Red Scarves Debut A Pop-Rock Gem | WGLT

Red Scarves Debut A Pop-Rock Gem

Sep 28, 2017

The now Chicago-based pop-rock quintet Red Scarves returns to Bloomington-Normal Sept. 30 for a house show, where they will feature songs from their scheduled late October release “Sort Of Scarlet.”

The group formed at Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington over five years ago, though some founding members have since moved on. Bassist and guitarist Ryan Donlin said he along with lead singer Braden Poole and drummer Robby Kunt  studied jazz and classical music at IWU. He credits those studies as central to creating the catchy and at times complex pop songs of Red Scarves.

“In my classical music classes, at least when it came to music theory and how music worked, I was definitely thinking about how it could apply to pop songs,” said Donlin.

Red Scarves Bassist Ryan Donlin.
Credit Tom Knuth

How so?

“There’s like five or six parts in a rock band as far as instruments go, we’re all playing different things” said Donlin. “I think studying classical music and music theory in general helps you have an understanding of how you can get those parts to mix in the best possible way. And just for convincing chord changes and melodies and getting everything to flow just right.”

Donlin said Red Scarves was rooted in folk-rock at its founding and gradually evolved into the pop-rock they’re fans have been lapping up in recent years. The group seems to have found inspiration for “Sort Of Scarlet” by mining the infectious pop-rock of the 1960s, though it doesn’t come off as cheap nostalgia.

“In music there have been waves of complication and simplification, where bands will have more complicated chord progressions and melodies and structures,” said Donlin. “And then a general cultural shift will happen where things will simplify.”

He used punk as an example of that simplification.

“Now people are looking back to the 60s because that was a complication, and people were writing more complicated jazz-inspired songs. And I think our songwriting style is a throwback to that jazz tinged pop world, because we’re all into those jazz chords,” explained Donlin.

When Red Scarves play Bloomington, it’ll be at The Rt 66 Roadhouse. It’s a “house show” not unlike gigs the band played during their time in the Twin Cities. It’s a time honored scene born from lack of venues in Bloomington-Normal willing to book smaller shows. Donlin said during his tenure in Red Scarves, the number of house shows hasn’t changed, but the style of music has.

“When Robby and I joined the band, the house show scene was all about punk, pop-punk, and metal. That’s what everybody who owned the houses and organized the shows were into. So when we started playing shows, I think some people liked our music, but we definitely weren’t who they were there to see,” said Donlin of their pop-rock sound. “But as people moved out and new people moved in, they seem more interested in psych-rock. So shows have been different and have included bands like Spooktacular and China Rose.

The new Red Scarves album Sorta Scarlet is available on the group's Bandcamp page. It's also available on Spotify and iTunes.

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