You'd think they'd settle down by now, but no: On their seventh album, "La Gárgola" (Spanish for "Gargoyle"), Chicagoans Pete Loeffler, Sam Loeffler and Dean Bernardini, of hard-charging trio Chevelle, along with producer Joe Barresi, beefed up their sound.
Guitars sound sharper and fuller ("Jawbreaker"), the drums more industrial ("An Island"), the vocals angrier (everywhere). "Gárgola"'s themes are darker, too, even obliquely political, inspired by "Walking Dead" binge-watching marathons ("The Damned"), current affairs ("Take Out the Gunman") and pure fantasy weirdness ("Ouija Board"). Hell, there are even horns — the instruments, not the demonic kind — on there ("One Ocean"). They played the Dome at Oakdale (i.e. the lobby) on Aug. 30, with Middle Class Rut and Dayshell.
CTNow spoke to drummer Sam Loeffler about the band's current direction and fanbase.
CTNow: With all the extra stuff you did in the studio on "La Gárgola"— the industrial textures on "Jawbreaker," for example — are you able to re-create all the sounds live in a satisfying way?
Loeffler: Oh yeah, everything we do in the studio we do live… For the most part, when we go into the studio we play everything live. That's what we come up with and that's what it sounds like. So if you go to our show, you're going to have a pretty good representation of what the songs sound like on the record.
CTNow: Two previous albums in your catalogue, "This Type of Thinking" and "Vena Sera," were produced by Michael "Elvis" Baskette. But other than that, no two Chevelle albums have been produced by the same person until "Hats Off To the Bull" and "La Gargola" with Joe Barresi. What does it take for you to want to go back and work with the same person again?
SL: It's certainly how well you work together and how you get pushed by that person. Joe Barresi: he's just a great dude with a ton of information. He's got such a great background in how bands make records and sounds, what instruments sound like what and that sort of thing. All of those things benefit our record and our songwriting. But he's just a rad guy to hang out with, and hanging out becomes such a big part of something. Elvis — Michael Baskette — he's also a great guy to hang out with, and that's why we did essentially three records with him, because he was the engineer for "Wonder What's Next" [from 2002]. He was a big, big part of that record as well.
CTNow: How much time did you spend in the studio with Joe Barresi?
SL: This record ["La Gargola"] and "Hats Off to the Bull" — both of them took about five weeks to record, six days a week.
CTNow: So it's pretty important that you like the guy you're working with.
SL: It is. And his studio is pretty nice in that it's very small and comfortable, and it's just packed with instruments. Everywhere you look, there's something to play or to write something on. They are everywhere, no exaggeration. Within arm's length there's some sort of instrument. It's a place that's very conducive to writing and producing.
CTNow: I know that certain songs — "Choking Game," for example — changed quite a bit in the studio. But generally, how completed were most of the songs when you first entered the studio, and how much did they change?
SL: Joe came into our studio while we were writing and we played all the stuff that we had written up to that point, about 11 songs. We went over a few of them, changed a few choruses and so on. He'd say, "I think you need to write another verse here or there." He took three songs that he felt didn't really match the record very much and changed them a lot. Two of them we just took a piece from, a chorus, and rewrote a bridge and a verse. Another one, we just chucked it out. It didn't match. So when we went into the studio eight weeks later, all the songs were already done. Lyrics are something that Pete works on all the way up until the mixing of the record. He's always working on the lyrics.
CTNow: How stressful is it when a producer says, "I like that chorus but can you rewrite the rest of the song?" How does that affect you as a writer?
SL: It absolutely affects you, and it affects Pete the most because he's our principal songwriter. It's like this: your baby comes out, and somebody says, "That baby's kind of ugly. Maybe you should change its eye color and hair color and put it on a diet." It's pretty serious. So you really, really have to trust that producer to say, "I'm going to choose his idea over mine." That's why you have to have a good producer, because they're looking at it from a place that you're not looking at it. Everybody's baby is beautiful to them. It's your baby. You really have to trust that guy. That being said, if he came in and wasn't a fan of music in the first place, then you probably wouldn't trust his opinion that much. If he's doing a Britney Spears record and that's what he's really into, his opinion on rock music isn't going to carry that much weight.
That's the great thing about Joe Barresi: we can disagree with him. He'll say, "Look, it's your record at the end of the day. These are just my suggestions, but if you want to do it this way…" And sometimes we do. Sometimes we'll say, "Bro, we love this part. We know you think it's twice as long as it needs to be, but this is the way we want it to be." And he'll say, "All right, no problem." There's compromise on both of our parts, for sure.
CTNow: When you write a song like "Take Out the Gunman," which resonates pretty loudly here because of what happened in Newtown, do you end up hearing from a lot of pro-gun or anti-gun lobby groups, people who perhaps have never paid attention to Chevelle, but who think they need to weigh in somehow?
SL: Yes, is the short answer. The long answer is that we get people from both sides who don't understand what the song's about. They think it's pro-gun or they think it's anti-gun, and it's not. The song is about calling attention to that age-old question: Does reporting on something perpetuate that thing? Does it make it worse? Does it add to it? With media, especially, where's the line between reporting something, letting people know what's going on, and sensationalizing that thing, making it something where people say, "Oh, yeah, this is how I'm going to get heard. This is how I'm going to make my statement." As a press person, I'm sure you deal with that daily, and obviously nobody would know that better than you that that's a struggle all the time: how do you bring people the news, what is news. That's what the song is about, that attention. That's equally as difficult a subject as gun control.
CTNow: You've been around for a long time and you have a deep catalogue of songs. Do you think you'll get to the point where you play career-retrospective types of show, or is that the death of rock, in a way?
SL: As a music fan, I can tell you I get frustrated when I go see a band that I've loved for a long time and they play the whole new record, because it takes a long time for something to be a classic. Those older songs: you want to hear them. We've published about 88 songs at this point. We've had 11 No. 1 rock songs. We can fill set up with number one songs. We play about 16, 17, 18 songs a night, so we try to put at least five songs from "Wonder What's Next" into the set, because that record is big for a lot of people who know who our band is. It's important for us to play the hits, even if they're not necessarily radio hits, because they are the songs people really know and love… The rest is split up between up between the other records, and we'll play about four brand new songs from "La Gárgola." It makes our set a little bit longer, and just to play that many songs three or four nights in a row: for Pete, the only problem is the singing. 16 or 18 songs a night becomes a lot, and they aren't easy songs to sing. So it is important that we toe that line of making people happy at a show and giving them songs they know, and also playing some songs for us.
The reality is that you can't make everybody happy, unfortunately. Pete got a tweet from a guy who said, "Your set sucked — worst set ever. You didn't play any songs from this record, and I wanted to hear those songs." Well, we did. We only played one song that night from that record, which he had forgotten about. And secondly, we were like, dude, we're trying. We change the set up every night. We change about two or three songs per night. I don't know what to say. The dude was very upset.
CTNow: I'm sure you hear more from the unhappy people, but the vast majority of people were probably overjoyed with what they heard.
SL: That's true. We'll 20, 30, 40, 50 people who actually take the time to write, "Great show — we'll come back to see you next time." Then you get one guy who's really upset. Or, one guy who gets his nose broken, unfortunately. That happens, too.
CTNow: Have you noticed any overall changes in the landscape for heavy, melodic rock music, in terms of what the audiences are looking like or what the music business people are starting to push you with?
SL: The industry is changing all the time, but it's cyclical. It comes back around. We have had a great surge of younger fans. Our first record came out in 1999, so these people who are 18 or 20 years old: they weren't there at the first record. They found our band in the last couple of years. That's still happening all the time, and that's great. It's important to remember what you came from and what you've done, and I think some people are finding our music before they're finding other things, so they don't necessarily know our background. That's a good thing too, because they can discover that as well.
So yes, it's changing. Art, music: everything's changing because of the internet. We have to change with it, whatever that method is. Everyone's still figuring it out. That being said, it's easier to access everything, which raises the question: when you have anything, do you want any of it?
Editor's note: This story has been updated to remove outdated concert information.