Archive Interview: Matt Sweeney of Chavez, 1996

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This interview was first published in Weedbus fanzine issue 12.

Pigeonholes are a real nuisance aren't they? New York's Chavez have been struggling with metal and hardcore accusations since their fine debut 'Gone Glimmering' came out in mid-'95. These are puzzling comparisons, especially when you hear Chavez creating their mesmerising psychedelic free-rock, with good tunes and high-end parts a speciality. The fab recent album 'Ride The Fader' (Matador) should go further towards the band being appreciated in the right light. We let Matt Sweeney (gtr/ voc) out us straight on a few things.

Yourself and Clay started off the group -were you in any bands previous to this?

"Yes, Clay was in Bullet Lavolta. We both had been in bands, and we hated being in bands after a while, so we tried to make a band that was something that we liked doing. We just talked about doing something different, and then the two of us played together for about six months - just droney weird stuff, holding one note for ages, more on the high end spectrum to Earth and the like! There was no low-end rumble at all, but we started doing low-end stuff because we didn't have a bass player. Myself and Clay had a lot of nerdish conversations about how we liked stuff like that. We had been playing for a long time when James Lo (ex-Live Skull) offered to play drums with us. After about a year we finally had a line -up as my friend Scott who I'd known for about ten years decided to move to New York, so we had a bass player. Ironically we started playing together the week that Kurt Cobain killed himself."

How has the UK responded to Chavez so far?
"I don't know. We've gotten some nice reviews but I'm not sure if people really get what we're about. We either get treated as another Matador band or else we're put in a Heavy Metal bracket which in particular is baffling to me. We would get these favourable live reviews, but they'd be comparing us to Husker Du or Helmet, and with all due respect to that shit, I don't ever listen to it! When we played here we were expecting a chilly reception (Guided By Voices tour early 95) but the shows went fine - Scotland was especially good, I think we were the best received out of GBV and the Amps! There was this one guy who came up and said 'my friend said you're a bit like the Grifters but I think you're more like My Bloody Valentine with those effects pedals you're using', and I had to tell him that we don't use any effects pedals. We seem to get compared to everything under the sun. This only happens in England - in Holland we get treated like a proper art-rock band! It's strange because we've only played four shows this year - we're not a full-time band, but I think since people have started to hear the new stuff they've been a bit more accepting and understanding that we do our own thing. People are now saying 'You're sort of psychedelic, aren't you?' and that's a step in the right direction! It's such a mystery why we get lumped in with hard rock. Maybe it's because Clay was in Bullet Lavolta and they were often misnomered as a hardcore band. People are now thinking more along the lines of the Soft Machine's first album or Wire, stuff that we don't really sound like but is definitely within the ball park of what I like, which is kind of out-there, free rock!"

What do you listen to then?
"I'm the guy in the band who listens to the most records, I think! The record I've been listening to most recently is 'Or' by Skip Spence, I have pretty diverse tastes but it's usually rock oriented stuff with some kind of a beat! I've also gotten seriously into 'The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter' by the Incredible String Band and I love bands like the Creation and the Who, and that definitely has a bearing on what we do. I also love teenage garage rock bands like Crypt records 'Back From The Grave' compilations. It doesn't have anything to do with how we sound, it's just something I'm into."

Have you a songwriting interaction with Clay?
"Kind of. This new record was very democratic, James (drums) was very involved in it, to the point where he has a lot to say about melodies and arrangements. He wrote the piano song on the record ('Ever Overpsyched') which is pretty much the first song he has ever written. It's weird because he knew how play piano and stuff but I've been pushing him to write. He was really turned on by Roxy Music's 'Stranded' and the piano piece 'Sunset'. Usually the songs start out with one guy having an idea and the others helping him out - we all react to each others ideas. Half of it is totally improvisational and the other half is totally tight-assed and humourless, trying to make sense of what we're doing!"

Glancing through the track names on your debut release 'Gone Glimmering', you could be forgiven for assuming that you have a fondness for 70s progressive rock - 'Wakeman's Air', 'The Flaming Gong'. Who came up with these?!
"All of our songs don't have titles when they get written, and especially on the first album they probably wouldn't even have had a vocal line for a while. Those titles are a little more flippant than I intended. I don't think we realised how silly we were being!"

Your drummer, James Lo, is known for having a bit of a reputation. Is it all true?
"When I was in high school and buying Live Skull albums, James was the definition of a scary downtown art-rock drummer! When I finally hooked up with him years later he turned out to be an incredibly nice guy. His attitude towards making music really affected me- has this 'don't think about it, just do it' way of working, but not in a straight ahead rock n roll way. Make it different, make it interesting. His background is that he was regarded as some sort of drum prodigy and when he was in high school he was allowed to leave whatever class he was in to go and practice his drums. He was groomed as a percusion genius and sent to New England Conservatory which he hated. He was totally turned off to the Classical approach and he developed a liking for playing with people who didn't know how to play. Any music that he could identify immediately and see the logic behind it lost interest for him, he's far more interested in stuff that confuses him."

So what's next for Chavez?
"We're going to do some proper touring in the States, hopefully with Fuck and the Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments, who are really great, but essentially we're going out on our own. Future plans are basically to support the new record, and to have as much fun doing it as possible. We don't make any money off this band, everyone has gotjobs so we slot Chavez in around those, so there's not really a lot of pressure to be successful. It was hard when we were recording this album because we couldn't all be in the same place at the same time, but it turned out great considering that."

Interview by Jonathan Greer

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