Interview with Genevieve Schatz of Company of Thieves

Photo: Jeff Foley

After a couple years of traveling, Company of Thieves have compiled ‘Running from a Gamble’: an honest and compelling album that has left fans stunned. Ferocious at times, the Chicago rockers’ dynamic second studio release showcases the huge voice of lead singer Genevieve Schatz and the impressive musicianship of her bandmates. The quintet have been on a summer headlining tour for almost a month and are currently making a stop in Wisconsin before returning to their home state of Illinois for a small break until August.

While making a pit stop on their way to Nashville, Genevieve took the time out to talk to Rock Edition about the record. Take a look at what she had to say below.

So how are you guys?

We’re doing good, we’re on our way to Nashville from Atlanta. Going through some mountains. We’re doing an in-store signing and an acoustic performance in Nashville today, and then we’re going to play a venue there tomorrow.

Awesome. First off, congratulations on the new album. It’s been getting amazing feedback, and it definitely has a raw edge to it. What was the music process like for the new album, compared to ‘Ordinary Riches’?

‘Ordinary Riches’ was really the first batch of songs we had ever written. Since then we’ve grown a lot and have had so much time to travel the United States and listen to different kinds of music and just figure out different ways to express what we were feeling. So ‘Running from a Gamble’ was pieced together over the last couple years of touring the United States extensively. Each song was written in parts in different states after meeting new people and seeing new things and tasting new food we had never tasted. We were just feeling all these feelings and sort of widening our world view. I think that’s part of the character in all the new material. We’ve definitely all grown up and have been through a lot since then.

What do you consider the biggest risk or gamble you’ve ever taken?

I think it was just to risk everything that we knew, what we were familiar with and comfortable with, and what we were conditioned to think was the right way to live. To follow our dreams and live this crazy, wild lifestyle of being in a new place every day and having your home be something within you. Just to take a chance on sharing music with people and seeing whether or not you can connect. It’s really cool. It’s not a glamorous lifestyle and it’s not an easy one, so there’s a big risk involved. It’s kind of like setting out on a journey to become more self aware, and just confronting that taboo of awareness.

You guys have all really come a long way and worked your way from the bottom up. Do any of your songs document those experiences?

Absolutely. Each song has its own unique place, but I would say “Nothing’s in the Flowers” and “Won’t Go Quietly” are two that definitely have the whole concept of the record enveloped within the material. “Nothing’s in the Flowers” was really pieced together over the last couple years after realizing that America is kind of lost in its roots, as far as culture is concerned, and has become sort of a wash in a lot of ways. But we’re so connected in the sense that we all have come originally from somewhere else. We’ve all had tons of dysfunctional families and feelings of great emptiness and great loneliness. It’s funny, sometimes people might think there’s nothing in the flowers but really, if everybody kind of just gives a bit back and puts their own good into the equation, there’s really so much magic around us and there are so many treasures within our country and there’s so much great spirit and gusto. “Won’t Go Quietly” is really self-explanatory. It’s about abandoning the fear of being ostracized for being yourself. It’s about speaking — or singing, painting, whatever — truthfully about the way that you feel about what’s going on in the world around you.

While we’re on the songs, “Tallulah” stands out on the record. How does it fit into the narrative for ‘Running from a Gamble’?

It was a place in Louisiana that we were passing through on our way to New Orleans and it was not very long after Katrina had happened. It was just kind of a commentary on what was going on in and around the Bayou area. There was this main street that we passed in Tallulah, LA, and usually in the middle of a town there’s a thriving community, but in this particular town everything was abandoned. The windows had been broken out, there were boarded up houses, and it kind of just seemed like all of the people went away. At first I grew extremely sullen about the whole thing and I wanted to help and bring attention to it. I was getting frustrated while we were driving through and my jaw just dropped when I looked out the window. I started to realize that all of the buildings that had been abandoned had these amazing ivy vines growing from the ground and completely engulfing all the structures. It was almost as if the earth was like growing up to take the buildings back into the earth and saying, “Oh, it’s okay, we’ll start over here!” [laughs]. I started to realize that when we go away, nature is nature and it will always prevail and it will always change and flow. There is life in the process of death. I just really enjoyed that and wanted to celebrate it in a very New Orleans, Motown, some type of soulful fashion. So we paired these lyrics with this fun horn section to make an upbeat dance song.

On another note, how was it working with Rob Schnapf on the new record?

Oh my gosh, I love him so much. It was so amazing because he really serves as a mirror to us instead of just drawing out answers or telling us what to do or molding us. He would just sort of act as a spiritual guide and gently show us what we were trying to communicate. He’d encourage us to deeply question what it is that we were trying to convey. He’s someone that was an open book, that you could talk to and ask questions of, and also someone who has an incredible attention to detail of the sound from all the gear that we use. He spends hours and hours slaving over the right tones and sounds to express the content of the songs. All of these things kind of just played into this world we created and he was really supportive of it. It was really positive.

How did you end up hooking up with him?

He was on a list of producers who we were kind of dreaming and hoping to work with. He was actually at the very top of the list because we admire so much of his other work. I guess we reached out to him and he was into it, so he decided to work with us.

Wow, that’s great that he was receptive to you guys.

I know. It was amazing.

What it was like making the new record and heading out on tour without Mike [Ortiz]?

Oh, well, Mike actually made the whole record with us. He was there for the whole thing with us in LA. He didn’t quit the band until around January 1, so we’ve only been without him for the last six months. I love Mikey to death. He’s irreplaceable because he’s such a people lover and would always provide this sort of comfort because he was so open with everyone in the band. Even if we were having a down day, he would get up there and talk to everyone and get a conversation going. I mean, ultimately he wanted to go, and the music industry was really stressful for him and he felt overwhelmed by a lot of things. No matter how emotional I felt inside, I wanted him to be happy because he’s so wonderful. That’s what everybody wants and that’s the best thing for him.

How’d you get the idea for the album release countdown? [The band released videos of them performing the songs from their new record each day until the album’s release]

I don’t know! Mark suggested that. Mark and I started out as an acoustic band, playing open mics at coffee shops in Chicago. We kind of wanted to show people that we were still in touch with our roots. It’s really fun to express the songs in completely different ways. We wanted to give them a special version of it to say like, “Hey, look! It starts out so stripped down and so raw like this, and then we build everything up and becomes this big electric thing but the bottom of everything, these are the souls of the songs.”

You also did an album giveaway with FYE.

Yeah, they’re being so cool and they’re giving away with this coupon that you can download from the Internet or show it on your smartphone. It’s so crazy, we’re like in a futuristic world [laughs]. But, if you don’t have it, I think it’s only like $3.99. We want our music to be available to everyone and anyone. You don’t have to be rich to enjoy our music.

That’s great. You guys also made your own album artwork.

Yeah, that was so much fun. It was getting down to the wire and we just decided to go to a thrift store and get a bunch of old traveling books and photography books. We just ripped them up and made a rip art collage. We just had all kinds of different elements of themes throughout the album and put them into their own sections. It was kind of this crazy, somewhat psychedelic world; very colorful. There are elements of city life, neon lights, and then there’s like crowds of sheep just being like followers. There are just a bunch of things that have inspired the lyrical content.

Since there aren’t as many rock groups fronted by women as men, do you think there’s more pressure to set yourselves apart in such a small pool of bands? Do you think this could be a new generation where rock isn’t as male dominated?

I think that as a woman, there’s already an obstacle course that people tend to set up for you in their minds — they want you to prove yourself to them. A lot of times, they either will dislike you straight off the bat because it’s unfamiliar to them or they’ll like you because they’re so impressed that you’re a girl who can do it. When I was younger, I was extremely conscious of that and was kind of guarded and shy, and I wasn’t very open as much with my performances. But now I’ve realized that I don’t have to prove myself to anyone, I can just be my crazy, wild self and they’ll either appreciate my honesty or they won’t, but all I can do is be me. So instead of setting ourselves apart, we just focus on being as true to ourselves as possible and being the best that we can be.

Pick up Company of Thieves’ new record, Running from a Gamble.

For the band’s upcoming tour dates, check out their website.