Genre-bending band Sidewalk Chalk—including Marga Marion ’08, Rico Sisney ’09, Charlie Coffeen ’11, former student Garrett McGinn, Tyler Berg ’10 and Sam Trump ’13—found their unique sound at Columbia College Chicago.
An MC, a vocalist, a keyboard, a bass, a drum set, a horn section and a tap dancer—it’s amazing any stage can contain the multitudes of genre-bending Chicago band Sidewalk Chalk. With hip-hop beats, jazz vocals and a swinging horn section, Sidewalk Chalk’s debut album, Corner Store, earned them the title of Most Outstanding Group at the 2012 Chicago Music Awards. We talked with vocalist Marga Marion and MC Rico Sisney about four parts that make up the whole.
Before performing alongside artists like Questlove and De La Soul, releasing albums or even settling on a band name, Sidewalk Chalk was just a group of friends coming together to jam. “We just got together and started playing music: ‘Oh, we like this, this is fun!’” says Marion.
After members performed in different configurations at several Columbia open mics, the entire band pulled together for a 2008 edition of Big Mouth, Columbia’s student talent showcase. In order to get on the roster, they had to agree on a name. “We just came up with the name on the fly,” says Marion. “Having a name—then we had the group! It solidified everything.”
From the beginning, Sidewalk Chalk built on artistic friendships. Six of eight members studied music and performance at Columbia College Chicago: MC Sisney, vocalist Marion, keyboardist Charlie Coffeen, bass player Garrett McGinn, drummer Tyler Berg and trumpeter Sam Trump.
The camaraderie extends to songwriting and live shows, which can take on the experimental, improvisational feel of a group of friends having a good time. “I love always listening to everybody else to see what they’re going to do. Surprising each other. Just seeing people in their mode,” says Sisney. “That feeling of being very present, right then, seeing where it goes, seeing where it takes us.”
How do you best describe the band’s hybrid sound? “We have a little phrase that we use,” says Marion. “We call Sidewalk Chalk the evolution of hip hop, soul and jazz.”
To follow up on their 2012 debut, Corner Store, Sidewalk Chalk’s sophomore album Leaves (released February 2015) tries to capture the energy of the group’s stage presence. Every track is a live performance, recorded in different venues throughout the country.
The music fits perfectly into a Chicago scene that encourages experimentation. “A lot of our favorite Chicago bands combine multiple genres,” says Sisney. “Maybe that is a Chicago thing, to not just fit into one thing.”
“Chicago is so vast and has so much to offer musically. There’s a long tradition of jazz, hip hop, soul,” adds Marion. “And there’s a lot of that present in our music, kind of bringing it all together.”
For Sisney and Marion, Columbia was the prime place for finding creative partnerships—and the artistic friendships that help Sidewalk Chalk thrive.
“The biggest thing I got out of Columbia was the people that I met there,” says Sisney.
“I would say that that’s a huge thing, my connections with the people,” agrees Marion.
As Sidewalk Chalk continues to grow—writing and recording new songs, touring to promote their new album—their roots will remain on that Big Mouth stage: the first step in a marathon of music and friendship with no end in sight.
Read more about the band at sidewalk-chalk.com.