Chicago’s own Beauty School have officially released their debut LP, Pushover, and it is a true treat in every sense of the word. The quartet – comprised of Kevin Greene (bass), Caitlin Krenz (vocals), Sarah Giovannetti (drums), and Max McKenna (guitar) – have created a finely-calibrated work that fuses gusto and grace effortlessly and masterfully.
Beauty School shares that the songs on Pushover “pay tribute to the bittersweet love song,” according to a press statement – and what a tremendous tribute they paid. The realism and heart within the lyrics are a blatant reflection of this, tapping into emotional universalism and hitting the listener in the epicenter of their soul as a result. The powerful effervescence, intoxicating rhythms, and hooky pops within the music all convey the dizzying, raw emotional landscape of love through sound alone, thus making the music and the lyrics equalized agents of communication. As a result, Pushover moves you, as all powerful art does.
Each and every track included in “Pushover” is fresh and undeniably innovative, which pairs well with the conceptual familiarity. For we have all loved – be it people, places, activities, or even a damn good book – and love is beautifully complex and nuanced regardless of what it is shared with or channelled into. Realizing that all love comes with its own degree of sting and strain is one of the more sobering revelations of the human experience, and “Pushover” immaculately encapsulates this – thus making it both revelatory and relatable. The result? Inherent magic.
AMPLIFY. was fortunate enough to interview Max McKenna, Sarah Giovannetti, and Kevin Greene about the record in honor of its release. There is truly no better way to learn about a new work than through the words of the visionaries that bought it to fruition, so read on, friends.
AMPLIFY: How would you articulate Beauty School’s artistic evolution?
MM: The band’s basic shape has been the same all along: a quartet playing three-minute vocal-driven pop songs. I would say that, as our chemistry developed as musicians, things got a little louder, a little bolder. The songs have more swagger than they did at the beginning.
KG: I agree with Max about things getting louder and less polite. Caitlin designed this incredible image for the album that is her with a rainbow nosebleed and I think it perfectly summarizes where we are at right now artistically.
AMPLIFY: What served as the primary creative focal points when bringing Pushover to fruition?
MM: For me, it’s been the trend over the past few years of rock music made by women. The all-dude stranglehold on rock has been loosening recently. I’m pleased to be able to participate in projects that are centering new voices and finding generous and collaborative ways to make music together, without getting stuck on the too-cool-for-school iciness and cult of personality that has sometimes defined an indie rock attitude. I think this album is very much made in that spirit of generosity and collaboration.
KG: Beauty School’s sound is such a delightful smorgasbord, in part because everyone brings material to the table and the process is really collaborative. I don’t know if there if there is a primary focal point. It feels more like an array of overlapping interests. That being said, I think we can all agree that we love making pop music. I’ve talked with people after our shows and they’ve said things like “I love your sound! It’s like pop…but y’know…not like pop…” Like “pop” is a label that needs an addendum or apology. And I’m like, “It’s fine. It’s pop. We love pop. Pop fucking rules.”
AMPLIFY: If someone who had never listened to Beauty School before asked you to to send them a link to one of your songs to hear, what would you select and why? In other words, which song would you select to serve as an introduction to Beauty School’s body of work?
MM: “Class Ring,” the first single from the album. The way that song came together was one of those “lightning in a bottle” moments. It’s our creative process at its most effortless.
KG: Definitely “Class Ring.” We wrote that song altogether a few weeks before we went out to Denver to work on the album. That was the point where I really felt like I had been fully absorbed into the band. When we released it on Spotify, I ran into a friend who told me, straight faced, that she had listened to it…twice!
SG: Agreed. Class Ring.
AMPLIFY: Let’s say a movie is being made about Beauty School. Which actors would you select to portray yourselves onscreen, and why?
MM: Ryan Gosling. I could also settle for the kid who played Malfoy.
KG: I’ve had this fantasy that Joe Swanberg would put Beauty School in an episode of “Easy” and we’d get to play ourselves. Barring that, Adam Scott.
SG: Carrie Brownstein. I would feel like the coolest MFer if she was cast to portray me.
MM: That ^ would be pretty cool.
AMPLIFY: What is one song or album that you think is totally underrated?
KG: I feel like there are some songs from the 90s that were so ubiquitous that it obscured how truly weird they were. But I think if you do some transcendental meditation and put on “Steal My Sunshine” your shit is gonna be rocked.
MM: I would agree and add that that decade’s variations on rap-rock were definitely weird in ways with which we have not yet grappled. But not necessarily weird in a good way, like that Len song.
KG: Wait, Max, are you saying “Steal My Sunshine” isn’t good weird? Because them’s fightin’ words.
MM: On the contrary! I mean it is good weird.
Sarah and I have talked about this before–Sarah maybe even brought this to my attention, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since–but I think Meg White of the White Stripes is woefully underrated. The White Stripes were obviously a huge band. But Meg often got short shrift from the rock fans of fifteen years ago who seemed to believe that Jack deserved a “better” drummer. I don’t think we’ve reckoned yet with how important she was to the more influential aspects of that band.
AMPLIFY: In your opinion, what makes a piece of music memorable?
MM: Strong vocal hooks. I’m a sucker for earworms.
KG: There are certain chord progressions that get me every time. Major one to major three (a la “Space Oddity,” the opening credits of Steven Universe, the every song on Charly Bliss’ “Soft Serve” EP) makes my hair stand up on end. Like, all of my hair.
SG: I am a sucker for poetic lyrics. It’s entirely my personal taste, but if a song reads like poetry and resonates with me as truthful, I am absolutely on board. Everytime I hear Fiona Apple’s Criminal (or pretty much any of her songs) I am blown away.
AMPLIFY: What do you find to be unique about Chicago’s creative community?
SG: The access. This isn’t a city that makes it particularly difficult to do what you love, find a stage to put it on and discover an audience for it. There is also a beautiful lack of pretension about Chicago that I think makes being a creative in this city especially palatable. That isn’t to say no effort is required to put your art out there, but Chicago, in our experience, has a very welcoming artistic community.
KG: Piggy backing off of what Sarah said, there are so many people in Chicago who just want to make stuff happen. They aren’t waiting around for permission. It’s scrappy but at the same time there are echelons too. Like, other cities might have mostly just a DIY thing, and that’s cool. But Chicago has those spaces and institutional power houses too. Here it seems possible to make art and also buy a boat, if that’s what you’re into. I know I am.
AMPLIFY: Which aspect of your creative work are you most proud of?
KG: In most of the bands I’ve played in I’ve been a collaborator rather than an originator. I’d compare it to a colorist in comics. I’m fairly obsessive about it, figuring out what the song needs, experimenting with texture and tone. There were about two months between when Sarah invited me to join Beauty School and our first practice where I just played the songs over and over again at home. My neighbors probably hated me. But that’s what I do. I practice. I played classical music for ten years so I guess I internalized the idea of dedicating time to getting better at my instrument. Obviously it’s different with rock and pop music, especially when you’re creating your own parts or modifying a line that’s already there, but there is a familiar satisfaction to it for me. Beauty School songs are also really fun to play, so staying home and working on them is hardly a penance.
SG: To what Kevin said, I feel proud when I bring in an idea and the group refines it and makes it better. There is something about maturing as a creative type, where you realize that you can be both confident in your ideas and confident enough to allow criticism and collaboration to make them better. It’s really about tempering your pride enough to ask questions of your own creations while at the same time trusting the muse.
MM: I like the way you put that, Sarah. And I agree.
AMPLIFY: Lastly, what’s coming up next for Beauty School?
KG: Hopefully an indoor swimming pool full of money that we can all Scrooge McDuck into together.
MM: I just want people to hear these songs. They don’t have to like them. But I want them to be heard.
And now, you can click here to do so.