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Chamberlain: Sounds of America

Running through a range of beautiful compositions, styles and musical diversity, Chamberlain managed to capture the imagery of the lonely imagination.

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When you’re taking a drive out somewhere on some winding road, the sound you choose to accompany you becomes inspiration. Like the moon from a passing train, the sounds are your night light, your escape from the endless distance and dusty winds. When these distances cover the infinite backgrounds of Indiana, Montana and the plains of somewhere – very few provide true inspiration. Reserved for those who’ve mastered the methods of soulful heartland rock n’ roll, this musical form of art transcends boundaries of genres and musical styles.

Recognized by it’s emergence in 1996 (after being known as Split Lip for five years), Chamberlain was such a musical entity. Running through a range of beautiful compositions, styles and musical diversity, Chamberlain managed to capture the imagery of the lonely imagination. With the 1996 release of their much praised LP, “Fate’s Got a Driver”, they not only captured the hearts and minds of audiences worldwide, but provided incredible groundwork for a truly defining music career. What followed were two more incredible full length releases, a 7″ single and most recently – an incredible 28 track, double disc compilation of some of their finest work.

While they may have made their exit, “Five Year Diary” proves that their music will be remembered and cherished long after they took the stage for the last time. Chamberlain may no longer exist, but their work will forever evoke the passions of imagination – the sounds of America.

David Moore was the vocalist and primary lyricist of Chamberlain. He composed and wrote heartfelt and honest lyrics while lending his hand on some acoustic work for the band. He took some time and answered a few questions during the month of October, 2002.

First of all, let us know what this latest release “Five Year Diary / 1996-2000” holds and what listeners can expect from this double-disc set?

Five-Year Diary is a 28-track compilation of live performances, early studio demos, some of which have not been previously released, and a few songs from Big Brown, the little cabin in the woods of Southern Indiana where I wrote the lyrics of many of the Chamberlain songs and where the band practiced for years. This retrospective album covers the full range of the music created during the Chamberlain years.

Is this the final Chamberlain release or is there the chance for more new material in the future?

With the release of Five-Year Diary, I think all of our recorded material has now been published. We wrote a couple of songs that were never recorded – New Day and With You Always. A live performance of New Day was captured on the RIDE video, and there’s just a bit of With You Always in a sound check segment of the video.

For those who are unfamiliar, share with us a little Chamberlain history.

Chamberlain emerged in 1996 from its origin as a punk band called Split Lip. We released Fate’s Got a Driver under the Chamberlain name that year. And, although the five members of the band remained the same through 1998, new musical directions emerged with the name change as evidenced by our second and third albums, The Moon My Saddle and Exit 263. Counting the Split Lip era, the group was around for about 11 years. We were all kids when we started – only one of us was old enough to drive!

Your record, “Fate’s Got a Driver” is not only one of the most moving records to have been released in the past decade but to this day continues to amaze people. What do you think stands out the most, in your opinion, about this album?

Thank you so much for that kind comment. First and foremost, the compositions are the standout feature of this album. The songs are melodic and memorable. I think the lyrics touched people as well. And all the songs taken together have an impact that has continued to make its mark on listeners. Six years later, Fate’s is still attracting new fans to our music.

There is substantial growth and maturity between “Fate’s Got a Driver” and “The Moon My Saddle”. What do you feel is the biggest difference between the records? At the time, did you approach the song writing process for each record differently?

I’ve always believed that one of the things that drew people to Fate’s Got a Driver was its maturity – both in terms of the musical structure and arrangements, the prowess of the instrumental performances and the depth that the lyrics seemed to reach. The musical compositions on The Moon My Saddle are, perhaps, more mature in their lyrical content, but that just seems to be the natural consequence of growing up a bit and being exposed to different experiences. The writing process was similar for both albums…although several of the songs on Moon were written on a long-distance basis because I was in Montana and Adam was in Indiana at the time we were writing those songs. He’d send me tapes of the music that he was composing, and I’d write the lyrics. No doubt, being in Montana influenced the lyrical composition of some of the songs on Moon.

“The Moon My Saddle” was the last release on Doghouse Records – how did you first end up working together and what were some of the factors behind parting ways with them?

We met Dirk Hemsath, the owner of Doghouse, shortly after we formed Split Lip. Dirk was in a band at the time. When he decided to start his own label, he approached us about recording an EP, which turned out to be the Soulkill record. That record really “put us on the map” locally and regionally and started what became to be an 8-year association with Doghouse. Our contract with Doghouse was completed with the recording of The Moon My Saddle, and at that time, we were pushing hard to find a home with a larger independent or major label. When our management decided to release the band’s final recordings on Exit 263, they negotiated with Doghouse, but a couple of obstacles surfaced that couldn’t be resolved and the record was self-released. I’ll always be grateful to Dirk for believing in a group of untested and untried teenagers from the suburbs of Indianapolis.

Personally speaking, what were some of the most important things you learned from dealing with a label at a relatively young age?

Working with a label requires a certain willingness to bend – to listen to the opinions of others – to learn that sometimes you don’t know everything you think you know. We were young and headstrong, but Doghouse always gave us the space we needed to follow our own vision.

The music and lyrics are incredible honest and heartfelt, who inspires you to write, whether they are artists of music/literature or those outside that field?

I am inspired most by ordinary people and ordinary experiences – mine and those of the people around me or the people I’ve read about. I read a lot – fiction, non-fiction, essays, and poetry. I’ve also traveled a good bit and that adds some color to the themes I choose to write about. With respect to music, I was influenced from a very young age by the poetic genius of Bob Dylan.

What do you feel has been the biggest motivation and inspiration for Chamberlain over the course of your albums, from “Fate’s Got a Driver” to “Exit 263” to the release of the double disc set? And how has it affected you outside the realm of being musicians?

Defining a vision and pursuing it. That’s as important in music as it is in life.

Are there those out there who you’d like to collaborate with musically? And what are the members of Chamberlain currently listening to?

I’m drawn to the music of Greg Brown, Van Morrison, Bob Dylan, Wilson Pickett, Cat Stevens, James Taylor. I can’t really say what the other members of the band might be listening to now. I haven’t spent much time with them recently. I’ve been completing my undergraduate degree at Indiana University. Adam has moved to New York and the other guys are spread out across the country.

There are two (if I’m correct) versions of the song “Good Enough”, one on the LP “The Moon My Saddle” and one on the single/7″. Are there other songs you’d like to do again to perhaps do different versions of?

It’s hard to get to the place where you’re completely satisfied with a recording. Many of the songs on Exit 263 were songs in development, and I think we would have polished them a bit more if time and circumstances had permitted. However, lots of people have told us that they love the raw sound of those songs. I’m generally very happy with the music we created and grateful to know that it has touched people in a meaningful way.

Is there a record that stands out as your favorite? The one where you enjoyed the process of writing, recording and performing the most?

I like Strange Days and Hope You Show Up Soon; both are very personal songs about family relationships. I like Until the Day Burns Down, Santa Fe, Last to Know, Five-Year Diary, Sleep, Street Singer. I truly enjoyed the process of writing every song, and I’ve written a few others that I might decide to record some day.

What are the best things about touring and what are some of the less than enjoyable aspects? Can we expect Chamberlain to hit the stage anytime soon?

The thing I liked best about touring was meeting people and spending time with our fans. The thing I liked least was sleeping on bare floors in strange apartments and flats where, in the early days, fans were willing to put us up for a night. So many people were amazingly generous, but when you’re on the road for weeks, that kind of existence wears you down. Looking ahead, I’d say it’s unlikely that Chamberlain will regroup and tour again.

Do you have some tour memories that stand out in particular as the best or the least enjoyable?

I remember a place where we bunked one night in Germany during our 1996 European tour. It was a large building of some kind – not someone’s home – more like a community center or school, perhaps. There were all kinds of strange costumes and wigs piled up in a corner. Chuck, our drummer, kept us laughing all night modeling those costumes and putting on quite a show. We got some great photos of him in those outfits, which I know he’d like to burn.

Looking back, what would you say has been the most rewarding aspect of being Chamberlain – writing, recording and performing? How would you all like to be looked upon most, whether it is by your fans, family or friends?

Being a part of a group for such a long time during the formative years of one’s life is an experience that’s never forgotten. It touches you in so many ways – some of which are not always fathomable. I learned everything I know about music in association with those guys. And, I learned a lot about life’s drama, too. Looking back on the experience, I realize how truly momentous it was. We created a body of work that survives us. I think we all feel a great sense of accomplishment in simply having done it. And, our loyal fans around the world have brought so much meaning to our efforts. So many people still write to share their thoughts and sentiments about the music…to tell us how one song or another has touched their lives. Recently, we received a letter from a couple who were planning their wedding and wrote to tell us that they had decided to use Chivalry as their wedding song. I was touched by that. It made me realize that the music has a life of its own. Hopefully, it will continue to touch people in some meaningful way – even though those who created it are now pursuing other interests. I like to think it will.

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Interviews

The Down and Dirty: An interview with The Aggrolites

We chat to “dirty reggae” kings The Aggrolites about their new record Reggae Now!

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It’s been a long time between records for Los Angeles reggae band The Aggrolites. 8 years to be exact. After countless albums and endless days on the road, the band felt like it was the right time to step away from the grind of writing, recording, touring. But the extended break between records meant the band just had time to get some air, recuperate and find the charge that would ignite that next spark. That next spark ended up becoming Reggae Now!, a collection of the band’s signature “dirty reggae” sound, packed with life-affirming songs about hope and positivity. And while the album isn’t afraid to challenge and question the current landscape we find ourselves in, it doesn’t shy away from having a good time.

The record has received some lavish praise, with noted filmmaker, DJ, and Big Audio Dynamite co-founder Don Letts saying; “Their tunes perfectly echo the human chemistry you can hear in those early Jamaican productions. The band’s old-school analog sound totally captures the spirit of the music I grew up on“. While Specials vocalist/guitarist Lynval Golding has said; “This is THE album.

It’s easy to say that one of the most influential bands of modern American reggae is back. But the truth is, they never left. In between stops of their current North American tour, we had a chance to chat with vocalist and guitarist Jesse Wagner about Reggae Now!, how it feels to have written the record on their own time, and the significance of reggae music in America.

Congrats on the new record; how does feel now that it’s out?

It feels awesome. We are beyond stoked to see how positive the vibes are coming from all the fans old and new. 

It was a long time between records- 8 years. It was the right time to take a break after 2011?

We felt so. We were going hard on the road for a good decade. I think 250 days a year can wear anyone out. We never quit though. We just needed some time to do our own thing with our families and friends back at home. 

How did Reggae Now! come together- was there a spark that got you guys back into the writing process?

It just felt like the right time. We had talked about it for a while and when it happened it just worked. 

Was this the first time you had the chance to write and record an album without the pressure of label deadlines? How did it feel that you could just write Reggae Now! on your own time- the way you want to 100%?

Yes it was. And it felt really chill and relaxing knowing that time was on our side. I wouldn’t have had it any other way. 

How did you connect and end up working with Pirates Press Records? It seems like a great fit- plus their roster of artists is incredible.

I’ve known Skippy for a long time now and have been a fan of what he has been doing with Pirates Press for years. Playing the style of music we play isn’t necessarily an easy target to market. We knew Skippy and Pirates Press would know exactly what to do with our album and are all grateful for them. 

For those who may not be too familiar with the Aggrolites- share with us a little bit of your history and how the band came to be?

We’ve been around since 2002. We all pretty much come from the same scene in Los Angeles and all have the same love and passion for old school Jamaican music.  With that passion, the band has managed to keep it going ever since. 

How has the tour been so far? You guys are hitting cities all across the US until August; how is touring and getting to meet and perform for the fans now than, say, back in 2002?

It’s been an amazing run so far. If anything, things are getting better. I think with the internet it’s easier for people to find out about certain genres of music. We’ve been getting a lot of positive feedback. 

I love the video for “Pound for Pound”- where did you shoot it? How was it?

It was filmed in the San Fernando Valley at an equipment rental spot called Zio. Our friend Josh Rousch was the director and mastermind behind the whole thing. We had a blast filming it. So much fun and we were stoked to have some Aggro fans involved in the video also. That was a first. 

Let’s talk about reggae- because it’s such an important genre of music (in my view) and I think some people only see it in one color. But there’s a lot of history and culture- how did you discover reggae and what are some of the most important aspects of the music and culture to you and the band?

I found out about reggae probably like the majority of the American youth from the early 1990s; punk rock and Two-Tone. The thing that got me stuck on it was how tuff of a sound it is, but at the same time so beautiful. It is by far the most interesting music I’ve ever gotten into. I love how they sang about social issues going down on their small Island, but how powerful the lyrics would be in relating to people all over the world. 

Reggae, and ska and rocksteady seem to have a close relationship with punk. You guys have toured with and are close to many punk bands; what is it about the two genres that make sense and connects?

I believed it all goes back to the late 1960s when reggae became popular with the working class in the UK. It’s music for the people. Songs about struggle and overcoming it. Very rebellious music also. I believe Don Letts said it best that reggae was the soundtrack to the punk rock scene throughout the late 1970s. 

How important do you think music of good vibes is in today’s world? I think maybe the world could use a little more Reggae Now.

I thank you for saying that and agree 100%. We’ve always said we are “Feel Good” music. Sometimes it’s nice to just play a record and have a good time. Especially in this day and age. There is a lot of corruption going on and hopefully, we can ease people’s minds from negativity with our album. 

The Aggrolites’ new album, Reggae Now!, is available via Pirates Press Records.

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Everything Will Be Alright: An interview with Ogikubo Station

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There is great joy in simple chords and simple melodies. It is, after all, the feeling of comfort that these things often bring. Comfort from the day’s burdens, comfort from the issues that disappoint us, comfort when the sunsets bring us joy. Ogikubo Station, the music project of Maura Weaver (of Ohio punks Mixtapes) and Mike Park (of Asian Man Records), is that kind of comfort. It is music that makes us think of the week we’ve just had, music that makes us want to do better in our every day, and music that makes us laugh, cry, and sing-a-long.

Fresh off the release of a new 7” EP Okinawan Love Songs, we chat to Maura and Mike about the new songs, making music from distances, and how Ogikubo Station came to be. The chat was a reminder that music can be the result of many things and many reasons. Some simple, some more complicated. It was also a reminder that if we’ve got the music, then maybe, just maybe, everything will be alright in the end.

You released your full length We Can Pretend Like last year- was there a catalyst that sparked getting back into the writing and recording again so quickly?

Maura: I think Mike just called me and said do you want to come out to California and do some songwriting, and then while I was out there he booked two days in the studio and said “Guess what? We’re gonna record a 7 inch.”

Mike: Is that what happened? Haha. I can’t remember. I know we had “Would I Break My Heart Enough For You” written and we were playing it live, so I thought “let’s just add a couple more songs and release a fun 7 inch.”

Did you write these songs the same way you’ve written in the past; from a distance?

Mike: Not this time. Since it was only a few songs we just rehearsed for a day and then recorded.

Does that process ever get easier, being quite far apart?

Maura: Not really. I prefer being able to collaborate in person and I believe that’s the plan for the next record. We started writing 4 new songs aside from what’s on this 7 inch to go towards the next Ogikubo full length.

Mike: Yeah, it’s not the best case scenario, but I’ve been doing with a lot of different projects over the years. Sending mixes and vocal parts and asking various friends to guest on records, so it’s not that bad actually.

Okinawan Love Songs

How was having Dan (Andriano) play bass on this EP? Will you be working with him again in the future?

Mike: I’ve known Dan since he was a teenager, so I just called him and said “Dan, I’m gonna send you a couple of songs for you to play bass on” and he was like “okay”. He has his own home studio and he’s kind of a gear head, so I knew it would be easy for him to do. I’d love to do more stuff with him, but I guess we’ll see.

Maura: Heck yes! I’ve been an Alkaline Trio fan since I was 14, so this is all kind of geeking out excitement for me.

For those who are new to Ogikubo Station – tell us how you ended up collaborating together?

Mike: Maura, you want to tell it?

Maura: Sure. So I was visiting the San Francisco/Oakland area where my sister lives and we were hanging out with my friend Danielle Bailey who is also friends with Mike. Danny had posted some photos of us hanging and Mike called Danny and said: “ask Maura if she would record a song with me”. So we drove to San Jose and we recorded a song called “Weak Souls Walk Around Here” and that was it. Just a one-time thing.

Mike: And at that time I believe I told Maura I’d like to put out her solo album and so for the next 2 years I would bug her every couple months to see how it was going and she would say “oh, I’m still working on it”. And then I finally said “hey, let’s start a project together” and thus Ogikubo Station was born.

How many bands are you in now Mike?

Mike: Kitty Kat Fan Club, Ogikubo Station, Bruce Lee Band …are the only ones that play, but I’m working on a couple of new projects. Always doing music.

Maura, how different has it been with Ogikubo Station than say, writing and recording with Mixtapes? Do the different processes give you new ways to write and approach songwriting?

Maura: I guess the biggest difference is the distance factor and that Ogikubo is not a full-time band. Mixtapes was my first real band and it was at a time in my life when everything was a first. First tour, first record, first van, the first van breaking down. I was still in my teens with Mixtapes and we all lived in Cincinnati. So it’s very different with Ogikubo. It’s hard to explain fully, but both bands have definitely been influential in different ways. But the basic idea of writing a melody over a strummed guitar chord is the same no matter the situation.

I love the TMBG cover on the new EP, and the fact that you chose to keep it lo-fi—what are some of the other bands you say would have directly led to the music and songwriting of Ogikubo Station?

Mike: I guess I’ve been listening to a lot of 80’s bands as of late and just kind of falling in love again with bands like Hoodoo Gurus, the Replacements, REM, and then newer bands like ALVVAYS, PUP, and Laura Stevenson. I’m always just looking for a good melody and some lyrics that aren’t filler bullshit.

Maura: I listen to so much music. From Kate Bush, TMBG, Desmond Dekker, Operation Ivy, to Beyonce and Taylor Swift. It’s hard to say what influences Ogikubo Station, but those are some bands I’ve been listening to lately.

Mike, I know on Twitter recently you’ve expressed your frustration and anger at a lot of the political things that are happening in the US (hopefully that’s not the cause of those grey hairs!) – but as songwriters, do you feel that it’s more important than ever to provide listeners with fuel to fight for equality and kindness, or do you feel that its just as important to provide an escape through music?

Mike: I’ve always felt music is political even when you aren’t trying to make it political. The sounds fuel the soul, creates the body to move and puts you in moods that you may not even realise are happening. Music has been my solace when it comes to expression and emotion. An outlet to get my ideas across in an artistic and productive manner. I don’t feel it’s imperative to be overtly political. I try not to shove politics down your throat, but if something comes to mind and I write about it and it happens to be classified as political, so be it.

Maura, you did the artwork for the new EP, an illustration of your Okinawan grandmother. The art is beautiful, can you tell us a little bit about your art and how you came into illustrating?

Maura: I’ve always enjoyed illustrating and painting. Creating art: With a guitar or a brush or a pen/ pencil. I wanted to draw my grandmother and give it to her as a present.  When Mike saw the drawing he asked if we could use it for the 7-inch cover. It wasn’t meant to be the cover, but after mike brought it up I said of course.

What are some of the things you’re looking forward to on this UK tour? You guys are going all over England, and then to Wales, and then Scotland. 

Mike: Sadly I’m not going on the tour this time due to some hearing damage I have sustained, but I’m still going to Brighton for a wedding, so I will be there for 3 days. And I’ll try to do every stereotypical British thing. TEA/MILK/FISH/CHIPS/MUSHY PEAS.

Maura: Getting to travel with my best friend Megan is the most exciting part of this UK tour. She’s never been before and that makes it that much more special being able to share this experience together. We are both Vegan/Vegetarian and one of our favorite things to do is eat, so we’ll checking out the different vegan spots in every city. And just meeting new friends, seeing old friends, and Edinburgh. I can’t wait to go to Edinburgh.

Is there a new full length on the horizon?

Mike: I’d like to work on one next year. I’m tapped out for this year. I’m gonna work on some new Bruce Lee Band stuff next and then I have a couple of other collaborations, but hopefully sometime next year we can start the process for the next full length.

Maura: That sounds good to me. It will give me a chance to keep writing songs.

Ogikubo Station’s new 7″ EP Okinawan Love Songs is out June 14th on Asian Man Records. Find out more about Ogikubo Station and their upcoming tour dates on their Facebook page.

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