After becoming one of the brightest buzz bands throughout the late 1990s, New York’s Burlap To Cashmere fell a bit under the radar throughout the following decade, though finally returned at full tilt in 2011, promising fans their musical partnership is permanent this time around. In fact, the group’s been much more collectively prolific than ever since that highly heralded self-titled reunion record, releasing the brand new “Freedom Souls” four years later (with the “From The Vault” EP falling in 2013), all while trading major label life for a massively successful crowdfunding campaign through PledgeMusic. Find out more from front man/songwriter Steven Delopoulos about the group’s ambitious blend of indie rock, folk and world music influences that’s destined to be on display when swinging through Chicago this summer.
“This record is influenced by things I’ve listened to my whole life: Bob Dylan, Harry Chapin, Cat Stevens, Tom Waits, and even the composer, Bach. I love his music. He’s a constant source of inspiration.”
You’ve spent quite a bit of time on major labels but opted for PledgeMusic this round. What prompted the switch to the self-released format?
Steven Delopoulos: Record labels can be great when things are going well, but they can also be unpredictable. Most people don’t know this, but with our last record the label folded right before the album was released. We were excited and off to a great start, then suddenly the floor came out from under us. All this momentum we had built over months came to a screeching halt. It was demoralizing. So the idea of working directly with fans was really appealing and we’ve loved it.
What have you liked about all of the music industry’s changes since you debuted in the ‘90s and what, if anything, would you have preferred to stay the same?
Delopoulos: I wish radio worked hand-in-hand with the labels like it did in the ‘90s, but it’s a totally different world now. The music business is more like the Wild West: every man for himself. On the flipside, social media sites like Facebook and YouTube have made it easier than ever to connect with fans. It’s an interesting time to be a musician.
How does “Freedom Souls” fit into the context of the group’s catalogue thus far?
Delopoulos: It’s hard to say because I’m so close to the music. There’s a little of the past two records in this album and then we go into totally new territory as well. All of us in the band believe this is our best work yet.
Were there any specific musical influences from the past that helped shaped the sounds on the project?
Delopoulos: That’s also hard to say because these songs were written over a period of years spanning from when I was 18 until now. Some were written in pieces. For example, I first started writing “I Will Follow” 20 years ago and scrapped it. Then the night before we went to our first recording session for “Freedom Souls,” I said to the guys, “Hey, what do you think of this?” They loved it. I wrote the lyrics that night and we recorded it the next day. This record is influenced by things I’ve listened to my whole life: Bob Dylan, Harry Chapin, Cat Stevens, Tom Waits, and even the composer, Bach. I love his music. He’s a constant source of inspiration.
What about any ethnic influences that may have come from members’ heritages?
Delopoulos: My cousin Johnny [Philippidis] and I are both from Greek families. I grew up in a Greek Orthodox home as well so the influences are pervasive. I grew up listening to Greek music. There are several arrangements where it really stands out. The intro to “Dialing God” is very characteristic of Greek folk music.
You guys were about a decade before Mumford & Sons and that whole surrounding scene, but also brought several additional layers to your sound. Do you ever wish you blew up to that same extent or would you rather just make music on your own terms without the commercial pressure?
Delopoulos: It’s funny, we always get compared to Mumford & Sons, but we’re very different bands. We both incorporate folk music into our records and our albums came out close together so we tend to get lumped in with them, but we’re nothing like Mumford & Sons. Those guys are great at what they do, but they do one style of music very well. Burlap To Cashmere performs many styles of music very well. We’ll be happy for whatever success comes our way but the Burlap/Mumford comparison is one I’d like to shake off.
What will you be playing on tour this summer?
Delopoulos: We’ll be playing songs from all three records: [1998’s “Anybody Out There?,” 2011’s “Burlap To Cashmere” and 2015’s “Freedom Souls”]. It will be a good mix.
Are there any especially memorable concerts you’ve played in Chicago and what do you like most about coming to town?
Delopoulos: House of Blues is a pretty special one- great venue- and the pizza. I miss the pizza!
Burlap To Cashmere performs at SummerStage 2015 on Sunday, July 5. For additional details, visit www.burlaptocashmere.com.