The Hunger Games: Catching Fire’s Jena Malone and bandmate Lem Jay Ignacio—who together are The Shoe—are in town next week for the Thompson Hotels X The Shoe Takeover Tour. Here's why you should check out their public performance.
The Shoe’s experimental approach to making music and videos has attracted indie listeners around the world—just look the adoring comments from fans on the band’s Facebook page. Even if you haven’t heard of the improvisational music duo yet, you probably know one of them: Jena Malone co-stars with Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson in the deadly playing field that is The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. But put aside her acting career, add Lem Jay Ignacio and an antique steamer trunk full of electronic instruments (what the band was named after), and you have The Shoe, who are in the midst of their four-city Thompson Hotels tour, and who just released their sophomore album “I’m Okay.”
Read on to get to know Malone and Ignacio, learn more about their spontaneous performances, and find out what to expect during their Chicago tour stop on Monday, July 7 at Thompson Chicago (4:30 p.m., 21 E. Bellevue Pl., 312-266-2100).
MICHIGAN AVENUE: Let's talk about the first tour stop at Thompson Toronto—how did that go?
Jena Malone: It was beautiful. We came up with this idea as sort of this dream idea for a tour for us, because where we have been in the past—in the sense of live performances—we have only ever played in nontraditional places like mini marts, abandoned chapels, rooftops, alleyways.
It’s always been kind of crazy having actual shows, so being able to collaborate with a hotel that has a nice structure of power, support, and help and beautiful rooms—it’s just so amazing. You basically show up, and get to do a complete location scout of the entire space, pick the things that inspire your heart, schedule in one public performance with a sound man and make it a bigger sound, and do a more private performance with individuals at the hotel in a smaller space.
Before those shows, we're basically given all access, so what we do is, for hours, we go around the entire hotel and play improvisational shows just for ourselves. We record it, and we take photos.
Lem Jay Ignacio: People are in the elevator watching us play.
Jena: So it's really nice to be able to have free rein of creativity, so the shows are nothing but something to look forward to.
MA: Is it really important to have complete creative control over everything you do?
JM: It's important to me. I'm a bit of a control freak in that way. I create so much that I feel that you have to carry on your vision and be very honest to your voice and what you want out of it.
LJI: And with our band for this project, ever since we started, it was very much about recording songs or about making music. It was always about how we performed and, like she said earlier, in an abandoned house or on the side of the LA river. So that control that an artist or musician has in making their thing—the songs or the music—for us, it translated and paralleled everything we do.
MA: Your music doesn't seem to fit into a mainstream genre. How do you both describe your own music?
JM: I try not to, really. There's a weird way of explaining it, because I grew up making films and I've done so many press interviews with people asking, "What do you want people to take from this film," or "What does this film mean to you?" It's more about the [individual] person's journey through it. It's about what they see it as and how they interpret it.
LJI: Since a lot of our music and songs come out of freestyle and improvisation, the genre, whether it's a country song or a more folky, soft song, it comes out of the moment. We're not consciously saying, “Let's do something soft or psychedelic or country-ish." It becomes the freestyle nature of what we do. The genre and the style just come out of those bursts of spontaneity.
MA: Will you perform songs from your new album, "I’m Okay," during your set at Thompson Chicago?
LJI: Maybe and maybe not.
MA: So you really improvise every show—whatever comes to you?
LJI: Yeah, for sure. The songs off the album could turn into another song, or segue into another story, or could be a completely new, made-up-on-the-spot piece of music. For me, ever since we started doing this, I never knew if we were going to go left or right. There was never any set list.
MA: Just you both doing your thing?
LJI: Yeah, just finding it right then and there. In Toronto, the fire alarm went off during our show. It was like, "What's going on?"
MA: Well, that could be a good sound effect…
LJI: It was kind of pretty?
JM: It was such a weird tempo that it was so hard to fit into, so we were only doing freestyle basically, because it was pretty hard to fit a pre-existing tempo [with the fire alarm.]
The thing about freestyle is, it's not just going out there to do whatever we want. That's the reason why we play nontraditional venues. It's the reason why we seek to play free shows for people, so that we can have a mixture of strangers and fans and people just happening upon music. It's not about being free just for a moment of being free and doing whatever we want.
I wake up in the morning feeling a different way and it's allowing the music to be transcribed through each of these individual phases in an authentic and very honest way.
MA: Jena, you started in film before you did music. Which came first for you as a performer?
JM: I think storytelling came first before I even knew that I could be an actor. I think that I was always making up stories, as all kids do. Imagination comes first. And then seeing my mom on stage; she did community theater when she was younger and it inspired me to be an actor. That became the inspiration and I started acting and telling stories and figuring out what I loved about it...and figuring out what challenged me.
MA: Now you're starring in the Hunger Games movies. What was it like for you to be in such a huge franchise?
JM: It amazes me because I was such a giant fan of the books. My little sister introduced me to the series when she was 14—she's almost 17 now. And to see her passion in it, how she loved it and getting to read these books and see it through her heart—[my sister saw] what it is to be a hero and what it is to be a woman despite all of these obstacles.
MA: Your next tour stop is Thompson Chicago. Have you performed in Chicago before? What do you like to do when you're in the city?
LJI: I've been there a couple of times. I guess [I would like some] deep dish pizza. But on the tour, we're doing a lot of things at the hotel; I don't think we're going to have much time to sightsee.
JM: We'll explore the hotel and explore the space around it and I think maybe—hopefully—meeting the people who come out will give us an idea of the energy of the city.
The Shoe’s performance at Thompson Chicago will take place inside Salone Nico. Space is limited. RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org.
PHOTOGRAPHY VIA FACEBOOK.COM/THESHOEPERFORMS
November 15, 2018