Helping Bring Hard-Rock to Chicago, A Million Units at a Time
by Randy J. Klodz
Selling 1.3 million copies of any rock album in today's song-pirating music industry is rare, but the Grayslake-native Chevelle did just that with 2002's Wonder What's Next, a rock spectacle featuring the hit singles The Red, Comfortable Liar and Send the Pain Below. Sam Loeffler, Chevelle's drummer, called SOAK in the midst of leaving his Chicagoland studio apartment to meet his fellow Loeffler brothers / bandmates Pete (vocals/guitar) and Joe (bass) for a Tower Records in-store performance in suburban Bloomingdale. Sam tells SOAK everything from playing “Let's Make a Deal” with Sharon Osbourne, brotherly love in a city that isn't Philadelphia and the mounting pressure early success puts on Chevelle's future. And for fans left to Wonder What's Next, the recent album This Type of Thinking (Can Do Us In) is next, and so is this interview.
SOAK: The "Music As A Weapon II" tour, put Chevelle on a bill with Disturbed, Taproot and Unloco, and it really seemed to help put your band on the map, especially with the final show of the tour at Chicago's UIC Pavilion on May 3, 2003.
Sam Loeffler: Disturbed put on a really good show, too. That tour was probably the best tour that we’ve ever done. Structurally, everybody got along so well as far as us, Disturbed, Unloco and the Taproot guys. The Taproot guys didn't get along that well with Disturbed, but everybody else got along really well. It was a lot of fun. They had parties every single night on that tour. It was full-on decorated beer and booze girl parties.
SOAK: That show was originally scheduled to be at the more intimate Aragon Ballroom, but they bumped it over to the expansive UIC Pavilion.
SL: The thing was that since [Disturbed] was headlining at OZZfest [the following summer] they had a capacity limit on that tour that Sharon [Osbourne] sort of imposed on them because she didn't want them to play to too many people because she wanted people to come out on OZZfest to see them. But the show sold so well that they called Sharon and she opened it up to whatever number of tickets they sold at UIC, I think it was like 6,000 or 7,000. It was really cool of her to do that, too, because she pays a lot of money to main-stage bands at OZZfest.
SOAK: David Draiman of Disturbed often tells Chicago crowds during hometown concerts that the band is glad that Chicago fans have helped them bring heavy rock music to Chicago. You guys are at least somewhat responsible for that, too. Did you always get to share early Chicago gigs with fellow heavy rock bands?
SL: When we were growing up in Chicago, most of the bands we played with here sort of were pop-rock bands, not heavy at all. We would do a bill at the Double Door. There would be like four bands and we’d be playing second. There would be three pop bands and then us playing with all this heaviness. People would look at us like we had something on our faces. But we stuck with it because it was what we were into.
SOAK: Chevelle's Chicago following has to be nuts.
SL: Chicago is such an important market because there are just so many people. But more importantly, people in Chicago are extremely dedicated. It's not like going to Los Angeles where people are like, 'Oh, this is in right now' and then two weeks later they’re like, 'Oh, I saw that, I'm done with it.' When people are fans, they are fans of pretty much everything that you're doing.
SOAK: "Wonder What's Next" sold 1.3 million copies. With the rise of Chevelle's success, did you suddenly start having everybody want to be your friend, and tons of females coming out of the woodwork and say, ‘Oh, you guys are popular now?’
SL: Not so much because we pretty much distance ourselves from those kinds of people that are only kind of in for the fame thing. You know what's been happening a lot lately? All these people will come up to us, friends and family, and be like, 'I talked to this person and they said that they were in your band before,' and I'll be like, 'Really, well, uh, no.' There's always been only the three of us. There was one other guy who Joe used to play bass for us, but he only played basically one show with us and that was before we were Chevelle.
SOAK: Lately a lot of bands fight a lot and break up, yet all three of you in Chevelle are brothers and you play as a trio onstage, which is a rarity in itself.
SL: It's certainly work and the longer you go, the more susceptible you are to the little things becoming big. So every day is sort of a challenge to not sweat the small stuff. I mean, we fight a lot, but that's going to happen no matter whether you're brothers or not. It's going to happen in a business relationship that’s basically fueled by what success is today. You're always on the edge of falling apart. And a lot of people want you to fall apart, because it's more interesting. We certainly believe that the key to success in being a rock band, besides writing good music, is just being able to stay together.
SOAK: How is the writing process different for the new album, "This Type of Thinking (Could Do Us In)," different than for "Wonder What's Next"?
SL: It was different in that we had a different approach to writing songs, for sure. Basically what happened, we got off tour Dec. 17, 2003 at the House of Blues, that was the last show that we did. We went home for Christmas and after New Year's we went into the studio and we said, 'All right, we have to write a whole record in basically four months.' We had no songs, so we had to write that whole record and we ended up taking five months. We wanted to go heavy, we wanted to do a lot of double-bass drum, kind of syncopated rhythms, and we wanted to basically write songs that we could bob our heads to. That was sort of where we started. We're a heavy melodic rock band, that's what we like to write, and that's what we like to play. And that's what we did.
SOAK: Did you have anybody breathing down your neck to say, "This has to sell 1 millions copies again"?
SL: Yeah, absolutely. Everybody says this needs to be more successful than the last album. It's not even good enough to do the same thing you did before. You have to do better. Yeah, that's a lot of freakin' pressure. I don't know how to deal with it. I hope it happens, but either way we've never compromised on what we believe is the music we want to write. This is the music we love, this is our art. It's our record. We wrote every single thing on there. No backseat, that's for sure.
SOAK: "One Lonely Visitor," the final song off the album "Wonder What's Next," is acoustic and mellow. And the new album ends with "Bend the Bracket," also an acoustic track. Where did the idea come from to end each of your last two albums with a mellow acoustic number?
SL: Well, the original for One Lonely Visitor we actually did in the studio. There was a demo version of it and we did the song in the studio and hated it. It was just too clean and nice and we're like, 'it sucks,' so with Wonder What's Next we put One Lonely Visitor on the end of it as a demo, and it really was a demo; it's the one that we did in our little studio. Pete actually did it by himself without any help at all, he did it on an 8-track. You can hear the compression going in and out and all that stuff, and we really liked it. So Bend the Bracket was a song that we really, really liked, but we couldn't figure out a way to do it as full band and still have the same feeling. So we were just like, 'Screw it, let's do this again' because it worked, and we love the feeling of Bend the Bracket so that's actually a demo also.
SOAK: When you guys are home from touring, do you brothers usually hang out together a lot?
SL: We really do try and separate a little bit because we live together so much. When we're on the road, we're basically living together and working together. So when we come home, we all have our own houses and it takes time when you're gone all the time--you have to come and work on your house--clean your house and stuff. We do hang out sometimes, sometimes we go out and do car stuff, especially in the summer. We go to car shows and go drag racing and things like that together. Pete and I go out a little more together with our girlfriends, go out and kind of double date and stuff like that. Sometimes we do that stuff with Joe, but then there's family stuff, so we see each other at family stuff, too. It's all we can do to try and get away from each other for a little while.
SOAK: So do you guys get recognized all the time when you do go out?
SL: Pete does. I'm a lot more, uh, I blend in more.
SOAK: Is it because the drummer's curse where the drummer never gets any love?
SL: I think it's just because Pete's face is all over everything. He's always in the front and he's always in the videos. It's better him than me, man. [laughs] If he wants to go and do that, that's awesome. He doesn't even want to, but he's a singer, so he has to.
SOAK: Does Joe always play his bass during live concerts with his shirt off?
SL: For some reason he did it because he was hot and then it just kind of stuck, like if he wore a shirt people would just be like, "Why are you wearing a shirt?' So he just takes the shirt off.
SOAK: Pete's known because he's the singer and Joe's known because he doesn't wear a shirt in concert, so it looks like all the pressure is off you now.
SL: I know, lucky me, huh? I'm definitely fortunate when it comes to that.
For more on Chevelle, check out chevelleinc.com.