Sidewalk Chalk: in exclusive company

Staying true to my recent theme of relevancy, it’s important to draw attention to an incredibly well polished group. With a ripened freshness that can be attributed to stellar collaborations, Sidewalk Chalk creates a uniquely blended and beautifully splattered portrait atop a spotlessly perfect canvas. Drawing inspiration from all aspects of the art spectrum, Sidewalk Chalk incorporates professionally trained musicians (what would appear to be the brightest in any class), a swift-stepped tap dancer, and an undeniable camaraderie with both band members and audience alike. In an era when music is highly accessible, it’s extremely refreshing to find a group that saturates the music scene with originality in an ever growing genre of music, which may simply be classified as fusion. Boasting major accomplishments, Sidewalk Chalk is nothing to scoff at. The ménage was named, “Most Outstanding Group,” at the 2012 Chicago Music Awards, and its MC represented Chicago at the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai, China. Nothing to scoff at, indeed.

Leaning against the exposed brick at my favorite bar-venue to date, The Empty Bottle boasted moderate attendance. I found myself afloat in a sea of flannel and mustachioed, trendy, bar goers. Rather than being displeased, I was oddly refreshed. Genuine concert-goers, there for the simple love we all shared. The last remnants of show posters stapled to the walls, hardwood floors, and bedazzled baubles hanging from the ceiling, it was easy to float away into the land of Sidewalk Chalk.

The group is progressive in every essence of the word, a powerhouse arrangement without much postulation. But, the experience was enjoyable, nonetheless.  Rapid verbosity from MC Rico Sisney, accompanied by husky mellow-tones from vocalist Maggie Vagle lead into a seamless cultivation of equal parts showmanship and musical prowess. Dream team Sam Trump (Trumpet, and no the comedy is not lost) and David Ben-Porat (Trombone) pair perfectly, like a modern day Wayne & Garth, with the bearded Garret McGinn (bass), Tyler Berg (drums) and Charlie Coffeen (keys) rounding out the group. Sidewalk Chalk’s superfluous, although highly talented and much appreciated, tap dancer Jumaane Taylor shined through the cacophonous wall of brilliance with not only skill, but personality to match. Genuine and honest, with the right amount of confidence and humility.

Social hour looming, I managed to narrow down vocalist Maggie Vagle and tapper Jumaane Taylor for an interview. I’d just been passed off by their bandmate who was scheduled to meet with me, whom I’d prepared questions for before the set. Rapidly rearranging my notes, all mishaps aside, it wasn’t long before the two ambushed performers opened up a bit and allowed me to delve into the creative ascendancy of Sidewalk Chalk.

Obviously you have big talent throughout the group, how do you cultivate all those personalities to create one cohesive sound?

Maggie: I think a lot of listening happens. Creating space for everybody, so I think it takes a lot of big ears.

Jumaane: Yeah, super big ears. And for me, it’s just about respect. The respect I have for the musicianship and friendship. All that matters with creating music.

How do specific ideas come to fruition? You mentioned listening to the other members of Sidewalk Chalk, but how do you decide to elaborate on a sound?

Maggie: It’s really an organic process. That’s usually what I say about it. It starts as an idea, and it’s usually just us vibe-ing out. And then maybe there’s something like, “Ooh, yeah, I like that,” and then we build off of that. There’s a certain building aspect to our fine-tuning. We play with it, manipulate it in interesting ways. I would say that’s how the process is.

What unique aspects of the group’s dynamic help build that sound? Any talents or skills that may not come across on stage, behind the scene? 

Maggie: Well, Rico (MC) had mentioned [during the set] that he’s a co-founder of this art collection called The Gala. That’s a huge thing for him, and for our group as a whole. You know, it’s a lot of creative minds. Whether Garret (bass) is drawing something, or Charlie (keys), who has a really amazing eye for home interior design, I think we have a lot of layers and depths to us besides music and performing.

Any plans for a progressive, multi-media experience in Sidewalk Chalk’s future? 

Jumaane: I mean, everything has been coming so naturally, man. Even the changes we’ve made, everything we do. It’s not like, ok, we need to change this up. Unless it’s something that’s bugging us.

Maggie: It’s felt.

Jumaane: Yeah, yeah. But it’s straight up organic. It’s so crazy, but it’s because of the collective. Because of each individual character, and their own spirit. And the respect. It just comes together so perfectly, in my opinion. We keep building in that energy.

The chemistry between all of you is obvious. Was it always like that? 

Jumaane: Not for me (laughs). Yeah, I was butting heads with folks a little bit in the beginning, but we’ve all been honest! We’ve all been honest with each other, even if we’re disagreeing with one another. Like a family, as it should be, if you’re investing your passion into something.

Any exciting, upcoming projects or travels for Sidewalk Chalk?

Maggie: After our album release show at the Double Door on February 21st, we’ll be on the road for about two months. We’ll be traveling for a while. We just bought a new tour bus, so this is exciting. It’s a full-length bus, and the people who had it before do some crazy woodwork and interior design. They gutted the whole thing, so there’s a kitchen, some beds. I haven’t seen it yet, but I’ve seen pictures. It’s very exciting!

Sidewalk Chalk releases their sophomore album, Leaves, February 25th, with an album release show at the Double Door February 21st. Free listening and downloadable tracks are available via their website

-Cole Scott, junior editor, On Tour Magazine