Author Archives: jenniferpriestley

Pure Pop for ‘No’ People

Swordfish playing at The Fat Bean Coffee House in Naperville, IL

Transitioning from high school to college can be the make it or break it point for most bands, as well as friends. Mike Pickerl, Kiel Anderson, Jason Vandenboss, and Carlos Trejo met in high school and have been making music together ever since. Swordfish is the name of their current project with Mike on guitar and vocals, Kiel on bass, Jason Vandenboss on guitar and vocals, and Carlos Trejo on drums.

Kiel, Mike, and Carlos hang out even when they are not practicing and playing shows, but they don’t see Jason that often outside of the band. Kiel says, “Jason works at Whole Foods, and I really like the bath salts there … so sometimes I see him there.” Mike says, “It’s hard enough to find three other people you like, let alone three other people who can play instruments.” The guys have been collaborating together for about six years now, so it’s probably safe to say they have found a group of people that work.

Why did they choose the name Swordfish? Kiel says, “Because it doesn’t really matter.” Mike adds that Kiel has a big pillow in the shape of a swordfish that was an inspiration for the name.

Mike describes the sound of Swordfish as, “Indian neo pop…. No.. but really it’s garage pop- rock with more than just guitars.” Sometimes the band uses organs or other unconventional instruments to add a little something extra. “It gets ‘dancey,’” Kiel says about some of their new songs. The songs on Swordfish’s first EP definitely falls into the garage pop-rock category and could easily be compared to well known bands like Weezer and The Strokes.

Aside from the danciness, the band keeps it pretty low-key while they are all busy with school and work. Mike says that all the craziness happened in their previous band, “Swordfish is sort of our rehab band.” The guys are just trying to work around each other’s schedules and spend as much time making music as they can. Every member of the band is currently in college. Mike goes to College of DuPage and is “killing time,” Kiel goes to Loyola, Carlos is studying art at UIC, and Jason is at the University of Aurora studying to be an English teacher.

Mike sees music as his main priority. He and the other band members differ

Mike of Swordfish at The Fat Bean

 on their views for future success with Swordfish. Mike has higher hopes in terms of relative success and says he just doesn’t want to get a real job, while Kiel doesn’t have a desire for Swordfish to become successful. While discussing their future as a band Mike asks, “Is this a list of all our hopes and dreams? I’d like a girlfriend. That would be cool. But I wouldn’t let it interfere with my music.” Hear that ladies?

These days the band is taking things as they come and practicing twice a week, on Wednesdays and Fridays, to tighten up their sound. Right now their practice space is in Kiel’s basement and doubles as a room for his cats. Kiel says, “Sometimes the cats come in to use the litter box so when they come down we have to mute our instruments.” Mike adds, “Sometimes we scare the shit out of them…”

To give the cats a little space, Swordfish is currently working on turning Kiel’s bedroom into a practice room. Kiel and Mike both spend a lot of their free time writing new songs for the band. Kiel has a goal of writing one song a week, even if it’s “crappy.” Mike is trying to stop writing fifteen minute songs and scale down to somewhere under the 5 minute mark. Don’t let this scare you away from checking out Swordfish, the 6 songs on their EP, “Pure Pop for ‘No’ People,” are all under 5 minutes.

The future of the band is currently unknown, but the guys plan on making music together for as long as they can. Mike hopes to start playing shows more frequently again, but Kiel prefers to keep it in the practice space and says it’s too much anxiety to set up equipment and play shows. Most of their past shows took place in smaller settings such as coffee houses throughout Chicago and the suburbs.

Mike would like to take things with Swordfish more seriously and says that he does have a tendency to set his hopes too high. In response to that Kiel says, “I don’t think I’ve ever had a hope in my life.”

The cover of Swordfish's EP "Pure Pop for 'No' People"- art by Mike Pickerl

You can get your hands on Swordfish’s first EP “Pure Pop for ‘No’ People” by contacting the band at: ATTN: Swordfish, 503 S. President St. Wheaton, IL 60187. It includes 6 songs, Life is a Wonderful Thing, 1st Impressions, Felix Hoffman, Pop Song, (You’ve got a) Face for the Radio, and An Arm of the Sea at the Mouth of the River.

-Jennifer Priestley


Do You Like Good Music? Do You Like to Dance?

DJ Peroxide Spinning at Neo

Full time college student by day, new wave DJ and dancing fiend by night, Phil DeStefano transforms from a Columbia College photography major into DJ Peroxide, spinning tracks into the night for new wave fans all over Chicago.  He is a regular at Neo Night Club’s Atomic New Wave Dance Party Thursdays and has also recently become a guest DJ at various bars and clubs throughout Chicago.  A few hours before one of his many appearances, Peroxide answered a few questions about his double life as a student and a DJ.

DJ Peroxide… I’m assuming the name comes from your bleached-blonde hair?

It is.  I quickly had to decide on a name to promote for the guest slot I did for my first gig at Neo so my roommate came up with that and it stuck.  Though Mahatma Blondie is quite fetching too, don’t you think?

Quite fetching indeed.  You are now a senior at Columbia College. One might think you would be a music or media major, but you’re actually studying photography.  How does someone majoring in photography become interested in being a DJ?

I actually started photographing the crowd when I went to Neo and was instantly struck by the music because everything the resident DJs were playing was music I loved.  I started to go every Thursday night, which is their “new wave dance party” called Atomic, and became a regular.  From there, one of the residents, [DJ] Kamar, asked me if I’d like to do a guest slot because he knew I was familiar with the music. And the rest is history.

I know music is a big part of your life, what specifically drew you into being a DJ?

I haven’t really ever found an outlet to contribute musically through an instrument, though I have sung on things randomly just for fun.  I find myself to be more of a music fan than a musician, which I think makes sense with the interest in DJing.

You mainly spin 80s and new wave tracks. How did you become a fan of this type of music?

I got really into new wave and 80s music at a young age through a family friend, and it has always kind of stuck with me.  I loved the sound and the visual elements attached to new wave.


An old flyer for a past DJ Peroxide event

How do you balance your time when you are being pulled in so many directions with school, work, and your passion for being a DJ?

I try to give equal time to everything I do.  I find at least that attending these clubs and getting the chance to guest DJ at some of these places gives me an escape from the regular school and work routine – an escape that allows me to have fun and enjoy my music all at once.

Have you taken advantage of any opportunities through your college?  I recall you being a guest DJ on a college radio show a couple of years ago.

Yeah I did do a radio show but it was through the school of the Art Institute.  That’s about it really … I’m basically a self-starter.

Have you made any interesting connections in the DJ world through school or from going to bars, clubs, etc?

No, nothing through school. But I have met a whole world of people.  I’ve met a lot of people who are really important in the new wave culture.

Can you give an example of one of these people in the scene who have affected or helped you along the way?

On a personal level, I have always been inspired and looked up to DJ Scary Lady Sarah who has been an important part of the Goth scene for over 20 years.  She runs her own company, American Gothic Productions, and a bi-monthly Goth night in Chicago called Nocturna.  I probably would have never even tried guest DJing if it wasn’t for her.  She actually recently attended one of the events I did and to see her on the dance floor was very rewarding for me since I look up to her.

What kind of advice would you give to a peer trying to break into the scene?

Meet as many people as you can, and have fun with it.  There is obviously a common interest that brings most regulars out to an event – people who you look forward to seeing each week and who love the same music as you.  Same goes for the DJs.  It is interesting to see their different styles in piecing music together during their sets.

May is right around the corner. What do you see in your post graduation future?  Will you continue to DJ?

Well… for now I can’t really picture myself doing anything other than something with music.  So right now I think it’s safe to say I will continue to DJ.

Jennifer Priestley

What’s Happening This Week: March 3-9, 2010

Wednesday, March 3:

Mos Scocious @ Tonic Room (2447 N. Halsted), 10:00 PM, $5

Thursday, March 4:

Depeche Mode Edition w/ Guest DJs Nando (, Kumar (Atomic), Ramen, and Peroxide  @ Watra (4758 S Pulaski ), 9:00 PM

Friday, March 5th:

Moe w/ Cornmeal (18+) @ the Riviera (4746 N. Racine), 8:00 pm, $26.50

Jack in Space, DJM Trio, Papa Jupiter (18+) @ Reggie’s (2109 S State), 8:00 pm, $10

100 Monkeys w/ The Tin Tin Can (17+) @ Beat Kitchen (2100 W. Belmont), 9:00 PM,  $12 adv. $14 door

Saturday, March 6th:

State and Madison w/ Cavashawn, The HeyDay, and Highland Fall (all ages) @ Subterranean (2011 North Ave.), 6:00 PM, $8 adv. $10 door

Jak Frost CD and DVD release party (21+) @ Reggie’s (2109 S State), 9:30 pm, $20

Sunday, March 7th:

Friday Night Fever (all ages) @ Reggie’s (2109 S State), 5:00 pm, $10

(To add a show to this list, comment here or message us on Facebook!)

Jumping into Harm’s Way with John Wayne Chris Mills

Mills Drumming at Subterranean. Photocred: Calculus Photography

It’s hard to find time to be in a committed music project when you are a full-time college student.  However, Chris Mills is doing it all by taking on a sociology degree at Northeastern Illinois as well as a fairly successful hardcore band.  Harm’s Way formed in 2007 as a fun side project for drummer Mills, guitarist Bo Lueders, and James Pligge’s intense vocals.  “All of us were together in a band at the time, and for the fun of it we wanted to do a power-violence/grind influenced band in the vein on Crossed Out and Infest,” Mills says.

Mills first became interested in the hardcore and punk genre because it was different than what everyone else was listening to and playing.  He said, “At the time [growing up] mainstream music sucked to me, and the people who liked it sucked so when I heard bands like Black Flag, Fugazi and the Descendents, it clicked.”

To give a taste of what Harm’s Way’s music is all about: The band currently has songs on their MySpace page entitled “Imprisoned”, “Pure Hatred”, “Repression”, and “Delusion.” According to Mills, this side band actually started as a joke for the most part with “over-nihilistic lyrics about hatred, stomping out frat boys, and destroying the world.”  Eventually the guys started taking Harm’s Way more seriously and they have found more success and a bigger following than their original band.  So far they have released records on various labels and have “hit both coasts multiple times.”  This “side” band has become their main project.

Chris isn’t the only band member who has to balance his everyday obligations with his love for music.  Pligge recently graduated from Northern Illinois University with a degree in physical education.  Lueders supports himself by working full-time at a call center.  “[Lueders] stopped going to school ‘cause he wasn’t feeling it,” Mills explains.  No matter which way you look at it, whether you have a full-time job or are going to school, it’s difficult to tack on a commitment to a serious band.

I asked Mills how he and his band mates work around their busy schedules.  “College and careers definitely limit us from being a full-time band.  We schedule our tours and shows around time off from school and work.

Lueders (right) and Pligge at Subterranean. Photocred: Calculus Photography

Practices are usually after hours from our daily routines.” He says that balancing the band with other commitments generally works out fine because it is a “serious hobby” for the members.  Even though Harm’s Way is not the main obligation in the lives of any of the band members, they still commit themselves to the band and to producing music.

Mills explains how keeping up with the band is worth the minor difficulties because it has given them some great opportunities to travel around the country and meet new people.  He also mentioned that playing shows allows the band to tour for free, which doesn’t hurt either.

While discussing touring and shows, I had to ask Mills what was the craziest thing that happened to the band while on tour.  “Getting pulled over by boarder patrol for driving a suspicious looking van…and almost getting deported back to Mexico, even though we’re all documented residents of the United States. Thumbs up for profiling.”  Maybe Mexico just wanted Harm’s Way to play a few more shows?

As for the future of Mills and Harm’s Way, they don’t plan on separating any time soon.  Come May, Mills will have completed his undergraduate work at Northeastern Illinois and will be applying to graduate school for the fall.  He is going to continue with his music but does not see it becoming his main priority future.  “Being a punk/hardcore band, it’s quite difficult to ‘go full-time’ and be financially successful. I guess I’ve never even looked at the possibility of using punk rock and hardcore music as a career.”  Musicians from more mainstream genres may have an easier chance in becoming successful enough to live off of their music, but when it comes to the hardcore genre the path is more complicated due to the smaller following.  He says that the band will remain a hobby for the guys because “It helps combat the monotony of everyday life.”

Harm’s Way will be releasing a new 7”EP on Closed Casket Activities in March before heading out on a 10-day spring tour of the east coast.

Be sure to see Mills and the rest of Harm’s Way on February 28th at 6:00 pm at Subterranean playing with Blacklisted.

You can listen to the musical stylings of Harm’s Way on their MySpace page at and purchase some swag at

Jennifer Priestley