Shuttlecock was born out of the ashes of former Toledo band Omaha a few short years ago. Now, Shuttlecock has released their third full-length CD titled Machine-Extended. The following conversation took place with guitarist/vocalist Kenneth Chojnacki and drummer John Hubbell at the group's practice space in late July. Be sure to see them live on Aug. 9 and 24 at Mickey Finn's, 602 Lagrange St., in Toledo.

Steve: Who thought of the name Shuttlecock?

Ken: I really don’t remember.

Steve: What originally sparked each member’s interest in music?

Ken: I don’t remember.

John: As long as I can remember, I’ve had an interest in music. My grandma actually played drums in the Highland Lassies. She had sticks and a pad around, and I guess I used to mess with it.

Steve: How old were you?

John: I don’t know. I’m going to guess about 10.

Steve: How about you Ken?

Ken: I don’t remember that either. What the hell’s the point?

John: You started playing keyboards didn’t you?

Ken: Oh yeah, that’s true. I started playing piano.

Steve: Were you guys in that band Dirk [Hemsath, owner of Doghouse Records] started in the late 1980s?

Ken: Majority of One?

Steve: Yeah.

Ken: No, John and I weren’t in that. We were in Colossus of the Fall.

Steve: Was Colossus of the Fall right before Omaha (editor’s note: a band that Dirk Hemsath, Chojnacki, Hubbell and previous Shuttlecock bassist Andy Leitner were in)?

Ken: Yeah, Colossus of the Fall turned into Omaha.

John: Same band, but we really shifted in [Omaha].

Steve: When you guys started Shuttlecock, did you have a particular idea of how it should sound? Did you find yourself carrying any ideas over from Omaha?

John: I don’t think a particular sound per se, but more the idea of, “We’ve been in these bands, doing certain things and I decided that I wasn’t going to worry about doing anything for anybody other than playing music that made me happy, because it was rough going with Omaha. It just seemed like we couldn’t get ahead with anybody. So, we said to hell with it. If we’re going to do something like that, we might as well do it for ourselves. At least, that’s my recollection of it.

Ken: Yeah. Sure. (laughs)

Steve: How would you say your two separate personalities help contribute to the music? Does someone bring an idea to practice, or do you guys work out songs together?

John: I’d say 95 percent of it is us just staring at each other until somebody starts playing something, but occasionally with an idea that’s either in progress or more rarely it’s a brand new idea that one of us will come in with; the basic idea of it anyway, whether it might be actual chords or notes, or it might just be some idea of what you want to do.

Ken: Right. More times than not, it begins with a concept of what we’re going to do. It’s pretty ambiguous, but just a concept. We just come up with a concept. Maybe then, the music starts to develop.

Steve: I was also wondering about lyrics. Is that something that one person in the band comes up with, or something that both of you work on.

John: Lyrically, I don’t write that much. There’s been a couple of things, but they’ve never been recorded. (To Ken) Is that something you think of beforehand?

Ken: I don’t know. Sometimes [I develop lyrics] driving in the car. It’s all based on a concept. I think that’s actually one of the things that we do more subconsciously.

Steve: How did you guys originally meet?

Ken: Hooterville Station. (laughs)

John: I think it was through my really liking a band that he was in. Although, I think it was more through Alex.

Ken: I think it was through the fact that I hated the band you were in, and I thought you should be in a better band. Not necessarily my band, but a better band. (laughs)

Steve: With the two of you in the group now, I imagine that the sound has gotten tighter.

John: I think it was pretty tight all along. There’s a different quality now in space, because even though there are basically four instruments, we still only have two people in there. Not that it’s necessarly more dense, but it’s a little more streamlined, which isn’t to downplay previous members contributions.

Ken: I guess I feel more like [we’re] songwriters now whereas we weren’t before. Before I just thought we were part players. It’s just an entirely different concept.

John: I definitely feel like a stronger contributer to the overall direction of the sound.

Steve: Do you feel that with the situation now, it’s opened up a lot more possibilities as far as the ideas that you and Ken are kicking around? Is it a quicker process now or a lengthy one as far as writing the music goes?

John: Some aspects I think of it are the same. Some stuff takes forever to get done, and other stuff comes out basically the first time we play through the idea. As far as that goes though, I do also feel that there is a lot more openness between the two of us.

Steve: As far as equipment goes right now… What kind of instruments are you playing right now? Is there a particular significance to why you chosen these particular items?

John: We’ve definitely shied away from any of the digital stuff. Everything’s just analog and old. I don’t know if there’s a particular reason other than to fill out the sound since it’s just the two of us. The electronic drums I came across while the bass player was still in the band. I found them sitting in a corner at the music store. Personally, I feel that kind of sparked the direction for [the new sound].

Steve: When did you add that to the band?

John: It’s while we were still trying to write some stuff as a three piece, and I don’t think the electronic drums were all that popular. At least, I got that impression. (laughs)

Ken: About that period is where you see the incorporation of the synthesized drums, which was sort of a key element in the formation of the two-piece. But, it was directionless at that point. We really didn’t have the desire to push their capacity, although, we did play with them in some instances. I think everything started being in flux at that point.

John: It took some time to bring everything into focus.

Ken: There was definitely some floundering, and that was precipitated by Andy leaving.

Steve: Were you thinking of finding another bass player at that point?

Ken: Oh yeah, we had seriously considered that. Although, we quickly realized that finding someone of the caliber we wanted would be a wasted expenditure of our energy. So, we quickly decided that we have to make some changes there. I don’t know what inspired me to get the bass pedals.

John: Well, you talked about it a little bit, and then you started looking around.

Steve: What kind are you using?

Ken: I’m using the Moog Taurus pedals.

John: I have Simmons electronic drums. I have seven, which I’m trying to figure out how to incorporate both versions at once. (editor’s note: Hubble also has SDS 400 electronic drums)

Steve: So, the Moog bass pedals weren’t the original ones were they?

Ken: No, originally I used a set of Krumar pedals.

John: Those were basically a set of add on pedals to my organ. So, they’re just organ pedals.

Ken: We actually recorded some pre-production material with the original pedals. We had six songs done with those.

John: We learned the limitations of those pedals at that point.

Steve: What kind of guitar do you use? Is it a Travis Bean?

Ken: Yeah.

Steve: Was there a particular sound that you were looking to get out of the instruments to produce some sort of [particular] sound?

Ken: Yeah. This all kind of leads back to your one question about the particular significance of what we use. Once we sort of found the logic — kind of developed a paradigm if you will — it sort of made sense to sweep away all of the old information and be very articulate about the instrumentation and about the amplification and how we used it. So, the introduction of that guitar was also one of the crucial elements that lent… that specifically was part of the concept of Machine-Extended. The concept was something that I don’t think we ever developed intentionally. It just sort of began organically. So, the introduction of that guitar made sense.

Steve: You weren’t using that in Omaha, were you?

Ken: No, I was using a Telecaster. The first recording that we did with the Bean was Machine-Extended.

Steve: As far as the electronics go, how did you figure out who would play what? I don’t know if you guys actually sat down and worked that out.

John: A lot of that comes out of just playing, but then, it gets refined, and there’s a lot of discussion about what instrument should be going at what time, and what should pull out. There’s a lot of contrast and juxtapositions in sounds so that a lot of the idea is just playing with the sounds; just trying to stick the sounds together differently than you normally would hear.

Ken: Yeah, there is no rhyme or reason to the overall general outlook. We just develop the thing and we go. There’s no written code or model or anything.

John: Yeah, like I said, it just comes out of playing and discussions.

Steve: Have you guys increased your practice schedule?

John: No, we practice two to three days a week.

Ken: It took us about six months to sort of perfect what we were doing.

John: I think it took a lot longer. I think it took a lot longer to find the general direction. Then, it took a little while to get a handle on the stuff.

Ken: At least six months of actual playing.

Steve: Was there a particular reason why [Leitner] left the group?

Ken: He went off to school or something.

Steve: Am I correct that Bob Weston (editor’s note: famous indie rock producer in Chicago and bassist for Shellac) recorded the new album?

John: Yeah, Bob did everything. He recorded all of the seven inches, except for… I don’t even know the name of the album. We did an Omaha recording that Bob did to. Let me take a look.
(editor’s note: Hubble walks over to a spot in the practice room and picks up the CD)
Non-Par Mystifications and Self-Extractions. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen that or not. I kind of feel like that record there was like the germ of the idea of Shuttlecock.

Steve: This was the last [Omaha album]?

John: That’s the last thing Omaha did. There are four songs on that record and then, something happened that was at least out of Ken and my control.

Ken: There’s four songs on there.

Steve: So, you feel that this album acted as sort of the germ for Shuttlecock?

John: Yeah, there’s moments in there that definitely… In like the way we started doing things afterwards.

Ken: I think in terms of just the more complex songwriting. But, just to go back to the idea, both John and I were in bands that did pretty complex things before Colossus of the Fall. I mean, Colossus of the Fall was sort of this attempt to write more simple music and sustain some sort of success. I think we’ve kind of come back to where we started.

John: I was in Moby Jane before that, and I feel that was a similar idea. I mean, it definitely was not arty, but it wasn’t simple stuff.

Steve: Were either of you formally trained, or were you self-taught musicians?

John: I took some drum lessons in fifth grade, but I’ve gone back and looked through the stuff the teacher tried to teach me, and he had no idea what he was doing. I basically wasted my money and my time and screwed up about four or five years of time where I could have been making progress, but I wasn’t, because he got me off on the wrong foot. I’m a little bitter about that I guess. (laughs)

Ken: I kind of feel the same way. Three years of formal piano training, and I think I took about three months of guitar lessons and said, “Fuck that.”

Steve: Originally, when Omaha started working with Bob Weston, was there a particular reason why you chose him?

John: Because we really liked his recordings. The main one that got us going was the Rodan record. We just really liked the sound of it. So, we just called him up, set up a time and he recorded the Omaha record.

Steve: So, you guys have been working with him for about what now…

John: Gosh, that was in ’95. It had to be. We’ve basically been going [to Chicago] once a year.

Steve: Usually, when you go in to record an album, do you have an idea of how you want to produce it, like how you want to set the mics up, or does Bob do that?

John: That’s Bob’s business there.

Ken: I guess the one of the primary reasons is because the whole aesthetic was, and I still think remains that way, is that there is almost no production per se. If the band sounds like shit, that’s what [the recording is] going to sound like. (laughs) That’s kind of a challenge and a test in itself, because that is what we sound like, and that’s the beauty of it.

John: Yeah. Album after album, [Bob’s] clarity increases every time. I think every recording gets better. I suppose because we’re refining our sound, and he’s refining his ability to catch that.

Steve: Of all the sessions that you’ve done with him in the past, have they all pretty much been live sessions?

Ken: Oh yeah.

John: They’re live, except for vocals.

Ken: There’s one piece on the record that isn’t completely a live session. That was “Ice Age.”

John: We weren’t sure on that what we wanted. We didn’t really work it out. So, we had a couple minutes of tape left on a reel, so I threw down the Simmons part and the little melodic drum thing, and then, Ken went at a later time — a couple of days later — and put the pedals and guitar work in. I mean, we had rehearsed it, and it sounded pretty much like that. We just hadn’t really come to an agreement on what we were going to do with it.

Ken: How it could work.

Steve: Were there any challenges during the recording sessions say as far as the electronics went?

John: Yeah, the electronics were definitely kind of the unknown of this whole project. I feel the electronics are acceptable, but definitely not where we wanted.

Ken: Well, once again, I think that’s something that more and more as we do it more and more, we’ll learn how to do a better job. I think we did a pretty decent job for the second time doing it, but yeah, it’s something that can only get better.

John: And, getting a balance between the acoustic and the electronic instruments was a bit of a challenge.

Steve: Was Bob use to working with [electronics]?

John: I don’t believe so. I think that’s where some of the difficulty lied.

Steve: Was everything recorded on analog equipment?

John: Yeah.

Steve: How did that develop? Are you more interested in analog versus digital?

John: That’s kind of Bob’s area as well. He’s a die hard analog guy. Although, he’s starting to experiment with digital more. When we had done the demo recordings, we were pretty excited to work that way.

Steve: Are you going to tour for the new release?

John: There are definitely plans for that. Nothing’s set up yet, but we’re shooting for September, but that’s coming up quickly.

Steve: National or international?

John: I’d love it to be international, but I have a feeling it will be the East Coast. Even during Omaha, we never made it out west very far. Minneapolis was as far as we got. But, we had toured Europe. I’d like to do that again.

Steve: Have you guys toured before as far as Shuttlecock is concerned?

John: No, with Shuttlecock the biggest thing we did was like a 10-day deal, and for that, Ken and I were both really excited. It had gone better than anything we had ever done in the past, and it started falling apart right after that.

Steve: Was that with the bass player?

John: Yeah. It still was a three piece, and basically once that recording came out that we did, the This is the Hour recording, we didn’t really play a show after it. It took a really long time to crumble, but it just started getting worse and worse and worse and worse and finally it collapsed.

Ken: Currently, we’re going to be making a considerable effort at playing more shows regionally. There are plans to tour, but we just have to work out the logistics of putting that together, but it will happen. But, we are going to be recording some new material, we hope, for a label called Friction Records.

Steve: Out of Grand Rapids [Mich.].
(editor’s note: a discussion ensues of how Bowling Green, Ohio band Stylex recently released their first full-length record on Friction)

Steve: Are you guys going to do a one-off album with them?

John: An EP.

Steve: So, are you going to try and correspond that with the time you’re going on tour?

John: I don’t know. We never talked about the time frame of that.

Steve: Are you going to try and go to Chicago again to record this?

John: No, we’re going to try and do this ourselves again like we did the demo CD, where we can do a little research on our own about recording.

Steve: Is Iron Compass (editor’s note: the current label the band is on) somehow affiliated with Lumberjack [Distribution out of Toledo]?

Ken: Yes.

John: I can tell you one thing. Trying to deal with Iron Compass is pretty rough.

Ken: The company has six releases now, and it is affiliated with Lumberjack in the respect that it is a label that Lumberjack distributes.

Steve: How did you guys get hooked up with Iron Compass?

Ken: Well, basically, I am Iron Compass. I try to create as much confusion about that as possible.

Steve: (sarcastically) And, I love every minute of it. (laughs)

Ken: So, I started the company to put out Shuttlecock material, because I knew there was potential there.

John: And, we had a bad experience in a way with the release before that, which was on Atomic Action. It took a lot of pulling teeth to get the seven inch out.

Steve: When did you plant the seed for Iron Compass? Was that just a couple of years ago?

Ken: It’s been three years now, and the first release was from Shuttlecock.

Steve: Was that the same album that was through Atomic Action?

Ken: No.

John: Atomic Action was just a seven inch.

Steve: How are you working the distribution for the new release? Is Lumberjack distributing that for you across the country?

Ken: Oh yeah.

Steve: Internationally?

Ken: Yeah.

John: Internationally?

Ken: Yeah, we’ve sold a couple over there.

Steve: I was reading their Web site, and it said they have distribution over in Asia and Europe.

Ken: Oh yeah. Lumberjack…

Steve: It’s pretty huge. I always see their ads in Magnet (editor’s note: international music magazine). It’s kind of strange, because you don’t really here about it around Toledo.

Ken: That’s the way I like it. (laughs)

John: That’s kind of our way of operating as well.

Ken: That’s right. We operate under the radar here. Of course, I’m not sure why exactly. (laughs)

Steve: Have you guys ever thought about moving out of Toledo? Is there a particular reason why you’re still around here?

Ken: I don’t know why we’re still around here.

John: We work here.

Steve: I always like to ask different bands just to find out, because there always seems to be quite a bit of talent around here, but you don’t hear much about them.

John: It’s kind of a tough town. It’s decently located though to operate from. The East Coast is only like 10 hours away. So, that’s not bad. You can leave work Thursday, play a Sunday matinee show, be the last ones to drive home late and show up for work at nine o’clock. So, Toledo’s not too bad really, and Chicago’s only a few hours away.

Ken: The cost of living is fairly decent.

Steve: What shows do you have coming up?

Ken: Mickey Finn’s I think we play on Aug. 24 with Escape Pod, which is the old Streamlined.

Steve: As far as the set list now, are you incorporating a lot of the old material as far as the recent shows, or is it all new stuff?

Ken: Nothing old. It’s all the new material.

Steve: I have to ask this question. How do you feel about being compared to Shellac (editor’s note: Shellac is a band on Touch and Go Records in Chicago comprised of Weston, indie rock recording engineer Steve Albini and drummer Todd Trainer. Shuttlecock is often compared to them in reviews.)? Do you feel honored or annoyed by it?

John: I don’t feel either indifferent or annoyed. It’s just convenient. I don’t personally see the comparison. We both shoot for a relatively open and clean sound.

Ken: I feel more moved by that comparison. People will use whatever means they want to describe the music.

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