Is it a powerhouse singer-songwriter backed by a big-band? Or maybe it’s more gospel-like blues with a pop-rock facade. Chicago-based band the Right Now defies genre and has been doing so for ten years now, through struggles that go beyond your typical “being a musician is hard.” The group is celebrating this accomplishment in style with a new album Starlight and tour. As they get ready to embark on the final leg of that anniversary tour, we caught up with singer Stefanie Berecz and bandleader Brendan O’Connell at Lone Wolf in Chicago.
What are you drinking?
O’Connell: I’m drinking Zombie Dust, because I feel like getting Zombie Dust on draft is not a super easy thing. Please tell me I’m hip and cool. I was having an IPA, but that’s rare. In the winter, I do porters and stouts pretty exclusively. That might be my number two here. What are you having Stef?
Berecz: We’re having the same beer, which is the Upland sour.
How often is beer a part of your music career?
O’Connell: The place that this band became a band was probably the Bullfrog [Brewery in Williamsport, PA]. The green room slash the room where we all slept on the floor is the second floor of this brewery, which is a private space with a bar and ten tap handles. It’s all in-house brews. The band pushed tables out of the way and sets up in front of the tanks. That was the background. We only played there on Mondays and it was always insane parties in this little community in the middle on Pennsylvania. We fell in love with them, they fell in love with us, it was all forged over way too many beers.
Berecz: There’s been different parts of this band’s history, where we have night like that at this brewery with amazing beer. Or there were nights like when we recorded our second album in LA and drank pounds and pounds of Tecate and tequila.
How was the band different when you started ten-years-ago?
O’Connell: I think we were very young and green.
Berecz: I was just going to say that. For me, I had no connections in the music industry at all.
O’Connell: Stefanie had the ‘be on reality television,’ which she was, and meet some dude in a leather jacket, who called himself the producer, as a manager. That was her music world. Mine was just playing shitty bars for 50 bucks a night and knowing a bunch of people who went to jazz school and DePaul and Northern Illinois. It provides the bulk of the music industry here.
You were on reality TV?
Berecz: I gave it a go in a few of the reality talent show. I actually got a couple episodes on Puff Daddy’s “Making the Band.”
O’Connell: So, she basically knows Danity Kane
Berecz: My early-20s in Chicago was like, ‘Ok, I just want to get out there, meet who I need to meet.’ I was lucky enough to come across him and had a great vibe with Brendan. We got to writing a lot together and that’s something I’d never done before. I knew I just wanted to be in something special, creating original music that felt good. Over the years, we have just spent a ton of time together, learning each other’s strengths. It’s definitely been an evolving project for sure.
How would you describe the band today?
O’Connell: I think we’re a powerhouse-vocal-soul-pop band.
Berecz: I would agree. I think, over the years, I didn’t know what kind of front woman I would be. I knew, as I was working with the guys more, they pushed me to elevate my showmanship. There was always this very encouraging vibe with the individuals I work with in this band. Just bringing it up a level each year.
O’Connell: We started at a time when Sharon Jones and Charles Bradley were gaining popularity. We put a foot in that world, another foot in just wanting to be different, creating something new. I still think we’re walking that terrain between the throwback-retro-soul world and just bring free to write pop songs. I think that’s what makes the band stand apart. We’re not trying to impress some crate-digging DJ. We’re trying to write big pop songs that also appeal to the retro-soul world.
What’s the significance of reaching the ten-year mark?
Berecz: When you do something for a decade, that’s fucking pretty intense, but each year your job gets more important, your job gets a little bit more meaningful. I feel like that’s been the focal point for this band. Every year we come to the table and we all recommit ourselves. We’re all still scarfing time. Every year it feels like it elevates a bit more and that is so gratifying. It’s not only elevating in a creative way, also as human beings you feel like your doing some big shit.
O’Connell: I totally agree. When we started it, we were just out of college and all you’re thinking about is you $400, $500 rent payment every month. Then the nine-to-fives get more important and people have kids. We’ve seen all our friends who have stopped doing this, because it’s so fucking hard. The new climate democratizes things and makes it incredibly easy to get your content out there, but it has also gutted pay structures from the way things used to be. It’s tearing down the gatekeepers, but also the paychecks that came with them. I think we’re ok with that. We’ve never been on a label. We’re totally independent or whatever, somewhat by choice, somewhat by circumstance. We just see the rewards, especially this year, committing to this new records and getting around to releasing it after a five-year-break. It finally seems, after ten years, all of the seeds we’ve been planting for the past ten years are finally paying off.
Tell me about the new album?
O’Connell: Starlight took along time. The band hit it really hard for the first three or fours years. We did two records, a couple singles and a hundred shows a year. This is while Stefanie has a kid at home. Just pedal to the metal constantly. It sort of came to a crossroads where some band members got out. A couple guys life, my wife had a kid and we sort of hunkered down in Chicago for three or four years.
Berecz; Yeah, we hunkered down, but it was time well spent, because we had the time to work on crafting our sound a little more. Brendan did some of the best writing he’s done in ten years. I feel like it was time that we needed to recenter and regroup to deliver something great.
O’Connell: We weren’t sure. We haven’t been back to a lot of the tour markets in five years. Are people going to care anymore? And they did. We didn’t tour for five years and then we had the best tour we ever had. And we were like, ‘Oh shit, we should take five years off more often.’
How did you maintain your motivation during that break?
O’Connell: I got this advice once from a friend Sergio Rios, who’s in this band Orgone, who heard it from Stanton Moore, who’s the drummer in Galactic. They’ve been around for 25 years or something. Sergio was complaining about changing personnel in Orgone and the grind of doing long tours and coming home with no money—just the reality of being a musician and how hard it is. Stanton was like, ‘Fuck it, just keep going, no matter what. Keep your head down and keep going.’ And who else gets to go to their job and be applauded?
What do you have planned for the tenth anniversary show?
O’Connell: We’ve got a beer tasting from 5 Rabbit and there’s this big charity element of all of our shows now, which is connected with suicide prevention and awareness charity Hope for the Day.
Berecz: I unfortunately had a loss this past year with the passing of my children’s father. It’s become a huge element of my life. It’s my narrative now, but also it was kinda of an organic connection, because we had worked with this organization twice in the past at an annual block party where we were artists on the bill. When tragedy hit my home front and the band’s home front, they were right there for us. When something like this happens, for me, a lot of the healing was how do I make this into something positive? What can I do to help?
It was a very organic relationship. We’ve done a lot of work with them. I’ve met with the CEO. Every show I talk about it openly. I talk about the story on stage. It’s important to have them there now, not only for me and my moving forward, but it’s opened up that huge channel to connect with fans even more. They have a shared experiences. It’s mind-blowing. When it happened to me, I had to educate myself about it. Number one to help myself and my children. It’s staggering the numbers out there, the number of people who are dealing with something so difficult and the numbers of people who are losing to something like depression, to suicide. It’s been extremely powerful. It’s made my job even more important.
Like I said, every year, I feel like I just have this important role to step it up. And this is the biggest job I’ve felt like I’ve had: To raise awareness.