Smile Politely

Mazes return to where the 1900s began

“The devil calls me his son /
but I don’t respond.”

— “News from Day One,” Mazes

It’s a “life coming full circle” moment for Ed Anderson and Caroline Donovan. On Sept. 2, 2005, their band, Chicago’s The 1900s, played their first-ever show at the Courtyard Cafe for maybe ten people. Immediately following that show, the 1900s were signed to Parasol Records. Now, their new band, Mazes, will continue their Champaign-Urbana tradition by playing their debut show on Friday at the Canopy Club.

The concert doesn’t start until midnight, and the cover is just seven dollars. Mazes will go on at 12:15 a.m.; Elsinore is headlining, and Post Historic plays second. (Click here to find out how to win a pair of tickets to the show and a copy of the band’s new CD.)

I normally don’t have a taste for Mazes’ brand of slightly twee pop songs, but their new record has completely won me over. If Mazes can recreate half of the mastery live that they demonstrate on record, then this will be a mind-blowing show.

I spoke with Anderson and Donovan on the phone late last week, as their preparations were starting to come together.

Mazes’ self-titled debut comes out on Parasol on March 17. Although Anderson wrote all the songs and recorded them with a revolving cast of characters over the course of several years, he began taking the project more seriously as it came together. “The original idea was just to compile all the four-track stuff that I’ve done over the years, all the lo-fi stuff,” Anderson said. “Then, I was like, if I’m going to put time and energy into something, I’ll just try to make it good. So, the project kept growing and growing, as far as the time I put into it.”

Beyond the base members of the group (Anderson, Donovan, and Charles d’Autremont), they’ve added drummer Pat Cavanaugh and bassist Tom Smith to become a touring outfit. Anderson expects subsequent Mazes efforts to be more collaborative. “We’ve already composed and recorded, but now it’s going to be fun, because now we’ve got the band together and we’re kind of feeling it now,” he said. “We can start writing new songs. We’ve already written a couple new tunes. I’m seeing the next album as more of a band thing instead of just a solo thing.”

Working on Mazes has been a departure for Anderson from what he’s previously done in the studio. “I think that the biggest experiment on this record is not so much a songwriting as a production thing,” he noted. “Charlie [d’Autremont] and I sit around the studio and listen to records and just freak out about certain tones. This is the first record that either of us has produced, even though we had help from a lot of other people. [It’s been interesting] being inspired by the sounds of different records we liked, and figuring out how to get the sounds from that. Especially the bass tone was a big deal, trying to get that. A classic bass sound, like Lee Hazelwood or Serge Gainsbourg, kind of a hollow-bodied bass sound with the flat-wound strings.”

“Love to Lay” by Mazes

Donovan is stretching out from her normal role with the 1900s. “I’m playing a lot of keyboard, and I’m even playing guitar on one song, which is something new for me,” she explained. “It’s really fun, because it’s doing something more, doing something different. I’m still doing some singing, but I’m getting more involved playing instruments as well.”

She enjoys playing songs like “Love to Lay” (listen to the streaming audio above). She said, “It’s a really fast song, like, power pop. It’s just a really fun song to play, just because it’s so fast and has so much energy going on.”

“I Have Laid in the Darkness of Doubt” by Mazes

Anderson explained the process that resulted in “I Have Laid in the Darkness of Doubt,” which you can listen to above: “We did a lot of recording in [d’Autremont’s] coachhouse,” Anderson recalled. “The whole bottom floor is a recording studio with a bunch of instruments. The initial recording of the record was done, so I was there recording vocals. It was a Saturday night.

“Charlie came home at two in the morning and started playing guitars. We stayed up till nine or ten in the morning and pretty much recorded the whole song all in that one session. It just happened really fast. The whole album happened like that, where things just came together in a strange way. It was kind of meant to be.”

Mazes are fine with debuting outside of their home base. “We’d rather test it out somewhere we don’t know as many people,” Anderson said. “So if it’s terrible we don’t have to see them around the next couple of weeks [laughs]. No, it’ll be good. It’ll be good.”

Donovan is confident that things are falling into place. “We just ran through the set last night,” she said, “and we were like, ‘that felt really good,’ like it’s really coming together. I just think it will be a lot of energy, and a lot of strange guitar freak-outs.”


If you enjoyed this article, Smile Politely also recommends:

+ Growing up before our ears
+ Cedarwell leads Shadowboxer procession at MnM’s Saturday
+ Ageless Smoking Popes reel ’em in at Courtyard
+ Big Bluestem folks up WEFT Sessions tonight

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