Remember back when rockers wrote songs that really meant something and music was a tool to communicate sweeping universal messages that could open up the world’s social consciousness?
If not, let Graham Czach make it more Lucid for you. Infused with an expansive ‘60s-‘70s classic/progressive rock sensibility, yet fully grounded in the musical vibe and social realities of the 2010s, the Chicago based singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist’s highly anticipated solo debut has a few dreamy romantic songs—most notably, the simple and ethereal, classically influenced “True Love.”
Yet most of the collection’s 12 tracks are truly art for the mind and spirit, tapping into themes like caring for the planet (“Gather Round,” a tribute to John Lennon featuring references to the legendary Beatle’s chorus from “Across the Universe”), the downward spiral of harmful addictions (“Nightmare”), spiritual discovery (the hypnotic “Reincarnate,” which starts as a trippy acoustic number before exploding into a fiery guitar jam) and abortion (“Choice”).
Unlike many artists who simply write and sing about the causes that drive their passions, Czach puts his time, energy and money where his songs are, promising to donate a portion of the proceeds from Lucid to the non-profits he supports, including Greenpeace, Planned Parenthood, the American Cancer Society and the Art of Living Foundation. He’s participated in various runs for charity in his hometown, including the 5K AIDS Race, the Walter Payton 5K and the Chicago Half Marathon.
As Lucid sheds light on all these issues and more, Czach draws on a fascinating, diverse musical background—including his Chicago Music Award winning work with Chicago Afrobeat Project—to create musical landscapes as compelling as the lyrics. Tapping into his childhood where Led Zeppelin, The Beatles and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young were practically a religion, and later influences like Pink Floyd, Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Mars Volta and Jimi Hendrix, he infuses hard rocking, sometimes unusually metered grooves to four (and more) part vocal harmonies, beautiful acoustic melodies and vibrant unfolding string arrangements.
Complementing his own bass and guitar parts are high profile guests, including drummer Kris Myers (Umphrey’s McGee), keyboardist Matt Nelson (Lupe Fiasco, Matthew Santos) and guitarist Chris Siebold (Howard Levy, Kick The Cat).
“After being a sideman with many other groups for so long, playing everything from funky Afrobeat to jazz bass with the Aaron Koppel Quartet in Chicago,” says Czach, “I’m finally bringing out my true heart and soul on a project that is the culmination of all my influences and years of studying music and working as a musician. It was a matter of finding my own musical voice and also the confidence to lead a group of great musicians. In the year and a half since we began recording the drum tracks at I.V. Lab in Chicago with engineer/owner Manny Sanchez, I have solidified that voice which has opened up a creative force that drives the material on Lucid and inspired me to write a whole follow-up album. As I started formulating songs and visualizing how these statements might flow into one another, I felt a concept emerging. I’m telling the basic story of humanity, the struggles within, coming out of them to see the light and the overall purpose of life. It’s about those challenges we deal with collectively as part of the universal consciousness and beyond.”
Further illuminating the emotional-social mindset behind the music on Lucid is another key collaborator, legendary album artist Jeff Jordan, who created the provocative album art on the cover and in the CD packaging. Jordan’s work on the 2008 Mars Volta album Bedlam In Goliath was voted the #2 Best Album Cover of the Year on the Rolling Stone Readers’ Rock List; Jordan also painted the Mars Volta covers for Amputechture and Octahedron.
Czach, a longtime Mars Volta enthusiast, reached out to Jordan to create the album cover of Lucid after purchasing Octahedron on tour in San Francisco with Chicago Afrobeat Project. Graham sent Jeff some of his songs and they quickly established a great mutual working relationship, becoming “co-conspirators” (as Jordan put it) in conceptualizing the album cover for Lucid. Jordan’s painting, “The Widow,” ties in with many of the themes and messages on the album.
“The cover illustration is of an older mermaid who was married to the sea and is longing to go back to the sea in one of the portraits on her wall and die,” says Czach. “She’s lived through a lot of hard experiences and sees the reality of the grimy cityscape out her window, and is ready to move on. The lily, the little girl is holding, is a sign of innocence, purity and youth and the widow, a polar opposite, yearns to connect with that one last time. Lily is also the name of my niece who inspired the album’s final song ‘Goodnight (Lily)’, a lullaby that is the perfect closer for the idea of coming back home.
“I’ve always had ideas in my songs that explore the whole light vs. dark, good vs. evil, corruption vs. innocence themes,” he adds. “These themes tie into the music, which gets heavy and dark and times, then soars into the light at others. ‘Reincarnate’ conceptualizes that idea as a through-composed song with no repeated sections, where you’re living and about to die, you die and go back home or from where life came, then realize that you are reborn and have another life to live. The song explores the universal questions of life and death, about whether there is another life. The mermaid covers her teary eyes and knows she will go back to the sea where the life cycle will repeat itself.”
If there is a literary quality to the singer’s musings, it’s not by chance—an avid reader of classic novels and collector of first editions, he claims to have read from 60 to 70 of what are considered the world’s classic novels, from “Tolstoy” to “Jules Verne.” He estimates that there are 150-200 books with this designation and he aims to read them all!
Graham Czach began his musical career at 8 years old, and by the time he graduated from high school, he was already an accomplished upright/electric bassist and composer. His playing in school and community orchestras soon developed into participation in jazz and rock bands, starting with high school ska/rock band the Skalawags that also featured Kris Myers. Czach continued his studies at Illinois Wesleyan University where he received a scholarship in music, and completed a Bachelor of Music in 2002 for Upright Bass Performance/Composition (double degree), and a minor in Voice.
After college, Czach moved back to Chicago and formed the band Native Fiction, in which he co-wrote their album First Case Scenario in 2004. In addition to his work and extensive tours with Chicago Afrobeat and the Aaron Koppel Quartet, he’s performed and recorded with Andrew Ripp, the Matt Nelson Trio, Let Me Introduce You To The End (Universal Poland), Creedence Again (CCR Tribute) and the Sublime tribute band Second Hand Smoke. Czach has also performed with GRAMMY Award winners Paul Wertico and Howard Levy. He recently recorded double bass on GRAMMY winner Lupe Fiasco’s new unreleased album L.A.S.E.R.S.
While Lucid explores the rock facet of his artistry, his jazz side has received numerous accolades over the years. Neil Tesser (Jazziz, Jazz Times, Chicago Sun-Times) wrote: “Graham Czach takes a solo that stakes his claim on Chicago’s grand tradition of great bass players.” Matthew Warnock from All About Jazz adds: “…bassist Graham Czach and drummer Robert Tucker hold down the fort as solidly as any rhythm section on the scene today.”
“Working on Lucid and developing my career, I have learned so much about myself and life,” he says. “Part of that is discovering the depth of my own songwriting and playing but a lot has to do with putting my ego on the back burner and working with the incredible musicians who participated on the project as well as Jeff Jordan and my co-producer Matt Nischan. They all put their creative genius on the project and I feel like we established a whole artistic community of friends and family even if the album has just my name on it. It’s been a wonderful thing seeing my dream come to fruition.”