For me, C86 was the golden age of alternative music. Filled with the chiming guitars and pop sensibility of The Wedding Present, The Mighty Lemon Drops and Aztec Camera, they created what has now morphed into “indie-pop”. Heavily influenced by The Smiths, the genre was instantly radio-friendly (in the UK, anyway) and wildly popular. Since then, a slew of bands have tried to recreate the sound and feel of this magical time, with limited success. Enter The Chantepleures, from San Diego, who’s first EP is as close to the real thing as anything I’ve heard in years. Show me a band that instantly makes me think of The Psychedelic Furs and The Smiths, and I’ll be the first in line to sing their praises. Band members Brent Felix, Noelle Felix, Jared Mattson and Jonathan Mattson took a few minutes with the always charming Amy to talk about their influences and the weight of grand comparisons.
TDOA: For me, this track “Feels Like Heaven” is everything this last Shins album was supposed to be, with a little The Smiths thrown in. Can you elaborate a little on the musical similarities between The Chantepleures and The Shins/The Smiths?
Brent: Wow! I’m not sure how to answer that… (laughs) Well, the The Smiths are probably my all-time favorite band. Actually I think I can safely say they’re a huge influence on everyone in the band. As for similarities, maybe because we’ve all listened to them so much, perhaps that comes out somehow in our music? Johnny Marr’s signature sound in The Smiths was his 12 string Rickenbacker played through a chorus pedal. Similarly, some of the guitar parts on our songs like ‘Holland’ and ‘Heartbreak Girl’ were played by our guitarist, Jared Mattson, on a vintage 12-string Burns guitar played through an Ibanez chorus pedal. So maybe that’s where some of the similarities lie…? As far as The Shins go, I think they’re a fantastic band! James Mercer is an amazing songwriter and has a wonderful voice that’s able to convey terrific emotion. I read that he recorded their first album, ‘Oh, Inverted World’, in his parents basement on a Pro Tools 001 which I think is pretty rad! One thing I also like about The Shins is their songs always have a strong sense of melody. The instrumentation never gets in the way of that. I think we strive to do that as well, make sure we have a strong melody before we do anything else.
Jared: Yeah, Johnny Marr’s approach to layering and orchestration of guitars is unmatched. It’s definitely influenced me sonically… Not copying riffs he uses, but in applying his sensibilities to my own playing. Basically I have set chords I use but what I do is apply a lot of arpeggios and use different guitars for each part. That’s why I use acoustics, 12 strings, Teles, 335s, Jaguars, Les Pauls, and Brent’s Gretsch! Haha!
Jonathan: I’m actually very inspired by Mike Joyce. He’s an incredible drummer, I’ve never heard anyone who matches his precision and reserved style of playing. I think his drumming was one of the components that really gave The Smiths their sound. They wouldn’t be the same band without him, he kinda reminds me of a more polished Ringo Starr.
TDOA: What about the use of noise in the beginning of the track – what is that supposed to convey?
Noelle: Well, the female voice at the beginning of ‘Feels Like Heaven’ is something that Brent and I recorded in France the last time we were there. We heard it over the intercom at a train station and we were like, “Hey, that sounds cool. Maybe we should record it and use it for something!” …And so we did!
Brent: Yeah, and then the noisy part underneath that is a guitar part Jared played that we reversed and then added some distortion and modulation to, using some of the Universal Audio plug-ins. We just experimented until we had something we thought sounded good. Pretty much all of the cool, weird guitar stuff you hear on the songs is Jared experimenting with guitar sounds.
Jared: I’m very into experimental music and effects, influenced by Robert Fripp and Eno sounds. So that’s where that’s coming from. More than that, I enjoy making noise and uncommon sounds!
TDOA: Am I the only one who thinks that the lead singer sounds like Morrissey? Massive compliment or ridiculous expectation to live up to?
Brent: Whoa… I guess I would have to say it’s both! I have heard that comparison before, but I do feel it’s a little crazy to compare myself to Morrissey! Besides, if Moz ever got wind of that comparison, it might SERIOUSLY depress him. (laughs) All kidding aside, Morrissey is such a distinct singer that I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone who comes even close to matching his style and panache. Or the ability to write lyrics like he does! He’s like Frank Sinatra for Generation X.
Noelle: Did you really just use the word ‘panache’?
TDOA: The sounds seems very beachy and laid back – is this a part of your San Diego roots?
Brent: Well I’m originally from Central California, the same part of the state that Grandaddy hail from, just almond orchards and dairy farms all ’round. Furthest thing one can get to “beachy”. Maybe that’s why I decided to finally move to San Diego, a couple blocks from the ocean. I definitely find the ocean to be inspiring…
Jared: My brother Jonathan and I are from San Diego. We play together in another band, The Mattson 2, which has been said to have a beachy sound. I don’t think it has anything to do overtly with my environment but I did grow up listening to the Beach Boys and west coast jazz artists like Chet Baker and Chico Hamilton which also have a beachy/west coast sound.
Noelle: I grew up in Connecticut and listened mostly to punk bands like Sham 69, Angelic Upstarts, Buzzcocks, The Damned, before I discovered The Smiths, Psych Furs, etc… So the beachy sound definitely didn’t come from me!! Can a bass player sound beachy? (laughs)
TDOA: What’s it like to be a part of the California indie scene? Some of the best acts of the last few years have come from California.
Brent: There’s definitely some great music coming out of the California right now! To be honest though, I don’t think we quite fit in to any scene here that may be happening. There’s not really a big “shoegaze/Britpop” scene in San Diego that I’m aware of. The only other local band that comes to mind is Crocodiles. Their new album is great by the way! I’ve got a feeling Brandon Welchez definitely has some Ride and Mary Chain in his record collection.
TDOA: On that note, who’s on your radar that we may not know about yet?
Brent: Well, my favorite new bands right now are all UK based, and you’ve probably already heard of them! I really like ‘Life in Film’, ‘Sulk’, and ‘The Heartbreaks’. I think the surf/jazz stuff Jared and Jonathan do with their band, ‘The Mattson 2′, is brilliant as well, but I may be biased on that one… (laughs)
Jonathan: Well they’re not really new, but I’m really loving Beach House. They’re doing some great things in the way of drumming. Really simple but very intense drum beats. Most of them are electronic or old beat boxes, but they will record an acoustic cymbal swell, tambourine, or tom tom phrase, and I really enjoy that effect. It’s functional simplicity.
TDOA: What do you think the future of indie is? Is it getting better or worse?
Jared: I think it’s more important not to focus too hard in identifying yourself with a particular genre, indie music was indie music because there was nothing to reference. The Smiths were a culmination of their influences and before them there wasn’t the genre “indie music”. I think if bands want to be original it’s important to not say, “I wanna be an indie band” or “I wanna be a hardcore band”. Just make music and keep being inspired.
Brent: I agree with Jared. We don’t think too much about a scene or anything. We just try to focus on creating music that we enjoy and hope that it will appeal to other people as well.
Noelle: I think it’s getting better in the sense that more people are accepting and listening to indie music because, well, a lot of it is pretty much mainstream now. What I mean is, a lot of bands that are considered indie, you can pretty much hear anywhere. I heard the band Headlights at World Market while shopping for candles, Camera Obscura was playing at Chili’s, and M83 just seems to be everywhere right now! So, I think people are being exposed to indie music in places that are quite common and frequently visited, and I think that’s cool.
TDOA: What has the response to “Feels Like Heaven” been? Can you give us more details about the physical release of the EP?
Brent: Overall we’ve had a pretty great response from people who’ve discovered it. We’d like to put out a physical release soon but we’ve also got a TON of new songs written that we’re really excited about. So we’re contemplating maybe trying to make our physical release a full-length album instead of an EP.
Noelle: With regards to the response we’re getting, it’s always cool when someone hears our music and says something like, “I’m hearing Stone Roses mixed with Psych Furs!” Or something like that. It’s great meeting people who are kindred spirits in the musical sense! As for the physical release, we’ve already started recording some of the new songs, so we’re really hoping to have the whole album done and ready for a physical release in 2013. That’s the PLAN anyways!!
TDOA: What’s the dynamic of having twin brothers in the band like? I imagine lots of wedgies and other horrific pranks.
Jared: Tons of wedgies all around!!!!
Brent: (laughs) Thankfully I haven’t witnessed any “twin wedgies”, nor do I want to! They’re always cracking jokes and being funny but whenever we play music they take it very seriously. I think because they’re twins they have this crazy power to play music and totally sync with one another. It’s like some weird Vulcan mind meld thing… Noelle and I are always trying to keep up with them!
Noelle: He’s not kidding… (laughs) It really does make for an amazing dynamic actually… Jared and Jonathan are both extremely talented musicians and awesome to play with! Always a great vibe in the room… And when the “Vulcan mind-meld” thing occasionally slips during, say a practice, sometimes you can catch a look shot from one brother to the other. And then suddenly without saying anything, they understand each other and make whatever adjustment is needed! It’s kinda freaky and awesome all at the same time!
TDOA: My knowledge of French tells me that “Chantepleures” means “Singing while crying.” What made you choose that?
Brent: I was looking through a book called ‘Obscure English Words’ and found the word ‘chantepleure’ and thought it sounded cool. We had a couple other names we were kicking around but our friend Briana heard ‘The Chantepleures’ and told us we had to go with it.
Noelle: It’s Briana’s fault! (laughs) Actually we really like the name, but the downside is that nobody knows how to spell it or pronounce it properly. It should be pronounced, ‘Shawn tuh plures’. Jared still says it wrong! (laughs)
Jared: Wait…. How do you say it?