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Sound Circuit

No pressure: Iowa greats Whitmore and Zollo unite for 80/35 set


MiddleWesternWilliam Elliott Whitmore and David Zollo first met while Whitmore was still a teenager. Whitmore gave Zollo a demo tape, a recording that Zollo said left him “stunned.” They became friends, and as their careers progressed, worked together occasionally, with Zollo performing on Whitmore’s “Animals in the Dark.”

“For the last five or six years, this idea has kept coming up that we would form a band together. Sing together, write together, do all the things that come from being in a band with somebody,” Zollo said. “We eventually booked a few shows and there was a lot of demand, so we knew we might be able to gather enough of an audience to make it worth continuing.”

That band, Middle Western, will perform this month at the 10th annual 80/35 Music Festival.

Zollo performs keys, while Whitmore has switched to bass from his traditional guitar/banjo. Chicago musicians Stephen “The Kid” Howard and Stevie Doyle both play guitar, with Brian Cooper from Zollo’s band The Body Electric on drums.

“I’ve been fortunate to play with great bands and backing great singer-songwriters, but this band has come together as seamlessly as anything I’ve been a part of,” Zollo said. “There’s been no pressure brought to bear on any of us. Our sole reason for doing this is because we want to. Will and I had always discussed wanting to play in a band with no particular duty or responsibility to carry anything at all. We would rather the band move of its own volition. A lot of smiling, grinning and whooping it up on stage has always been a good sign, in my experience.”

Prep Iowa

But Middle Western isn’t a weekend warrior band for two busy singer-songwriters. They recently completed a record, which is currently being mixed. Zollo said they’re already working on songs for a potential follow-up.

“We started out writing together, other than three exceptions, the songs were written collectively, with one guy coming up with the riff and Will or I adding lyrics and building it from there,” Zollo said. “It’s a five person band, with five real distinct personalities”

All the musicians in Middle Western are busy with other projects, so shows for the band can be somewhat rare. Beyond this, Zollo is working on a follow-up to 2014’s “For Hire,” as well as preparing a live album for release. So if you get an opportunity to catch them live, like their 80/35 set, don’t miss it.

“I don’t think there will be a tremendous amount of touring together, but there will be some,” Zollo said. “We want to make sure it stays fresh and exciting. Also we’ve got our ‘day jobs’ playing other music. But there’s been a lot of excitement from each other musically about this, so we want to make sure it’s something we keep in mind.” ♦


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