When I first listened to the debut EP Lines from Chicago quartet St. Bagu I was drawn in by their fresh approach to mixing hip hop with progressive and dreamy rock guitar melodies. Then as I traveled through the six song EP, a sense of confidence and urgency drew me in further to their bold blend of melodic rock and consciously spiritual rhyming. It all sounded pretty good, but then I wondered… are they ready for their first live show?
Throughout Lines, St. Bagu wages war against the doubt, uncertainty and the status quo of everyday life. On “Wonder Years” and “How Long” they battle the big questions using a confident and enlightened swagger guided by peace, love and honesty. And never do they sophomoricly claim to have life completely figured out. But instead on tracks like “Simple” they gaze towards heaven’s eternity to keep a grip on reality and avoid getting wrapped up or discouraged by the setbacks and frustrations of life on planet Earth.
Now that I’ve told you a little bit about St. Bagu’s debut EP, it’s time to talk about their live show and their first ever live performance, which will take place tomorrow, Thursday April 29th, at the Congress Theater in Chicago.
To get you ready for the show, I spoke with St. Bagu about how they plan to overcome the struggle to play live for the first time and play on an unlikely stage. In tag-team fashion, Freddy Bustamante (rhymes/vocals), Anthony “Tony” Pozdol (rhymes/vocals), Chi Can To (Keyboards), and Moises Pacheco (guitars) explained the reasons behind some of their live show hopes and fears, how looking in a mirror inspired the rebellious, self-checking anthem “Lines,” and what artists have inspired them to play live.
More info on how you can download Lines and get tickets for the tomorrow’s show will follow the interview.
Interview with St. Bagu
Live Fix: What inspired you to write “Lines” and how will you use the song’s emotional and personal inspiration to connect with the crowd?
Tony: “Lines” is a blast for us. I mean the song itself stems from a look in the mirror I had one day in which I noticed aging lines permanently etched in my forehead. Making something more of it, I thought of lines and limits in general, and how much I hate them.
Naturally we said, let’s make a rebellion song against these “lines.” For example, when someone draws a line and says, “You can’t do Hip Hop successfully from the angle you’re doing it from.” Well then we will prove you wrong, and fight to defy that line. Then there’s the whole “You can’t do this” line in general which is something we despise. Not to say we authorize complete and total lawlessness. That’s far from the idea.
We’re just as a bunch of dreamers, with a hope to proclaim hope itself, and to stretch Hip Hop to new territory. We constantly come against opposition who think it’s not attainable. We don’t believe in accepting glass ceilings, we believe in shattering them. We believe that [St. Bagu’s] sound already crosses the lines of what Hip Hop is supposed to “sound” like. And when we perform live we just want the crowd to hear an infectious tune and enjoy it without thinking about whether or not it’s inside the lines of Hip Hop. We want everyone to enjoy it for what it is, a moving and fun song.
Chi Can: “Lines” is a perfect example of how we use only live instruments to play our style of hip hop. We don’t use any beat machines or samples on purpose because we want to create a vibrant experience with lots of organic energy. And we’re looking forward to playing “Lines” live because we hope the song’s message will resonate even more since the music is original, live and authentic.
Since this is your first time playing live as a group, what you are most excited about or scared of? What has it been like in the studio as you guys prepare for the live show?
Freddy: I’m looking forward to the moments when the beat drops and the crowd is singing along with us. I’m coming into this show understanding that we don’t have a name for ourselves and this will be the first time the majority of the audience will ever hear St. Bagu. But I’m expecting the music to be infectious, for the lyrics to be catchy and for the moment to be an experience. I want to walk away from the show feeling like I was a part of something bigger than myself. Along with that though, my most nerve wrecking thing I’ve been thinking about is not tripping [laughs]. Those stairs can make or break my career!
Tony: I am most excited about just sharing in the time together. The moments where we can’t even fight the smiles because we’re enjoying ourselves so much. Also those moments where things come to a hush and we’re able to breathe in some of these moments for what they truly represent.
Rehearsals have been fun and productive. We laugh a lot, and probably do some things we wouldn’t do live, like some terrible dances. But we practice hard, and speaking for myself I have noticed in practice alone I sweat profusely. So personally I am afraid of soaking my shirt about two songs into the actual set.
Like Freddy mentioned, your performance might have a different feel since you’ll be performing on the stairs in the lobby instead of on the main stage at the Congress. How are you guys planning for that?
Tony: I think we’re actually quite excited to be performing with the layout we have. It’s a bit more unconventional and when I think of everything the band stands for in regards to creativity and pushing for change, it seems a fitting setting for a debut show. I think the only challenge we’re truly facing is space and sound hook up. Once those specifics are worked out, I believe we’ll be able to take advantage of the layout and create a unique experience.
With St. Bagu being a group that strives to push a message of standing against the monotony, and doing the seemingly unachievable the stage does well of creating a great visual platform in which to do that from.
So as always the idea is to maximize it and break the wall between audience and performers, making use of the stairs rather than being limited by their presence, maybe even at some point ending up in the crowd itself. There are certain things you can and do plan for. Then there are those special things you do on the fly. I look forward to those, as unpredictability is a good time.
What do you love the most about performing live?
Tony: Taking a song we’ve poured so much of ourselves into, and sharing it with people. When we’re in the studio, or writing, these are THE BAND’s songs. When the listener is listening in their car, maybe it’s THEIR song. But when we come together these are OUR songs. The unity, the singing together, the peace and fun of it all can’t be matched. As human beings, I believe we are meant to live together, not in disputes and discord, and a concert is one of the most pure examples of that togetherness when done with right intentions.
As an artist, what “Little Things” do you look for during a show for real-time insight or inspiration?
Freddy: I learned something back in college about the importance of looking someone in their eyes when having a conversation. It builds a trust, a sense of unity; “I’m looking in your eyes so you know I’m not hiding anything”. When we’re on stage, I like to look for the people who will look me in my eyes, have a discussion through the music we’re a part of now, in the moment.
It seems to come naturally now, but the reason I like doing this at a show is because I like to see the interaction afterward. Some people get awkwarded out, yes it’s warranted too because it could be a little weird.
Some people turn to their friends and gloat about it; I guess it’s important when the vocalist notices you. But I like the ones who maybe weren’t having the best of days, where maybe they were at the show to get away and are in thought; maybe the music is hitting them at their core, and when the eye’s catch each other the change happens. I look for the moment where beyond the music, I’ve had a conversation with someone even if it was across the room and with our eyes alone.
As a fan, what “Little Things” have you noticed during some of your favorite concerts?
Moe: There are many little things I look for. The biggest ones have to do with body movement and facial expressions. If the performer is just standing still and only looking at his instrument, that tells me he cares more about the music than me. If the performer is jumping up and down, my energy is fed by theirs. The more energy they deliver, the more I will. It’s like Newton’s law of motion “to every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction.”
What was your first live concert like as an artist and what did you learn from it?
Moe: I’ve performed many concerts with my school, but as my own artist, my first concert was an Show Time at Apollo-style talent competition at Northwestern in Evanston. This was in 2002. I was playing with two musicians that I had met a week prior. Most of our audience was African American and we were all light skinned. As soon as we started, the boos started as well.
But as the performance went on, the boos changed to cheers and we ended up taking 2nd place based on audience applause. I found that connecting with the audience while on stage had more impact than putting out a flawless sound.
Freddy: The first show I did was also Tony’s first. It was a grimey hip-hop show at a hotel hall. It smelled like beer and weed and I was scared out of my mind! The atmosphere didn’t scare me though, what did was forgetting my starting lines in my verse and having no sound check dude to raise my vocals. I sounded like I was out of breath and crying.
If you could take one element of your favorite concert you experienced as a fan and use it to inspire St. Bagu’s live show, what concert and band would it be and why?
Tony: I’m a fan of Switchfoot, and have been to three of their shows. What I love about their shows is you know they stand for something important, you know these guys believe their songs to the core of their being. You feel by simply being there, you’re a part of an important moment. You laugh, you look within, you sing out loud with all your heart, and you repeat these patterns till you’re spent. You really feel as if you’re a real part of the show, and a part of a community. I want people to feel like that at our shows. Not only that they’re getting a good show, but they’re partnering in a timeless moment with us.
Tell us something unique about your live performance that fans might not realize or be aware of during your show at the Congress?
Tony: I don’t think people will be able to tell it’s our first live show together to be honest. I believe we have been gifted by God with a great chemistry together. Especially when you consider the short amount of time we’ve actually been playing together. I think this would be a shock more than anything because the plan is to go out and do what we’ve been patiently waiting to do, and that’s create moments right off the bat. The variety of musical genres in one show and the fact it’s still Hip-Hop at its core may surprise as well.
Thanks again to St. Bagu for sharing their insights into Lines and their live show.
St. Bagu’s Thoughts On Congress
Following up our interview with St. Bagu here’s a snippet from Tony as he reflects on their performance. Plus, a short video of the show below.
“…I learned a few things first hand that night. One of them being, a truly passionate and talented band doesn’t make excuses, they make improvements! In other words a band shouldn’t let their circumstance dictate what they do. So sure the sound and acoustics were off in the mighty tall room. Heck every band knew this was coming in sound check. However should that hurt us and keep us from putting on a genuine heartfelt live show? NEVER!”
Here’s complete info on tomorrow’s show and how you can download and buy Lines.
The Congress Theater
Thursday April 29th
Doors open at 7 p.m.
Tickets $10 advance. $12 at the door (18 and over)
All ticket proceeds will benefit Chase Elementary School.