Bob Morris has got his hands full tonight. His band, the Hush Sound, is slated to open for Fall Out Boy and the All-American Rejects at Chicago's UIC Pavilion. Just prior to the hometown gig, as the guitarist/vocalist is being interviewed, his mother -- who's standing in line outside the venue, unsure of how to collect her ticket -- won't stop phoning. If he's supposed to be stressed out, though, he hasn't realized it yet. Fact is, he's pretty new to this whole process.
How new, exactly? Put it this way: You've probably had steaks in your freezer longer than the Hush Sound has been a band. Formed in February 2005, the Windy City four-piece -- Morris, vocalist Greta Salpeter, who also plays guitar and piano, bassist Chris Faller and drummer Darren Wilson -- recorded its aptly titled debut, So Sudden, just three months after getting together.
"All of us except Greta had been in local bands before," says Morris, "and we knew when you're playing shows and nobody knows your songs, it's no fun. So once we figured out how to play the songs, we just went in and recorded it."
The Hush Sound
With Panic! At the Disco and the Dresden Dolls, 8 p.m. Saturday, July 22, Fillmore Auditorium, 1510 Clarkson Street, $20, all ages, 303-830-8497, SOLD OUT
On Sudden, which was self-produced, the outfit quirks up piano-driven melodies with healthy doses of classic rock, swing and, thanks to Salpeter's influences, classical music. The result is an endearingly uneven mix that finds the group switching genres about every 4.72 seconds.
"The sound's just all over the place, really," Morris admits. "We had no specific idea what we were trying to do. We were just trying to do something we hadn't done before."
Their instincts paid off. Enamored of Morris and company's lyrical story craft, Panic! At the Disco guitarist Ryan Ross -- whose own band was discovered by Fall Out Boy bassist Pete Wentz via the Internet -- came across some of the Hush Sound's tracks on purevolume.com and turned Wentz on to the outfit.
"There was something in the songwriting that was different that stood out to me," Ross explains. "Also, they're young, just like us, and I thought if they were writing songs like they did on So Sudden -- and now Like Vines -- they definitely had a lot of potential."
A burgeoning entrepreneur/tastemaker, Wentz reacted to Hush just as favorably as he had a few months earlier when he'd first heard Panic! At the Disco, and signed the band to Decaydance Records, his joint venture with the Fueled by Ramen imprint. A short while later, the label re-released Sudden and made plans to send Hush back into the studio with Sean O'Keefe (Fall Out Boy, Motion City Soundtrack and Hawthorne Heights) and Fall Out Boy frontman Patrick Stump to record Like Vines, the act's followup.
"On the first record, we had no one to impress but ourselves," Morris notes. "When we started preparing for Like Vines, we knew it was going to be on a much larger scale and a lot more people were going to hear it. We were kind of under a lot more pressure, as far as writing goes."
That pressure turned out to be productive. When it came time to enter the studio, the band had amassed three albums' worth of new material. This time around, though, working with O'Keefe and Stump, the members quickly discovered that they wouldn't be afforded the same type of latitude they had enjoyed before, when it was just their money on the line.
"There were also a lot more people involved," says Morris, "whereas with So Sudden, we basically produced our own album. No one was telling us what to do. We didn't really have to worry about anyone else. We just got to play music, which was amazing. On the new one, there were a bunch of people helping us out and throwing in their own ideas, so it was interesting hearing what people who've been doing this for years thought about what we were doing. We learned a million times more on the second album, because we had people who really knew how to do it.
"It's definitely an extension of our thoughts on So Sudden," he adds. "We just put a lot more thought into it. Instead of being so sudden, it's so thought-out."
Much of the credit for that goes to album co-producer Stump, who, according to Morris, "is completely unlimited in his ideas and his knowledge of music. He's got a world of music inside him that the world is going to find out about."
Stump, meanwhile, says he was drawn in by the maturity of the act's songs, which boast titles almost as cryptic as the ones he sings ("Sweet Tangerine," "A Dark Congregation," "You Are the Moon").
"I'm not worried about whether or not the Hush Sound will become household names," Stump says. "They've written some truly brilliant songs, and I think those will stand the test of time.
"They're not simple four-chord pop songs," he continues, "but textured and subtle, folk-influenced pop music."
Indeed. Like Vines is complicated folk-friendly musicianship with a glossy pop finish. By polishing away the first album's rough edges, the Hush Sound has become more radio-friendly. Morris credits the shift to the time he and his bandmates spent with O'Keefe and Stump in the studio.
"This time, we knew how much we were learning," he says. "It was like taking four years of college in three weeks of recording."
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Fittingly, that accelerated pace mirrors the Hush Sound's own trajectory; the act's rapid ascent is stupefying to everyone but Morris, it seems.
"Well, if you don't think that when you're starting a band, that you're going to do this, you shouldn't start a band," he says. "You're starting a hobby, not a career."
On the other hand, Salpeter is absolutely shocked by how far they've come so quickly. She had to complete her senior year while on tour to make it all happen: "I remember we got the first e-mail from Pete, and I was a junior in high school, studying for finals and getting ready to take my ACT test."
A year later, the cramming continues.