In terms of geography, The Main Squeeze has covered a lot of ground over the past six years. The same can be said of the band’s music.
Formed in Indiana, the now-Chicago-based group took a big step forward in 2012, winning a battle-of-the-bands competition in China. With the contest winnings, The Main Squeeze paid the balance on the recording costs for its self-titled debut album, which arrived that same year.
The follow-up, Mind Your Head, was released in late 2015. Produced by onetime American Idol judge Randy Jackson, the album seamlessly blends contemporary soul with electro elements, and highlights include the sleek, danceable “Angelus” (think CeeLo Green fronting MGMT) and the appropriately titled “In a Funk” (featuring rich keyboard sounds and standout playing courtesy of Ben “Smiley” Silverstein).
Silverstein recently checked in to talk about working with Jackson, memorable moments from his band’s other music-festival performances and more.
Medleyville.us: What was the music scene like around Indiana University when the band formed there, and did your band fit in?
Ben Silverstein: “The music scene in Bloomington was pretty good when the band formed in 2010, but there was definitely a big market for a band like ours when we first started. We were playing mostly covers at first — Stevie Wonder, Dr. Dre, Jimi Hendrix, Michael Jackson, Kanye West and Led Zeppelin — and there was no other band in town doing anything like that. We were getting big crowds and good gigs almost immediately because of our cover repertoire, and then we would start writing a bunch of songs and incorporating them into the setlists.”
What’s the funniest thing to happen to the band at a music-festival gig?
Silverstein: “One of the funnier things that happened was when we played Bonnaroo in 2012. We had a great set at about noon on Saturday, and after we finished, we had a full day of great music to watch ahead of us. We stopped by artist catering for dinner at about 6 p.m. and they were serving bass. It was surprisingly really good, and I went back to get seconds so I can fill up for the night. Turns out that was a terrible idea. Artist camping happened to be located directly behind one of the main stages, and at 1 a.m. or so, Skrillex was playing a raging set. I started feeling very sick all of a sudden and kept telling people that I had too much ‘bass.’
“Another one that involved the whole band was at Equifunk in 2013. We only had one set scheduled, but there were so many people coming up to us throughout the weekend asking us for another set. We ended up persuading the people who run the festival to let us play a secret late night set in the gymnasium. The set started at 4 or 5 a.m. and lasted into the sunrise and was amazing. The only problem was, people were so exhausted in there that the crowd practically looked like zombies.”
Talk about the band’s experience participating in a battle-of-the-bands competition in China — and what did you do with the grand prize?
Silverstein: “The competition was in Macau in 2012. We competed against 11 other jazz/blues bands from all around the world — Brazil, Hong Kong and Shanghai, for example. We won first place, which was about $32,000 American dollars. We bought a new van, finished paying off our first full-length album that we were recording, and saved up to move to Chicago, which we did the following year.”
Speaking of music competitions, you worked with former American Idol judge Randy Jackson on 2015’s Mind Your Head. Did he use the words “dawg” and “pitchy” a lot in the studio? And how would you describe his production style and approach?
Silverstein: “He did not use the word ‘dawg’ at all, believe it or not. He definitely said ‘yo’ and ‘pitchy’ from time to time, though (laughs).
“He was an amazing producer to work with and taught us a lot. He was pretty hands-on in the sense that he was at every recording session we did. He didn’t really change much about the songs that we wrote, and the sound of the band, because he really loved us for what we were. He just helped us fine-tune our sound in the studio and would offer suggestions for each song.”
Finish this sentence: At this year’s SXSW, I will …
Silverstein: “… not sleep.”
— Introduction and interview by Chris M. Junior
The Main Squeeze at SXSW 2016 (schedule subject to change):
• 11 p.m. March 16: Swan Dive Patio, 615 Red River St. (official SXSW showcase)
• Midnight March 19: Lucky Lounge, 209 W. 5th St. (official SXSW showcase)