Tim Young, lead guitarist and vocalist of the band Passerines, does not give off the air of a bandleader. Dressed in Vans, tight pants, and a gray hoodie, Young was shorter than many of his fellow performers during his show at Bucket O’ Blood Books and Records in Logan Square, and his humble demeanor suggested a desire to stay out of the spotlight. But once Young and drummer Robert Fletcher took the stage in the intimate, dimly lit venue, Young’s gentle and intricate guitar work demanded the listener’s attention, his tight vocal melodies adding to the drama of the performance. No one in the audience was able to avert their gaze.
Young’s current style is miles away from his beginnings as a punk rock guitarist at Lincoln Park High School, where he says he gained much of his initial experience by playing in a series of bands. “When I was in high school I would perform in pop punk bands, so I had a lot of experience with being on stage through that, and I got to play around Chicago at the Metro, the Subterranean, and whatnot,” he says.
It was only later that he began playing solo, usually at open mic shows in Chicago, while studying art and design at Columbia College. Young says he spent a lot of his time at Columbia learning about the engineering aspect of studio production and how to most effectively record his music, while beginning to write his own material on the side. The stage was set for his next major musical project, Passerines.
“I started performing under the moniker Passerines in early 2013, late 2012,” he says. “Over the past year I’ve worked with ten-plus musicians or so, and the band has at this point solidified to a five-piece which includes cello, viola, myself on guitar and singing, keys, and then drums.”
Listening to their recordings on Bandcamp, Passerines sound more like an art-rock orchestra of musicians, perhaps a testament to Young’s skillful production. Soft, crisp, vocals float above a sea of arpeggiated guitar chords, brass harmonies, and keyboard lines, giving the music a dream-like quality. At the Bucket O’ Blood show, this symphony was reduced to Young on vocals and guitar and Fletcher on drums, yet the same magic was present.
Young was quick to point out that many of the jazzier elements of the performance came from Fletcher’s drum work. A fan of contemporary jazz, Young says his influences are broad: “Lately classical music has influenced me, like early 20th-century composers, mainly being Maurice Ravel and Claude Debussy, as well as some contemporary rock outfits like Dirty Projectors. Bjork is a huge influence for me personally, Joanna Newsom, stuff like that.”
Lyrically, Young’s technique relies on dressing up everyday experiences and feelings in allegory and metaphor. Love, growing up, and friendship are his primary sources of inspiration.
“It definitely is a skill to put something down and be straightforward about it. Some people really enjoy that,” he says. “But a lot of my music is a lot about color and a lot about ornamentation, and so I tend to do that when it comes to my lyrics too. A lot of it’s decorative, but everything has a point to it.”
Though Passerines seem to know what they’re doing, they’re a young band—they’ve played fewer than twenty shows in two years, including a few at North Side Venue Constellation and the Southside Hub of Production in Hyde Park. Young says that the band has yet to figure out where they fit in relation to the larger Chicago music scene.
“There’s a lot going on in this city, and it’s easy to get along with people, so I have a lot of friends who are in different music scenes across the city,” Young says. “But for the type of music that we make, I don’t know if it’s clicked with any certain niche or collective of people yet.” In the long term, Young envisions Passerines growing into something greater than a music group, perhaps incorporating film, theater, and dance into their repertoire. “We do what we do, and I write what I write, in order to communicate with other people,” he says.
In the immediate future, however, the Bucket O’ Blood show was Passerines’ last gig until February, when they plan to finish recording an EP to be released in early 2016. While fans await its release, they can bear the quickly approaching winter with a warm fire, some hot chocolate, and a few Passerines recordings to pass the time.
Upcoming performance dates and past recordings by Passerines can be found at passerines.bandcamp.com or at passerineschicago.com.
Correction December 3, 2014: An earlier version of this article misidentified the first name of the composer Claude Debussy.