Lollapalooza set a major step for North suburban band Ax and the Hatchetmen

Oh, the energy of youth. Not long after wrapping up a nonstop, whirlwind, two-month tour circling the U.S. for 28 shows and a number of festival appearances, Ax and the Hatchetmen is now back home prepping to debut on the Lollapalooza stage this week.

So, of course claiming a slot on the lineup of one of the summer's biggest music festivals (along with other Chicago-area acts Louis the Child, Sincere Engineer, Friday Pilots Club, Dehd and Motherfolk, to name a few) is the next logical step for a band whose trajectory is going nowhere but up.

The seven-piece indie-alternative band Ax and the Hatchetmen brings rock, jazz and blues to the Lollapalooza stage. Courtesy of JP Calubaquib

Hailing from Lake Villa, Wadsworth, Gurnee and Park Ridge, the now-college-aged, seven-piece band formed when guitarist and co-lead vocalist Axel Ellis met guitarist Sal Defilippis over an Instagram post. Through high school jazz band connections and a trip to the Midwest Young Artists Conservatory for jazz performances, the other members - Hunter Olshefke on bass, Kenny Olzewski on guitar, drummer Nick Deputy, Phil Pistone on trumpet and Quinn Dolan on saxophone - fleshed out the band's roster for a rich, full sound that creatively wraps its blues, classic rock and jazz influences in an uplifting and modern alt-rock shell. Sometimes with a little surf rock thrown in for fun, as in the punchy and earworm-worthy "Mako."

While every member of the band brings his own flair to each piece and the songwriting is pretty democratic within the group, the vocals tend to come from Ellis and Olzewski.

"You can kind of bet whoever's singing it wrote it, at least lyrically," Ellis said. "Any surf that you're hearing is pretty much coming from Kenny. He grew up listening to surf rock and playing blues and surf kind of stuff. So he wrote a lot that was a little bit central to that. It's kind of like a Beach Boys complex, except we're nowhere near the water."

Ellis said his soulful approach to the band's songs - as on the heartfelt and haunting "Utah" - comes from his history playing blues and classic rock covers starting when he was 9, eventually leading him to explore more jazz.

"Jazz was just more than I knew. And that's still what draws me to try and play it. It was something I didn't really understand and wanted to," he said. "I guess we all joined for that reason, just to expand our palette, what we're doing on our instruments."

His curiosity clearly was piqued, as he's about to enter his senior year studying jazz at Columbia College in Chicago.

Axel Ellis takes the mic for a song during an Ax and the Hatchetmen set. Courtesy of Kory Thibeault

"It's not necessarily because I need to be a jazz player," he said. "But just to have more colors to work with. That was always intriguing."

Jazz isn't the star of an Ax and the Hatchetmen set, but it sure plays a supporting role, especially when the horn section adds its brassy exuberance to the songs. But the music - available on major streaming services - is also heavily influenced by modern alternative and rock acts, such as Hippocampus and The Strokes, according to Ellis. Every song from the band sounds different from the last, with an upbeat through-line marking all the tunes as unique Ax and the Hatchetmen creations.

"Phil is a total jazz player, so we let him blow as much as makes sense," Ellis said. "But it's been organic. We're not trying to force any certain genre here or there."

With summer break coming to an end and the school year dispersing many of the bandmates to their respective colleges, Chicago-area shows won't be as regular for Ax and the Hatchetmen for the fall season, but Ellis said the band does have a few songs recorded and a few more in the works for release later this year. And, in the meantime, fans always have Lollapalooza.

"Chicago has such a fun music scene that we've been so happy to be a part of over the last couple years. ... I haven't felt the energy that I have in this city in other places as much," he said. "We're just really thankful that it's here and we're just so happy to be able to do it."

• • •


When: Noon Thursday through Sunday, Aug. 3-6

Where: Grant Park, 331 E. Randolph St., Chicago;

Tickets: Single-day passes are $135-$550, with two- and four-day options also available.

• Ax and the Hatchetmen plays from 2:50-3:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 3, on the Bacardi Stage and a Lollapalooza aftershow with The 502s at 11 p.m. at Lincoln Hall.

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