When Santah hits the stage at Lincoln Hall on Friday, it will mark nearly three years since the release of the Chicago band’s last EP. That time has been spent on the road and in the studio, where the group honed its latest record, a collection of effervescent psych-pop songs called Chico.
After recording a debut album (White Noise Bed) while at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the members of Santah moved to Chicago in 2010, drawn by the city’s thriving local music scene and its relatively affordable lifestyle. “We appreciated being able to take [a few] years to hit a couple different studios and have a practice space,” drummer Steve Plock says. “You go to bigger cities and it seems harder. Here, you have that luxury of being able to take longer.”
As the group began planning its sophomore album, the luxury of time became integral to the process. “There was a lot of experimentation and demoing,” frontman Stan McConnell says. “This was the first record where we made a conscious decision about what we wanted to sound like. As people, we’re lighthearted. I think we wanted to be more playful, a little bouncier and a little dancier.”
Once the songs on Chico began to come together, the group booked sessions with local producer Matt Dewine, who owns and operates the Ukrainian Village recording studio Pieholden Suite Sound. “He was put on this earth to make records,” McConnell says about Dewine. “He helped by imposing limits and putting a structure in place. That’s a huge thing to have if you’re trying to finish a record—you need to find someone to hold you accountable.”
The band set self-imposed deadlines by launching a PledgeMusic crowd-funding campaign in October 2014 to finance the release of Chico, offering up CD and vinyl copies of the album as well as offbeat rewards like a kraut-making class and handmade clocks. The group also made the decision to self-release the album on Yes Club Records, a small label that McConnell started to distribute his friends’ music. “We tried to send [the record] to all of our favorite small labels,” Plock says, adding that the band is happy with how the release panned out. “We still got to release it the way we wanted to, on the same scale, and we got to stay in control of the whole timeline.”
That timeline shifted when a planned spring release was pushed back to fall as the group grappled with delayed manufacturing schedules at over-worked vinyl-pressing plants. “We wanted it to be the record of the summer, have people listening to it on the beach,” Plock laughs.
Officially released on November 6, Chico’s shift from a spring to fall release seems fitting considering the dualistic themes that permeate the record's synth-dappled songs. “The record is about seeing the other side of yourself, seeing your twin, looking at your lover, your family, your bandmates, and realizing that you’re close to being the same person,” McConnell explains, noting that he also examined his own profession while writing the album. “That particular divide—between the artist, the dreamer, the romantic, the practical, the rent-payer—is something that everyone needs to reconcile.”
The album’s name also holds a double meaning: “It’s kind of a pet name for Chicago,” McConnell reveals before divulging that Chico is also the name of a city in northern California. In a region of the West Coast that once attempted to become a new state—called Jefferson—Chico would have occupied the southern bastion of this mythical realm. "If there’s a spirit region for this record, it’s the Pacific Northwest," McConnell adds, describing how looking beyond his immediate surroundings helped shape the album's narrative. For those in search of a bit of extra warmth as the weather grows cold, we suggest dancing to Santah's balmy Midwestern rock.
Santah celebrates the release of ‘Chico’ with Paperhaus, Divino Niño and Ida y Vuelta at Lincoln Hall on November 20.