5 Dec

We sense something at least slightly off-kilter about the opening minutes of the self-titled debut album from The Chaw. It’s not off-kilter in an unpleasant way – it’s more of an indication of a certain nerve-wracking, jittery, “is-this-train-going-to-jump-the-tracks?” darkness that informs the album as a whole.

A brief Flamenco-flavored guitar intro leads to the disorienting, back-and-forth rhythm of “Everything Wrong” and almost immediately, it’s clear that the land of The Chaw isn’t a place where the sun is going to shine all that frequently – and when it does, it’s not going to bring much warmth along with it. But as is often the case, this unease makes for an intriguing, enchanting listen.

We come not to psychoanalyze The Chaw, but to praise them, for their debut album is a steady bet for those who enjoy the world-weary western vibes historically plied by fellow Bay Area cosmic cowboys, along with current Apes-faves who manage to musically mourn manifest destiny. Yet in the place where some bands display poise, The Chaw tend to spit poison. Consider the dark-heart hike up to one of the album’s highlights, “Mount Diablo”:

When we first came under the spell on The Chaw earlier this year, we marveled at their “sound of old doors creaking open,” while being “unsure of whether there’ll be angels or demons staring back at us over a straining door chain lock.” The black dog that stares unblinking from the cover of the album seems to provide the answer.

“Then too you cannot spend an hour alone;

No company’s more hateful than your own;

You dodge and give yourself the slip; you seek

In bed or in your cups from care to sneak:

In vain: the black dog follows you, and hangs

Close on your flying skirts with hungry fangs.”

Horace, “Satires”

We’re thrilled to have Jeffrey, singer and bassist for The Chaw, answer our ridiculous questions below. Enjoy.

Can you recall the very first time you felt the urge to make music? How did you satisfy this urge before being able to put together a proper band, or a proper recording – or was the urge satisfied at all? Do you feel that music captures your imagination in a more tangible way than do books, paintings, etc. – or just in a different way?

When I felt the urge to play music, I asked my folks for a guitar and got lessons. Finding people to play with seemed like the only natural progression.

Books are incredibly inspiring. I love to read. There’s a certain part of my brain that shares a creative space with music, literature and visual art. Usually though, different mediums cause different kinds of reactions. They seem to inform each other a lot.

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Considering your own personal musical evolution, can you name the one or two people in your life who you feel are most responsible for expanding your palette, so to speak, when it comes to either creating music or even just listening to music? What album from your adolescence have you returned to most for inspiration or perhaps introspection? What band or artist do you most appreciate today for whom you lacked an appreciation for earlier in your life? To what do you attribute the transformation?

For me, musical evolution is most facilitated by the people I’m playing with. I’ve been playing with a few constant people for ten-plus years, others for much less. I’ve learned the most about music by working with a close group. In all the turmoil and fun there has to be a constant willingness to confront yourself and improve, otherwise friends stop being friends and music stops being music.

In my later years I’ve started enjoying kings like Tom Waits, Dylan, Cohen, etc. Masters of the song language. They make you think it’s easy. Jerks.

Was there anything in the formation of The Chaw that you consider a reaction to your experiences playing in previous bands or projects? Was there something you wanted to express initially and do you feel that The Chaw has given you a medium for that expression? How have your musical ambitions evolved since The Chaw began?

The Chaw was a chance to play a different style, in every way. From the players to the sonics to the feel of it. Although, the goal of great songwriting is the same as it ever was.

The EP was euphoric to make, but now we’re thinking about how to sustain ourselves, to learn over time. The project’s virginity is gone.

Initially, we wanted to pummel with the drone and the dark, as much as possible, in a song-like way. As much as possible. We shall see where it goes from here … we’re still learning.

What is the origin of the name, “The Chaw,” and what does it represent to you beyond simply the name of the band? What, if any, lingering impact do you think exists in the music of The Chaw from Jeff and Stephen’s initial introduction having come in a church? Where – if at all – does the spiritual collide with the musical in the make-up of The Chaw’s sound?

The band name is dumb … so what … I dont care … next question.

I DO care about making music that’s honest and full of experience. For good or bad. Music is a precious thing. I have this silly belief that people will enjoy honesty over superficiality. I hope in the long run that will sustain us.

What can you tell us about your full-length, self-titled debut? Was there anything the band wished to convey differently than your altogether excellent EP release? What surprises came through the recording process that you feel ultimately – if unexpectedly – enhanced the ultimate result?

After the EP, we decided to make a full-length. It was an experiment for us. An experiment to see what we would do, and to do it quickly. I enjoyed it immensely. There are some good qualities to it, but a great deal I will do differently next time around.

What do you like most about performing The Chaw’s music in a live setting? What are the components necessary for a great live performance, in your mind? What are the components of live performance that you would seek if money were no object? What is the most surprising and inspiring live performance that you’ve seen over the past year, and why?

I think the music we play is translated much better live. We recorded live, we enjoy playing live. If money were no limit I’d call Anton Corbjin and have him take care of the lights, etc.

A good show should be a full-fledged experience in audio, visuals, etc. … one giant stream of consciousness. One big agreement, I suppose.

Stephen and I saw Black Mountain last year at The Fillmore. They were tight and played the songs with excellence. No frills, no pretension. It was a great rock show, full of a doubtless pummeling.

Would you care to comment on the rumor (the rumor that we are attempting to start right now) that in addition to releasing your new album, you will also be starting a mobile food cart to take on tour, called “Chaw Chow”?

I’d be partially scared of a meal that was called CHAW. It sounds like bovine cud. But yes, the rumors are true.

What music have you been listening to lately? If push comes to shove, what is your favorite album by The Doors and why? Please show your work.

Jarrod turned me on to Norah Jones’ “Little Broken Hearts.” That’s been playing for a while. I’ve been finding a lot of comfort in Motown type stuff these days – a lot of fun. There’s nutty energy in there. Also, Bat for Lashes.

John Robbins, author of “Diet for A New America” and certainly a King Diamond fan, said the following:

“There is a great loneliness of spirit today. We’re trying to live, we’re trying to cope in the face of what seems to be overwhelming evidence that who we are doesn’t matter, that there is no real hope for enough change, that the environment and human experience is deteriorating so rapidly and increasingly and massively. This is the context, psychically and spiritually, in which we are working today. This is how our lives are reflected to us. Meanwhile, we’re yearning for connection with each other, with ourselves, with the powers of nature, the possibilities of being alive. When that tension arises, we feel pain, we feel anguish at the very root of ourselves, and then we cover that over, that grief, that horror, with all kinds of distraction – with consumerism, with addictions, with anything that we can use to disconnect and to go away.”

Your thoughts?

Interesting quote. This is not a new condition. It really reminded me of Sauron in the “The Lord of the Rings.” He spent his whole time in Middle Earth constantly trying to expand himself into the limitless. He was uncomfortable with anything that ended, so he literally tore himself a part to put himself within a physical object. In this way he could separate himself into eternity (like Voldemort in “Harry Potter”). It’s a disconnection from himself and from others. An endless thing with people.

There’s not much I can suggest further to this idea in an interview, nothing convincing. I think every musician and artist is in this search to relay some type of story that both engages and serves the world around them. Not to commit the mistake of thinking the end of yourself is you and yours, for you, by you, with you and then: no more. The world can give this lonliness to you at times. It’s a part of life. Yet, a gift is still something and not nothing, which is worthy of thanks. What else is there?  So, we’re sharing some tunes.

What’s next for The Chaw?

We hope to record again early 2013, keeping the music pumping. A chaw pump. A chawmp. Thanks, Revolt o’ the Apes!


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