Over the past several years, Chicago’s Jimmy Lacy has crafted upbeat, adventurous synth tunes under the SiP moniker. Using synths, melodica, and an assortment of sounds, Lacy sculpts sounds that, to quote Mamman Sani, are not “for dancing, but maybe it can make you dream.” As I’ve found after devouring as much of the SiP back catalogue as possible, the music grows and flourishes with each listen, especially when accompanying me on long walks. After several solo cassette releases, including 2020’s Leos Naturals, Lacy teamed up with fellow Chicagoan Pete Prezzano (Love All Day Records) for SiP/Prezzano, released this October via Moon Glyph. As the new cassette has hit ears worldwide, and Lacy preps to hunker down for a long Chicago winter, we exchanged emails so I could get to the bottom of all things SiP-related.
U: Tell us about yourself and how you started playing music. You’ve described learning guitar as a teen, but when did you take up keyboards? What other instruments do you play?
Jimmy Lacy: I took up keyboards about 15 years ago when I first moved to Chicago; I moved from Gainesville, Florida where you could rent a house with roommates for cheap and have band practice and house shows in your living room. I was playing drums mostly at the time and then the move to Chicago and apartment living, drumming wasn’t so conducive. I borrowed a small Yamaha keyboard with a built-in drum machine to have some way to interact with music and gradually taught myself to play. I got really into it! After 2 years and a lot of research, I invested in the Nord Lead keyboard I have now (I’ve had it for around 12 years).
During the pandemic lockdown I ended up teaching myself melodica and working more on piano and acoustic guitar. Also picked up on the kalimba somewhat. I’m excited to be working with more acoustic instruments and am integrating more and more into SiP’s recordings.
The Not Not Fun entry for Leos Naturals describes the sound we now hear as SiP originating from “a happy hour residency at a Logan Square cocktail lounge.” When I read that, I was instantly intrigued and had to learn more. What was that like? How did you come to take on a gig like that, and how did you approach crafting material to perform on a regular basis?
The Whistler is a long running cocktail lounge in the Logan Square neighbourhood and has always had excellent music programming. Geoff Farina from Karate had a happy hour residency there that I loved and before that Leroy Back from Wilco; I loved the format and the lengthy set times, [and] really felt SiP’s music and mood would be a perfect fit, so I approached the owner, Billy Helmkamp, who I’d booked with different projects over the years and he was into it! I’d get a 3 hour slot from 5 to 8 on Fridays and would challenge myself to bring new material each week. I ended up developing a number of tunes that would end up on the Leos Naturals album during this time, albeit the grooves would last much longer and would go off for extended flights, for sure. I like the idea of “cocktail music” – something intentionally light and pleasant, not overbearing as the point of focus talking to your friend, but rich enough to lock into and enjoy all the same.When I listen to any SiP release, I hear it as “mellow” or “chill,” but I hesitate to call what you do “ambient.” What kind of mood does your music put you in?
I’m always trying to write music that communicates some type of positive mood and when I’m playing, trying to focus my energy there; for me there’s enough dark intensity in this world and would like to create something bright. I don’t consider the music ambient but don’t mind the grouping and enjoy a lot of ambient music myself. I’ve always considered ambient music to be more nebulous and amorphous in style and tone; SiP has hooks and a song-based approach. If anything I feel SiP’s music has more in common with folk, in that I try to connect its tones and feel to the musical traditions that inspire me from jazz, kosmische, synth explorations, etc.
SiP/Prezzano is a collaboration with Pete Prezzano of Love All Day Records. He was credited with melodica on Leos Naturals. How did you two come to work together, both on previous releases and this new tape for Moon Glyph?
One of SiP’s early shows was for the long-running NeoBeat series here in Chicago. Sabbatical, Pete’s project with his wife Risa, played that night also. We all got along great from the start and, while it took some time, [we] eventually started playing music together. Pete plays melodica on the Leos Naturals album and has played a few live sets behind those songs. Eventually we ended up building a four-song set of original material – more sprawling pieces – and from there committed them to a recording. We were deliberate but really unhurried and the working dynamic was really nice. We thought of giving the project its own name but kept coming back to the idea we were both bringing something of ourselves to the project. Also, being fans of the Cluster & Eno album from the late 1970s, we decided to keep our own performance names and release the album as SiP/Prezzano.
“Indialantic Book 1,” which featured on the Amethyst compilation, and SiP/Prezzano were released by Moon Glyph. How did you connect with Steve Rosborough for these two releases?
Steve and I struck up a correspondence through our mutual bud Britt Brown who runs the Not Not Fun label that put out SiP’s Leos Naturals album. He expressed interest in working together but I didn’t have any material at the time, then some while later he reached out about potentially submitting a track for the Moon Glyph compilation tape he was putting together. Through talking out the details about the comp submission I shared the SiP/Prezzano material and he was excited about it. And – small world – Steve had worked with SiP’s regular designer, Drew Ryan, so felt on the same page in a lot of ways. I’m a new father and Steve just had his first baby, so we had our experiences to share and it’s been a really nice cross-country connection.As your previous SiP releases have been solo, with some additional instruments and vocals throughout, what was the collaboration like for the four tracks on SiP/Prezzano? Has this work influenced how you’ll approach whatever comes next for SiP?
Pete is a great collaborator. He has great feel, [is] great at improvisation, and [is] really good at sorting through improvised work and picking the moments that end up making it to a final track. [O]n this album in particular, Pete did a lot of crucial legwork, building sequences off of his modular, editing and adjusting based on how they worked during rehearsals, and engineering and mixing the recording. [I’m] very grateful for the energy and know-how he brings.
Collaboration in music is important to me, although I’ve been finding the band dynamic exhausting for a while now. SiP is intentionally a solo project but I do build the tracks so additional players can easily be incorporated live or recorded. I’ve done a few sets with Pete on melodica and Erik Christian on clarinet (both are featured on the Leos Naturals album), and other sets with a few different guitar players.
I’m currently working on a follow up to Leos Naturals – I am building the songs to incorporate more instrumentation, so far thinking horn work and electric guitar. Despite some misgivings, I would love to expand the sound to a band with percussion and bass.
Your music sounds ready for a live setting (obviously Live on Planet Catieo was a live radio show). Have you been able to get out and play since the start of the pandemic? Will you and Pete do any shows together?
Before the pandemic, SiP, and to an extent my collaborations with Pete, would play out regularly across the city. Just before the pandemic and the stay-at-home order I was booked to open for Damo Suzuki and was working on a series of dates in the Los Angeles area to promote the new album. Unfortunately all of those shows were cancelled as the seriousness of the pandemic became clear.
Chicago is a great place to play live music with a million places to perform. Since the pandemic I played one live streaming show that was simulcast on Twitch and local radio station 105.5 FM (Lumpen Radio) as part of the NeoBeat series; I set up in my living room and it was pretty neat seeing the people comment and chat in Twitch as I played my set (not something I had done before). It was a nice feeling of community during that time when the music scene was so far apart due to the stay-at-home order. Ultimately I haven’t done any other streaming sets since; the reason I like to play live is for the connection and communication which isn’t there online for me.
I did play a show the end of August at the Hideout here in Chicago with the great psych/drone duo Spiral Galaxy who are friends and have played bills with them pretty regularly over the years. The Hideout built out their porch to do really nice outdoor shows as a pandemic safety measure and require vaccination cards for entry, so felt good about playing with a conscientious business. I’m not really looking for shows at current, focusing more on writing and recording for the long winter season we have in the Midwest, but if something pops up might find myself playing at some point soon.
What’s your favourite venue, either to play or see a show, in Chicago?
The Empty Bottle is a favourite; it’s a long running rock club (among other things) and a Chicago institution. I’ve always lived a bike ride away and couldn’t count the number of shows I’ve seen or played there over the years. And SiP has a regular circuit of venues I like to play like the Bottle, California Clipper, Cafe Mustache, and the Whistler. I also had the opportunity to play a larger concert hall in town opening for Moon Duo; a place called Thalia Hall, which is a 150 year old opera house. The sound was huge and really got to dig in with the low end – [a] very special experience!
As we near the close of the year and look forward to 2022, what are you proud of from this year (music or otherwise), and what do you have in store for the next year?
2021 saw the birth of my baby, Oona James ♥. So I’m a proud new dad 😊.
In my music world, 2021 was largely a year of re-situating and writing. I moved my synth rig to a large warehouse rehearsal space that has a few mostly-in-tune pianos; the move there really helped my focus and helped me be a lot more productive. Before I was rehearsing and writing at home, and that just stopped working for me after a few years. I would get super distracted by this and that. At the rehearsal space there is a ton of room to have a comfortable set up and there isn’t shit else to do there that’s a distraction!
2022 I’m hoping to make good progress on two, maybe three new albums (probably jinxing myself saying it here… or actualising!). One will be a sequel to Leos Naturals called Leos Ultras; I’m thinking it will pick up many of the threads of Leos Naturals and hopefully develop them further with more instrumentation, deeper hooks. [It will be] Rocky II to Leos Naturals‘ Rocky I 😉. I’m also working on a collection of songs built more on piano, guitar, and other acoustic instrumentation, and then Pete and I are currently getting our arms around the thrust for a new collection as well. Lots of ideas and fun to work them out, but not enough hours in the week!
Photo courtesy of Allison Williams