By Will Deitz
It was 7 o'clock on a subzero-Fahrenheit Saturday night in Chicago. I had made my way to the Humboldt Park studio of Mahjongg, the best electronic/afrobeat/noise/dance/miscellaneous band ever to move your furniture. It was two days before the group, newly signed to Olympia's K Records, departed on their first full-fledged tour in several years. Camera gear in tote, I had hoped to stumble into a wall of electronic noise and excited bandmates who greeted me through echoing synth loops, “HEY MAN. SORRY ABOUT ALL THAT BUT WE TOTALLY GO ON TOUR IN 48 HOURS,” … but nope. I knocked and waited about thirty seconds until Josh Johannpeter opened the door. “Oh hey. It's just Hunter and me. Come on in.” It appeared as though I had arrived too early.
Mahjongg's practice space is an under-construction studio with an air of god-knows-when-this-is-actually-going-to-get-finished about it. Co-percussionists/keyboardists/vocalists Johannpeter and Hunter Husar are laid back and genuinely nice guys. Husar, 29 years old and a proud employee of Starving Artist Moving Company, was wearing sunglasses that looked as though they had been unabashedly liberated from the possessions of a recently deceased senior citizen. Johannpeter, continually assembling a pair of drum kits, sported a baseball shirt saying “JOSH'S ALLSTARS: NOVEMBER 2nd, 2002.”
Johannpeter lives in the studio, and has his own room off to the side, replete with LPs, CDs, cassettes, and 8-track tapes. Conversing with Husar and Johannpeter, it's readily apparent that these guys aren't just part of another underperforming band that can't wait until the day it headlines the Riviera or the Vic. They don't care how much money they make, they don't care how little money they make — they honest to god love their music, love making their music, and love playing their music, wherever and whenever they can. This is fortunate, as their new album, Kontpab — a unique blend of live percussion, keyboards, and synth-based melodies — is excellent.
Both Hunter and Josh were veritable factories of quotes which gave genuine insight into the lives of under-commercialized musicians, which was refreshing in the face of nauseatingly pastiche Stefani-isms and pseudo-intellectual babble that pop music oftentimes affords. As I was busy shooting, my friend asked, “Don't you guys feel like you're missing your regular lives in Chicago while you're touring?” Husar replied, earnestly, “No way — we feel like we're living the most.” But the most memorable of these was in response to the question, “So, your music got a lot darker from 2005 to 2006. Why is that?” Husar's response:
“I dunno — we didn't have heat that winter.”