Interview By: Jim Markunas
Photos By: Jeremy Ross
View all of Jeremy’s photos of Sam here.
Chevelle is not a band you like ‘just a little bit,’ you either love them or you hate them. I’m one of those people that loves them. I’ve been a die-hard Chevelle fan since 1999. When I was 15, I saw “Mia” on MTVX (remember that shit?), I was blown away by the song, and made my friend Chris drive me to the nearest Best Buy to pick up a copy of Point #1. Foregoing all other records, I spent weeks listening to that album. My obsession was so immense, I made my guitar teacher teach me every song from beginning to end. Chevelle, although somewhat similar to early Tool, are pioneers of the Alt-Metal genre. Point #1 started a revolution in Chicago, gaining steady momentum with radio play on Q101 and sold-out dates at venues like the Metro. After a deal with Epic Records and numerous modern rock radio hits, Chevelle is now a household name in the Alt-Metal genre.
We caught up with drummer, Sam Loeffler at the House of Blues in Anaheim for a quick interview.
Jim: I’ve seen you guys 5-6 times and I want to know why you don’t play “Mia” anymore.
Sam: The reason is that the percentage of the crowd that knows that song is small; many fans are not familiar with it. Playing it causes a dead spot in the show.
Jim: I’m slightly disappointed when I don’t hear it.
Sam: I understand, but there are so many songs, we’ve published over 60 songs, so we can’t do everything. Our set is 16-18 songs (about an hour and half of music), so we have to be selective.
Jim: Back to the progression of the band, since Point #1, you’ve changed a lot. The press criticizes you guys and says Chevelle does exactly the same thing on every record, but I disagree; I think every album sounds different and fresh. Vena Sera, for example, in addition to being a great album was very different. I’d even call it experimental. How do you guys keep it fresh after five albums?
Sam: Thank you. I think you progress as a musician, your interests change and your influences change. It depends on your frame of mind while writing the album. On “Sci-Fi Crimes,” we wrote all the songs at the same time; we weren’t trying to write an album to cross over, we weren’t going for a heavy record…these were the songs that came out.
Jim: I was listening to the album on the way over. Let’s talk about “Sci-Fi Crimes;” it is a concept album, correct?
Sam: I wouldn’t say it is a concept album. It comes off that way and I can see why; the cover art matches the album name and some of the songs titles. It’s a coincidence.
Jim: What was the big thing you were going for on this album?
Sam: I think you said it best, we just want to progress as a band. We don’t go into with an idea of where we want it to go; we just want to write good, melodic songs.
Jim: Can you tell me about some of your influences? Who has influenced you the most as a musician?
Sam: I think things change. I remember when we first starting playing. Pete and I listened to the Dead Kennedy’s, Firehose and The Minutemen. That was a certain scene. I think for Pete, one of his influences singing-wise was Lane Stanly. When he was learning to sing, Alice In Chains taught Pete that rock can be melodic and still be heavy and dark. That was a big turning point for him. Pete would say that any strong vocalist is an influence.
Jim: Some say that Pete sounds like Maynard James Keenan of Tool. One of the things that attracted me to Chevelle was that you guys are a more melodic version of Tool.
Sam: Anything within the genre that sounds similar to something else, it is going to be compared and people are going to compare bands they like and that’s OK.
Jim: Pete plays a baritone guitar. Can you explain what makes a baritone guitar special, how it works and how it helps to create the overall sound of the band?
Sam: The guitar has a longer scale, but the same number of frets. When you de-tune to lower tunings, the strings are too loose to stay in tune with a shorter scale. With a longer scale, the strings are tighter. It is very technical and there’s all this science involved.
Jim: How often do you practice the drums?
Sam: I practice every day, depending on our schedule, we warm up and do a sound check and then play for about two hours before the show.
Jim: About “Sci-Fi Crimes,” are you guys into spaceships, conspiracy theories, that sort of thing?
Sam: Well the “Sci-Fi Crimes” title is about less about aliens, and more about the people who have had ‘sci-fi crimes’ committed against them.
Jim: Stuff like “The Fourth Kind?”
Sam: Sure, I think that most people are intrigued by other life-forms.
Jim: Do you believe that we are the only intelligent life in the universe?
Sam: Are you asking if I think if man is the only intelligent life?
Jim: No, I mean do you think there are aliens out there?
Sam: Sure! From where we are in the universe, we can only see in one direction based on the way light travels, so I think we can’t say we’re the only ones out there. If there is intelligent life, I don’t know if it would come here.
Jim: How do you guys deal with all of the hardship? It seems with every album there’s something bad that happens to you guys (a member leaves, a manager dies.) Is it hard to move forward without that support group?
Sam: At this point, I am glad we are checking a lot of things off the list- we don’t have to deal with it anymore. There is a lot more bad stuff that can happen. I see how it appears that bad stuff happens each time an album comes out, the reason is because we were able to hold on as long as we have. The longer you go, the more that’s going to happen. What happens next? There will always be something.
Jim: In the future, I hope only good things happen to you guys!
Sam: I hope so too. Five records is a very good run; with the success of this record, I don’t see why we couldn’t keep going. As long as we keep developing our sound, we can make new fans.
Jim: Tell me about the songwriting process as a band, does Pete write the vocals and the guitar parts and bring it to you, or do you all collaborate?
Sam: It’s both. Half the time, Pete will bring a line or melody, and we have to figure out if it is a verse or a bridge or an intro. The most common thing Pete brings is us is a verse or a chorus and we end up with 6-8 songs and 3 of them have bridges and 4 have no bridge. The way a bridge works (or how I think it should work), is that it’s a song within a song, and bands get around that by doing solos or breaking down the chorus and humming to it, and that’s not a bridge. You don’t want to run with the first thought in your head.
Jim: You don’t believe in winging it?
Sam: No, once in a while, winging it will work, but most of the time it doesn’t. If the song has two parts, and it’s not Bad Religion, it probably means someone didn’t put in the effort. Bad Religion is the best at doing two-part songs.
Jim: Some bands write 80 songs for an album and cut it down to 12 for the final record. Does Chevelle work that way?
Sam: No, we’re the opposite. We won’t work on something unless it’s good. We don’t get an extra 80 songs after recording. Think about it, if you have 80 songs and only use 12, that means that 68 of them are bad. If you write 80 songs with intros, verses, choruses and outros, you can’t keep it fresh. Most people couldn’t write 80 songs worth of lyrics; any fifth grader can rhyme.
Jim: So… Chevelle focuses on quality instead of volume?
Sam: Yes. Thanks, I hope people like it at the end of the day.
Jim: Who is your biggest influence now; what are you listening to?
Sam: A band called The Bronx. Everytime I Die is great as well; they’re amazing! I don’t get to listen to a lot of music, since I’m surrounded by music all day, but we do listen to every demo we get. We get demos from random people. We were at a haunted house the other day and someone gave us their demo, and I respected the guy for it, you got to jump at every chance you get.
Jim: Fred Durst was famous for finding bands and getting them record deals, like Puddle Of Mudd, etc. Has Chevelle discovered anyone? Or.. Could you see yourselves in an ‘A&R-type’ role?
Sam: If there is someone we like, we would do everything to push them through and help them, but we’ve never gotten a good demo. There was one that we liked, but they were already signed, so they didn’t need our help.
Jim: Is it hard to be on the road when you have family at home?
Sam: Yes, it is, but it’s what we do and everyone has to make money. It’s the price you pay to live the dream, right?
Jim: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Sam: No. I think you’ve covered everything.
Other Chevelle Articles:
Chevelle Live @ The House Of Blues
Review of Sci-Fi Crimes
View all of Jeremy’s photo’s here.