Coming back home

Sheila Burt

When playing at Lollapalooza 2005 in Chicago this summer, The Redwalls’ drummer Ben Greeno saw something familiar as he looked up from his drum kit. Amid the growing crowd of sweaty music lovers ready for a long weekend, his eyes gazed at the Chicago skyline, glistening in the July heat.

“We were really proud. We wanted to be like, ‘This is our city,”’ Greeno, 21, says of the moment The Redwalls opened for one of the largest summer music festivals. “It was a proud moment for the band.”

Although all of its members are under the age of 23, the Chicago-based band has played throughout the city for years, performing in bars even before they could legally drink.

They started out honing their craft by playing cover songs from their favorite artists, including The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. Nearly three years later, the band has released their major label debut, De Nova (Capitol), toured with Oasis and opened for Lollapalooza 2005.

“We’ve been on tour for nine months straight and this has kind of been our first trial,” Greeno says in a phone interview as the band heads to a show in Ohio. “By hitting the road, we got to know if it can work. I think that’s made us a stronger band. We’re like brothers now. Hopefully we can just continue growing.”

Greeno joined The Redwalls three years ago when the band’s founding members – vocalist/guitarist Logan Baren, 22, vocalist/bassist Justin Baren, 20, and vocalist/guitarist Andrew Langer, 20 – were recording their first album (2003’s independently released Universal Blues) at Columbia College in Chicago.

The Baren brothers and Langer grew up together in suburban Deerfield and had played together since junior high school, but they were looking for a new bandmate after their original drummer left for college.

“I was friends with their engineer and I was looking for a band, so we just started playing together,” says Greeno, who grew up in Algonquin, Ill., about 30 minutes away from the other band members.

While the band played around small Chicago bars to establish its sound, it also made several stops at Tommy Nevin’s Pub, 1450 Sherman Ave. When not playing shows for Nevin’s, Greeno also worked there as a bouncer for about a year. Greeno jokes that while he was “pretty close to drunk” when playing at Nevin’s, he remembers enjoying the laid-back atmosphere.

The crowd, he recalls, would simply be there for a good time.

“During those days we got to play all cover songs,” he said. “That was the funnest part.”

Although the band’s current set revolves around their original songs – particularly the 13 that make up De Nova – its songs are rooted in the past. Their melodies especially recall one of their biggest influences, The Beatles.

On the catchy “Thank You,” the harmonies are apparent as Baren’s Lennon-esque voice croons, “So I said, thank you for being there, because you and me are gonna be all right.”

The album’s sound – and even the band’s slick style – immediately recalls classic rock, while the piano, electric guitar and Greeno’s delicate beats emphasize the band’s harmonies.

The band’s live shows – as evident at Lollapalooza – also play on its harmonious sound as nearly all the band members share vocals at least once. The young men dress sharply in leather coats and ties – their hair often covering their eyes – and they exude a distinctive energy when performing. Smiling never seems awkward for them, even after an exhaustive show.

An obvious love for bands like The Beatles never fails to come through when The Redwalls play, and Greeno said he considers comparisons to their favorite groups flattering.

“We just try to be a good rock and roll band,” Greeno says. “With any good music, we try to tunnel it into our own.”

Even after having traveled all around with Oasis, Rooney and most recently fellow Chicagoans OK Go, The Redwalls still consider themselves a local band who has a lot to learn.

“We’re definitely a Chicago band,” Greeno says. “I don’t think we want to lose that identity. I think that’s cool for us to represent Chicago, at least as far as rock and roll bands go.”

These local boys will return to their home city Oct. 10 for “Rock and Rebuild: A Hurricane Katrina Benefit Concert.” The concert, at Metro, 3730 N. Clark St., brings together five Chicago-area bands for an all-ages benefit.

Among others, The M’s and Bumpus are scheduled to perform. Tickets are $20 and are now on sale. All profits will benefit the Hurricane Katrina Relief Campaign of the McCormick Tribune Foundation.

As The Redwalls continue to develop and grow as a band, Greeno said the band’s biggest goal for the future is simple: to be able to continue making albums and learning as a band while also being able to pay the bills.

“That’s all we can hope for,” Greeno says.4

Medill senior Sheila Burt is a PLAY writer. She can be reached at [email protected]