Former CPHS student pursues professional music career

Katie Johnson

Kids all over the world fantasize about growing up to fill the oversized shoes of doctors, firefighters, astronauts, and musicians. In the blissful ignorance of childhood, it is so easy and exciting to imagine oneself discovering the cure for cancer, rescuing a baby from a burning building, flying to the moon, or playing at Radio City Music Hall in front of a thousand screaming fans; anything at all seems possible—conquerable. But, so often, age and experience dampen the flames of dreams, and aspirations that had once been so accessible seem ridiculous. Joe Duemig, 2007-2008 co-editor of The Wolfpack and current freshman at Columbia College in Chicago, is determined to oppose this pessimistic pull of time, refusing to allow his dream of being a musician to slip into memory; he is set on making his dream a reality.

Duemig did not always know that he wanted to be a musician, however. In fact, he had quite a different and elaborate life planned before he discovered his passion for music.

“In middle school I wanted to be a computer hacker catching malicious hackers for the NSA,” Duemig said.

However, that ambition was quickly pushed aside to make room for a new one.

When Duemig and his brother Erik, also previous co-editor of The Wolfpack and current freshman at Columbia College Chicago, left New Jersey and moved to Austin,  they met Andrew “Sneaky” Hoang, a guitar player who lived in their neighborhood. Meeting Sneaky opened up a whole new set of possibilities for both of them.

“Within the first two weeks after moving, we found out he played guitar and he found out we…liked to sing and we were just like, ‘Hey, let’s play some music,’” Duemig said. “Then we got into the porch band days…We’d go ring the neighbors’ doorbells at any random time at night and just ask them if they wanted to hear us play some songs. We were so bad—just singing at our neighbors on their porches.”

The porch concerts intensified Duemig’s love for music and he quickly formed the band Meet on Denali with his brother, Sneaky, and several other neighborhood friends.

“It was sometime during Meet on Denali that I knew I wanted to be a musician,” Duemig said. “It was so fun and I was so excited—I had to keep that feeling going.”

The band gained a lot of popularity; they even began getting calls from venues asking them to perform. But Duemig and his brother were becoming frustrated with the other band members’ lack of dedication.

“Erik and I ate, breathed, and slept the band,” Duemig said. “We weren’t in any clubs or sports, but for the other band members it wasn’t like that. They put other things first. We were ready to hit the ground running and go on…tour, but for everyone else it was not the first priority.”

Because of his absolute devotion to his music, Duemig quit the band. However, he soon found himself in another difficult situation.

“I really wanted to make music, but I was like, ‘Great, now I have no band. All I can do is sing and I can’t really play guitar that well,’” Duemig said. “So I taught myself guitar. I just stayed in my room and played a lot until I could write my own stuff.”

 By the time he graduated high school, he had three songs written: “Someday Soon,” “You Will Make it Through,” and “Rainbow Sherbet.”

After high school, Duemig’s dream propelled him across the country to Columbia College in Chicago, where he began work on a degree in arts and acoustics with a concentration in sound design and production. It was at Columbia that his musical aspirations really began to form into the real deal.

“A month into school up in Chicago I played this open mike event at Columbia called Big Mouth…” Duemig said. “As I was walking off stage, this one guy who was kind of running the show…, Marcus Foster, came up to me he was like, ‘You were the best one tonight. I really liked your stuff.’ And he said, ‘I have this friend on the North Side, he’s actually opening up his own home studio and looking for people to record. You should give him a call.’ So he gave me his card.”

Foster’s friend, Mike Naimoff, was more than happy to invite Duemig to record at his studio.

“We just hit it off,” Duemig said. “He was such a nice guy, he made it seem like [recording an EP] was so much more possible than I thought it was. So, basically, that first day we were like, ‘OK, we’re going to do an album together.’”

Duemig was thrilled at the thought of recording his songs, but he needed a fourth song to meet the length qualifications of an EP.

“We had a three week time period between the day I met with Mike and the first recording day, so I threw together a song: ‘Holes May Grow,’” Duemig said. “It is kind of funny because now a lot of people tell me that one is their favorite.”

Duemig and Naimoff began work on the Songs and Sighs EP right away, recording the album between Naimoff’s home studio and a professional studio, Rax Trax. Duemig asked his brother, Erik, to record the bass tracks and his roommate, Chris Thorn, to record drums. As for the keyboard, Naimoff recommended Bryan Rogers.

“I had no idea what to expect with him, but I just listened to him play and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this guy is so good! Just play whatever you want,’” Duemig said.

Recording the EP was exciting, but it was also challenging and required a lot of organization and preparation.

“I didn’t have a bottomless budget,” Duemig said. “I had to have everybody well practiced going into the sessions so we could just go in, throw down the tracks, leave, but still, I think with the budget and the time limit, it is as good, or better than, it could possibly have been.”

It took $1700 and 40 hours (not including the time it took to mix and edit), but Songs and Sighs is officially completed. Duemig is currently working on album artwork and will mass distribute the EP as soon as it is finished. He also plans to make the EP available on the internet, hopefully on iTunes, for downloading. Although putting the final touches on the CD and going to school takes up most of his time, Duemig would still like to keep playing shows in Chicago as well as a few in Austin this summer to promote the album. 

“As for the next step, I’d like to write some more songs and maybe do a full length CD, but I don’t know if I could really handle that on my own,” Duemig said. “If it took me ten months to write four songs, it will take me a lot longer to write the nine song minimum for an LP. So, I’m looking to start a band up in Chicago, but I need some quality people. I need people who want to play music seriously for the rest of their lives, because this is my dream—I’m not just kidding around. This is my future.”