Interview: Sidewalk Chalk

An Orchid is Born is the album that Chicago-based sextet Sidewalk Chalk has been waiting to produce since their inception– a musical episode that not only symbolizes a new chapter in the band’s development, but also effectively embodies the emotional turbulence of this moment in American history. Their music is described as “the evolution of jazz, hip-hop, and soul,” combining elements of all three styles to create a truly nuanced sound that ventures past the confines of only one genre. In An Orchid is Born, Sidewalk Chalk’s dedication to social issues is articulated through politically charged rap lyrics and colored by jazz vocals that run like a river, as they preach the gospel of self-acceptance, self-love, and surviving the darkest moments of life in the United States. They’ll be performing at The Cedar on July 13th with Mayyadda. 


We spoke to singer and Minnesota native Maggie Vagel of Sidewalk Chalk before their show to discuss the complexity of their musical style, their creative process, and the greatest inspiration of all: love.


Buy tickets ($12 advance / $15 day of show) for Sidewalk Chalk on Thursday, July 13th here.


Q: Let’s start from the beginning: you all formed this band after meeting at Columbia College in Chicago. How have you evolved as a group since that time?

A (Maggie Vagel): Like any relationship, as time passes, things change, grow, and evolve. We have grown up together. Each person learns better how to navigate the relationship on individual levels and as a group. One of the tactile ways we have evolved is getting a new drummer and bassist after being the same members for about 6 years.


Q: Your music draws inspiration from various genres including hip-hop, jazz, and soul. How does the improvisational nature of these musical styles influence the way you make your music?

A: These elements are most prevalent in live performance. From hip-hop call and response to solos. So much of the live and improvisational parts of our sound is inspired by our audience in live performance.


Q: You have just released your new album, “An Orchid is Born”, which is separated into three distinct “movements”: The Hope, The Loss, and The Birth.  How did the structure of this album enhance your creative process?

A: it’s kinda interesting we came up with the three movements after we recorded the whole album. As we started to decide on an order for the songs, Josh (bass), brought the idea to the forefront and it stuck. The movements made beautiful sense and enhanced the whole message of An Orchid is Born. I love when little magic moments like that happen!


Q: You have a history of creating music that explores extremely socially relevant topics. Specifically, in your latest album, you delve into our country’s history of racially motivated police violence. What sort of change do you hope to make with your art?

A: We talk about the things that matter to us. There is a power in music and an incredible healing component. I hope to encourage people to have dialogue about these matters, to investigate and dig in to these topics. I hope the music inspires others to create, to love, to do and be better.


Q: What’s inspiring you lately?

A: This really gets to be quite a personal response… but truly, it is my relationship with my partner. It is learning to love more deeply then I ever have. It’s learning to reveal the darkest and brightest parts of myself. Letting myself be loved and love in return on a level that is so profound and rounded. That is some inspiring shit, right there.