The Heligoats is the long-running indie folk/rock project of Chris Otepka, a Chicago-area native with a talent for lyrical storytelling. While The Heligoats is often a solo venture, throughout the years it has expanded and contracted to include a number of musicians in various lineups over the course of several albums and EPs, including the critically-acclaimed Goodness Gracious (Greyday Records, 2009). In 2012, Otepka traded the Midwest for a week-and-a-half-long tour in Ecuador. Since his return, The Heligoats has been busy at Chicago’s Observatory Studios where it is crafting material for an unnamed record, slated for release this fall.
Last month, ManBQue met up with Heligoats just before the band’s performance at famed Chicago venue, The Hideout. Despite high winds and looming thunderstorms in the distance, ManBQue fired up a grill on the venue’s front lawn to grill up a goat cheese-topped, vegetarian black bean burger, specially created by The Godfather in honor of the Heligoats [ed. Hey Godfather, turns out Chris isn't a vegetarian after all!]. The event was documented for a brand new ManBQue video series which will make its debut later this week.
After the shoot, The Other Woman spoke with Otepka and collaborator Steve Mitchell about life post-Equador, recording in the pleasant surroundings of The Observatory, and what Chris really thought of the burger (he loved it).
JL: Can you tell me a little about your trip to Ecuador?
Chris Otepka: We played eight shows in Ecuador. It was with a band called Clem Snide and it was a lot of fun. We played in seven different cities and then we spent three days in the jungle. We didn’t eat much meat at all there except for chicken noodle soup.
JL: What is the thing you want to drink in the jungle?
CO: Are you baiting an Ayahuasca question? Because we drank Ayahuasca. Is that what you’re getting at? They also had a river there…
JL: Did your jungle/Equador experience influence your songwriting for the new record?
CO: No. All the writing was done before I left, and I’m only now beginning to process the trip. Still kind of on it, I still haven’t gotten home from Ecuador yet. Before Ecuador I had a place to live, but since January I’ve been living out of a storage space, so I wake up feeling like I just got home from Ecuador, even though it’s been two or three months since I was there. Clearly it’s something I haven’t taken the time to process.
JL: Had you ever been there before?
CO: No, but I would go back in a heartbeat. It’s a country the size of Colorado. It’s very diverse, very volcanic. It was a great time. I loved it.
JL: When you were in Equador, were there any foods or other comforts of home that you were missing?
CO: Yes, Garcia’s at Western and Lawrence. When I came home I was living at a friend’s house nearby on Sunnyside for a week and a half, and I ate at Garcia’s three times that week. They have the best burrito in the world, in my opinion.
JL: So you recorded the new material at The Observatory? Had you recorded there before?
CO: This was our third time. We did the first one there together and we couldn’t not go back.
SM: Our buddy [Erik Rassmusen] is the engineer there, and he’s a top notch dude.
JL: Do you write most of the songs and the arrangements in the studio, or is it done before you get there?
CO: Arrangements were worked out there, at least this time around. We did a lot of experimenting this time.
SM: We have a new drummer this time. That’s different.
CO: A different drummer always switches it up. Nate Lantham.
JL: What is it about the Observatory that keeps you coming back?
SM: It’s a great studio, the whole place is.
JL: I’ve been to shows there, and it feels like you’re not in Chicago.
CO: It’s an oasis.
JL: It really is. You have to basically climb a mountain to get there because it’s what, five stories up? And you expect to see a monk sitting there with a beard when you get up there, and there basically is because there are a bunch of hippies that live there.
SM: Yeah, you get winded around the third floor.
CO: It’s amazing to see all the gear they have up there and think about how long it must have taken them to get it up there.
SM: Yeah, they’ve got pianos and organs too.
CO: Actually, that’s a good story. Steve and I knew each other for a long time and I invited him to a show there and he was like, “We should record here,” and two years later we’ve done three different records there.
SM: Now, it feels like home.