I first discovered The Symposium when I would hang out at my friend’s house, Pete Clancy. Every so often I’d sit in the living room, and Pete’s brother Sam would play piano. He wouldn’t announce what he was playing, and it could be at any time of day, but there was a consistency to the music that spoke for itself. The Symposium as a band is about 10 years old. Starting from the Chicago suburb of Elmhurst, they share the same starting place as many other bands that are on the rise. From a local perspective, the members of The Symposium are musical legends.
For every listener of The Symposium, there is a story of how they personally relate to the music, regardless of the image. I remember coming back on the Bart at midnight and listening to “Billy Shakes”. The Line, “I’m going home, but I won’t be back tomorrow”, sends chills up my spines as much as it did then, now. It made me miss home; I felt like I was in the wrong place. I missed the days listening to Sam play piano in the Clancy household. That nostalgia is exactly what The Symposium captures for me.
“Sam is kind of an oracle of the band, hes our Brian Wilson”
Sam started writing music when he was 14, from there the rest of The Symposium formed. When I asked Sam why he composed music he said, “I don’t even know why, I guess it’s because I liked The Strokes. I thought they were really cool. I compose music from piano mainly”. The original band structure was composed of Sam Clancy, Patrick Kilcullen, Charlie Gammill, and Brian Buckley.
Starting with the Lead Vocalist, Charlie Gammill was originally in Departure of Alex(DOA) with Eric Hehr, and Sam lee. When I asked Charlie about how he joined The Symposium, he responded, “I just got kicked out of DOA, I saw The Symposium play “The Cowboy” live, It wasn’t too tight at the time, but they had something unique. I could see the vision the band was going for, I felt like joining the band was destiny”. At first The Symposium was an instrumental band, before Charlie started taking over vocals.
“I started doing vocals out of necessity, because I felt I had to step-up within the band. Singing is therapeutic for me, I mean it could get you laid as well, what’s wrong about that?”
Charlie also took over the lyrical content of the songs, when I asked him what the songs were about, he said, “It’s based off of thyme schemes based on how I feel about the song, sometimes you get in a trap of being too vague, I think The Strokes had success with vague lyrics but, that was a different time”.
The other original members, Brian and Patrick were originally in “React”, a local punk band in Elmhurst. They left React to join the Symposium after React broke-up.
“React was the first band I was ever in, it definitely gave me a desire to be in a band, when I left React is when I met Sam. Sam and I would listen to The Strokes and talk about how we wanted to do something like that. I played drums and Sam composed music, thats how it all started”
The initial theme of The Symposium’s music was driven by The Strokes style from albums like “Is This It”, and ”Room On Fire”. The best representation of this time period for the band would be the instrumental Symposium EP they recorded with Brian Zieske at Gallery of Carpet. I asked Sam about what he thought about the GOC recordings, he said, “We started off wanting to sound like the strokes, we used to use gear like The Jekyll and Hyde pedal to make those tones. The recording went well, it was tracked live. We did Trees on the 3rd take, overall, the tracking went like this. It was really fast,”. GOC Head engineer/owner Brian Zieske still regards these recordings as some of his most prized work. When I spoke with him a while back about the recordings he said, “the recordings transformed the way I did engineering”. From the sound maestro himself, that’s more then just a compliment.
“We really treasure The Symposium EP, because it was recorded totally live, to tape, and never mixed. We recorded it the last day of high-school. It’s an honest representation of the way we played at that time”
My favorite song off that EP was, “The Guffmans”, which was a former Symposium related ensemble. Unfortunately, information on this ensemble was very scarce, when I asked Sam about The Guffmans, he said, “it was never really a band. It never existed”.
Above : Current Symposium members
Numerous evolutions of The Symposium happened member wise, but the music always stayed consistent. One of the most notable evolutions of The Symposium is the current setup which is about 4-5 months old, it formed right after The Gravity Recordings were finished. An interesting note to the Gravity recordings is that “Billy Shakes”, was tracked at Geneva UCC, using an in-house Church Organ and Piano.
“We tracked the Piano and Organ for Billy Shakes and Fire Island at Geneva UCC. We had the whole church to ourselves. We were supposed to track those instruments at Gravity but their piano wouldn’t stay in tune for shit. We flat out refused the offer from Gravity, and used the church’s piano and organ instead”.
Above : The Symposium at Gravity Studios
“It was me, Charlie, and Brian with Sam Fell engineering at Gravity Studios. Right around that time was when Benny and Gaston joined”
Soon after, Sam ‘s cousin Benny Goetz replaced Pat, because Pat wasn’t around as much as they got older. Benny makes an interesting formula to a band. I’ve noticed they have a Beach-boy’s type vibe both on-stage and off. I asked Benny about why he joined The Symposium, he responded, “I started playing bass the first time I practiced with the Symposium, knowing Sam’s music for all the years up to that point, it made it easier to understand something I was already familiar with”.
The next addition to the band was Gaston Tello (Rhythm Guitar). When I asked him why he joined, he said, “I joined The Symposium because Sam writes fresh music, they needed a bad cop; somebody who was rough around the edges that was previously lacking. I add an element of mystery”.
“Gaston changed The Symposium from an earl grey to a chai tea; he adds the spice”
– Charlie Gammill
Above : The Symposium playing at Goose Island
Goose Island Brewery recently hosted a show with The Symposium’s new member line-up. That was around the same time I came back from California. I attended this show, and was completely blown away. From the performances of songs I knew recording-wise, I could tell they were tight. Everything sounded dead-on. I heard some new songs I hadn’t known of before as well. It was the best show I’ve seen since I’ve returned to the Chicago scene. From Charlie’s in-between song showmanship, to the tightness and energy of the live performance, it was easily worth the cover charge.
Following up this show was another Chicago performance, at Benny’s apartment. It was the most packed DIY show I have ever seen, unfortunately the cops came in the middle of The Symposium’s set and dispersed most of the audience. Luckily no one was arrested.
“It was a good show, because we got to play a few songs along with MTV ghosts, but it sucks that the cops came before The Orwells got to play”.
So what is the Symposium up to now?
From the time I spent with the band, I can tell you, they have some great things in the works, in homage and culture of The Symposium. Thats one thing about being prolific, you have to know when to keep secrets, and when to let them rise to the surface. Its an art few of us ever master.
“We’re going to record an EP soon. We want it to be out around August, Its going to be really sweet, the plan is to record it at Charlie’s apartment. Its going to be 7 songs long.”
Keep your ears up for more info on The Symposium.
The Symposium is relentless, in-your-face, and arguably the best band you can see in Chicago this year. If you want to see the ensemble for yourself, check them out at Quencher’s Saloon at 2401 North Western avenue, Chicago, Illinois on August 7th.
The Doors open at 8:00 P.M.
Show starts at 9:00 P.M.
$5 cover charge
Get your ticket online here
The Symposium Contact: