Happy Mondays Interview Series: Chemtrail

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When Pop-Break first ventured into the wonderful world of the Asbury Park music scene one of the first bands we encountered was Chemtrail. Before we got to know them, we were told “Hey these guys are a bit avant garde.” Images of the guys wearing tuxedos made of porkchops and banging on empty soup cans danced through my head. Yet, once I pushed play on their music I was awash in the beautiful, atmospheric instrumental sounds the band produces. They were my introduction to the weird, wonderful and amazingly fertile crescent that is the Asbury music scene.

The first time I encountered the guys it was 2011, now some three years later, armed with a new bassist, the band is continuing to work hard to really craft this already wondrous sound. Tonight, the band takes the stages of The Wonder Bar’s Happy Monday series to bring their unique brand of music to the musical souls of the Asbury faithful. We caught up with them.

Chemtrail is: Michael Burke, Dan Ridenour, Cory George, Chris Lukens & Chris Camano

We Formed in: 2006

We’re Based out of: Asbury Park, NJ

Any New Music Coming Soon? Yes! We are recording an EP now that should be out sometime this autumn most likely.

Our Sound Is Likened to: Bands like Mogwai, Explosions in the Sky, Sigur Ros

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When we first interviewed you it was way back in 2011 when you were about to release Youth Obsessed Death Culture. Can you talk about how Chemtrail has evolved sonically and as performers since we last spoke with you?

Mike Burke: I suppose the biggest change that has happened since then is that we have a new bass player now, Cory George. Our previous bass player, J. Maggio, moved back to his home state of Illinois with his wife and two children. They decided to move back to raise their children closer to family. Cory has been a friend of the band for many years so when the opportunity came up we knew exactly who to ask. His personality is a perfect fit and his musical tastes and playing style is a spot on match for us.

Before J. moved back to Illinois we did record and release our fourth full-length album Your Frequencies Have Been Missed which was released last September. We were able to release it as a double vinyl LP (along with CD’s). That was very exciting because we’ve never been able to release any of our records on vinyl before because it’s so expensive. People have described the album as being “heavier,” “darker,” and/or “angrier” than our previous records. I suppose there is some truth to that. I would say then that sonically we’ve moved more in an edgier/heavier way since we’ve last spoke. Our newest material we’ve been working on (post-Your Frequencies Have Been Missed with our new bass player) is along the same lines tonally but we’ve also been implementing new time signatures that we’ve never used in our song writing previously so I guess you could say that as performers we’ve developed in the sense that we are more comfortable with creating song structures that are more complex.

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You guys recently were invited to Converse’s Rubber Tracks Studio — can you talk about how you guys got the invite and what your experience was like?

Mike Burke: Rubber Tracks was a great experience! We got the invite through one of the interns that works at the studio. We had one whole day to record for free so what we decided to was lay down the drum tracks for the four-song EP we are currently working on (we are recording all the guitars ourselves at my house presently). We definitely approached it differently than any other recording we’ve done in the past. In order to make the most of our time at Rubber Tracks we decided to just press record and just go for it and play naturally. Usually when we record, our songs are all mapped out with tempo changes and we play along to a metronome but that is not what we did there. It’s sort of like an experiment. Some people have said that our recordings don’t capture the energy of our live shows so the idea for this time around was to just hit record and play the song as we would at a performance in hopes to capture more of that natural energy that may be lost when you record against a rigid click track. We are excited to hear what the finished product is going to sound like. Oh, and we all got free Converse shoes and shirts!

If someone is reading this and discovering you for the first time and wants to listen to a song of yours to truly get the essence of Chemtrail which song would it be and why?

Mike Burke: It’s hard to choose but I’m going to say “Pain Cave” off of our newest album Your Frequencies Have Been Missed. I think that song fundamentally encompasses all of the different dynamics that we employ in our song writing. There are pretty, quiet and heavy parts in that track. It is very much like a ride down Chemtrail Street. We also use every instrument in our arsenal on that song (piano, synth, guitars, drums, bass, glockenspiel). We don’t do that on very many songs, which is another reason why I think this song serves as a great representation of what we do.

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What can the people coming out to Happy Mondays expect to see from you guys in terms of a live experience, your sound is highly unique to many of the bands that take the stage in the area.

Mike Burke: People can certainly expect to see a passionate live performance. We pour everything we’ve got into our live shows. We have a sonic “wall of guitars” sort of thing going on, in other words, we get loud so you may want to bring your earplugs. We aim to be a kind of emotional tour de force. Happiness, sadness, anger etc… you will find that just about every emotion is evident in our music. People describe our songs as having a “soundtrack” quality to them and I think that is because you feel like you are on a journey when you listen to them. They are packed full of feeling and contain plenty of peaks, valleys, build-ups and crescendos, hopefully evoking the sense that you’ve been taken on some sort of epic ride after listening to them.

The Jersey Shore scene has so many bands performing in it right now, so what makes Chemtrail stand out — from a musical standpoint?

Mike Burke: The fact that we have no singer and are an instrumental band makes us stand out I suppose but I think what really sets us apart is the scale and scope of our songwriting. A lot of our songs are 9-minute epics that go from quiet and calm to thunderous chaos and back again. There really aren’t any other bands in the Jersey Shore scene that I know of that are doing something similar. I also think we touch a lot of bases in our music because of our wide array of influences. You can find elements of punk, metal, shoegaze, ambient, prog rock and other genres in our songs if you are listening for them. That may be something sort of unique as well.

What do you have planned for the rest of 2014?

Mike Burke: We plan on finishing and releasing this EP before the year is up. Other than that we plan on continuing to play shows locally and in the tri-state area. Hopefully we will get the opportunity to branch out further and do some touring in the near future.

Upcoming Gigs:

9/6: Warren American Legion – Warren, NJ
9/29: The Saint – Asbury Park, NJ

Catch Chemtrail along Hsu-Nami, Warm & Comfy and Japan’s Jebiotto at The Wonder Bar in Asbury Park, tonight.

Bill Bodkin is the owner, editor-in-chief and co-founder of Pop Break. Most importantly, however, he is the proud father of a beautiful daughter, Sophie. He can be seen regularly on the site reviewing The Walking Dead, Doctor Who, and is the host of the site's podcast, The BreakCast. He is a graduate of Rutgers University with a degree in Journalism & English. Follow him on Twitter: @BodkinWrites