Jose Calvo is a Chicago artist specializing in music, art and photography. He’s been a key archiver of Chicago music history, having paved the way with stellar images and video that capture the passion of the city’s thriving underground music community.
Jose first became involved in music as a teenager, performing within the thrash punk movement. Currently, he plays bass in indie rock band Kelroy, promotes a night of all-vinyl music with his crew The DisAssociates and is an active member of many of Chicago’s independent media outlets covering concerts and entertainment events as lead photographer.
I spoke to Jose – whom I refer to often as Josefus because, well, when you meet him you’ll understand – and asked him about his life, his work and his passions. (I left our whiskey talk for another article ‘cause that means more research, y’all!)
You’re known as not only one of the best photographers in the world (okay, I’m the one who says that all the time!) but you’re also a Chicago musician – what do you identify most with, the photographer side or the musician side?
I’ve never been one for labels. I like ART. All kinds. The two forms of art that I have involved myself with lately have been music and photography. A lot of people know me more for my photography because it gets out there more than the music I play. Hopefully that changes soon! Haha!
How did you first get started in music?
I got started in music a little late in the game, I was about 18 when I met a few guys in the Thrash Punk scene. The first band I was in was called Korruption, along with Pedro, Fabian, Johnny and Israel. There was lots of slamming and mosh pits back in those days.
How did you first get started in photography?
Photography first came into my life my senior year of high school. I had to take a journalism class in order to graduate. I got involved with the school paper, and with yearbook. My journalism teacher handed me a camera and gave me a few assignments to do. I had to figure out the camera, which wasn’t easy. My first few rolls of film were unusable, but once I got the hang of it, I loved it, especially seeing the moments you captured come to life in the dark room.
Tell me about some of the bands/projects you’ve worked in?
Musical projects I have been involved with include Punk Thrash with Korruption, Spanish industrial with KARNIZERO, Latin alternative rock with [.DESCARGA.] and Misfits tribute with Devilocks. I’m currently with Kelroy. There are a few others in between as well.
How has the music industry changed – as a photographer AND as a musician – since you got started?
The music industry has changed in both aspects. As a photographer, making money shooting concerts has gotten very tough. Getting access to shows has gotten ridiculous as well. It is now acceptable to start a blog and be in the photo pit with your iphone and that’s been frustrating.
As a musician, it has gotten super competitive as well. There are tons of indie bands that are recording themselves, and with access to internet sites such as Reverbnation and Bandcamp, it makes it easier to push your music not just locally, but globally.
So, it all comes down to how you adapt to the fast paced changes that are occurring. So far, I am doing ok in both 🙂
What is your favorite venue to listen to live music?
I love smaller venues in Chicago. Martyrs’ is one of my favorites to see shows. The sound there is excellent and they always have amazing bands performing.
What is your favorite venue to play music?
Up to now, my favorite venue that I have played has been Joe’s on Weed St. It was an awesome experience… from the staff, to the sound, to the lighting, to the crowd.
What is missing in Chicago to make local musicians feel more supported?
This is a tough question. As an indie band, it can be hit or miss. I do hear a lot of musicians blaming the scene, the music goers, promoters, venues and so on. As much as I want to blame them as well, you really have to take the responsibility on yourself. I guess what I mean is, you can have awesome music, but that won’t move itself.
A lot of musicians don’t want to put the work into hustling their bands. I guess to answer your question, local musicians should take on the responsibility of getting themselves out there. If you put the work into it, the support will follow. (I’m sayin’!)
What is the best thing about Chicago for local musicians?
The diversity of venues, neighborhoods, people. It is such a great city to play music in. There is something for everyone here. If you are having a hard time getting booked, or getting people to your shows, then you are doing something wrong. (Word!)
Who has been your favorite artist to photograph?
My favorite artist to photograph… that is tough, tough, tough. I always love when Teri Gender Bender comes to town. She has such energy.
What has been the most trying photographic moment throughout your career?
Hmm. Well, I have to say it was the recent event called ChiTown Rising. The Star looked amazing, but it was so tough to shoot! The scheduling of the bands playing through midnight as the star was rising was a mess, in my opinion. It was kind of disorganized. But, in its defense, it was the first time they have this event. I think it will get better as the years pass.
What has been your favorite band performance thus far?
My favorite gig has been the Kelroy CD release show for the album Beautiful Monsters. We had it at Martyrs’ along with Killer Moon and Making Movies. The vibes were amazing that night.
Tell me about your upcoming gigs (all of them!)
Upcoming gigs for Kelroy:
We are playing at Joe’s on Weed Street with Latin Rock band La Castañeda on April 3rd. That show should be a lot of fun!
We are then playing April 8th at The Bar 10 Doors.
We also have some dates in mind for some shows out in Denver. Hopefully it all works out. We will keep you posted!
Who are your top five favorite Chicago bands?
Tell me about the DisAssociates, how that got started and if it continues…
The DisAssociates came out with Tony Macias and myself a few years back. Niko soon came in a little afterwards. It was originally supposed to be a band, but turned into a vinyl records project. We just had our third anniversary event at Ceta’s (formerly known as Beviamo).
Who is your dream band to photograph?
I would love to photograph the Rolling Stones, Vicente Fernandez, and Tom Waits. The Doors, Beatles, Nirvana, and Jimi if they were still around.
Who is your dream band to perform with?
You can find Kelroy’s latest album, Beautiful Monsters,(so good!) here.
Written by @sandratrevino