Thrift Store Halo – Enemies With Benefits (Q&A)

Enemies With Benefits, a 3-song EP by Thrift Store Halo, will be released on CD and via all streaming platforms on 2.18.2022.

Thrift Store Halo is an Indie Power Pop band hailing from Chicago. Yet their classic Power Pop sound is often compared to English greats such as Elvis Costello, Paul Weller, Graham Parker, and Nick Lowe.

Frank Gradishar (Lead Vocals, Bass Guitar & Songwriting) explains how the new songs came about.

How did this record come together?

Well, it’s been an interesting few years since our last EP, in 2019.

Obviously Covid has changed everything, and on top of that, our guitarist and my co-writer since 2016, Lance Tawzer (former Material Issue bassist/Lupins guitarist) took a new job heading up the Abraham Lincoln Museum here in Illinois, and moved house several hours away. With that move, we basically decided to end our tenure, which had been, very fun and exciting. It was an amicable split and we’re still very good friends. Lance still does our artwork, and I always like getting his opinion on my new music.

Initially, with Lance’s departure, I had actually thought that maybe it was time to shut the operation down for good, and just end it. But last summer, my partner in crime, Scott Proce (drummer), thought the time might be right to try and reform Thrift Store Halo as our original trio. We had previously contemplated that back in 2016, but it didn’t work out; that’s when we joined up with Lance.

So in July, 2021, Scott and I went into a little studio and just started playing again with Brent Seatter, our original guitarist who appeared on our first EP in 1996 and our 1998 LP, World Gone Mad. Brent is a really gifted guitarist and as soon as we got into a room and started playing with him, it just felt right. Having played together for so many years back in the 1990s and briefly in the summer of 2016, it’s as though we share a form of telepathy or intuition, which made it all very comfortable, for lack of a better word. Everything just kind of fell into place, very quickly.

I had such a back log of songs, and we had a few tracks from the 1990s, two of which, “Not Too Late” and the rather experimental track, “Shelter”, had been written back in 1997, so we had plenty of material to choose from and it was rather easy hitting our pace.

Then we called Kevin Mucha, the fourth “member”, who recorded, produced, mixed and mastered all our release from 2017 through 2019, and he was really keen on working with us, so we got to work recording finally in October, and we are really happy with how everything sounds. Likewise, our old friend Kenn Goodman of Pravda Records/Pravda Music Publishing here in Chicago is like family, and he has been such a great ally and he was very happy to help us get the record out and to the “masses”. It feels great to be sitting here and looking forward to another new release!  

The meaning of success has changed over the years. What would success look like for the new record?

The meaning of success certainly has changed! Honestly, I think the fact that I’m surrounded by friends and musicians who are still actually interested and excited to make music with me, record the songs and release the songs is a success in and of itself! Considering that I had seriously considered calling it a day, I feel really happy just to be answering these questions about a new release!

Now, back in the day, success for me, was definitely measured more by label interest, big gigs at the bigger Chicago venues and by getting our songs on TV and FM radio, and, of course, getting reviewed in magazines. We did quite well in the late 1990s on all those fronts, especially with TV placements; we had songs on some relatively big US shows, like Party of Five and Smallville.

For this record, I think it’s already a success because it actually got made! Now, the rest is gravy! Having people actually checking out the music is the best part. Thankfully, in this day and age, I feel blessed that there is such a strong and supportive online scene surrounding power pop and that we can share our music and interact with other artists remotely and via streaming. There are so many great indie internet radio stations out there, and we have been blessed to be supported by so many. So really, I am utterly content and happy with what we have done and what we are continuing to do!

How great is the urge to stay creative?   To keep writing songs and lyrics?

I write constantly. It’s just what I do. In a way, I suppose it is very therapeutic and cathartic. Not that my songs are necessarily autobiographical, but I love trying to tap into an idea or emotion and weaving it all into a cohesive 3- or 4-minute song.

I am always striving to perfect my particular brand of songwriting. I am amazed sometimes at what jumps out when I sit down with my guitar and start humming over some chords. I seem to go someplace else entirely, where it just flows out and writes itself. I wish I could figure out how it all happens, but then again, I worry I would lose the ability if I did.

With Lance, he would send me, in most cases, complete musical ideas, with verses, bridges and choruses, and I would develop the melodies and write the lyrics on my own. Sometimes we would sit together and write, which was also very cool. But, I wasn’t really needing to develop songs from scratch, as I had been doing previously. That was a unique challenge, trying to write lyrics for the someone else’s chords. But it was a fun exercise and I think we crafted some very good songs with that approach.

Now I am back to bringing in songs I wrote from the ground up, so to speak, into a group setting, where the songs will be reassessed, modified, and almost always, very much improved upon from my original ideas. I do not demo, not as such; I simply sit down and sing as I play guitar into my iPhone. I have toyed with the idea of getting a nice little home studio set up, but I think I know that if I do, I will begin to get too set on my ideas of what songs should sound like and I would risk being too dictatorial when it comes to fleshing out arrangements in the band. I don’t want that to happen.

I want the band to remain collaborative, team effort in terms of arrangement, feel and approach for the songs. While Scott and Brent might not write the lyrics or the original chord structures, they do rework them and force me (sometimes kicking and screaming) to develop the songs into their final arrangements, which I think, is very important. I trust the, and their musical instincts.

Put another way, it’s as though I “write” the blank coloring book, and then Brent, Scott and I color in the lines together to create the final picture. I really dig our approach. I might write songs, but those songs aren’t just mine. They belong to the band. That’s also why I share all royalties equally.

I have over a 150 songs in the vault – or cloud as it may be – at this point. Now, 85% or more of those songs might never see the light of day, but that’s alright. I like having the ability to throw open the doors to Scott and Brent and say, pick what you think are songs we can arrange and to see where they end up!

What’s the gig you will always remember? And why?

We’re not much of a live band anymore, for many reasons, but, without a doubt, the most memorable show we played was opening for recent Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductees and British Invasion icons, The Zombies.

We opened for them at a “sold out” show in Lincolnshire, Illinois, in July, 2012, and it was incredible. It was such a pleasure getting to meet them, and see them, up close at soundcheck, and of course, during their set, which was stellar! They were very gracious and humble; true British gentlemen. And they were, and still are, so well-oiled, and full of energy. It was infectious! I remember having a great conversation after the show with the late Jim Rodford (who had been in the later-era Kinks and of course, Argent), who was playing bass for the band; he was full of great stories and was really, such just such a lovely guy.

Another show which stands out was a festival show in Wisconsin, back in 1998, opening for Eric Burdon – another British Invasion hero. The main memory of this show was when Eric’s drummer for that tour, the legendary Aynsley Dunbar, found his way into our dressing room while we were out walking around the fest; we returned to find him there after he drank every last beverage that was in the fridge! 

Cassettes are back. Which 5 five songs would make your first mixtape?

Great question – and a tough one! I would have to include:

1. “What Now” by Something Happens. From this awesome Irish band’s 1990 album, “Stuck Together with God’s Glue”, produced by the brilliant Ed Stasium.

2. “New Mistake” by Jellyfish, off their second album, “Spilt Milk”. A perfect power pop song.

3. “Everything Flows” by Teenage Fanclub, off their first LP, “A Catholic Education”. It’s perfectly grungy and provides perfect insight into what a great band they were destined to become.

4. “God Speed” by Velvet Crush, off the band’s 1998 “Heavy Changes” LP. Brilliant. 

5. “This Better Be Good” by Fountains of Wayne of their 2007 release, “Traffic and Weather”. It’s just a fun, and catchy song, with some excellent guitar work.

If I was allowed a 6th, I would certainly include “Still Breathing” by Green Day – love the lyrics, the attitude and the sound…Power-pop-punk?! Yes, please!

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