Birds of Chicago land in Park City to spread ‘Love in Wartime’ |

Birds of Chicago land in Park City to spread ‘Love in Wartime’

J.T. Nero and Allison Russell are the heart and soul of Birds of Chicago, which will perform Saturday at the Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.
Photo by Natalie Ginele Miller

Birds of Chicago 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 23 Eccles Center for the Performing Arts, 1750 Kearns Blvd. $29 435-655-3114

Birds of Chicago’s most recent album, “Love in Wartime,” was a record the band needed to record, according to guitarist and songwriter J.T. Nero.

He and his wife, lead singer Allison Russell, wanted to make a more joyful sounding album that would follow the somber, personal “Real Midnight,” Nero said.

“We wanted to make a more rock ‘n’ roll record that tapped into the full scope of what we do as a live band,” he said. “Then things happened that made a darker turn politically and culturally in our country, and it became more urgent for us to make a joyous document of people choosing the loving path. It seems these days that love can become a radical act of defiance.”

Birds of Chicago will perform songs from “Love In Wartime” as well as selections from “Real Midnight” when the band performs Saturday night at the Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.

There was a lot of kinship in our musical proclivities…” J.T. Nero, Birds of Chicago songwriter and guitarist

The band formed in 2012 when Nero — the leader of J.T. and the Clouds — and Russell, known for her role in the urban-roots group Po’ Girl, decided to join forces.

“It was a natural evolution,” Nero said. “Although we each were in separate bands, we were musically attracted to each other. I was a fan of her band and she was a fan of mine. There was a lot of kinship in our musical proclivities.”

The two decided to work together when Nero, writing new songs, began envisioning Russell singing them.

“I was such a fan that I internalized her singing voice from a writing perspective,” he said. “That’s when we knew we needed to carve out some space and time to nurture that, and it snowballed from there. I mean, when you have a singer as gifted as Alli, it’s a thrilling thing to write for her.”

Singer-songwriter Peter Mulvey helped Nero come up with the name Birds of Chicago.

“It didn’t even occur to us to call ourselves that, because we were thinking it would be the name of our first record,” Nero said. “I was reaching around for a name, and Peter asked me the name of the record, and after he heard it, he said, ‘Well, that’s the name of your band, dummy.’ And he was right.”

Nero likes that the name refers to the band as a collective with him and Russell as the nucleus.

“While Alli and I are the crazy ones who are always on the road, we do have a tie with a string of usual suspects who are involved with making records and touring with us,” he said.

Touring has helped the band survive the ups and downs of a changing music business.

The band continues to play an average of 150 live concerts each year, Nero said.

“It’s the brave new world, right, and everyone is still trying to figure out how music can still be a viable career,” he said. “Luckily for us the shift from the album sales model to streaming model wasn’t as devastating because we have always been based on live touring. It’s just part of the job description.”

Still, Nero said Birds of Chicago turned to fans via crowdsourcing campaigns to help fund its 2015 self-titled debut.

“We backed into the crowdfunding model after a friend of ours introduced us to Kickstarter,” he said. “I was at first really queasy about it, because it was like us asking for charity, but now it’s the model for the future. A lot of ways it’s great because it gives fans a real proprietary interest. It’s almost as if they are shareholders of the company.”

Nero’s fascination with music started with the urban sound of ‘80s hip-hop.

“Like a lot of kids back then, hip-hop was a driving force in my life,” he said “I’m still a hip-hop fan, and I still think that was the folk music of our era.”

Nero also discovered his parents’ record collection.

“Even though I pretended to hate their music, I was exposed to the whole gamut of styles — soul, blues, county and classic rock,” he said. “I had a musical awakening when I was 17, and I started opening my ears to everything, and now both Alli and I are lovers of the ever-shifting pressure cooker of different styles that is the new American roots music.”

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