Old Amigos by 3 AM

A Conversation with New Chums

I’m sitting in the Yucca Tap Room, nursing a Lagunitas IPA, and reading Benjamin Leatherman’s article in the Phoenix New Times, “25 Legendary Tempe Music Venues: Then and Now”. Nina’s: Minder Binders: the Electric Ballroom; most of them are gone, but the Yucca is pretty much the same. There is a picture of The Refreshments performing back in 1996, and as I glance around the bar, my view settles on the wooden sign with black lettering advertising Roger Clyne’s Mexican Moonshine Tequila. Twenty one years went by in the space of that glance, and I realized that the Yucca was a time machine.

Reading of the legendary Arizona Indie Music scene, sitting across the bar from P.C. looking at each other from time to time with a familiar nod – like a silent toast between members of a bygone cool kids club – my attention is pulled back as a new band, takes the stage beneath the back-lit sign of a Tempe icon. I am caught wondering if they even know who Roger Clyne is. Their fingers grace the strings, and their sticks slam the snares, and once again…. I am an ageless man, sitting in a shadowy bar, listening to the aspirations of another group of artists with big dreams.

As I lined up the bands that I wanted to feature on this new blog endeavor, this particular show was of special interest. The New Chums were playing again after a several month hiatus as they regrouped, and the Wyves, another band that had quickly gotten my attention previously when they opened for the Pistoleros (speaking of Tempe music legends) at The Crescent Ballroom. Tonight they were playing together. My plan was to focus on Wyves, giving the Chums a chance to play and grow together, before doing my interview and feature. Sometimes….. the best laid plans …

Then they debuted their new guitarist, Matt Lloyd, and their new Bassist, Cassandra Clark, and a new sound, a new vibe, a new energy. It was like hearing the Chums again for the first time… once again “new” Chums. So I made a decision to move the New Chums up on the slate. The Wyves are Great. Go See Them. They are next up on Keep The Greasy Side Down, but the energy of The Chums, debuting a completely new vibe… seemed like the #indie thing to do! So…. give me a few weeks, the Wyves are coming… and I promise, they are worth the wait!

In the meantime… why not make some New Friends?

If you had asked me before to describe the New Chums, I would have put them along a spectrum between The Strokes and The Killers. Think that jingly jangly Johnny Marr vibe, that groovy dancy thing that The Smiths completely mastered back in Manchester, and then layer it along with those swanky guitar riffs – like on the song “Under Cover of Darkness”, and marry it with the lyrical depth of The Killers “When you were Young” and you start to catch the vibe of the New Chums.

I immediately liked the band, and quickly made friends with Seth and his mates. One of the things that I love about music, is that once people see the depth of appreciation and legitimate love you have for their craft, they enjoy talking to you. I am not a groupie…. or maybe I am, but one of the best kind. The kind that just wants to listen to your poetry, have you electrify me with your sound, wants to talk about music all night, and doesn’t even want to sleep with you or steal your drugs. It’s a beautiful thing. One of my first conversations with Seth, was when he asked me what I really thought of Tuolumne, the band’s first EP.  Here, combined with a really nice sit down chat with him at the next show, the soul of the New Chums began to come into focus.

Have you ever had that thought, sitting there, watching some entertainment show or reading an article about one of your favorite icons, and you think, “Man, I would love to just sit and have coffee with this person.  We wouldn’t have to talk about business or their work or anything – we could just hang like old friends”?  This is what I want my articles/ interviews to read like, not so much a list of questions and answers, but more a conversation about a topic where the band takes the role as specialist and expert in terms of sourcing the article.  This is much more interesting.

When it comes to Seth Boyack, a friend immediately realizes that they have sat down with an artist, a poet, an introverted wordsmith, and the juxtaposition that takes place between an artist among artists and their desire to sell their band to the masses is very interesting.

“My brother was just a bit older than me, and I grew up listening to all of his music.  Bands like The Smiths and New Order formed the early inspirations for myself as a songwriter.  I can play guitar, but I am not a great guitarist.  That is why I need Matt, but I see myself as a songwriter bringing my ideas and a melody to my band to help me flesh them out. “

Seth Boyack relocated to Phoenix after growing up in Tuolumne County, California, and via Craiglist formed the nucleus of New Chums with his drummer Ben Hedlund, who himself relocated to the Valley of the Sun from Boston, Mass.  In fact, if you can indulge the old-school guy, one more time, the relationship between these two reminds me very much of the camaraderie between Roger Clyne and PH Naffah,*** a song-man and a drummer, forming the bright-line that goes through changes and decades. Obviously, New Chums have a long way to go before they take a ride through that Yucca Taproom Time Machine, but the comparison is one that gives a music fan a world of hope.

But, dear reader, as I am apt to do and you are apt to forgive, you have allowed me to digress.  Tuolumne.  First, it is  a great album {click on the album picture above, follow the link, TOTALLY GUILT FREE FIVE BUCKS).  Second, lyrically, the poetry created here is very reminiscent of the lyrical themes one finds in those old Smiths albums.  The imagery and emotions of a young, introspective lad growing up, asking questions, and trying to figure out the answers to life – whether in questioning authority in “For the Cause” or musing with the poets in “Cemetery Gates” – whether in prowling the open spaces around Yosemite or the industrial sprawl of Manchester – is a welcome and refreshing connection in a world of music that is often critiqued as losing much of its soul.  Thirdly, however, although Tuolumne is a solid first EP offering, it does not even begin to show the force and energy the Chums have when they play live.  I told Seth that, but I followed it up immediately with, “But, that’s a good thing man.  Think about it, we have all been to shows where you may as well have just listened to the CD in the parking lot.  The artist brought nothing new or original to the live experience, and that sucks.”.  He nodded, but the poet in him looked perplexed.  Let me put it to you this way, Seth is just the artist to figure out how to channel that “live” vibe into a CD!  The Chums are back in the studio this summer, this time recording with Flying Blanket Recording, and I fully expect this dialog to be one of the top areas of concerns for the introspective and quiet lead-man.

To understand why this is such a quintessential issue for the New Chums, it is important to look at the two basic ways that an indie act tries to attract fans.  There is the school of thought that says you have to take over the market.  You need to become a staple, a household name, so you try to put yourself out there every chance you get.  The other school of thought is that as an independent, chances are you still have a day job.  Additionally, you may have a family or school obligations.  So marketing yourself becomes more about making the largest bang for your buck each and every time you do put yourself out there, not necessary trying to jump on every single opportunity.

One’s place on this spectrum says a lot about that individual as an artist.  “When it comes to success then, what is your threshold for compromise?”

“We put a lot of pressure on ourselves when it comes to trying to bringing the best of what we have to offer to a show or to a project.  When you are mixing life, and family, and work, and responsibilities, as well as your personal hopes and dreams – you want each trip out of the gate to be right.  I am constantly concerned with how we sound.  It is more important to me to be in the right place, on the right night, and nail it – sonically – so that people at the bar are asking, hey – who are these guys again?  I have a tendency to think of each show as a chance to make that impression with somebody who may never cross your path again – so I want it to sound good.  I don’t want it to be the tail end of a moment, buried at the end of a commercial break, or a song on your CD that just doesn’t capture the magic that you know that song is capable of, so it is instantly forgettable.”

What is awesome, is that with the addition of Cassandra and Matt, the Chums take a massive leap forward in their evolution.  Cassandra instantly reminded me of one of my favorite bassists, Simon Gallup of The Cure.  She can lay down a mean bass line, that is no question, but what is awesome about great bassists is when they seamlessly provide this foundation for everyone else to build on, but they do it in a way where you almost don’t even notice.  Perhaps, just perhaps, the bass guitar is one of the most overlooked aspects of music, because of this.  Cassandra has a connection with her band mates, she is the pulse under their shenanigans, and she is having fun enjoying herself – and it is obvious.

A lead guitarist, however, is not quite the same thing.  Matt’s addition to the band is in no way subtle, and I asked him about his first listen of Tuolumne.

“When I first heard the EP, I thought Seth was a great songwriter and that they really had something special going on.  However, when listening, it did seem like there was a a lot of open space for more guitar parts to come into play.  As I got talking with Seth and Ben, I found out that this was because they were without a second guitarist when recording the album.”

This realization takes us back to that conversation with Seth about Tuolumne not capturing the energy of their live shows.  And frankly, after seeing the New Chums live, both times that they have played with this new lineup, I cannot wait to see what we have in store when the Chums team up with Flying Blanket.  This excitement is only heightened when one really gets a feel at how organic the Chums are when it comes to writing songs.

“I trust their opinions,” Seth told me.  “If there is ever a disagreement about the creative direction of a song, I have every confidence with Ben, Matt and Cassie that it is for the betterment of the song.”

“All of the songs have been fun to dive into and re-imagine”, Matt continued.  “Seth and Ben have been great, and I am thankful to be working with them.  My style as a guitar player has always been to try and write guitar parts that people can hum along with and that can get stuck in your head just like a vocal hook would.  I’ve learned over the years that there will always be better guitar players out there, but they can’t all do that – write a riff that is hummable and fun to remember.”

These New Chums have played live two times.  The growth just between the two shows at the Yucca Taproom in April was astounding.  Seth looks more at ease than I have ever seen him on stage.  He is laughing, and smiling, and having a great time.  The synergy between the band mates has elevated all of them to new levels of distinction in their craft.

Keep the Greasy Side Down, my friends.


2 thoughts on “Old Amigos by 3 AM

  1. Can’t wait to hear their new sound. Hope they make it to LA soon. Good writing here too. Thanks for this.

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