Dirty, boozin’ blues-rock

By Luke Wilusz

Local rockers The Dirty Rooks have brought their riotous brand of “booze-rock” to pubs and clubs across Chicago since 2006. With their recent album, “Sugar Mama,” they aim to capture some of the energy they exude during their live performances. The Chronicle talked to drummer Nathan Urqhuart about the band’s history and style.

The Chronicle: How did The Dirty Rooks first come together as a band?

Nathan Urqhuart: The band actually started off before I was in it; seven years ago, maybe? It was started by two guys—Grant Gholson, who is the current rhythm guitarist and main songwriter of the group, and Dan Stalilonis, who’s the lead singer—and they started playing under the name Moustache. Then, a couple years after that, I joined the band. That was probably four years ago, 2006. The first show that we played as a band was at Phyllis’ Musical Inn, [1800 W. Division St.], which is pretty much a hole-in-the-wall bar where any band in Chicago could play. They give a lot of bands their first show, and we were a perfect example of that. The Dirty Rooks played there the first time on the night the White Sox won the World Series. The bar was full, which was surprising to us, but it was all for the World Series. As soon as the game was over, everybody bolted and we were playing for, like, three guys left in the bar. We did an improvised “Sweet Home Chicago” that was probably terrible, and that was that. That was the birth, I guess, of The Dirty Rooks.

The Chronicle: You seem to have a blues-infused sound. Where does that come from? What are your influences?

NU: The influences are a lot of bands, like The Faces [for example]. People liken us often—not in ability, but in sound—to the Black Crows, a little bit. When we started off, it was purely classic rock-driven. I mean, really guitar-driven stuff. It very, very much had that feel of blues-rock—you know, Rolling Stones-style stuff. Over the past four years or so, I think we’ve grown up a lot. The music is less just straight-up blues-rock, and there’s a whole lot more modern influence. It’s just a more interesting sound, a more mature sound.

The Chronicle: How does your latest album differ from your first one?

NU: The real thing that we tried to grab in the new album is the live sound, just how high-energy the show is when it’s live. There are six of us in the band that play regularly together, but any time it’s a bigger show, we bring on horn players. We have Packy Lundholm, who’s currently in I Fight Dragons—which is just blowing up—he plays organ with us. We’ve got two singers, really gospel-style singers with big voices. Everything’s just really high-energy. While other bands put out an album and tour to promote it, we work the opposite way. We’re playing shows to put money in the bank to record the record, so we had a lot of practice at playing these songs live.

The Chronicle: You play a ton of live shows. Is there any venue in Chicago where you especially like to play?

NU: Yeah, we love Martyrs’, [3855 N. Lincoln Ave.]. They were one of the first bigger venues we played in Chicago. They’re not the Metro or the Vic, those are the biggest venues, but Martyrs is one of the mid-sized venues that have built a reputation of having great music there. They’ve brought us back over and over there. We love playing there. We love the sound there. We love the room. It’s a great place to play, and they’ve been really supportive. We play there half a dozen times a year, probably. We actually just locked in a show to play at the end of August.

The Chronicle: What’s your favorite thing about playing a live show?

NU: The Dirty Rooks, as a band, have built a reputation of putting on a high-energy show, an exciting show. We call it “booze rock.” We didn’t start this. Over and over again, people looked at what we did and called it “drinking music.” And it’s just fun, and it’s foot-stomping music. We’re just having a good time, and I think that translates pretty well to the audience, and that’s what we like about playing. We’ve played for 300 people and we’ve played for three people, and regardless, we’re up there having a good time.

For more information on upcoming shows and ticket sales, visit DirtyRooks.com.