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CHEW returns to road with 'Horses'

Atlanta, Georgia’s Chew performs at Wave Sunday, March 20.

While the term “genre-defying” seems like a vestige of the past in 2022, Chew doesn’t reach for easy designations. There’s a bright-burning wail from the guitars, thunderous drums and the glitchy, cut-and-paste sonics that rose with industrial music in the ‘80s and ’90s, the were perfected in the early 2000s with acts such as Radiohead. Toss in a wicked sense of humor, flashes of psychedelia, stoner rock, and a healthy sense of the absurd and you begin to understand Chew’s music.

The sprawling, nearly eight-minute titular track provides listeners with a sense of this. The tune traverses genres that range from post-grunge to post-metal with uncommon ease. But the relatively concise “Holy Fountain” acknowledges jazz, world music and hip-hop with unapologetic ease, creating a listening experience that’s equal parts unsettling and precisely the thing one needs to hear in the moment. A track such as “Palo Anto” almost eases listeners into a sense of the familiar before rising to noisy, haze-filled heights, then dropping them into otherworldly terrains that have more in common with ‘70s German synth bands than stoner rock.

In some ways, “Horses” is the sound of now—where a desire for the warmth and familiarity of analogue sounds, the lush, welcoming pop and cracks of vinyl serves as haven from the cold, foreboding of digital with its exclamatory, insistent pings that drive us to distraction. In this way, Chew suggests that the intrusion of sound, the associate leaps the contemporary listening experience demands of us, are something we’ll just have to get used to if we’re not already. Why not make it a good time?

It’s all there—the warmth and familiarity in Sarah Wilson’s loud, brash drumming, Brett Reagan’s wide-reaching soundscapes (whether on guitar or other devices) or through the sonic multitudes woven by bassist Morgan Soltes.

Reagan recently spoke with KMUW about the band’s upcoming tour and Chew’s ability to give listeners an experience they didn’t know they needed.

Interview Highlights

How long has it been that you’ve been off the road? 

Well, a tour like this, it’s been quite some time. We never fully stopped when everybody was stopping. We were kind of playing sporadic Florida shows because Florida [wasn’t] shutting down too much. We were being just as safe as we possibly could with [it] but never fully stopping. There were big gaps in between. But by far this is the biggest run since everything started shutting down.

Tell me a little bit about the preparation that goes into a two-week run like this? 

It’s enormous. Sarah does all of our book and she’s accumulated quite a catalogue of contacts through the years since she’s been in the band. It really just starts with kind of plotting out a vague idea of where you want to go. Not every show can be a Friday or Saturday, so you start filling in [the other days]. We try to plan to have no days off because when a day does go wrong or something bad happens, then that’s your day off.

But the last couple of years, nothing has been going wrong. Then, as soon as the dates are locked in, it’s about [finding] local support. It’s about find press. It’s getting all the individualized images, printing up the flyers. If you leave the responsibility to anyone else, it’s not going to get done.

Everyone loves the 20 minutes of performance but there’s [a lot more work] behind it.

I would think that a lot of this is about putting your trust in the hands of strangers.

To a certain extent that is right. Yes. Yeah. We've kind of made enough connections at this point to where we have a little more trust than on our first or second or third tour but there is still a lot of guesswork, question marks.

The music has this heavy, psychedelic element to it but I’m guessing it has a broader reach than just stoner rock. 

Definitely. We can really turn over any crowd. These next few shows, we’re going to have a two-night residency at a place in Knoxville, Tennessee called Preservation Pub. It’s like a straight up and down live music bar. People want drink beer and watch band play good music. If it’s good music, they’ll get up and dance and buy your merchandise. They love us there. Which, on paper, we shouldn’t really work at a bar like that.

There’s this thing that I’ve witnessed where the band comes into the bar, there’s people sitting around, maybe playing cards, looking like they’ve heard everything possible and they’re not going to like this band. The band sets up, starts playing and the cards slowly go away and the tough, seen-it-all guys start getting into the music. 

We talk about “the bubble.” Sometimes that bubble [gets broken] when the first person walks toward the stage. There’s this little buffer where people feel safe---the five-ish to seven foot-ish zone but the bubble could also be burst by that first beat. That’s what you want and once that happens, you can kind of breath easier as a performer.

You have a new record, “Horses” that’s just come out. How much of a new record finds its way into the live set for you? 

A lot of these songs, we've been kind of already testing out the waters and shifting and molding them a little bit. We did like a ton of ton of production, we did it all ourselves, all the mixing and stuff, so we could kind of take our time with it. And then like after they kind of like settled, settled in form. We did a lot of stuff on the record in the studio that we now are actually trying out live again. So yeah, like there's we're playing probably all the stuff on the new record. And then we have like probably one or two songs that we're starting to write for the new one as well.

Jedd Beaudoin is host/producer of the nationally syndicated program Strange Currency. He has also served as an arts reporter, a producer of A Musical Life and a founding member of the KMUW Movie Club. As a music journalist, his work has appeared in Pop Matters, Vox, No Depression and Keyboard Magazine.