Berlin as often as we could. Once I moved to London, Tevo would get booked there or I’d get booked in Berlin and we tried to work together as much as possible, staying an extra day. So the last patching it all together we did that way.”
Kate Simko is back in Chicago this Friday, November 20 at SpyBar. PolyRhythmic is out now on Sasha’s Last Night On Earth label. I talked to her a week ago for this interview.
So how long have you been back in the States now?
I’ve been here two weeks. I flew in from London to play in Denver, then hit Desert Hearts, Costa Rica, LA and Denver. Desert Hearts was a definite highlight. Have you heard of that festival?
I don’t think I have.
I’ve been gone for three years so I’m just learning about of these festivals now. It’s part of this new festival circuit on the West Coast which is kind of hippie-ish.
Oh yeah, I know about those…
It was somewhere between LA and San Diego, about two hours out into the desert. It was a really cool and creative event. I played there on Friday night and then went to Costa Rica on Saturday, and then I went to LA to hang out and do a Beatport Live DJ set stream on Wednesday and then I flew here to Houston where I play tonight.
How did the PolyRhythmic project being? How long have you and Tevo known each other? Did it start with the two of you playing together for the PolyRhythmic live sets or…?
Yeah, we already had an EP out then. It started because I heard Tevo’s music and thought it was amazing. I was still living in Chicago and was happy to meet someone else that was making their own style of House. I love Chicago classic House but I don’t make exactly, like, an old school, disco-infused style. His email address was on the record so I emailed him just to say hey, I can’t believe I never met you or know about you but this is amazing, you know, keep up the good work, it’s really cool you’re in Chicago and making this music. Tevo wrote me back and was super nice. He dropped off some records for me from Beautiful Granville at Gramaphone. I left some records for him, we had some coffee and that’s how it started.
We started working on music together and did our first EP I think in 2011 on Tevo Howard Recordings. After we had the EP we were invited to play at Panorama Bar… but we were booked to play live there. We had never played live. We had no live set. We had like one EP out. We had about a maximum of 15 minutes of musical content! But you don’t say no to that booking either, right? So we just worked it out and made an hour’s worth of material to play at Panorama Bar. So we did. Basically, once we had the material ready in the live set, the ideas were there and went back and finished them up.
Are there plans for any live shows together with Tevo?
We did a live set at Fabric recently which went great. It’s a time right now in House and Techno that there aren’t as many live sets again. Most promoters just prefer to have one DJ rather than to double their cost. I’m open, I’ve told my agent and Tevo’s told his agent that both of us are open to performing together for sure.
Now you’re in the UK & he’s in Germany for the most part. How did you have this collaboration across many time zones and continents?
Well, most of it was done in Chicago. I didn’t move to London until 2012. I would say probably 90% of the album was done by then. The last 10% was sort of me recording vocalists and both of us working from afar. We linked up in London & Berlin as often as we could. Once I moved to London, Tevo would get booked there or I’d get booked in Berlin and we tried to work together as much as possible, staying an extra day. So the last patching it all together we did that way.
This is on Sasha’s label, Last Night On Earth. How did this album come about, and did he seek it out or did you have to sell it to him?
The first personal connection I had with Sasha was through Chris Milo, DJ Three. They’re old friends, and I met Sasha a few years ago with Chris. I’ve always thought of Sasha’s style kind of like Chris’: very eclectic music lovers and not easy to pigeon-hole. The original plan was to send the album to Rush Hour, but something happened between Tevo and Rush Hour over distribution and stupid stuff, so that went away. From there we sent it to some other labels but truth be told not many labels want to invest in albums unless they’re the label owner or it’s an artist they’ve cultivated. Which makes sense to me too. If you put out a couple of EPs by someone you’re building to an album, not just jumping in straight away. Most people just don’t make albums of House Music anymore do they?
At a certain point we were looking around, looking at what labels put out full lengths, what labels seemed to have a bit more open minded music policy and not work in just one specific vein. It was suggested that we send it to Sasha for Last Night On Earth. Of everyone we sent it to, he had the most enthusiastic response. He loved the album. It wasn’t just a shrug – “Hm, let’s see if we can put this out some time…” He really loved the album. Putting an album like this together – it’s all of your blood sweat and tears, it’s really personal to you so when we found someone that loved it, it was like okay, cool, let’s do this.
What do you think you can identify as being “from Chicago” in this album? Is it a sensibility, is it a sound, is it a sense of taste?
One thing is the rawness of the character of sound. That’s very Chicago when you listen to most of the drums. We don’t have a very overproduced sound on the album. That’s very American and very Chicago as opposed to a very European, smooth-sounding House. This is Chicago House to me – analog-sounding claps, traditional 303 Chicago Acid – there’s a lot of Chicago Acid influence on Tevo’s end. And a sense of the melodic – there’s a lot of the melodic piano stuff I’ve done on there that reminds me of Chicago House. It’s not the same kind of chords you’d hear in a modern tech house song.
I’ve always argued that Tevo was sort of a marginalized figure in Chicago. You yourself probably had more success overseas (like every Chicago artist) but still had a number of gigs here, right? Did you have any residencies?
I started in Chicago having my own party called Wake Up. I had a lot of different artists come through – Seth Troxler, Matthew Dear, Lee Curtiss, Brothers Vibe, John Tejada live – lots of really cool people and the usual American suspects. It was at Subterranean and then at Sonotheque with Sassmouth. Then I had my residency at Smart Bar with people like Cassy, Craig Richards and lots of people that I can’t remember. Last year I did a party for Paradigm Presents and now I’m playing SpyBar again on November 20th and I’m thrilled.
“An artist has to move away from Chicago to take the next step in his or her career.” Do you agree or disagree with that statement?
Well, the reason I left Chicago was for my own personal goals. I wanted to learn how to write for orchestra, basically, which is a totally different, outside-of-House-Music sort of thing. I did a masters program in London that was teaching me how to write for orchestra and film scoring. That’s what took me out of Chicago.
The difficult thing about making it outside of the States in general is that it’s difficult to say yes to gigs in Europe. Right now I can say yes to an offer anywhere, even if it’s just one show. Before, when I lived in Chicago, that wasn’t possible – I had to get my flight there and stuff and that usually meant having more than one booking. There’s a lot of momentum and stuff going on in the UK and European scene at the moment and it’s been helpful while living in London that I’ve been able to say yes to a lot more opportunities and be more flexible and more mobile.
But I don’t know… I don’t even know what “making it” is anymore, Terry. If you make good music, and you’re able to survive off making it I think that means you’ve made it.
Just being able to make music you genuinely like is a big part of the success thing for me. This album that I made with Tevo… I actually like it! If I just put together something to use as a tool to get somewhere else in my career, I probably wouldn’t like the music as much. To be able to make music that you really like and that you’re passionate about, and to have it come out on vinyl and have it distributed around the world – that is cool. I don’t know if I’ll make another house album after this, but I enjoyed it.
Kate Simko is at SpyBar on Friday, November 20. PolyRhythmic with Tevo Howard is out now on Last Night On Earth and available via Beatport and on vinyl from Juno.
Kate and Tevo are the most exciting music Ive heard in a long time. Everything from the artwork to the vocals to the sounds…simply world class.
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