CHEVELLE preserve their underdog spirit on Hats Off to the Bull (Epic Records) –their sixth full-length album.
That spirit has characterized the Chicago alternative hard rock trio since its independent debut, 1999’s Point #1. Shortly after bursting onto the scene, the group made its major label breakthrough on the platinum-selling Wonder What’s Next in 2002. The album spawned chart-topping hits “Send the Pain Below” and “The Red,” leading to high-profile tours like OZZfest. Meanwhile, their next effort, 2004’s This Type of Thinking Could Do Us In, exceeded gold status and the follow-up Vena Sera bolstered their prominence even further. Most recently, the band scored its highest entry into the Billboard Top 200 with Sci-Fi Crimes in 2009 debuting at #6.
Most artists with over 12 years in the music industry lose their initial fire, but Chevelle burn brighter than ever on Hats Off to the Bull. Rather than simply subscribing to a tried-and-true formula, they made a conscious effort to incorporate new sounds and textures into their patented airtight anthems. As a result, the group composed its most infectious, intriguing, and impressive offering to date.
“We’re evolving,” declares Chevelle singer, songwriter, and guitarist Pete Loeffler. “The album is different, and it’s going to take some people by surprise.”
In order to properly foster that evolution, the band hunkered down in a Los Angeles studio with producer Joe Barresi [Queens of the Stone Age, Coheed and Cambria] for six weeks in the summer of 2011. During the sessions, nothing was off limits, and boundaries were non-existent.
“We wanted to capture more vibe than we had in the past,” says drummer and Pete’s brother Sam Loeffler. “We’re a melodic hard rock band, but we wanted to expand on what that means. It’s really important to be aware of what you’ve done already. We never want to write the same song twice. I think Pete writes 300 days a year. Joe encouraged us to try different instruments and techniques. He pushed us to continually play everything until it was right too. There are so many nuances to this music as a result.”
Bassist Dean Bernardini agrees that Joe added something special to the project. “Joe was a perfect fit for this record. On the last record–Sci-Fi Crimes–we explored the possibilities of longer bridges and segues in an effort to deepen our musical waters. With Joe’s laid back style of recording and creative input, we were able to assemble a collection of songs that greatly differ from each other, while having the consistent hard hitting tones that make up songs like ‘Face To The Floor.'”
Those nuances come through loud and clear as a talk box echoes through the hard-hitting title track, reverb adds schizophrenic vitality to “The Meddler,” and an organ colors the acoustic “Won’t Be Left Out” with ethereal flourishes.
“We used a couple different things to pull that vibe out of the songs,” adds Pete. “Using the talk box, reverb, and organ were completely out of our comfort zone, but we were excited to try something new.”
At the start of the sessions, a brutal seven-day migraine sidelined Sam, and it altered the course of recording. “I was doing drums practically bleeding out of my head,” he continues. “Some days, I literally couldn’t get out of bed so they ended up working on the lighter tracks like ‘Won’t Be Left Out.’ It set the tone for us to take our time and be experimental.”
The album’s first single “Face to the Floor” is emblematic of the band’s progression. A grinding riff snakes through a hypnotic haze as Pete rails against the corporate corruption of Bernie Madoff on one of the most explosive hooks of the band’s career. Simultaneously, Sam powers through a propulsive beat locked into Dean’s groove. As soon as “Face to the Floor” hit airwaves, it became the #1 most added record at Active and Alternative Rock radio, a testament to the band’s songwriting prowess and eternal knack for a hit.
Sam goes on, “Pete brought the riff to us, and we started jamming on it. The more we play together, the tighter we become. It was such a good riff that we didn’t want to mess with it.”
“It’s an angry song,” reveals Pete. “The lyrics are about someone who’s been taken advantage of. I reference Bernie Madoff and his Ponzi scheme. He raked people over the coals, stole, and is a terrible person. One day, these people have everything, and it’s completely gone the next. At the time, I wondered exactly what went on and how it could happen.”
Chevelle still keep everything a family affair, inviting their sister Natalie to add vocals to “Same Old Trip.” Her falsetto rises alongside Pete’s scream as the riff and drums stomp along together. Lyrically, the singer examines censorship.
“It’s something everybody has to deal with, especially if you’re in any kind of creative world,” Pete exclaims. “You’re going to have to face people trying to censor what you do. Don’t fall into the same old trip.”
The album title sums up the band’s ethos. The singer had stumbled upon bullfighting pictures online and began reading about the sport, appalled at its brutality. “It’s such a heartless sport and it’s so torturous for these animals,” says Sam. “We got the idea of rooting for the bull instead. We root for the underdog.”
In the end, Chevelle are speaking out for underdogs across the board. “I’m writing about a lot of serious issues and emotions,” says Pete. “When I was a kid, I used to throw on Led Zeppelin records, turn off the lights, and watch the stereo lights blink in total darkness. I’d crank it up, feel the rawness, and think about what was going on in my life at the time. I hope people can get lost in our music like that.”
“We play music because it’s what we love,” concludes Sam. “It’s been that way since the beginning. We’re going to continue to ride this wave and see where it goes.”
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