Inch’-ing forward

Sheila Burt

Band names can come from almost any kind of inspiration. Sometimes it’s a reference to a favorite B-side from an influential band, an admired novel or even a dream.

For the members of Chicago band inchWORM, who play Friday at Gunther Murphy’s Music Room, 1638 W. Belmont, their unique name comes from a surreal experience in southern Illinois just a few years ago.

After guitarist and singer Matt Baugher’s dad purchased a cabin downstate, he and the band members decided to head there to practice a few songs. When they went up to the attic to set up, they found pictures of old musicians from the 1950s and a drum kit. On a kick drum nearby, they noticed that some one had painted the word “inchworm.”

“We thought, ‘These pics are funny and interesting,’ and then two years later we found out that John Coltrane has a song called ‘The Inch Worm,'” Baugher says, laughing. “Now we validate it because we’re a semi-Coltrane-influenced band.”

An indie quartet influenced by bands such as Sparklehorse and local heroes Wilco, inchWORM formed in 2002. Although Baugher and singer-guitarist Brian Morrissey met at Elgin High School, they have been writing together since they were students at Columbia College, where they formed the basis for the band’s unique sound that fuses alternative country with psychedelic rock in the vein of Pink Floyd and My Morning Jacket. The band also includes Kile Galliart on bass and drummer Mike Holtz.

After releasing Outlying Areas independently in 2003, the band followed with a a six-song EP, 2005’s Porchlight, released on the band’s own label, Painted Records, and recorded in Chicago’s famed Pieholden Suite Sound Studios – where the likes of Wilco and Jay Bennet have written and recorded. The studio’s laid-back atmosphere inspired the band to create a vintage-yet-natural sound.

On the bluesy, languid “Lost Days,” the band layers keyboards against a heavy bass line with lingering vocals that gently tell the listener, “these are all long lost days.” The song creates an intense groove and melody wrapped around a dense sound not easily definable.

“The atmosphere was really loose and it was great to work on,” Baugher says. “That song is a snapshot of that moment. We were feeling a little bit groovy.”

The band’s multilayered approach means that they’ll often shift tempos in songs so each of their songs has its own unique identity. In contrast to “Lost Days,” “Rotten Fruit” and “Porchlight” take a more straightforward approach with a twangy, alternative-country vibe.

“We’re getting used to seeing bands playing the same songs over and over,” Morrissey says. “We don’t want to be associated with one particular sound. We want to showcase more of the dynamics of our sound.”

Despite positive press from several Chicago outlets, the guys in the band are still searching for a record deal, something that has basically been hit-or-miss.

“We’ve sent our stuff out,” Morrissey says. “We’ve gotten some feedback, and then no feedback from others.”

Nevertheless, inchWORM is still making the music they want to make – along with planning an East Coast tour in March.

“We’re sincere songwriters,” Morrissey says. “I don’t think we’ve ever written anything to try and be popular. We do it because we want to do it. That’s just kind of how we are.”

See inchWORM Friday with the Webstirs and Walking Spanish at Gunther Murphy’s. Tickets cost $7; doors open at 9 p.m.

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