The television show The Voice provides a great jumping off point for up and coming musicians but, more importantly, it teaches those same artists that sometimes the greatest music can be created if you step outside of your comfort zone.
New Jersey native Chevonne was on Season Three of the hit NBC series. Though she reveled in being a background vocalist on international tours like her tour with Lady Gaga, The Voice thrust her into the spotlight. Bouncing around between coaches and making it through to the knockout round ignited a passion that couldn’t be stopped. Chevonne took that experience and realized she wanted to be a front woman in a rock and roll band. Once she returned home, the journey for Chevonne and the Fuzz began.
Chevonne and the Fuzz’s self-titled debut full length album has been over two years in the making and its release is finally here. After a few lineup changes and a bold move from pop-rock to hard rock, Chevonne and the Fuzz has found their sound and is ready to take on the world.
Chevonne and the Fuzz is a solid album but I recommend starting at track nine and play to the end. Track nine is a dirty song called “Garter Belt.” There is a grit to Chris Ricci’s vocals and they blend perfectly with Chevonne’s and you can’t help but embrace the tune. “Red Ride” is a fun ode to the rock songs of the past and makes me think of fun tunes like “Paradise by the Dashboard Light,” and yes, I’m fully aware that is a bold statement. Give it a listen if you don’t believe me.
The truly outstanding track on the album, however, is “Broke Down.” The song is emotional, deep, and sonically, it has a depth that is beyond any other track on the album. If you give this album just one shot, listen to this song and you will embrace Chevonne and the Fuzz.
Pop-Break’s Lisa Pikaard sat down to speak with three members of the band Chris Ricci, Chevonne, and Chris Bookstaver (Books) before the big album release party this Friday, July 15 at Mexicali Live in Teaneck, New Jersey to discuss the new album, the recording process, and The Voice.
Tell me a little bit about the band history and how we got to where we are right now.
Chevonne: Before I was on The Voice, I had two really big background singing gigs. One was with Estelle, that was my first one and the next one was with Lady Gaga and I really, after the Monster Ball Tour with Gaga I was like this is what I want to do. I want to be a background singer forever. I don’t want to be a solo artist. Then The Voice thing kind of like fell into my lap and I was like you know what? I’m just going to go on the ride, see what happens and by the end of my time on The Voice I was singing Billy Idol, “Dancing with Myself” by myself on stage and I was like this is it. This is what I want to do. I want to be a rock artist and I want to be in a rock band because I was by myself on stage and all I could think about was like I wish there were guitar players on stage and I wish there were people I could interact with so when I got home I was just like okay this is what I’m doing so the first person that I recruited was Chris (Ricci) because we had actually met years ago. We did a shitty cover band together.
Seems like everybody starts in a shitty cover band.
Books: It wasn’t shitty though! Of cover bands, it was a good one!
Chevonne: We were really good, but it was shitty because we would show up to a venue — if we could even say venue — we would show up to a bar.
Wait, what was your name?
Chevonne: The Radio Edit.
Perfect. Okay, continue.
Chevonne: Actually the three of us were all in it together. We would show up to a venue and we would essentially get tomatoes thrown at our faces! It was terrible. Anyway, we had shared lead vocals in that band together. When I came home from The Voice, I said to Chris (Ricci), “I need you on stage with me. Trust me this is going to be awesome. I can’t be a rock singer. I can’t be a front woman without you.” And he was just like, “No I’m done. I’m never going to do another band.” I was like PLEASE?? And he was like fine. I’ll just like stand there and I’ll just kind of like sort of sing the choruses or whatever.
I listened to a lot of your older music and it was fun pop/rock. You guys seemed to have gotten a little bit harder now. I love that gritty rock feel that you guys have and holy crap the sound is huge. I love that, especially coming from such a tiny little body. How did that transition? Was it like a natural transition and progression or did it happen with the flow of the band members or just you grew into it?
Chevonne: I think it was organic. Part of the initial move towards a poppier sound was more about just coming from The Voice and feeling like I needed to please a larger, more mainstream audience. I think at the time it worked but it didn’t come as natural as what we do now. What we do now is like really our truth. Little bits of songs like “Heels” and even “Your Guitar” and “Burn Out” to an extent as well, those songs that were a little more complicated, a little heavier. I couldn’t wait to get to those songs when we played. I think we always had it in us and we’re rock players.
You can see it the second you guys walk on stage. Rock is the perfect route for you guys. It’s the right sound. The pop rock stuff is awesome but you just see that there’s a light behind your eyes comparatively.
Chevonne: I can’t lie like I was definitely scared to go that hard right away. I was just finding my voice as a front woman and as the chief lyric writer. I felt like my stories had to be cute if that makes sense. I felt like they had to be neutral and now like they’re super angry and they are a little more complex and I think that’s a better place to live in general. I was just scared before.
Coming from The Voice and that sound to trying to do something a little bit edgier and more tough. But for you guys, was it weird to be like, “I was in a cover band with her and now she’s on The Voice?”
Chris: It was weird for me. We were friends and so after the time that she was, before The Voice but when she was on Gaga’s tour, I saw her picture in a magazine. It was Star Magazine and I called her up and said you know, “I said you made it! You totally made it.”
She knew that I knew that we didn’t want her to be on the best dressed list, but she made the worst dressed list and it felt like we sort of punk rock made it. We put ourselves in a position where we squeaked into the sort of framework of pop culture and she just fucked it all up. I think that’s awesome. So after that we got together, we played in a band and when she left and went to go do what she did and then she came back, and we were in a band together it was weird. It was definitely weird but it was really cool because most people don’t know is that she is a scholar of metal. She knows what the fuck is going on, what went on, and so on. She came out and said, “I gotta make this record.” It never felt like we were making a record that we had no business making. She had an idea of what she wanted to do that was so fucking cool. I think that you’ll agree with this one here, the one that we’re putting out now, it all just felt very organic. It felt very much like we were never afraid of her being that rock.
Books: If anything we were pushing you more. I always say that I feel like you always had the rock goddess kind of heart trapped in you and I think we just helped bring it out in you.
Chris: That’s it!
Chevonne: Honestly, I’m glad that we went through all the lineup changes. I’m glad that we became a band in what, 2013? This is now just our debut record, our first full length. I’m glad it took this long because we needed to figure stuff out. We needed to experiment. Our EP in so many ways, the music went in so many directions in terms of sub genre. This is just landing hard on hard rock and it feels awesome.
Chris: I should say that the first record wasn’t a complete piece. There were a lot of different stories from the same author so it became a sort of…
Chevonne: A sampler.
Chris: Yes, a sampler of what we are able to do. This record here, and that’s why we self-titled it because this record here was our attempt to say, “Here we are. This is what we are, this is what we do.” I think if we were able to achieve that on the first record. I don’t think we would’ve had the ability to do that again this time around. It was nothing if not amazing in the feeling that Chevonne felt and if I can speak for her, her saying: “Here are my stories. This is what we’re doing and the record, i really think the record reflects that.”
Well speaking of the record, my favorite question to ask people that tends to throw them is what song are you most proud of. Not what’s your favorite or favorite to perform but what song are you most proud of?
Chris: You’re going to get like different answers.
Books: See I almost blurted out my first instinct but now, no!
Chris: Go ahead, please.
Books: No! No.
Chevonne: I’ll tell you that I have a favorite — the last song on our album is the one that we most recently recorded. It came way after all the other songs and we just.
Books: Actually a year after the other songs.
Chevonne: We were actually finished recording our album, and we just started writing this. It just slowly plodded along and when we finished it it was like, “Whoa this is so good. We might not have another chance, we might not make another record for a while so lets get this on the record.”
It’s called “Broke Down.” It’s our heaviest song that we’ve ever written. Lyrically, it’s about a very personal, very frustrating time in my life and to get it on paper was really tough. Usually, I’m very confessional but this was a whole other level of confessional. It was just like something so specific that happened to me. I’m really proud that instead of just a song about my troubles, it feels like a song that people can get into regardless of if they’ve dealt with the same problems that I did if that makes any sense. That’s why I’m proud of it.
Books: My answer changed. My initial blurt was going to be “Broke Down” but I actually thought about the question a little more and I’d say that the one I’m most proud of is “Never Seen Me Coming.” When Chevonne came back from The Voice she said she has this pocketful of songs, so we put the Chevonne and the Fuzz spin on them. But I said all that to say “Fire at Will” comes out and we go through the run of shows with it and it got us a little bit off the ground. Like I said, Chevonne had written most of those songs so, I have the recording of this as well, it was about a year after that came out. I was asleep and it was on my son’s birthday in November. I have the phone recording of me waking up in the middle of the night and humming this riff into the phone and falling back asleep. I remember the story about how Keith Richards wrote “Satisfaction.” He had a tape recorder next to his bed and the story is he woke up in the middle of the night, played the three chords of the song and then it was like four hours of him snoring on the recording and it became one of the most popular songs.
At least you pressed stop after you were done.
Books: At least I had enough sense to do that. I woke up the next morning and listened to it and was like what the hell is this? Then I go to my guitar and I clunk out the riff and go okay. A couple of weeks later I brought it to the band and I’d say that is the song I’m most proud of because it’s the first riff that I really wrote for Chevonne and the Fuzz and then the whole song just organically kind of came out.
Chris: For me it’s a cross between “Garter Belt” and “Gold is Your Kiss” because Chevonne really gave me an opportunity to have my own sort of life on those songs and to do stuff that I hadn’t done before but to be honest, and this is a shitty answer, because our show is so strong and so heavy and so, each one of us puts as much as we put into these songs, some of the ones that are my favorites are the ones that I don’t sing on or that I sing backgrounds on like “Kill It In The Real World” because it gives me an opportunity to take a break.
I am so proud of everything we’ve done on the record, but if I had to pick one I’d probably say “Garter Belt.” That’s one that Chevonne sang completely front to back so she gave me parts that were hers and I made it my own and it became something that is really honest and true and straight up fun.
You guys recorded locally; you guys recorded at Architekt. I’ve been there and I love that studio and it’s beautiful and comfy and homey. Did recording in that studio environment change any of the songs?
Chevonne: So I have to give like a ton or all of the credit to Nick. Nick is a kick ass drummer, and a kick ass keys player, but his true genius is with producing. Mike Ferretti was the engineer, and producer at Architekt. We also co-produced the record as a band with him. Nick really took the reigns and while we were recording, and we have had these songs for like years at this point.
Books: Some of them were two and a half years old at this point.
Chevonne: While we were in the studio Nick really took the time to listen to our tracking, and really analyze our takes and just fined tune everything. He spent so many hours just sitting on that couch helping us through our tracking. I think he definitely took the record over the hump from, “Oh this is pretty good to Wow this is really thought out.” He added little harmonic changes and really pushed for certain effects with the mixing and extra over-dubs. He really shines on this and if there is one thing I would want everyone to know it is how talented Nick is and how important he is in just the sonic growth of our band.
Chris: I made many records in many different places and making a record at Architekt — it was like making a record in your living room with all of your favorite people around you. There would be times, making a record is tough. It’s long, it’s hard, there are a lot of hours. I remember it was during the Rangers playoffs or something and I would sneak out every single time I could and come out and watch the TV. It would get to a point where it was like one, two, three in the morning and you’d be lying there. I would just kind of nod off to sleep and then wake up real quick and be like, “I’m good I’m good I’m good!” But you can’t do that unless you’re in a place that feels like home and Architekt always feels like home. Everybody there, from the interns to the owners to the engineers to the producers, everybody that we worked with, it always felt like home. Maybe it shouldn’t have because sometimes we were yelling and screaming and carrying on but yeah, did it change the way we made the record, absolutely. I think in the best way because it allowed us to cultivate our vision in a way that was unimpeded.
Chevonne: We were pretty uptight going in, pretty nervous. We definitely I think thought we’d go in and be super clinical about it and yeah like I remember us just getting in the booth and feeling super loose and like really just living in the songs.
Books: There’s such a vibe to that place. It just, like Chris said, it feels like we were recording in our living room. The one thing I take away from the sound on record is, it comes across that its a little more laid back than the last one because of the environment that we were put in. In preparing for the record we did a bit of preproduction like here at the house, like garage band stuff and one of the things that we didn’t really think about is there are parts in certain songs where Ian and I are playing harmonic lead parts on guitar and there’s nothing underneath that except Doug’s bass but a couple of the things that are backing guitars on the album were written on that couch. I was going in to record my guitar parts one day and I go shit. There’s no backing guitar like we never wrote it. It doesn’t exist! So we wrote it right there on the spot. He’s like oh yeah that works, go do that. It was such a laid back vibe but such a professional vibe.
So obviously there is a very different emotion that goes from recording an album to playing live. What kind of emotions are you guys feeling now going into your album release party at Mexicali?
Chevonne: I think the crux of rock and being in a rock band is the constant interplay between complete jubilation and complete rage. You always have to have those two things and they always have to kind of be fighting. You’re never kind of sure which one is winning but you have to have both. Right now, there’s a lot of fucking joy because this is our record because it looks often and it sounds awesome but the rage is because, mostly because, everybody is saying rock is dead, blah blah blah. I think we need rock and roll right now. This is a really transitional time for the world and the best remedy for that is rock and roll. People have no idea how prevalent it is, even in the bubblegummiest of songs but it’s now time for it to have its own moment.
So now simply, what message do you guys want to get out there about the album or the show?
Chevonne: The show is going to melt faces, the record is going to melt faces. People who think they aren’t fans of hard rock are going to love it. That’s not me being cocky. That’s just after I’ve done research on this.
Chris: At the end of the day we make a lot of sacrifices being in this band. To be honest, I don’t listen to our music — because it’s me. This morning I listened to the album on my way to work and it put tears in my eyes. And feeling that we put into it, what we did, what we said, what we wanted, what we meant, and what we hoped for and to be able to sit back and listen to that music and like I said, it has been done for a long time and this is maybe the third time I’ve listened to it and I had tears running down my face. I had this truck next to me on 287 and I was like I really hope this guy didn’t see me because there is no way I could explain this shit. I think regardless of whether or not the world at large understands it, I think we did something special. I know we did something special for ourselves and beyond that, what the fuck else can you do? If you feel like you’ve done something that is meaningful to the people you love and yourself, you won. Also, buy the record! But I think people will dig it and I hope they will.
How do you top that?
Books: I’m the opposite of you. I actually listen to the record for recreation at least two times a week. I try to listen to the tracks in order and it usually takes me between two and three songs and I get uncontrollable goosebumps every single time. I feel like that speaks to the honesty of the album. I was a rebellious teenager. I’ve calmed down over the years but I feel like the uncontrollable goosebumps speak to the rebellious kid inside that wants to like go and break windows and I feel like, and I’m not by any stretch of the imagination promoting listening to the album and going out and smashing windows or anything but to me that’s what the album means. It’s a very honest emotional feeling. Not specifically rage but it does shoot the tingle up your spine and makes you want to drive fast. To me that’s what it is.
Chevonne and The Fuzz performs at Mexicali Live in Teaneck along with Reality Suite, and Last Minet on July 15. Click here for tickets.