THRIFT STORE HALO is:
Frank Gradishar (Lead Vocals, Bass Guitar & Songwriting), Scott Proce (Drums) and Lance Tee (Guitar, Backing Vocals & Songwriting)
Thrift Store Halo (“TSH”) is an American Indie Power Pop band hailing from Chicago, Illinois. Originally formed in 1994, TSH released one EP and one LP before taking a near-20 year break in 1998; the band returned in August 2017, with a new, six-song EP, “POP-ROCKET”.
On April 20, 2018, the trio released a new, two-song, double A-side single, “Every Time With You” b/w “Concrete Sky”.
Frank Gradishar is today’s spokesman.
At what point, during writing, rehearsing, recording, did you know you were on to something special?
By the time drummer, Scott, and I reformed Thrift Store Halo in 2016, after a nearly 20-year hiatus and enlisted Lance to play guitar, I had amassed a sizeable backlog of songs. Lance was the original bassist in Material Issue and was featured on the band’s landmark “International Pop Overthrow” album. So when we went into the studio just a few weeks after Lance joined, to record what would become the “Pop Rocket” EP, I had a bunch of tracks ready to go. We chose four pretty quickly and Lance presented two of his unfinished song ideas – just chords – which he had sitting around, and I took those and wrote lyrics and melodies. Those two tracks became “(Love By) Misadventure” and “Let’s Not Wait” – two of my favorites on the EP.
I had never sat down and crafted lyrics and melodies to an existing song structure before, but I liked the challenge. In the past, I always wrote chords, lyrics, and melody at the same time and then brought finished songs to the band, and we would collectively work on arrangements. While I really didn’t sit down and collaborate, with Lance, per se, at first, the results of the recording were solid and it felt very natural.
With the new two-song single, Lance and I actually sat down together for the first time and wrote a song sitting across from one another, which was quite enjoyable – bouncing ideas off each other in real time. The result of that pure collaboration was the song, “Every Time With You”, which came to life pretty quickly, and pretty easy. I was really excited about the energy of that song straightaway.
As for the flipside of the single, “Concrete Sky”, Lance had had the chords tucked away after his last band, The Lupins, passed on it – thank God! When he played it for me, I was really intrigued, so I quickly set to work writing lyrics and the melody. After we recorded it and mixed it, I really felt my verse lyrics – and the way I sang them, in almost a whisper – really lacked something. I was very disheartened because I just knew what I was doing just wasn’t going to help people connect with the song; it felt flat. So, I re-wrote the verse lyrics and then sat down with Lance to rework the melody, and went back into the studio to re-track the verses. The result was really exciting. I really felt we had achieved a really strong song; emotional, melodic, dynamic and well arranged.
Taken together, I think the single is very representational of where we’re at, at the moment.
The music industry has changed a lot (or so they say). What did it bring you? And what not?
It has changed. When Scott and I started out in the mid-1990s with Thrift Store Halo, everything was different – Lance would concur, I am sure. It was a lot of work, wasn’t it? We used to need to hire a photographer, get band pictures taken and printed, generate a mailing list at shows, print out postcards for shows, lick stamps, mail them out, send out CDs to clubs, radio, and press. It was a lot of work and it cost a lot of money! Worse, the process for everything seemed to take forever…it took months – or longer – to get a response or a review, or, as was more often the case, a rejection! There were no MPs, no websites, really, and bands seemed to exist in their own little bubbles.
Now, the whole game has changed, in many ways for the better, I think. The internet changed all of it – Facebook, streaming, websites – it’s so much easier connect with radio, reviewers, bloggers and like-minded people. I think that helps create and instill a sense of community, not just among power pop lovers, but the bands themselves. We can send out music via email now so we really can get the music out faster, and in turn, make more connections. That part’s great. It’s a bit sad that the fixed media aspect has really died – killed in part, I suppose, by the likes of Napster and iTunes.
Another bummer nowadays is it is much harder to get people out to shows – there’s just too much vying for people’s attention. But streaming has meant more and more people can find our music and listen, and really, that’s what it’s all about. The fact the royalty rates on Spotify and Tidal are quite low is unfortunate, but honestly, I’m just very happy people are listening.
I still insist on doing some things the old-school way; we still make CDs of every release, we concentrate a great deal on cover art, and we still have buttons and stickers made…I still believe in having something to hold and own. And of course, we are still aligned and associated with the same indie label here in Chicago, Pravda Records, and Pravda Music remains our publisher, just like back in the 90s, which in my mind was crucial. I love having a good team of people around the band.
The meaning of ‘success’ has changed over the years. When will the new release be a success?
Given how crazy life can be, especially as we get older, I tend to think that each of our releases is automatically a success just by virtue of the fact that they actually got written, recorded and released! I got back into the game after almost 20 years off! I wondered if anyone would remember Thrift Store Halo or if anyone would care that we were back. Not to mention that we are all busy with careers and families, so our time is a precious commodity. We do this because we love doing it. Lord knows we’re not going to get rich from this and we’re lucky to break even, so success with this band – as it is in many aspects of life – is what you make of it.
That being said, we are truly blown away by the support and the overwhelmingly positive response we’ve received since reforming and releasing new music, especially when considering it had been almost 19 years between releases! It’s meant the world to us. Since last year, our songs have charted over 240 times on various indie charts, including 34 Weeks on the Radio Indie Alliance Overall Top 40, and we have been played on 75+ radio stations around the world. That’s so cool! We’ve also received really nice reviews on various power-pop websites and blogs which is really encouraging.
One thing which has also stood out for me is that on Spotify, as of April 19, 2018, the day before we released the new single, we averaged 625 monthly listeners, which I thought was pretty awesome. Then, within 10 days of the release of the single, we were up to over 1,500 listeners…and within a few days of that, we were over 2,200! The single had been played over 1,900 times! Considering we are a no-name indie band, that’s really exciting. We’ve actually amassed over 80,000 total plays on Spotify, which really surprises me. I’m thrilled – it won’t buy us a pizza – but it’s still great. Funny, I always thought we were successful in the 1990s because we had songs on “Smallville”, “Party of Five”, MTV, and almost got signed to a major label…but honestly, knowing our songs are getting played somewhere every day, and are added in indie charts, that’s more important than anything else. And hell, we’ve opened for The Zombies…so I’d say we’ve been successful!
Do you feel part of a community, the power pop community?
I really do, yeah. I find most of those in the power pop community to be very welcoming and supportive; they’re excited to listen to new power pop music. All the power pop chat sites on Facebook are great, as are internet blogs like Power Popaholic, Absolute Power Pop, Ice Cream Man, Startrip in Japan, Power of Pop in Japan, PopRock Record in the UK, Broken Hearted Toy in Chicago, Power Pop News, and of course, SweetSweetMusic. Power Pop radio shows and stations have been hugely supportive of us too, which is incredible; Chasing the Essential, The Secret Weapon, The Power Pop Show, Pure Power Pop, Ice Cream Man, Rick’s Records, Radio Candy Hits, Pop Dreams on Radio Dio in France, and many others, have been playing our songs, which is so cool! I think it all helps instill and strengthen our connection to the scene as a community.
Power pop people seem to collectively have very good taste and seem to get what we’re doing, even though I think we might now be considered a bit more fringe because we have incorporated some more modern elements to the music now and we’re not necessarily traditionalists. We’re not afraid to add loops, samples and other odd little things here and there, to make the song better. But really, regardless of the sweeteners, the songs are what matter, and it’s still power pop to me.
I listen to all types of music, but power pop is the genre I love the most and the style in which I naturally write. Now, my definition of power pop might not be completely in tow with a purist’s definition…I include everything from the originals like Raspberries, the Knack, Big Star and Badfinger but I’ve expanded my views to include everyone from The Spongetones, Material Issue, Fuzzbubble and Jellyfish, to Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe, The Jam, Del Amitri, Velvet Crush, The Gin Blossoms, Smithereens, Teenage Fanclub, The Boo Radleys, The Bluetones, The Strypes and Catfish and the Bottlemen.
To me, if a song is short, catchy, concise, melodic and has harmonies, chunky guitars and strong dynamics, then it’s power pop. There is nothing wrong with producing pop music that rocks…I am not a huge believer in limiting admission or entry to the genre to just bands which emulate and sound like The Beatles or the Kinks…it’s not just jangle-pop. We’re not scared to turn up the volume and add some distortion. After all, it’s about POWER and POP!
If the budget was unlimited, how would you record the next record?
If the budget was unlimited, I would focus on making a full LP again…12 to 14 tracks, instead of just an EP or a single. I would love to release an LP on vinyl, too. I’m not sure I would enlist anyone other than Kevin Mucha to engineer and co-produce, even though we could afford a “big name” producer. Kevin’s gets us, understands our approach and shares our vision; he’s one of the team; one of the family. But I would consider hiring Ed Stasium or Jack Joseph Puig to co-produce with Kevin. AND I would definitely be up for a change of venue and insist we fly to London to record the album at Abbey Road or we could also track at Jack Joseph Puig’s studio!
What’s up for the rest of the year?
It’s amazing to think 2018 is almost half over! Where does the time go? We are becoming – for better or worse – less and less of a live act, although we just played the IPO Fest in Chicago in April, which was fantastic! At this point, the plan is to start pre-production of several new tracks with an eye on getting back in the studio in September to start a new EP. Being in the studio is really the main focus for us now.
We are now just starting to go through the backlog and to 5 or 6 tracks to concentrate on. I am currently finishing up lyrics on a few tracks; several are in contention and ready to go. I am looking forward to sitting down with Lance and Scott soon to finish up the parts and sequence of the tracks and play them through a bunch of times to really hone the arrangements. Then it’s back to Coerce Recording with Kevin to record.
I really enjoy each step of the process of releasing new music, but for some reason as soon as the new release is sent out into the world, I almost immediately start thinking about the next EP or single…maybe another LP someday… The drive to stay fresh, to keep pushing and keep on creating new music is what it’s all about for me. It feels so good to be back and to be excited about the process again.