Jess Viscius works as a designer by day and plays in a dreamy, grungey rock band by night. Her outfit, Bunny, is a fast-rising act from Chicago that's been written about in the Chicago Reader and Impose Magazine. Her songs are straight-forward and fun, much like the Velvet Underground but dreamier and with a better sense of humor. Her song "Let Me Be Yer Dog" even features a tambourine beat that feels like "Venus in Furs," and, though she said her vocal range is limited, she's able to play with a handful of notes while singing — stretching syllables and blurring words.
She talked to us about writing songs only about a year ago, about living in Chicago for most of her life, and how plugging in an electric guitar for the first time "felt like magic."
How long have you lived in Chicago?
I’ve lived here for about 8 years. I’m from Chicago. I was born in Bridgeport and lived there until I was about 3 years old, then my parents moved us out to the western suburbs. I came back here for college and I’ve been here ever since, minus a year when I lived in New York.
Where did you go to school?
I went to UIC. I studied design.
So, you have a sister in the band. How did you meet the other two band members?
Bunny started as a solo project about a year ago. I was writing songs and then sending them to my sister and my cousin and asking them what they thought. My sister showed them to her boyfriend, who is also a musician, and we were like “let’s start a band!” So we got a practice space, and started meeting once a week. This is my first band, so initially I was pretty uncomfortable at practice, but eventually we found our groove and it started making sense.
How long have you been writing songs?
I started writing about a year ago. That’s when I bought my first guitar. I had been borrowing my sister’s acoustic that she bought when she was taking lessons in like, eighth grade or something. I remember working out a few songs on the borrowed acoustic. At one point I played a song for this guy I was seeing at the time and he was like, “the song is really good but the lyrics are so cheesy.” And I was like, “fuck you.” That’s when I decided to buy my own electric guitar (laughs).
Playing the acoustic versus the electric is such a different feeling. I remember the first time I played through an amp, I was like “this is magical!” (laughs). My friend had a little set up at his apartment with a microphone, and I was like “whoa, my voice sounds way better when it’s amplified through a microphone! (laughs)” especially since I sing quietly.
And your music is a bit dreamy, so your singing style might fit that sound better.
Totally. The breathy singing lends itself to the dreaminess. I don’t have a huge vocal range. Every time I sing with a more “real voice,” my friends are like “shut up, you’re annoying (laughs).”
What was the electric guitar you bought?
It’s embarrassing because I bought it from Guitar Center. But it was used! And I got there with the intention of trying guitars and seeing what I like. And I went there with our old drummer Drew who knew a lot more than I knew and I found this one and it just sounded awesome to me. It’s a Fender Jaguar. Black on black.
Our other guitarist has a Jazzmaster, so it’s the same body shape. My sister bought the Fender Jaguar bass.
All the same shape!
I also play mine very high up.
Was that a conscious choice?
Yeah, I didn’t want to look like Nirvana (laughs).
When holding guitars, it’s really one or the other: you're either like Kurt Cobain or like George Harrison.
I guess I’m somewhere in between. It feels right when I play it!
I’ve listened to your three singles. What’s on the horizon?
How long have you been involved with Dumpster Tapes?
Alex and Eddie of Dumpster Tapes asked Bunny to play a show they were setting up at the East Room. Sometime after that, they offered to put out something for us.
How many shows have you played? And what’s the favorite show you’ve played?
We’ve played close to 25 shows. We were saying yes to everything because we are a new band. But now that I know what venues I like, I’ll email them.
We were supposed to play at the Mutiny but it was set on fire.
Do you find that there’s a strong sense of community here, too?
Oh yeah. In Chicago? Yeah. It’s part of the reason why we’re doing well as a new band just because the community is outrageously small. In a lot of ways, it helps.
What are your favorite Chicago-based bands?
When did you move to New York?
I moved there after I graduated just to see what was out there. I moved to Bushwick.
Did you move there for the purpose of pursuing music?
No, I moved there three years ago before I had even started the band. I was getting sick of Chicago but then I realized I had a good thing going on back home.
How do you think your songwriting has changed from the beginning to now?
I don’t know if it’s changed that much. My inspiration for the songs is still the same: the relationships I have with other people. Depending on what mood I’m in, my songs are very candid. I’ve tried not writing love songs, but they usually end up beings love songs (laughs).
Do you have any rituals or routines when you’re writing songs?
I used to live alone, so I could be loud as I wanted. I’d be out in my living room with my dog and my cat and an Old Fashioned and just fuck around with chords until I came up with a melody.
Now that I have roommates, that sort of changes the process. I have to be pretty quiet and I feel more reserved. I’m very conscious of the fact that my roommates might be listening. I think it sort of stifled me at first but I’m adjusting.
Do you record on your phone or computer?
Yeah, I use voice memos for ideas. Then I bring them to practice or play them in front of the band.
Is there any noticeable difference between your first draft and when the band listens to it?
It’s usually the same. I practice the songs alone a lot so I fall in love with it or an idea.
Are they in other bands?
No, and I’m sure that helps. My sister is also really new to bass guitar, she just started learning. Basically, when I said “I want to start a band,” she said she’d buy a bass guitar.
Is she an older or a younger sister?
And it’s really nice to have someone in the band who you have that closeness with. Because she’ll tell me when something sucks (laughs).