Q&A: The Chairman Dances eat ice cream and talk music
Imagine it’s the middle of winter, and you’re sitting in your favorite coffee shop. You’re sipping on a cup of some exotic, Colombian-roasted, fair trade coffee while reading a book discussing German union legislation. You slowly notice that the coffee shop is playing some delightful music that truly fits the mood. What is this wonderful soundtrack you ask? It’s The Chairman Dances.
Why are they the perfect backdrop to your peaceful afternoon? Honestly, I’m not completely sure. The Chairman Dances describe themselves as “bookish, indie rock,” and I have no idea how to go about explaining this genre. However, when I listen to any of their six albums, I know exactly what bookish indie rock should sound like.
The Philly-based band’s current lineup features five, physically-present members, and an additional two, spiritually-and-occasionally-physically-present members. Eric Krewson, Dan Finn, and Dan Comly, are the three longest-tenured members with Krewson being the only founding member remaining. Kevin Walker joined later on and Will Schwartz has been a part of the project for just about a year now.
I sat down with The Chairman Dances at Little Baby's in Philadelphia to discuss their past, present, and future.
What’s the timeline of the band?
Krewson: I always say it started out — it’s interesting cuz the bands I played in before this were kinda louder things. But the first [Chairman Dance’s] album sounds sorta singer-songwriterish. I remember Ben Rosen, who’s been part of this band for a long time, he always called it the “singer-songwriter record.” But it sorta became louder as time went on. I think it become more guitar orientated as time went on. Then when Dan Comly and Dan Finn joined it moved into a more multifaceted direction. There’s more guitars, sometimes more piano driven, more keyboards. And the way Kevin drums, like jazz influenced, has influenced our sound a lot. Will’s bass lines are melodic so I think it’s evolved basically to sound like the five of us now which is really cool.
Finn: The lineup has changed several times so that will change the sound. Even when we play older songs they sound a lot different with the current lineup than they sounded in their original lineup.
I need to know, what is bookish indie rock?
Krewson: I think someone called us that and I put it as our genre on [our social media accounts]. I like books and I feel like we’re all smart, thoughtful people making indie rock.
Who are the members? What’s the dynamic?
Krewson: Besides the five of us there’s two more. [Ashley Hartman], who has been involved on every record, actually lives in Spain.
Finn: She’s the female singer.
Krewson: She’s sorta like a satellite member, Luke Pigott too. So we have sort of active satellite members in Chattanooga, TN and Valencia, Spain.
Finn: The biggest change was when the lead guitar player left and moved to Tennessee. That was between the last album and the new album.
Schwartz: I never even knew we had a lead guitar player.
Finn: Now there’s two keyboards and one guitar. That’s probably changed the sound pretty significantly.
Schwartz: Everybody plays a melody in this band. We all have a moment where we’re contributing. I have a couple solos but they’re kinda part of the song as a whole.
Your albums all have specific and dedicated themes to them, how do you come up with and develop these themes?
Krewson: I used a journal for a while and would see where my interests were taking me. I really love fiction and autobiographies and I like the blending of genres. They’re all very personal and reflect my life in some ways. But I just love stories and a narrative in general.
What’s the theme of the new album?
Krewson: There’s sort of not an overarching theme this time. There are some basic ones, but there’s not an overarching story this time. I like being able to write and scrabble a lot. I like being able to throw away most of what I write. I think that when you do that it’s sort of self-editing in a nice way so that I only bring what’s good to the guys. We’re gonna spend a lot of time on [an album] and I don’t want us to waste any of it. The band is gonna make a really good arrangement no matter what I bring. But it will be better if every song I bring is good to start.
Is it hard to craft the songs to get the right vibe to go along with the themes?
Krewson: We arrange the songs as a band. It’s very interesting, oftentimes the guys aren’t necessarily conscious of what I’m saying, but hopefully if I’ve written the underlying song well it will convey a bit of [vibe] regardless. Thankfully, the song can be multivalent and have different meanings and the music can go against the lyrics in some ways and that can work very well. I think it’s about just keeping our ears open to everything and it actually works out intuitively very well. Lots of time spent crafting the arrangements, that’s what takes the longest time but it’s also the most rewarding.
Bands are a business, how do you market yourselves?
Krewson: In my experience, it’s sort of like the Wild West. Everything changes every six months. So right now I’m sending the new album to people. But the same people I normally send things to all have new jobs now, sometimes in different cities. It’s still effective, I’m able to reach these people. But they're all doing different things and everything is different. So it’s a matter of finding the DJs that are there now or the raters that are rating. PopMatters featured our video and that’s been a big boom for us and that’s great. So people have been taking notice which is wonderful. It’s just a matter of finding those people, which we’re doing.
Finn: We’re also completely independent. Everything we do is done by ourselves. The album is on a label but all the publicity is done by us. Some people find us and write stuff about us. It’s a very natural process.
Krewson: It doesn’t feel forced, because it’s not.
Who are some of your influences?
Schwartz: I mostly listen to bass players so I sometimes listen to music that’s kinda corny or weird. But I only started listening to lyrics in the past couple years. It’s really cool to listen closely to what people are saying. I feel like it translates into my life. I also listen to a lot of rock and roll, a lot of punk, but I still try to listen to as much as I can.
Walker: *Lists off his recent Spotify activity at a volume too low for my audio recorder*
Krewson: This is always difficult to me. I’ll say the the last couple records I’ve listened to cuz that’s easier. Caught in the Trees by Damien, I just got Salad Days which reminded me of The Kinks. There’s a melody in “Salad Days” which is from “Picturebook.” When I was writing this album I really liked listening to David Bowie’s Low. Even when discussing the sonic properties of the record.
Comly: I’m influenced by stuff like Billy Preston and the Beatles and I love Jimmy Stewart on the organ. I listen to everything but I always come back to those. Dark Side of the Moon is always in there for me too.
Which influences are the most prominent in your music?
Krewson: Kinda whatever I’m listening to right then and whatever we’re playing. We all have guitars and keyboards and so like even if we listen to nothing but alt-country, it would still kinda sound like a rock band cuz those are the instruments we’re playing and kind of the idiom. So I think a lot of it is the practicality of the instrument in front of me and what I know about that instrument, and then how your influences go through you in that way.
The Chairman Dances latest album A Child of My Sorrow was released on Sep. 7.