Chase King

As part of the release of Digcast VIII, the second episode to focus on NYC music, I’m posting on each band in the podcast. Today is the fifth and final installment.

Follow the link above to listen to Chase discuss “Don’t Be So Down,” where he likes ride his bike in New York, and more.

Chase King is a singer-songwriter living in Greenpoint, but his music is far from the typical sound of what that description evokes. While he recorded nearly the entire album on his own, he plays live with a band that includes three of his good friends, Mike Zorrilla, Ian Vidaurre, and Stirling Krusing. His most recent album South Tropical Trail was released by Queens-based label Wonderland Archives, which is the nexus of a tight-knit collective of like-minded musicians and friends.
South Tropical Trail draws on a wide range of influences to flesh out the ten tracks. Experimental is probably a bit too extreme, but Chase definitely isn’t opposed to trying a variety of approaches and changing things up from one track to the next. For instance, his voice often sounds different from track to track, whether up front and unadorned like on “Misty” or run through amps and effects and more hidden like on “Don’t Be So Down.” The guitar textures are diverse, from a rhythmic driving twang to swirling ambience. You get the sense that Chase isn’t content unless he’s pushing himself, which I think makes for a more rewarding listen.

Sometimes Chase’s voice reminds me of Jeff Tweedy and I don’t think Wilco is a bad point of comparison. Songs like “Misty,” “True Believer,” “Long Shot View,” have moments in the melody and wistful delivery where it’s a strong connection, and musically, the blending of elements of pop, country, and strange textures sells it, too. And then a track like “Will To Get By,” constructed from loops, including a beat-boxed vocal is a completely different animal and equally riveting. It’s like a junkyard blues dirge.
Lyrically, religion seems to be a motif in tracks “The Great Beyond,” and “Bed of Lies,” but not as something specific. Rather they are ambiguous depictions where it’s not really about believing or not, but trying to understand why someone does or doesn’t. The same nuance comes to bear on some portrayals of relationships, though generally from the perspective of love lost or gone wrong like in “Don’t Flatter Yourself” and “Opposite Directions.” To me, the idea is more about capturing a world where all of this sort of stuff happens. Where people have faith, where others don’t, where you can be up one day or down the next. You know, a world exactly like the one we’re in. “Last Year” with its line “Bad things will happen if you let them” crystallizes that we need to embrace what we can, let go of what we don’t need, and just do our best.
This is a record that will sneak up on you and reveal its richness over multiple listens. The more I hear it, the more I get sucked into it. Chase and his Gainesville buddies are a tight live band as well, bringing these songs to full-blooded life and enhancing them. As of this writing, Chase King plays TONIGHT (10/24) at Mercury Lounge with several other cool bands. Go! His band will be on around 8:30. Info here and tickets are available here. He also plays 11/19 at Shea Stadium. Info here.
I had lengthy and enjoyable discussion with Chase at Milk & Roses in Greenpoint. He’s down-to-earth, honest, and has a sharp mind. We talked about a bunch of different topics. I had to cut down on some of the tangents, they are noted by the *, but I think you’ll still enjoy it and get a good sense of Chase, his music, and his thoughts on things like recording, relationships, religion, and more.
TWD: Do you play in a band live?
Chase: Yes, with three others. There’s also a band on Wonderland Archives that I play with called Slow Country. That’s with Boyd Shropshire, who runs the label with his girlfriend. A guy Stirling Krusing is in that and he’s also in my band. I met both him and Boyd in Gainesville. I played basically everything on South Tropical Trail, but I don’t want to do that live. I also have Mike Zorrilla, who doubles as our PR guy. And I play drums in his band Tiger Dare.
C: Gainesville had a total character of its own. Tom Petty is from there, Bo Diddly. It has a crazy music history. There’s a big punk scene, but there’s also a lot of experimental bands, mellow melodic bands. Dance stuff. It was all over the place. A lot of the coolest people wouldn’t ever play a show. The eccentrics
C: My music is probably considered safe to an extent compared to a lot of stuff. But that’s just what comes out when I’m writing songs in my room. This album is me completely. Everything, pretty much, with the exception of bass on one song and a guitar part. It’s just me recording in my room on my own little 8-track that I’ve had since I was like 15. That’s just what comes out.
With our other band Slow Country, it’s different because Boyd writes songs and then I write songs, so we’re split down the middle. The record we put out this year, 5 are Boyd songs. He has kind of a J. Mascis, drawl-y, chill voice. Have you ever heard of Human Television? Early 2000s on Gigantic? Boyd was in that band. He also played with Kurt Vile for awhile on his tours a few years ago and did the art for Childish Prodigy.
TWD: This is the guy that founded the label?
C: Right. And he did my art too. You get the package deal with Boyd.
TWD: He’s a multi-talented man.
C: You get on the label and he does the art, he does the packaging. Puts the money up to get the vinyl printed.
TWD: You already had a friendship before you got on the label. It wasn’t like “Where am I going to release this?”
C: Yeah. Good friend. I don’t help run it or anything. It’s him and his girlfriend Cassandra doing that. Boyd put out a solo record called Color the Years last year, a great, really cool record. We put out the Late Great Slow Country. We thought that was a funny title considering it took us four years to put that album out. I put mine out in July.
TWD: Speaking of indie labels, I’ve just been reading a book about K Records, Love Rock Revolution.
C: Calvin Johnson.
TWD: It’s good. A lot of it is the same kind of stories, but it always just blows me away.
C: Kill Your Idols, have you read that one? It’s really good.
C: “Don’t Be So Down,” that was originally going to be a single. Boyd was like “This is the one that we’ll be able to send out and it’ll get people right off the bat.” It didn’t pan out that way after we got more input from other people. Two other songs were the ones we went with.
TWD: They’re good songs too.
C: Thank you. The first record I made, I could barely even listen to it. Not that it’s bad, but this is a progression.
TWD: How many records have you made as Chase King?
C: Two.
TWD: But you’ve been involved with other bands and recordings.
C: Totally. Slow Country, Tiger Dare, Arch Baddies, that was with my brother when I first moved to New York. In Gainesville, I hung out with these guys in a band called Averkiou that are kind of a shoegaze band. I used to play a little tambourine and do harmonies. I wasn’t an official member, just played a few shows. But we were really tight and I love their music. They wanted someone to sing a little bit. In college, that was really the only time I’d be on stage.
I just silently worked on stuff otherwise. This guy Mike who ran this label Arcane, he wrote an email to me. I had never met him but he had heard some songs through the grapevine. This was 2005 so I wasn’t really posting online, but he wanted to put a record out and he recorded me. He had a beautiful studio and I recorded all these songs, but I ended up using almost all of my originals except for like two songs maybe. I scrapped all of them that I did there. It just felt better the stuff I did on my own. But he was a cool guy and I’m glad he gave me a chance. It felt good to have someone come across your music and record you for free.
TWD: That must have been very encouraging at that stage.
C: Totally. I was obsessed with this band Mercury Program when I was in high school, they were from Gainesville. Very post-rock, like Tortoise. Vibraphones, really tight drummer. Kinda math-y. I just loved it. I surfed a lot when I grew up in Florida and would listen to that all the time. Anyways, I had this grandiose vision of hanging out with the Mercury Program when I got to Gainesville. That was my first music goal. “I need to meet these guys and get in with them.” Which never really happened. Until I moved to New York, weirdly enough. One of the guys who played in Slow Country was in Mercury Program. I thought that was cool.
It’s funny how that happens. In New York, all my friends are from Gainesville, but it’s like meeting them now in New York. We were there at the same time, hanging out with a lot of the same people, going to the same places, and yet I didn’t know them until I came here. It’s kind of a puzzle as to how that even happened. It’s a small town, you’d think you’d know everybody. But there’s been quite a few friends like that.
TWD: That’s cool. Sounds like you have a nice circle.
C: Gainesville is really cool. I highly recommend it.
TWD: It sounds cool. I lived in Chapel Hill for two years for grad school, they seem similar.
C: Oh yeah, that’s a good area. Great music there, too. I love Archers of Loaf. What a great band. I didn’t see any of the reunion shows, but some friends saw them said they were tighter than ever.
TWD: Isn’t that a funny concept? How there’s this resurgence of bands like that? I guess with the Internet all these bands that didn’t really get their dues back then are now doing better than ever on these tours and sales. It’s cool I think.
C: I think it is cool. It’s good. People are always struggling in their prime. I guess PR takes time. Things can soak into your bones. Over time, people can appreciate things more and realize “Wow, this is still really relevant and great.”
TWD: And sometimes what you inspire can bring it back to you too. Some of the bands that grew up listening to these formerly obscure indie bands and then made bands and got bigger than those bands ever did help them.
C: It’s funny to think about something with such an aura, from time, the media, all the things that combine to give something that stature, but maybe at that time, when they didn’t sell many records, they were probably all miserable, some of them had drug problems, and they were probably pretty poor. I don’t think they could have had any clue how they would be seen in the future, nor is what in our minds near accurate. That’s the most beautiful thing about music and art though. You have your own interpretation of it and that’s the way it should be.
C: I just do music because it’s fun. I guess it chose me. It’s not always easy, I don’t always have a lot of energy to write music, it’s been hard with how expensive things get here. We play at Stirling’s place in Sunset Park. It’s a real trek out there, but once you get there it’s great. You can really focus on music. Stirling is the other main force in the band as far the melodies. He’s an extraordinary guitar player. We’re so comfortable after years of playing together that it just kind of works. We don’t necessarily have to rehearse a ton. And sometimes when you don’t, you can just go out there and play and it’ll be a little more simple. With my songs, it works really good when things get more simple because the vocals and melody kind of carry everything.
TWD: You don’t hear people saying that a lot, but I can see how there would be a benefit to that. Sometimes you can over think and overdo and lose the spirit. It gets too busy or too fatigued.
C: Exactly. Me and Stirling were talking about this last night, exactly what you said. Practicing is over thinking, which is good when you’re trying new things and learning. But at the same time, there’s a certain magic to be had when something is fresh. Like at a show, you have one shot. One shot, one mood, one vibe, go. That’s the show. As long as you have fun, it’s always fulfilling.
That’s my main goal now. I don’t really stress about anything else anymore. I just want to go out there and have a good time with my friends and play, not worry about the little sounds. Nothing will ever be perfect; nothing will ever be exactly how you want it. Coming to terms with compromising with people and letting them shine for what they do, if you’re going to have a group, you have to let people do what they do. The more you micro-manage, the more it all comes tumbling down and people start to hate you.
TWD: Have you been a micro-manager in the past?
C: I guess so, yeah. Maybe not a micro-manager, but I would stop songs at rehearsal and be like “I don’t like that,” or “Let’s do this.” Getting older, I think you learn to say things better.
TWD: Being more tactful.
C: Yeah, being tactful goes a long fucking way.
TWD: I think that’s an interesting concept in anything that involves some sort of collaboration. Where do you draw the line between your vision and being open to things you can’t possibly account for but that could make things better and could come from someone else? Because ultimately, anyone that’s involved in a project wants the same thing. Even if it’s your album and your band, those guys want it to be good too. They want to help. I find that concept very interesting to think about.
C: Yeah. It is interesting. There’s no right or wrong way. I know people that are brilliant that micro-manage and it works. It just doesn’t work for me for whatever reason. And I’ve had a few relationships with band members in the past that haven’t gone exactly how I would like. Maybe it wasn’t fun because I was a little too serious. The difference now, living in New York for five years, when I first came I was so determined to practice 3 or 4 times a week, especially with my brother. He had been here awhile. He was settled, he had a live here. I was just starting out. I didn’t have a job, I was just like “We got to play music, we got to get this going.”
But you got to just go with the flow, especially in a city like New York. You can come here with huge dreams and it’s good and you should always have dreams, but it’s a very humbling place. You learn pretty fast you’re just another person trying to make it. New York doesn’t stop to recognize anybody. You got to just continue. I think the most solid thing New York has done for me has been humble me and made me settle down. The things that aren’t important are like if a million people heard my music. Am I even ready for that? Am I ready for that kind of pressure? Do I have another record to put out that’s going to be great? I don’t know those answers.
So it’s like, just do what you do, keep building what you do. I feel like what we do is cool so I just want to keep having fun with my friends and continue to release cool music and have it be good. With the label now, we’re getting to the point where we’re pretty self-sufficient and able to put out cool shit. As far as people hearing it, we don’t have pros on PR and we rely on people like you to spread the word and ourselves doing the work as much as we can. Trying also to spend as much time or more doing the music. Because promoting your music, you could spend all your free time doing that.
TWD: It’s all a balancing act. It seems like things are moving in the right direction.
C: I think so.
TWD: That’s good. That’s all you can really do, make the best of it, be happy with it and see where it goes. Put the work in, obviously.
C: You got to do the best you can with the cards you’re dealt. Whoever has the best studio of your friends, that’s where you should record. Whoever has the hook-up at the best DIY spot, you need to play there. It’s not always a fun thing to do. But it’s always fun in the end once you get on stage and play.
TWD: I wanted to ask you a little more about your album. One thing in a general sense that I noticed is you’ll have some songs where your vocals are obscure and harder to hear and then some where it’s clear and right there. I wondered what was behind your decision to manipulate your voice that way.
C: That’s something I deal with constantly when trying to write music. I’ll think of different ways to make my voice a good instrument. I don’t want it to be boring and I don’t want it to always sound the same. When I was younger and finding my way and honing the craft of writing songs and falling into what I do, I feel like it was more of a one-track sound. My vocals didn’t have a lot of variation. I wanted that variation on this record. “Misty,” on that song, I put the vocals through an amplifier and recorded it with a microphone. I got a cool, warm vocal sound doing that. As far as where they sit in the mix, a lot of my favorite bands have vocals that sit low in the mix. I love Bedhead and mellow bands like Yo La Tengo, where the music is great and the vocals are there, you can hear them, but they’re not where a musical engineer would put them. Maybe sometimes I’ll put them just a little bit below. Pisses the hell out of my mom, she hates that.
TWD: (Laughs) She wants to hear you sing.
C: Yeah. Just trying to get my voice to sound a little bit different, I don’t want it to sound like a singer-songwriter album. That’s why I have a band. I want that magic that comes from collaboration. On this record, “Will to Get By,” that’s a standout as far as being totally different than anything else on the record.
TWD: Yes, I even wrote that in my notes when I was preparing for this interview. Almost all of the time I can never envision what a song might have been. With that song on your record, I kind of got this impression that you had almost rewritten it, like it started one way and you decided to change it. I don’t know if that’s true.
C: Totally the opposite. That particular song, I lived in a house with Boyd last year in Queens. I recorded most of the songs out there, it was a great set-up. I had just bought a DL-4 looping pedal and that song came out of a loop, a really trip I had. That beat is actually with mouth. I did a (beatboxes). I looped that, put some delay on it so it sounds like a weird drum machine, and then I looped the bass line too. I was just learning the pedal. A lot of those weird effects, tweaking knobs, it was just one take on a stoned afternoon.
TWD: It’s a cool song either way. That makes sense, but I wondered if it had started more straightforward and then got there.
C: I feel like if I was to go back and try to make that song more linear, then it would probably be not as cool. Some of my friends that I know aren’t in love with my music per se or my voice, have said “That’s my favorite track.” That’s cool. I wanted that diversity on this record.
TWD: That’s an interesting song. I think it’s a good album. It’s enjoyable to listen to. One line that really jumped out at me was in “Last Year.” The line says “Bad things will happen if you let them.” I think, especially moving here, it’s made me so much more aware of how important your mindset is about things. I wonder where you usually fall on the spectrum of your mental outlook affecting you, for the better or for worse.
C: That’s a good question. It is true. Living in New York, my five years feel like they’ve been a lifetime. I’ve had so many experiences, crazy things happening personally, hardships like everyone has. I’m one of those people that’s always in my mind very much. Lately as I get older, comparing it to the music and what I said about how I want to be and the band I want to play in, it’s just letting things happen. That’s it. Not being so worried about how things turn out. Just letting everything you do be a part of the bigger picture. If bad things are going to happen, then sometimes you just have to let them happen. Avoid the things you can skirt.
TWD: Do you think people can create their own downfalls by obsessing over it? Like a self-fulfilling prophecy of “This will never work” and then it doesn’t because you didn’t even entertain the idea that it could?
C: Totally. You just have to let go. I feel like if the world just let go a little bit and accepted things more for how they were – I’m not saying you shouldn’t strive to build empires and do the things you want to do and make things happen – but I don’t think anybody wants to be around a person that’s constantly negative or constantly pointing out what’s wrong with something. I don’t have any desire to be an artist that’s really dark. If anything, I want to learn how to be a more engaging, fun person to be around. I think I’m getting better at that. As I age, I feel like I’m getting better at dealing with shit. Which is how it should be, so I think I’m doing the right thing.
TWD: It seems like a lot of the songs touch on, I wouldn’t say it’s a religious album, but there are bigger questions. The very first song “Misty” has a little bit of that, like looking for signs. “Great Beyond” just the phrase itself implies something bigger. “True Believer,” that idea as well, how to stick with something or not.
C: I’m totally not a religious person.
TWD: Right, but it’s just kind of an interesting thing to think about, how much that can affect things if you’re aware of even the possibility of something more than yourself.
C: I feel like during this record with my family, my brother was really into Christopher Hitchens and questioning God in a big way. He doesn’t have any room for God or people talking about God. With “Misty,” that’s about a co-worker. Well, not about her, but that’s her name and she’s a little bit religious. She’s a really wonderful person and I loved her name. I guess I spit it out one night when I was playing guitar and it worked, it sounded cool. The words, “It’s all misty, I know you are the chosen one. You’re dancing, laughing, under the sun.”
She’s a positive person but at the same time, because of my mind and how I’m removed from religion, it just puzzles me. Especially the dark side of it. But through her, it’s this wonderful, positive thing. I was just trying to relate to that. I like the way that song moves too, it’s melodic and then at the end, it goes from being sad to an optimistic. I guess there are those themes happening. I’ve been thinking about how, when you look at anything in the modern world, we’re still dealing with these religion issues. I definitely listen to Fresh Air everyday and pay attention to politics, so I guess it’s relevant. It’s definitely something I was considering.
TWD: The way it comes across is more palatable for me personally. I respect that people might want to have messages and what they think should be done, but – and maybe it’s just where I’m at with my life – I think it can be more interesting to hear people thinking about it and wondering and not really coming to conclusive answers. I think that’s happening through the album. I could relate to that more so than you saying “This is bad, this good” or whatever.
C: Yeah, I try to leave things open to interpretation lyrically because that’s how my favorite music is. It’s not always as fun when things are so spelled out lyrically. It’s not as interesting as when things are left for you. Then, it’s still with you and it’ll come and haunt you in weird ways at different times. Or you find new meanings in things.
TWD: “Long Shot View,” that song and also the next one “Don’t Flatter Yourself,” it feels like there’s a little bit of a vibe of maybe you’re not in a great situation and you need to get out of. I think about this a lot. When can you actually recognize that you’re not in the best situation and take action to change it? How do you see yourself as a person in that regard? Are you pretty good at knowing when you need to change things and doing it?
C: I think I definitely am, especially in my family. I feel like I have a pretty good head on my shoulders. I’m not somebody that does tons of drugs or takes things to the extreme. I am that kind of person. I have a pretty good grasp on things and look at things from other people’s perspective.
When I was younger, everything I wrote was about myself or something really close to me. I just heard this Regina Spektor interview the other day, where she was talking about the same thing, when it comes to music. Once you let go of your own personal stuff and you can look at life through other people’s eyes and how other people are feeling, and totally remove yourself from that, then you’re open to a whole new world of writing songs. I do that a lot now. I’ll think about somebody else that has nothing to do with me and try to write from their perspective. And how they feel or how I imagine they would in a certain situation. Your own personal thoughts and feelings get mixed in there too, but as a place to start from, I feel like that’s a really interesting way to write music. And that makes it more interesting for other people and leads that open interpretation. With yourself, things might be more cut and dry.
TWD: Sometimes it’s the opposite, how you can recognize in someone else, things like “Oh this person needs to be doing this,” or “They are clearly unhappy about that,” or “They want this” and you can’t necessarily deal with that yourself.
C: I do plenty of that.
TWD: It’s easy to encourage someone else to do what they want and not do what you want yourself meanwhile. Been there many times.
C: You know Mike Birbiglia? He was talking about how you can’t do things for yourself that would be so easy to propel yourself in a positive direction forward, whether it’s making art or meeting somebody new or getting the right job. The simple steps you have to take, you’re always too busy or you’re always so preoccupied. Usually you’re preoccupied by thoughts of just getting there and you’re so burdened by it that you don’t do it. When it’s all you should do is take that energy and do it. It’s for your fucking life, why wouldn’t you do it? But I think it’s a question a lot of people deal with. That’s clearly what you should do, why is it so hard? You can learn a lot from watching other people struggle.
TWD: I liked the line “Love is an optical illusion in opposite directions.” Not so much the fact that it could be read as it doesn’t actually exist, but the idea that two people can see it in a completely different way.
C: When it comes to being in a relationship, I’ve always been on the shit end of the stick. That song came directly from that place.
TWD: It happens. I’m sure it’ll happen again. But that sells a lot of records, right?
C: Hopefully it does. But yeah, love is an optical illusion. A lot of things in life are.
TWD: Do you ever get inspired by non-musical art to make your music? Like film or TV or books?
C: Yeah. I think it all blends to a certain point. For me, there’s really nothing particular. I can always sit down with my guitar and sing words. Everything, going to work, being an adult, forming friendships, reading cool books, it all bleeds in.
TWD: What are you some of your favorites?
C: Right now I’m reading Tree of Smoke by Dennis Johnson. I like him a lot. I read had Jesus’ Son and that resonated with me a lot. I read 1Q84, that was my first Murakami book. Everybody reads Murakami. I like his way of looking at the conscious mind and different realties. I listen to a lot of NPR. I really like lately the comedy scene. Marc Maron and Louis CK and Todd Barry.
TWD: Yeah. Do you watch Louis CK’s show?
C: Yeah. I love the way they look at things. It’s very deep and artistic at times even if on the surface it seems like every day stuff.
TWD: The good ones are doing way more than just cracking jokes.
C: It makes you think about how ridiculous things are.
TWD: I love Louie. He has a really interesting worldview. He is not afraid to acknowledge how much shit there is, but he still seems to have a belief in the decency of humankind. And it doesn’t come across as too trite or forced because you know how much he sees the crap. If he says something is good or decent, it feels more earned.
C: He’s the comic’s comic. Everybody wants to be like him but nobody can really pinpoint exactly why.
TWD: And he’s using his power for good, so to speak.
C: I think he gets a lot from Bill Hicks. I got turned onto him a few years ago. He got me into comedy, really appreciating it. The dark side. Bill Hicks is funny because it’s just so dark and disturbing. You laugh but it’s not a belly laugh.
TWD: There is so much great comedy happening and has happened. New York has a good scene for it. It’s a similar vibe to music in a way. People trying to make a community, express themselves and work at it. And it’s a great live experience. Do you go see comedy a lot?
C: I think the last thing I saw was David Cross at UCB two years ago. I haven’t had the funds. Music too. This summer, the only show I saw was Little Dragon at Prospect Park. Every other summer I’ve gone to a lot of shows. There’s so much going on. I got to start budgeting for cool cultural experiences again.