Tuesday, January 23, 2024

Interview with Chuck W. Chapman by Dave Wolff

Interview with Chuck W. Chapman by Dave Wolff

What are the members of your band, how long have you been working together, and what aspects of heavy rock do you draw from on stage and in your recordings?
Chuck W. Chapman: Lead vocals and guitar, Clark Bender: lead guitar and background vocals, Todd Duncan: bass guitar and background vocals, Joseph Tanay: drums.
This project was started in 2020. Joe and I had played in a couple of different bands together from 2005-2014 or so and Todd and I had been trying to start something before the pandemic shut the world down. I released a “solo” EP during 2020 and it picked up some traction, so decided to put a real band together. Clark joined us mid 2023.
We are all big Kiss fans and grew up in the 80’s, so the big rock shows of the 70s-80s really influenced us. I believe live music should be visual as well as audial. As far as recording, I like big and full sounding. That’s the hardest thing really, is to duplicate that live feel and energy on the recordings.

When you first took up the guitar as an instrument, which guitarists influenced you the most? Did you study with professional musicians or instructors or are you completely self-taught?
I’m completely self-taught. I locked myself in my room for a couple of weeks with The Ramones “Subterranean Jungle” and Twisted Sister’s “Stay Hungry” albums and didn’t come out until I could play every song on both records. Pretty much everything I’ve done since then is a variation of those two records, lol. My favorite guitarists are Ace Frehley, Gary Moore and maybe CC Deville. Since I’m primarily a singer and just a rhythm guitarist, I’m a big fan of Paul Stanley and Robin Zander’s guitar work as well.

Other than heavy rock music, are there other genres that inspire you when composing?
I’ll always have that punk influence as the first songs I learned to play were that genre. I also like the rawness, attitude, and the no frills style of punk music. My father was a big country music fan, so that was always in my house growing up. It probably had more effect on me than I realized or would like it to admit

How much do your punk and country influences reveal themselves when you compose songs?
It varies song to song. The punk influence I think shows a lot more often. I primarily play power chords because I not only learned that way, but I like the heaviness and the energy that comes from them. It also allows me to be more energetic onstage. Live is where the punk influence really shows. The country comes across more in my slow ballads, although I’d say they’re more southern rock than country.

When you started out, how long did it take you to find a full band, and what was your criteria for selecting musicians? Who were the musicians who influenced the other members of the band?
Originally, way back. I was just a singer. I picked up the guitar when I started writing songs because it was difficult to get my ideas across, so I learned to play myself primarily as a writing tool. Now, it’s become an extension of me and I feel awkward on stage without a guitar. Todd, like me, is a big Kiss, Ramones, Cheap Trick and Hanoi Rocks fan. When we met, it was like we had the exact same CD Collection. He’s a big fan of Pete Way and Bob Daisley. Joe lists The Beatles (who I also love), Eagles, ELO, and Styx among his favorite artists and influences, particularly Ringo Starr and Phil Ehart. Clark is a big Kiss and Ace fan as well.

Kiss was initially an underground band that achieved success on its own terms. Is that attitude still evident in heavy rock today?
I think it is, it’s just way harder to make it happen today. People don’t go out and support live music like they used to. People tend to find new music online instead of looking for it in a record store or a live venue. Half the time, people will add a song they like to their playlist and have no idea who the artist even is. It’s very hard to build a following that way. It’s also very impersonal. There’s lots of great things about the online availability of music, but there’s just as many bad things about it that hurt an artist as much as it helps them. We’re all tiny fish in a huge pond. Really hard to find new listeners and to stand out in the crowd.

As a result of social media and streaming sites, bands can increase their audience from country to country. However, in many cases, going to a show is more helpful to a band. What are some ways streaming negatively impacts local scenes? Would you be able to say the same for the scene you’re a part of?
I think the biggest thing is the anonymity of it. People hear songs they like and the download or add them to their playlist but they don't even know who the artist is. There's no real connection there. We've had great success being heard all over the world but no one really knows who we are or are invested in the band.
Would you be able to say the same for the scene you’re a part of? 100%. It's hard to get people out when they don't know who you are. Back when radio actually played new music and regional artists, they would promote who the artist was when they played a song and you'd develop a following thru that radio and sometimes TV connection. It's just not there anymore for independent artists.

I was wondering what your thoughts are on Kiss marketing avatar versions of themselves now that their "farewell tour" has ended. Many people think this shouldn't replace the live experience. How do you personally feel about this issue?
I’m a huge fan. I was in New York for the final shows. This is the connection that I was talking about that seems so hard for artists to have today. The feeling of being a fan of a band making you a part of something bigger than yourself and being a part of a tribe. That's what the Kiss Army is and what people who aren't part of that can't understand. I feel technology is making us lose that connection. I'm not sure how I feel about the avatars. Obviously, I want Kiss to continue in some form and their legacy will never die, but I'm not feeling the avatars right now. I'm trying to have an open mind and take a wait and see approach. I guess I need to see what the plans are for them. There's no way they could ever replace the live concert experience. Rock n roll is about that human element and those raw emotions we all feel. If technology replaces that, it'll never be the same. I hope we never lose the true power of rock n roll and live humans playing music on real instruments expressing real emotions.

At a time when artificial intelligence is at an all-time high, are human elements still a part of the band's music and lyrics? What are some of the feelings you convey through your music?
Without raw emotion and human feelings, music is pointless. Music, like all art, should touch you and make you feel something. I can't connect with a loop running over and over. To me, that takes the creative energy and element away and makes it a cold, soulless thing. I write real situations that I've been in or someone close to me has experienced. That human element of expressing the emotions that everyone feels brings the true connection of why you have "your song." That song speaks to you.

I once watched a video claiming most of the songs recorded by pop icons were written by the same producer. That video and another one I watched discussed how these songs sound very similar if not the same. In order to maintain originality and creativity, what can struggling artists and bands do?
I think you just have to be true to yourself. You don't do this to make money. That's a nice reward if you can make it happen, but art should feed the soul. If it can feed your stomach as well, that's a bonus.

As far as supporting live music in local scenes and at major rock and metal festivals, what can be done to improve the situation? Especially with outrageously high ticket prices for national and international acts. Would most people prefer to pay for a local band than pay three to five figures for a major concert?
I don't know. That's the dilemma. Nobody wants to let or help a band develop anymore. It's a catch 22. If you can't bring people, you can't get gigs but how will you ever be able to bring people if they never get to hear and see you? I would hope that promoters will realize at some point that they need to be including some new, unknown bands in these events to help build more audience for them.
I think that's the big ticket prices actually hurt smaller bands and hold us back from being able to advance up that ladder. People would rather pay $300 to be in the rafters to see the Eagles than pay $5 or $10 to see a great indie band from the front row. I remember searching out new music, whether it be going to clubs or sifting thru the record stores. That seems to be a lost passion. It's very frustrating. I know there is a lot of great indie music out here but very few people ever hear it. I always hear people saying there's no good new music but there is. You just have to look for it.

In every country there are fan run metal festivals as well as larger festivals like Wacken, Hellfest, Milwaukee Metal Fest and Decibel Metal & Beer Fest that give underground and unsigned bands a chance to be heard. How important do you feel these festivals are today? Has your band gotten a chance to play at one of these?
We haven’t gotten to play any of the big ones but are definitely up for it. I think these are really important as it’s one of the few ways for an original independent artist to reach large numbers of indie rock fans. Hopefully we’ll be doing a bunch of these soon.

Do you know of any festivals taking place locally or nationally where you might want to perform next year? How would appearing there be an improvement for the band after your local shows?
We’ve submitted for several, hopefully some of them will come thru. I want to put our music in front of as many people as possible. We've charted in the UK. That's one of the positive things the internet brings. It allows people that you may never get to play live for, the ability to hear and connect with your music. Nothing beats a live show experience, however. I hope that the live concert experience never goes away. I am concerned that it might. Hard to get younger fans out to see new original music. Festivals help do that.

Besides the factors we discussed, what are some other reasons you are concerned about the fading of the live experience?
It’s still the easiest way to connect with fans. People who only watch shows online or on YouTube or whatever just don't get the full experience. I still go to shows as often as I can. Again, just the real connection between the artist and the fan can only be found live. It's real easy to disconnect if everything is just virtual. Same reason I still prefer physical media. I've downloaded a few albums and I haven't noticed idea where they are. I can pull a CD or vinyl off the shelf any time and have more of a connection than pressing a button on a mouse.

I personally think there are far too many festivals of various sizes, with much more affordable tickets for the live experience to be replaced. It is also helping that social media and streaming sites show these festivals. Is your band streaming live shows on YouTube and other platforms?
I've streamed a few solo acoustic shows. I hope to do some full band shows this coming year.

As a result of playing out, how much new music have you discovered up until now? Any of it you deem worth mentioning here?
There are so many talented bands playing the underground club circuit. It’s a shame people don’t get out more and look for new music because there’s a ton of it out here.
We’ve become good friends with a band called Trailer Park Orchestra from Greensboro. We’ve played a lot of shows with them. Great band and cool guys. We opened a show for the Soap Girls, Pretty Ladies and an absolute trip to hang out with. Really too many to mention. Most of the bands are very cool. We’re all trying to accomplish the same things and most understand that.

In what venues has the band been performing lately? What has been the general response of fans who wish to hear live music?
Your normal bar and nightclub scene mostly. So far, we've hit South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia and Virginia. There are plans to add a few more states this year. The response has been phenomenal. We've made new fans everywhere we've been.

Where did you perform at the solo acoustic shows you are streaming? Would these be acoustic versions of your band's songs or songs you composed for playing on your own?
Just from my rehearsal room on Facebook Live and Youtube Live. There are acoustic versions of band songs, some of my older material and some of my favorite covers.

With regard to your available material, has the band built a loyal fanbase and an equally strong reputation by releasing and distributing your work independently?
We have people that buy everything we release. Music, merch, my books, you name it. Getting large numbers out to live shows is more challenging. People don't seem to go out as much as they used to. We have people that are at every show in their area, so it's building. Our streaming numbers have been really strong, so the music is getting heard. The first EP sold several hundred physical copies and been streamed 50,000 times or so. The last LP is already over half a million, so it's getting out there.

So the internet and social media are helping the band establish a name for themselves? Considering this, how important is it to you to still release your material in physical form?
Just the real connection. I can't sign a download, haha. The internet gets stuff out there, but too many times, people will download a song and not even bother to look who the artist is. You get lots of streams and downloads that way, but not as many fans. I like reading the liner notes, looking at the artwork, the music becomes a real, solid, tangible thing, not just something that exists in the nothingness of cyberspace.

What is the total amount of material that the band has released to date? If it all has been released on all formats, which format has received the biggest response?
This band has released a four song EP, “Girls and Cars and Things That Matter”, and a ten song LP, “Burn It Down”. The EP was on CD and digital and the LP was on vinyl, CD, and digital. Obviously the streaming numbers have been the largest cause that's the most readily available format, but the CDs have done really well at shows and the vinyl has done ok too. Vinyl is still kind of a niche thing but cool to have.

Where was recording, mixing and mastering done for the EP and full length done? Do you prefer working with professionals or is the band professional mixers and masterers in their own right?
The EP was actually recorded as demos about twelve years ago. During Covid, I came across the files and just tweaked a little in GarageBand and put it out there. It came out amazingly well, all things considered. “Burn It Down” was recorded at Studio 101 I. SC and then mixed in California by John Webster of Red Ryder, then mastered by Mike Schau, former guitarist for Thor. I was hooked up with John and Mike by my co-producer, and also Thor guitarist, Kevin Stuart Swain. Kevin is a great friend and has done so much to help me in my music career, I can’t think him enough.
I like to write and perform. I leave the mixing and mastering to the pros. Those guys are another level.

Among the songs on your EP and full-length, which best represents the band's evolution as musicians? When you perform live, which of them are most well received by your listeners?
I don’t know about evolution, but a few that I’m really proud of are “Everybody’s Broken” and “Fighting for My Life” from the “Girls and Cars” EP and “After The Fall”, “Words Get In The Way” and “We Got Mona Lisa” from “Burn It Down”. I think all those show my maturation as a songwriter, especially lyrically. I couldn’t have written any of those when o first started writing. When you perform live, which of them are most well received by your listeners? All those are live staples. “Fighting, Words”, “Everybody’s Broken”, and “Mona Lisa” all seem to strike chords with people.

In addition to the emotions you convey, do your lyrics reflect your experience as a band and your experience with the music industry that we’ve discussed?
I generally try to stick to human elements that most everyone can relate to and understand. The music, and entertainment industry in general, are their own beasts that people that haven’t been inside those bellies, really can’t understand. I do have a few references on the forthcoming record, but they’re not the main thrust of the song.

Regarding artwork, does the band design their own cover art or does it hire artists to do so? Who designed the artwork for both of your releases? In general, are you satisfied with the results?
I did the “Girls and Cars” cover. I used another artist’s photo and then modified it to work for the album. The second one, I did a really rough sketch and then had my friend, Patrick Rasmussen, who is a professional artist, do a painting of my concept. The third one, at this point I have designed and done the artwork but am still deciding if I will use my art or have someone like Patrick do their interpretation of it.
I’m very happy with both, I am never truly happy with anything creative I do, but I’ve learned to draw a line at picking stuff apart too much. As a whole, I’m pleased. Patrick’s work is amazing and if there’s anything that I’m unhappy with, it would definitely be in my communication, not in his rendering.

In 2024, do you plan to expand on the fan base you gained by singing with an independent label to further distribute your releases? Are there any other plans you have for this coming year?
This will be our first release with Self Made Records, so we’re really stoked about the potential for a wider audience. We hit four states last tour and we’re looking to at least double that this time.
We plan to play out as much as possible. Expand the brand and our fan base. I love playing new places and meeting new music lovers. I also have a short story being included in an anthology from my publisher, Black Bedsheet Books, and also should have a new book out by year’s end. I like staying busy.

-Dave Wolff

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