Author Archives: lgreen20

The Royal Journey in Music and Fashion

Recently, young female artists such as Feist, Jenny Lewis and Norah Jones

Megan Royal 3/15/2010

have been making a significant name for themselves in the creative arts. Megan Royal is following their path.  As she takes her seat on the piano bench, she takes a deep breath and allows her fingers to take over the music. Music and the arts are not just a passion for Royal, they are her entire life. She says, “I wake up in the morning and I am either singing, playing, or designing from sun up to sun down. I love expressing myself.”

Royal, who studies fashion design at the Art Institute of Chicago, uses her talents and knowledge of the piano as a form of release when it comes to her clothing design. She explains, “It’s strange. When I’m stressed or having a meltdown with the amount of work I have to do, I play. My mind just completely wanders and everything that worried me before just seems petty, I guess.” Royal didn’t choose music as her major because she couldn’t imagine having it forced upon her.  She says that music should be fun and not a chore.

Luckily, she gets to mix fun with schoolwork on a daily basis. According to Royal, the greatest thing about attending her school is that everybody has an appreciation for the arts. During classes, students are able to collaborate musically with one another. Not many college students are offered opportunities such as this where they are constantly being exposed to other musicians and encouraged to play with one another – especially when they aren’t even music majors.

Royal and her first teacher, Will Smith

Royal began playing at the very young age of three. “My parents had enrolled my older sister in lessons at the time. During one of her lessons, I was in the living room watching the very first episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. I remember Will Smith’s character was playing ‘Fur Elise’ and I walked over to the piano and played the notes without really realizing what I was doing. My parents freaked out, dropped my sister from piano lessons, and enrolled me the next day. I guess you can say Will Smith taught me how to play the piano.” Royal continued with her lessons, but she quit after the age of thirteen. She explained that after so many years, there really isn’t much more knowledge that your teacher can provide you. Playing the piano takes a lot of dedication and practice, like most instruments. Since Royal is typically a solo artist, it can be tough to stay on top of her craft because she only has herself to keep her motivated.

Royal finds that coming up with creative new pieces of her own have helped hold her interest in the piano.  Old influences like Mozart and newer influences such as Ben Folds have helped Royal to create a modern, yet classic sound to her pieces.  It can be challenging to create a modern sound on the piano in order to grab an audience because the piano is such a well-known instrument, especially when played solo. “My sound is an accompaniment of the old, classical styles that I grew up playing. They’re simply beautiful. But the best part [of the piano] is you can bust out a sequence of jazzy or rock, and it just flows so well.”

Currently, you can hear Royal’s unique spin on classical piano at well-known Chicago locations such as Schubas Tavern, Abbey Pub, Gallery Cabaret and many independent coffee houses. What’s next for the Royal? She explains that she can’t imagine her life or her future without music in it.    After graduating in the winter of 2010, her plans consist of moving out of Chicago in order to experience new challenges. “My dream would be to move to New York, get a job designing immediately, meet other music lovers, form a band like Broken Social Scene…I want to do it all!”

-Laura Green


A Lesson in Music from The Coop

Danny Biggins (far left) Jared Shaw (second to left) Jacob Barinholtz (second to right) (Cason Trager (far right)

Music is a uniting force that inspires those with open minds to share in the creative vision of an artist– be it a call to action, an expression of joy, or simply a reason to keep moving forward. At least that is how Chicago band The Coop defines music. The members met in high school and have continued the band all the way through college. Band members Cason Trager (bass, synthesizer, laptop), Jacob Barinholtz (drums), Danny Biggins (guitar, synthesizer, vocals) and Jared Shaw (saxophone, percussion) have found their school experiences helpful in becoming successful in music in the Chicagoland area.

The Coop began in 2004, when a group of musically talented friends combined forces in a mysterious old shack (hence the band name). The band focuses on both improvisation and composition, combining elements of current electronic music styles with classic sounds of rock, jazz, funk, and reggae. The variety of styles keeps the group’s sound in a state of constant change. “We really try not to let preconceived genres limit the music we create. Each member of the band has their own influences, and these differences are what make things really interesting for all of us,” explains Barinholtz. Still not convinced? For those seeking a unique atmosphere, The Coop has been known to provide the occasional accompaniment of live painters and fire spinners, among other visual performers.

Music lovers may have seen this unique rock/electronics/fusion jam band during one of their performances at several high-profile summer events. Performing at Summer Camp Music Festival and the Taste of Chicago as well as a New Years Eve 2009 show to a crowd of nearly five hundred people in Chicago has helped these young musicians to be recognized as up-and-coming fan favorites. Kelly Currier, a fan and student at University of Illinois at Chicago said, “Their shows are always a fun time with great music and good vibes. Everyone has a great time dancing and enjoying good tunes.”

With three of four band members in college, The Coop has crossed paths with a wide variety of people that have helped them evolve their music. Whether they’re concert promoters, other bands, or just music enthusiasts, everyone has had an impact. “I met many of these people because I was at U of I (University of Illinois in Champaign). We’ve kept in touch with many of these people too which is good because we can both help each other out along the way,” Barinholtz says.

Barinholtz during a summer show

Recent DePaul University graduate Jessica Figurski has known and played music with Barinholtz since middle school. “I used to love watching him play during school. He was always so dedicated and passionate. I remember thinking every time I saw him play, ‘I just know he is going to go far with his talent.” Barinholtz did not major in music at the University of Illinois in Champaign, but was involved with both concert bands and the steel band through the University. In doing so, Barinholtz was able to play in settings that helped him to understand and learn different music styles. Barinholtz said, “It certainly was difficult at times performing in two different ensembles in addition to The Coop, while still attending regular classes. I often had to put in several hours of practice a week to ensure that I could learn all of my parts well.”

Two other members of The Coop are currently juggling school along with their music careers. Shaw, currently a jazz studies major finishing up his senior year at U of I, is considered to be the music theory guru of the group. His typical day involves attending classes that cover topics such performance, music history, and composition. Biggins has also taken several classes related to music at Elgin Community College to further his education and ability. He balances schoolwork with the band and a job on a daily basis.

What’s next for The Coop? Tonight (March 12th, 2010) the guys will be competing in Summer Camp’s “On The Road Tour” in Urbana, Illinois at The Canopy Club. The show is a battle-of-the-bands style contest in which each member of the audience votes for their favorite band. The winner will be invited to play a set at Summer Camp in Chillicothe, IL, this May for the festival’s 10th anniversary.  With their combination of experience and talent, The Coop surely won’t disappoint on their bright journey to Summer Camp.

Download The Coop’s latest album for free at

–Laura Green

Timeout with Chris Poynton of The Crown and Two Chairmen

Few people have heard of The Crown and Two Chairmen, an instrumental post-rock band from Chicago. However, for those interested in seeking out a different style of music, this might be a band to hear. The Crown and Two Chairmen consists of four guys: two guitarists (Ken Bonner and Kevin McAfee), Chris Solano on the drums, and bassist Chris Poynton. Three of these four musicians are recent graduates from the Chicagoland area. Recently, Poynton answered a few questions about the band and talked about how being a recent college graduate has impacted the group.

Tell me a little about your band, The Crown and Two Chairmen. Where did the name even come from?

Um, actually I stole the name last year when I was studying abroad in England. When we were in London, we used to visit this pub that I really liked. And it was called The Crown and Two Chairmen, and it just kind of stuck with me. But yeah, the band…we’ve been together a little over a year now. If I had to label what style of music we are, I would categorize us as post-rock or experimental. I met Kevin [guitarist] my freshman year at UIC [University of Illinois at Chicago]. He was moving here to Chicago and contacted my roommate at the time through Facebook because they liked similar styles of music, so we became pretty close through that. I met Chris [drummer] because he played with my old band from back in the day and then we contacted Ken [second guitarist] through Craigslist.

So you played in a band before this?

Ha ha, yeah. We were called How Bright the Sky. It was more, like, pop-punk style, which I was really into in high school. We were pretty big, I guess, for our age, but it didn’t work out, which is a long-ass story.

Understandable. You graduated last year from UIC. How has college prepared you, if at all, for your music career?

It really didn’t help me at all. I guess, from a business school perspective, I learned the importance of contacts and learning who can and cannot help you out in the long run. Emailing, calling, and promoting…but that is really all common sense stuff, y’know?

True. You were a business major, I take it?

No, I was an English major, actually. I just imagine, maybe if I were a business major, it might be of some help with my band? I was an English major because I thought maybe I could fall back on a teaching degree at some point. I don’t know, though, exactly what I am going to do.

So you guys have been together a little over a year now. Was it hard balancing your last semester of school and the band at the same time?

Well, yeah, it was. I really care about the music and the other people in the group, so we treat it as if it were a job. It definitely is a really big commitment, but it’s worth it if you are passionate about something. I really had to learn how to balance my time between the two. I never was very into school. I got straight A’s for the most part, although I never had to put in too much effort. The only punishment was that band practice was at noon on Sundays for a while, and 99% of the time I was hungover.

That must have been terrible for your headache. Where do you see The Crown and Two Chairmen in the future?

I don’t know. I really hope we’ll continue on. Our last show at the Beat Kitchen [drew] such a great crowd. We had a few technical difficulties in the beginning, which was frustrating, but we were just so pumped by the amount of people there that it felt right. But if you want me to be realistic, a real job is in my future. It is hard to have four guys as young and attractive and unpopular for the time being as us focus solely on one aspect of their life…unless you are Fall Out Boy. After high school, I got really sick of playing songs that ended after three-and-a-half minutes and were designed for sixteen-year-olds. For us, it’s all about wanting people to hear our music and our style and think to themselves, this is good. We really just want to be respected by other musicians, first and foremost, as well as the fans. Our music is [about] trying to have more thought appeal to life, rather than just singing about a girl you like that broke up with you or [about] getting drunk this weekend.

Is that the reason you chose to play all of your songs thus far entirely instrumental?

I don’t know. Maybe. When we first started playing together, we didn’t know what to expect or what was going to come of us playing together. In the end, adding lyrics just didn’t fit for us, and we decided to exclude it entirely.

I am a big fan of Explosions in the Sky, and I definitely think you guys have a similar song style to them.

I’ll take that as a compliment. Thank you.

Check out The Crown and Two Chairmen’s Myspace at

-Laura Green