Bringing ‘Odd Folk’ to the big city

By Alex Stedman

When some think of folk or bluegrass music, they might think of wide open pastures, farms and other bucolic sites. The big city hardly comes to mind, but Odd Folk is bringing folk-bluegrass, or “Newgrass” as they describe it, to Chicago. Since March, the group of three Columbia undergraduates and one Columbia alumnus has built a fan base with its album “Die Young,” released Aug. 6, and a recent summer

Midwest tour.

Singer/songwriter/guitarist Paul Cherewick, a junior music major, talked to The Chronicle about starting out, writing relatable music and Chicago’s re-emerging folk scene.

The Chronicle: How did you get into the folk-bluegrass genre?

Paul Cherewick: It really is unique to Chicago because I don’t know of many other bands doing it. There’s a couple, but I got into it because I grew up in Michigan, and there’s a lot of bluegrass [there]. When I got here, there was none and I wanted to bring some here.  So I did a lot of of researching, a lot of listening to old stuff.  But then I started writing it and incorporating my own stuff into it, and I found some kids at Columbia [that] surprisingly also like bluegrass.

Your website says you’re “trying to write honest music.” What does that mean to you?

For the first couple of years living here, I’d go to shows, and all the bands [were] really pretentious and uncool to each other. A lot of other cities have really strong music scenes because all the bands love each other and listen to each other’s music and build each other up. Chicago has a scene that’s like, everybody hates each other because they’re all competing. Music shouldn’t be a competition. I just wanted to make music that people could connect to and didn’t have to be cool to listen to.

There’s definitely some poetry to your songs. What goes into your songwriting process?

Mostly, I write a song basically about girls ruining my life (laughs). Most of the time it’s about girls. Some of it recently is about [being] in college and you go out drinking all the time, and where is the line of too much drinking? I think a lot of people, especially in college, can relate to that. Am I forming bad habits right now? What is meaningful? What is important?

What’s the folk scene like

in  Chicago?

I haven’t discovered it, really. Chicago’s scene is not that big, but when you go to Madison, [Wis.], Michigan, Indiana or southern Illinois, you get a lot of bands like that. It’s really big where there [are] farms and open spaces because it draws itself to that. You don’t associate bluegrass [with] the city. So when it happens there, people get really surprised and are into it.

Do you guys plan to move after you’re all done with college, maybe where there’s a bigger bluegrass  scene?

I couldn’t say I would want to.  I have a lot of connections from just doing music here, so I don’t think I’d really want to leave Chicago. I love it here. So, maybe. I think if you live in a place with a really strong scene [and] you try and break into it, you just become awash among all the other bands. Portland is like that. It’s just overrun with too many musicians. Nobody gets noticed. I think Chicago’s cool because no one else is doing it, so we get to

stand out.

You really got your name out there for a band that’s only been together since March. How did you guys do that?

Honestly, in previous experiences I’ve had, it seems like you have to push your music out all the time. I think after this record came out, people thought it was more or less good music and wanted to listen to it, rather than me telling them to listen. It’s been really cool to see people actually enjoying it rather than me telling them to enjoy it. When you realize people actually like your music, [you] feel really good

about it.

For more information on Odd Folk, visit and