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Chevelle interview

| September 1, 2009 | 2 Comments

Friction Fiction


“I walked out of a Mars Volta show in L.A. a couple years back,” says Chevelle frontman Pete Loeffler, “because it was one long jam session. If that’s what you’re into – great. But I heard one song I knew and the rest of it I was like, ‘Whoa. O.K. I get it: You’re incredible musicians.’ But I wanted to hear the songs I knew, I loved. And I ended up just leaving an hour into it. Nothing against them, I just got bored.”

Loeffler doesn’t seem like a particularly fidgety or impatient person over the phone, but his Mars Volta anecdote is microcosmic of his present state of mind. In 10 years, Chicago-based Chevelle have ascended, descended, and plateaued. If anything, he’s found that permanence and consistency are fleeting concepts, temptresses whose traps are complacency and, worse, a false sense of security. His eternal mission is to find out what works for him.

“We’re out with Staind on this Stimulate This! tour,” he says, “there is more of a Top-40, mainstream vibe than I thought there would be. I guess I just didn’t know Staind was so huge at Top 40, and so is [fellow opener] Shinedown. It’s different for us. We’re a rock band; we’ve never, ever been played on those [radio] stations. We have enough singles and it’s not like people have never heard rock radio before, but a lot of them are coming to hear songs that are spun right next to Coldplay or whatever. It’s fine, but like I said we play our singles and throw a couple new ones we think they’ll like. We’re playing a 35-minute set – it’s bullshit. We’re barely warmed up after [the allotted] eight songs. We usually headline our own tours, but we did this just to get in front of new people. You have to do that, otherwise you don’t grow. Endure it for two months, and then go off and do your own thing.”

If the story ended here, you’d go away thinking Loeffler is a jaded opportunist who’s stolen all the keys from the valet stand but can’t find a car he’d like to lift. In reality, he’s searching for the rug that was pulled from beneath the band.

“We’ve done the huge release,” he notes. “Wonder What’s Next sold 1.3 million. This Type Of Thinking (Could Do Us In) is close to a million. Then everything plummeted. Technology and sharing overwhelmed people and it was too easy to get the album from your friend than drive down to the record store and pick it up. I used to work at a record store 16 years ago, and I remember people lining up on a release day for a new album. I don’t think you see that anymore. I don’t make money off of records [now]. You want to sell albums, but at the end of the day I can’t worry about it. If I made a great record and people want it, that’s going to translate to people coming out to our shows. And if we get ’em out to our shows, our career keeps going. It’s the worst time in history to start a rock band. We were lucky enough to get in before everything plummeted, so we’ve actually sustained a career. But the fact of the matter is we’re not going to sell a whole lot of records like we used to. You have to find new avenues.”

Chevelle’s fifth album, Sci-Fi Crimes (Epic), points in a new direction. In the past, it was hard to get through a Chevelle review without running past a reference to Tool, but Sci-Fi is unexpectedly sleeker, but not in the way you’d expect a rock-radio band to be. Making use of their trio setup, songs like first single “Jam” “Jars” and “Sleep Apnea” are nimbler and more cutting, instead of the lumbering, multi-tracked beasts that were their stock-in-trade.

“We’re definitely leaning in more of an alternative direction on this album,” Loeffler says. “I don’t feel like I need to lean toward the metal side every album. We tried to put a lot more emotion in this and a lot more of a live sound. For the people who’ve seen us play live, they say our live show is so much more powerful than our albums. That’s one thing I took to our producer, Brian Virtue, who’s new to the band, and we told him we need more live, raw sound. A lot of bands say that and never achieve it, and I think that’s because when they hear something like that they change their minds. They don’t like what they sound like and want that perfect, processed sound. I think we wanted to go backward. So many bands come out like bullshit, [Grammy-nominated producer] Howard Benson mixes, which are too clean and too proper. We didn’t want that again. This album really stayed away from that. It’s raw-sounding and a lot of it was done in our little home studio. I feel like it’s a little more honest.”

It might seem like a low-exertion, aesthetic trick, but it’s borne of a larger change. In 2005, Chevelle, a trio of brothers rounded out by Sam and Joe Loeffler, received a shock when Joe’s ambivalence for the band came to a head and led to his ouster. The resultant album, Vena Sera, came quickly (so much that it included a reaction to Joe’s dismissal), but on Sci-Fi, Dean Bernardini, Joe’s replacement, has finally settled.

“Dean is the new addition even though he’s been in the band for four years,” Loeffler says. “He’s a tremendous drummer. He’s a tremendous bass player, artist. He’s helped us in a lot of different ways where when Joe was in the band we didn’t have that. Joe would go off and do his own thing; he’d come into the studio and I’d have to literally teach him the songs, the day we’re trying to lay down tracks. In that sense everything’s different.”

Though he has always handled the majority of songwriting and recording duties, Loeffler now feels able to relax and leave the doors unlocked. “I’m really open to their input. I actually want their input so bad I wanted to stay away from condensed, finished songs. It still happens – ‘Highland’s Apparition’ is an acoustic song that they didn’t have any part in. But if they don’t have any part in it, then I’m second guessing and wondering if it’s really worth putting on an album. We were actually thinking about starting from scratch on the next album – just coming into a room and seeing what happens. This is the fifth album. We’ve done this way [for so long] we know what works, but maybe we should try something different. Maybe we’ll get a couple songs out of it, and those’ll be the ones that stand out. It’s a weird thing. It does feel like it’s a battle for me, because I do like having that artistic control. That’s all I do in the band: I write and perform. It is hard to give it up, in a way. It’s a good thing, though, when I do. It’s better to work together.”

So while there might be a few more ideas out there to keep Chevelle on the road, Loeffler’s fairly certain that whatever’s out there lies ahead.

“I feel pretty good about moving forward; I never felt the need to go back as far as to listen to recordings we’ve done in the past,” he says. “If you were to ask a fan that, they always want to hear the older stuff and we incorporate some of that into the show. But I’d probably have to slit my wrists if I kept having to go back like that.”

For now, however, when he’s bored he’ll just walk away.

Steve Forstneger


Category: Features, Monthly

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Comments (2)

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  1. Sam says:

    Nice article, however the new single is “Jars” not “Jam”.

  2. katrinda says:

    Nice article, nice new picture of Chevelle!

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