Whimsical was a shoegaze/dream pop band from Northwest Indiana of the past decade ‘99-’05. They came back to life as a duo in 2016 with the release of a compilation of old Whimsical’s songs and many inspiring covers. And as well with an amazing full-length entitled ‘Sleep To Dream’. That made us connect with them and try to learn as much as we can for them and their work.
First of all hello from Last Day Deaf. We are glad to have this great chance to ask about you and your dream music trip. When were Whimsical created at first and how was it back then? You also released then your first album ‘Setting Suns Are Semi-Circles‘ which has been declared nowadays as a dream pop hidden gem. What caused the early dissolution of the group?
The thought of forming Whimsical was in motion for a few years, but we were only able to finally make it happen and pull together a lineup in the summer of 1999. The shoegaze and dream pop scene were pretty much dead by that time, but there were some bands in Chicago that were creating music that was closely associated with that sound. We always tried to have our own sound and not follow any other band or be too closely influenced by their songwriting. From 2000-2005 we performed live around Chicago pretty regularly and we were always supported by friends and loyal fans. During that time we were signed to Seraph Records and released our first album ‘Setting Suns are Semi-Circles‘. We started writing for our ‘Sleep To Dream‘ album and began recording in the fall of 2004. Unfortunately by that time we also had collectively become very burnt out on it all. We weren’t gaining any traction in the Chicago scene and it became repetitive playing the same venues with the same bands. Life was leading us all in different directions and we just weren’t feeling motivated to continue on. Neil had a few other bands at the time so it was easy for him to just continue on with them. Through the years we had always regretted not finishing the ‘Sleep To Dream‘ album. It was always a dream of ours to find the missing hard drive that had the album on it and release it one day. In 2017, we were able to finally release the album with the support of Saint Marie Records.
What made you put everything back together and continue as a duo? Would you like to introduce yourselves and which is the contribution of each of you in the new Whimsical?
Neil: Krissy and I were always the main driving force of the band, although Mark and Brian contributed as well. We had all still remained friends, but we all lived in 5 different states. Once I found the missing hard drive and realized I could finish the lost album, Krissy was 100% on board with helping me and soon we started talking about making music together again. I think Whimsical came back into our lives when we really needed it. I had asked Mark to join us again but he wasn’t too into the idea. I had helped Krissy build a small vocal studio in her house and slowly she learned how to record her vocals and this was how we finished our album as well as start new recordings. I knew it would be a slower process if we had more members involved, so it was a pretty easy decision to just do the music myself going forward. So I now handle all the instruments, as well as the recording and mixing/mastering. I also do the male vocals if they are needed, although I prefer not to do them. I do have to say that Saint Marie Records was also a factor in us reforming again. Once they made it known that they wanted to release ‘Sleep To Dream‘, they asked about a possible 3rd album. It didn’t take long for us to decide to reform.
Krissy: Hi! Thank you so much for asking us to do this interview. My role in Whimsical is exclusive to the lyrics and vocals, which I write and sing. I will be forever indebted to Neil for the fact that I am working on music at all again and it still all feels like a dream sometimes. I could not believe it when he told me that he found our lost recordings of ‘Sleep To Dream‘ and was able to recover the files. I was so excited, as I had inquired about this many times over the years. At that point, we still were merely thinking that it would be fun to print up 100 copies of our album and each member keep 20 copies, for those times when we wanted to take nostalgic trips down memory lane. Never in a million years would I have expected that it would have the potential to go beyond that, or lead to all of the incredible opportunities that it has. Listening back to the songs again, for the first time in almost 10 years, was such a surreal experience. It was as though I was listening to another band and was able to listen to the songs with a fresh and unbiased perspective. Having been able to step away from them during a time when we were feeling burnt out and uninspired was a blessing in disguise, because the album would have never been half of what it is today if we released it back then. After revisiting the album, Neil and I realized how proud we were of these songs and what we had written together. We decided that we wanted to find a way to finish these recordings. It still seemed like a pipe dream, as I had never recorded my own vocals a day in my life and had no way to do so at that time. Neil gave me advice as to what recording equipment and software I should order. Once everything arrived, we face timed for a few hours and he helped me set up my small home recording studio. I was very intimidated at first, but once I got the hang of it I fell in love with the fact that I could record and actively work on songs. This all came to me at the most perfect time in my life, when I needed it most, and has been one of the greatest gifts. I also have Neil to thank for the fact that we are signed to Saint Marie Records. He went out on a limb and decided to submit the album to some record labels. When he proposed the idea at first I laughed and thought “Yeah right, nobody is going to sign us. We live on opposite sides of the country; we aren’t actively touring or working on new music. Go ahead and try but I won’t hold my breath”. Within days of submitting a few songs to different labels, he messaged me to tell me that Wyatt of Saint Marie was expressing interest and wanted to see what we were hoping to do with this release. I was in a state of disbelief and complete shock, but obviously so excited. I will never be able to thank Wyatt enough for believing in us and taking a chance on releasing this album. Not only did he decide to release ‘Sleep To Dream‘, but he heard enough promise in our songwriting that he also wanted to sign us for a follow up album, which is the one we are currently working on. I still pinch myself over the fact that this became our reality and we are able to live out this dream of ours.
The first release of you as a duo was the release of the album ‘Brought To Light‘. A compilation of covered songs you admire and Whimsical’s unreleased songs. Would you like to say some things about the choice of the covered songs? Are they some kind of music identity statement? (I actually loved the cover of Slowdive’s ‘Dagger‘, The Cure’s ‘A Strange Day‘). Why didn’t you want to release your songs separately?
Neil: Once we decided to make music again, we needed to find a method of writing and recording our songs with each of us living on opposite sides of the country. So I had the idea to record a few old songs and a few cover songs to practice our recording techniques. Our cover ‘Dagger‘ was actually done around 2002 but it was never released, so Krissy asked me to re-record it for these new sessions. We honestly thought that we would post it online and no one would even notice. Most people really enjoyed it, so we kept putting out a new song about every 4-6 weeks for over a year. We had already signed to Saint Marie Records, so this was good way to promote the upcoming ‘Sleep To Dream‘ album and getting our name out there again in the meantime. Some of these songs were recorded exclusively for tribute albums and would not have been recorded otherwise. ‘A Strange Day‘ was a song that my band in high school used to play in the early 90’s. I always wanted to record it and this was just another reason to finally do that. Some songs have been for tributes but other songs, like ‘Ionia‘, have just been on my bucket list for many years.
Krissy: I have to smile when I think about how naturally everything came together for us. We really didn’t have much of a strategy, but we now see that releasing the ‘Brought Τo Light‘ songs, one at a time, really worked in our favor. It gave us the chance to build a loyal fan base before the release of ‘Sleep To Dream‘ and build momentum and increase anticipation. It really just seemed meant to be and we were in the right place at the right time. The first song that helped to put us on the map in this community was our cover of Slowdive’s ‘Dagger‘. I remember us being really nervous about how our version would be received by the shoegaze/dreampop community, especially because this was our first real introduction back into the scene as Whimsical. Covers are tricky to begin with, because people attach to the originals and it’s often difficult to appreciate another band’s version. Being that ‘Dagger‘ is such a beloved song, using this cover to open the door again to our music could have been a disaster for us and backfired. However, the response couldn’t have been better. We were overwhelmed with the positivity and we were flooded with messages and comments about how much people loved our interpretation of it and couldn’t wait to hear more from us. That response was so encouraging and motivating for Neil and me and this was exactly the driving force we needed. After hearing our music, the beloved Renato, of The Blog that Celebrates Itself reached out and asked us if we would be interested in taking part in his tribute comp to Lilys. We decided to cover their song ‘Coby‘ and the snowball began rolling into the concept of the ‘Brought Τo Light‘ album. We discussed songs that each of us wanted to cover and Neil proposed the idea of also re-recording our two originals that ‘Beautiful Virtue‘ and ‘Never Come Down‘. Neil always had his heart set on covering ‘Ionia‘ by Lycia, and I dreamed of covering ‘Crimson And Clover‘ by Tommy J & Shondelles. the Siouxsie & The Banshees and Nirvana covers also came about as a result of Renato’s tribute comps to those bands and those were the songs we contributed. We decided to release ‘Winter Wonderland‘ as a fun Christmas song.
The latest album ‘Sleep To Dream‘ has gained the interest of many dream pop magazines and blogs. Would you like to tell us about it? Which are the songs that are making a bigger impact?
Neil: ‘Sleep To Dream‘ is our lost album from 2005 that went missing until 2015. I was able to find the missing hard drive and find the unfinished album. I realized it was around 90% finished but also needed work on the editing and mixing. Since all of us were still friends I let them all know that I had found the album and I suggested finishing the album. Most of the work was going to be done by me but Krissy needed to finish her vocals and we needed to figure out how that could be possible. I was able to help her build a small vocal studio in her house and soon, she was recording herself and things were moving along. I eventually got an early mix done and decided it was time to contact potential record labels. Saint Marie Records responded quickly and soon after we signed on to release ‘Sleep To Dream‘. About a week later, the label asked if would consider doing a 3rd album? Krissy and I pretty much knew right away that we would like to continue the band with just the two of us. Once that decision was made, we started work on recording some cover songs as well as re-recording some old songs of ours. These songs eventually became our ‘Brought to Light‘ albums on our Bandcamp page. We would release a new song every 4-6 weeks leading up to the release of ‘Sleep To Dream‘. So we were essentially promoting a new album by releasing songs from another album. The strongest songs that fans seem to really enjoy are ‘Flutter Echo‘, ‘Surreal‘, ‘Lost And Found‘, ‘Anchor‘, and ‘Leap Of Faith‘.
Krissy: It has been really wonderful to receive feedback from our fans and find out the songs that they are most drawn to. It seems to be pretty unanimous that ‘Flutter Echo‘ is a top contender and one of the most loved tracks on the album, as well as ‘Surreal‘, ‘Lost Αnd Found‘ and ‘Anchor‘. Something that is really special to me is the number of messages I have received from our fans, stating that they are able to connect on an emotional level to the lyrics of the songs. I am a hopeless romantic and my lyrics are usually driven by love, in some way. Whether I am singing about a new found love, lost love, a broken heart, or the floating feelings that come along with a crush, most everyone can identify to those feelings, in one way or another. I love that people connect and relate to what I am singing about. It’s sometimes scary to be such an open book lyrically, but it makes me feel wonderful to know that my vulnerability in those areas is also what is reaching the hearts of others. Sometimes I’m singing about personal experience, sometimes just a beautiful daydream, and other times what I’ve seen others go through in their lives. Regardless, the subjects of human emotion and the heart are always at the center.
It is also referred that the ‘Sleep To Dream‘ was going to be your second album before the band’s hiatus back in 2004-2005. But it remained unfinished and you finally completed in 2017. How did you manage to put everything back in track and in which studio did you record and finish it? How do you feel that is now out and enjoyed by the fans?
Neil: The original recordings were recorded at my house in Indiana back in late 2004. Once those recordings were recovered, the instrumental part of the album was finished in my California home and the vocals finished at Krissy’s home in Indiana. I think we are happy with it now that it is finished. Of course there are always things that could have been improved, but at some point you have to move on. Considering it was all recorded, mixed, and mastered by me in my house, I can honestly say that there are much worse sounding albums out there.
Krissy: Not only is it heartwarming to have finally released this album, but for it to have been released on Saint Marie Records, alongside some of our favorite bands, and also have it so strongly supported by this community is truly a dream come true. Our songs have received heavy rotation on our favorite radio station, DKFM Shoegaze Radio, and also been featured on many of our favorite blogs, playlists and websites. All of that considered, it’s crazy to think that we once assumed nobody would ever hear these songs, as we thought they were lost forever. We will never take the support that we have received for granted! This entire experience has been evidence for me that dreams really do come true.
It is certain that the Saint Marie Records is becoming a sanctuary of dream pop and shoegaze bands. How did the collaboration with this record label emerge for you?
Neil: I had sent an early version of the album on cd to every “dream pop and shoegaze” label I could think of, but no one actually responded back to us. Saint Marie Records would only accept MP3’s, so I had sent an email to them asking if I could send a few songs for them to consider. Wyatt, the label owner, emailed me back and asked for 3 songs from the album. I sent ‘Surreal‘, ‘Flutter Echo‘, and ‘Lost And Found‘ to him and within a few hours, he had asked for more songs. I sent him the whole album and we started talking about what we wanted to do with the album. We signed a contract soon after and we haven’t looked back since.
What about your music influences? Which are the bands and albums that have influenced you the most?
Neil: That’s a tough question to answer. Even though I have been influenced by a ton of bands/albums, I was always trying to not sound like any other band. Before Whimsical, I was in a band called Mystified Thinking and we were always writing very long and depressing songs. I knew when I formed Whimsical that I wanted shorter and more “Pop” type structures. I think you can hear Ride, Lush, and The Cure in our sound, but the band that showed me how to make shorter songs, was a band from Chicago called Motorhome. I’d say The Cure and Motorhome are my main Whimsical musical influences for sure, but I’m sure Krissy would say Slowdive is her main musical influence.
Krissy: I have many different musical influences but vocally my biggest inspirations have been Rachel Goswell of Slowdive, Liz Fraser of Cocteau Twins, Miki and Emma of Lush (love their harmonies!), Harriet Wheeler of The Sundays and Lisa Gerrard of Dead Can Dance. What I love specifically about every one of these ladies is the fact that their voices are “often imitated, never duplicated”. When hearing a song that they are singing on, their voices are immediately recognizable because of their distinct qualities. I cannot think of other singers that have their sound and their voices are very unique and exclusive to them. Rather than ever try to emulate what they do or try to recreate their sound I am just mostly inspired by their creativity with vocals and how original they are. I hope it can also be said from my voice and style of singing that I have a distinguishable sound that is easily identifiable with me. I would like people to think “oh, that has to be Krissy” when they hear me singing, before they ever officially know it is me.
What are your plans for live gigs? If they are already scheduled with who are you going to share stage?
We recently played our first show in 13 years last November at the Kalamashoegazer fest. We played with a bunch of bands including Airiel, Dead Leaf Echo, and Crash City Saints. We will be playing this summer in Chicago with Airiel and a few unannounced bands. At this point that is all we have planned for now. We all live in different parts of the country so it takes a lot of effort, planning and money to make our live shows happen. Also, we want the few shows we do play to be more of an event and draw a large crowd. We don’t want to overstay our welcome. We do plan on playing live 1-2 times a year for sure, if we can make it happen.
And for the end what do you enjoy the most to do on your leisure time? You get used to doing things together except of what you do together as Whimsical?
Neil: We all live in different parts of the country, but we still talk and text each other often. I am married and have two small kids, so between work and family life, I’m lucky if I get to work on music or read a book at all. Krissy is in the same situation as me but her two kids are older and she has a little more free time. Our other three “live” members who were also part of the original band are busy as well. Our other guitarist Mark Milliron, runs his own computer company which keeps him pretty busy. Our drummer, Andy Muntean has two older kids and works as a biologist at a college. Our bass player, Brian Booher, works for a computer company and plays in a few bands, so he is always doing something as well. It’s always fun when we can get together and laugh over stupid old jokes and play our songs.
Krissy: I am a total music junkie and am so passionate about everything pertaining to it. If I’m not actively working on music myself, then I seem to be constantly in pursuit of finding new music from other artists. I live for the feeling that comes along with hearing a new song that pulls at my heartstrings, makes me smile, want to dance or shakes me to the core. It’s an addiction that I just can’t quit. Many of my most treasured memories, life experiences and greatest friendships (including my friendship with Neil and the other members of Whimsical) have come about as the result of a common love for music. Another perfect example of that is the fact that I now regularly work on music with Andy of The Churchhill Garden. Our bond began after I came across his song ‘Sleepless’ and fell in love with his music, song after song. He has now become one of my dearest friends in life and our musical collaborations will hopefully have no end! I can only hope that our music will also have an impact on others and be something that inspires people and bonds them together!