Genevieve Schatz of Company of Thieves
A radio DJ once referred to Genevieve Schatz’ voice as “like buttah.” Company of Thieves’ debut album doesn’t do Genevieve’s voice justice, nor does it adequately capture the band’s stage presence and energy. But the sense you get from both is that this band is both gutsy and genuine.
Ordinary Riches – much like its literary influence, Oscar Wilde – often provides commentary on society, something we are likely to hear more of from the band’s sophomore effort due out sometime in 2010. But while the Chicago trio may be stealing pieces of inspiration from other artists – both literary and musical – they have clearly created something delightfully all their own.
TWRY caught up with Genevieve huddled close to a space heater before a recent show in Troy, NY, the day of the area’s first major snow storm.
Interviewed by Laura DiBetta | December 2009
In a recent interview you said you hadn’t yet heard any of your songs on the radio. Have you yet?
No, I still haven’t. I know. It sound like it would be very exciting. The hard thing is that we’re usually in a van, so we’re usually listening to our iPods and things like that.
Just listen to WEQX [Vermont/Albany radio station] for a day and you’ll hear it.
It’s so cool that people are supporting us like that.
Did you expect the song Oscar Wilde to be the hit that it’s turned out to be?
It’s funny that you say that because the label was really pushing for Pressure as our first single, and just based on experience with our fans we realized that people really had a good, warm feeling inside when they heard Oscar Wilde. It kind of got everybody to dance and we said, ‘can we try this one, let’s just try it.’ I didn’t expect it to take off as much as it did, which has been a really awesome surprise, but I knew that it is a kind of feel-good song with a good beat that gets you moving. It makes you kind of come out of your shell a bit – even me, today still.
The entire album, Ordinary Riches, was obviously very influenced by Oscar Wilde. What is it about him that struck a chord with you?
I had to read through a lot of his plays when I was younger, in high school, and I just really appreciated the way that he portrayed people in society and sort of poked fun at the way they carried themselves when they’re sizing each other up or trying to mask their insecurities, and just when people are getting along in a group what happens to the dynamic. And I think it really strongly affects the way that socially people are when they’re older and how they’re growing up, it’s just based upon what they’ve experienced. So it felt really relevant still today.
Have you been writing on the road?
Yeah, definitely. Even before that, too. We’ve been writing pretty much since we were done with Ordinary Riches.
I read that the name Company of Thieves comes from the idea that you are influenced and inspired by a lot of different artists. Are there other influences we can expect to hear on the next album?
Even in the past year a lot of electronic music has kind of blown up. Not that you’re going to hear anything, anything like that on this album, but I think there is something really appealing about that gutsy, kind of confronting something head on, whether it’s an issue or sounds or something like that. I think it will be more focused and a bit more daring. I think people are really starting to feel more comfortable just saying what they want to say.
The band has not been shy about its political leanings, not unlike another Chicago indie band, Ok Go, and of course our president. Is there something in the water there?
A lot of chlorine. No, I’m just kidding. I think that there’s something about the Midwest that has that hustle and bustle energy to it and you feel like there’s an energy in the air and it just motivates you to work, and work hard at what you love. You experience all the seasons in that city and that really does something to you. I’ve met people from all over the country, from the different coasts, people who don’t get to experience that passage, that marking of the passage of time, and I think that that is something about us kind of folks that really just gets in your blood. You can see when things are changing and happening and you feel like you just gotta move.
If you had been elected president instead of Obama, what would’ve been your first executive action?
I think that a more universal health care is really important. I would know from first-hand experience this year, being on the road, getting sick all the time. It’s been very difficult to get great help with that. And it’s hard to hold the trust and it’s hard to make those decisions on your own; you need more guidance.
Tell me a little bit about the songwriting process. You’re the primary lyric-writer, but how does the music flow from that? Is everyone involved?
It’s really cool. It’s always been kind of different. On Ordinary Riches, Marc and I pretty much wrote all the songs together before we had a full band. So it would different all the time. Sometimes I would have him come over to my apartment, plug something on the piano and sing him a melody and say, ‘can you turn this into a real song?’ and he would help me. Or he’ll play something on guitar and I’ll write to that. Or we’ll make something up as we go along. It’s always different and very collaborative.
I’m about to see you live for the first time. What should someone checking out your live show for the first time expect?
I would say a really honest and gutsy performance. Usually we make a lot of discoveries with our music every night even though it’s been out for a little while. We want our audience to feel like they’re just hanging out with us and spending the evening with us. That’s really important to make that personal connection.
You just did a show at NYC’s Hammerstein Ballroom for 101.9’s holiday show in. Did you get to do any Christmas in NYC touristy stuff?
No, I didn’t even get to see the big tree! But I did get to buy my little sister, secretly, for a present I bought her a [TWRY isn’t going to spoil it for her!]. That was the most touristy I got because I had to walk into one of those souvenir shops and haggle with the guy.
So are you all done with your Christmas shopping?
Christmas shopping was almost non-existent this year because my family and I decided that it’s really not about the gifts and we don’t want the pressure, we just want to be able to spend time with each other. So this is the first year actually ever that that was an agreed-upon thing. I’m really excited. I always have wanted that and feel really lucky that everyone is on the same page this year.
You’ve had a pretty awesome year, some pretty cool things have happened. What would you like to see happen in 2010?
There’s going to be a lot of hard work next year because we’re going to be releasing an acoustic EP and our new album at some point and we’re going to be going over to Europe for the first time. So I’m just hoping that everyone can keep a positive attitude and never forget why we’re here and what we’re doing and stay healthy. I just hope that it’ll be less censored than ever, we’re honest and open. I’m really excited about next year.