The death knell for many local bands, at least those with aspirations beyond their hometown, is their inability to escape their own backyard. Rare is the group that can build and sustain a substantial following without hitting the road, logging the miles, and earning the approval and admiration of faceless strangers night after night. As much as the internet has shrunk the world and made even the most trivial recordings available to millions at the click of a button, “success” remains largely relative to a band’s willingness to seek out and snatch it.
When Brett Reagan (guitars/electronics), Sarah “Snare-uh” Wilson (drums/percussion), and Brandon T. Pittman (bass) came together to form CHEW in 2015, they did it with the explicit intent of creating a band that would make its bones on the road (“It was literally almost why we started,” Wilson confesses). Since then, the instrumental trio have spent the better part of the last two years touring across the United States, developing a shared chemistry, and constructing a style of experimental rock, funk, and prog that is as agile as it is mercurial.
Along the way, they’ve released a handful of singles and a debut EP, with each subsequent recording growing bolder and more adventurous. Although their talents as individual players are certainly nothing to gloss over, the group credits much of their evolution to their relentless tour schedule and the personal bonds they’ve formed after spending countless hours traveling in cramped quarters. “We know each other’s quirks at this point,” Wilson explains. “You get a lot tighter when you play your songs every night for a long period of time. You form a gel with your bandmates that can only happen from playing a lot with each other. We improv a good bit as well; we really get a feel for each other’s styles that way.”
“I feel that our travels and wide array of musical tastes keep the writing process interesting,” Pittman adds. “It helps that we don’t try to stick to a singular genre; we tend to write very naturally and since we all three come from different musical backgrounds, each song always tends to have its own personal spin or nuance from all of us.”
With their latest release, A Fine Accoutrement, out today via UK label Stolen Body Records, CHEW have reached yet another critical crossroad in their developmental arc. Recorded by Jared Pepper at Broad Street Visitors Center, the six-song EP is the group’s most elaborate and nuanced record yet, employing a wide array of layers and instruments to create soundscapes that are lush, vibrant, and unremittingly kinetic. Joining them on this bustling, protean journey are Jamey McDaniel (synthesizers) and Angelo Outlaw (vibraphone), each of whom plays a significant role in furthering CHEW’s ascent into a more expansive orbit.
And yet, below all that rhythmic combustion and sonic uplift runs an undercurrent of darkness and unease—machine-like whirrs of twisted noise, mangled blasts of sinister feedback—that will occasionally poke through the trio’s otherwise sleek, elastic grooves. While the group’s music remains rooted in exploratory psychedelia, there is no doubt a more ominous energy about A Fine Accoutrement, although Reagan insists the darker tone has nothing to do with anyone confronting their personal demons on the record. “The band naturally progressed into darker territory,” he says. “We all have an extremely dark sense of humor and interest in off-color film and art that seemed to illuminate this release. The only demons we wrestled with were on tour with a Ouija board.”
That’s not to say that there aren’t moments of fuzzed-out bliss and candy-coated electricity on the new EP. Lead single “Crunchy,” with its deep, ecstatic groove, certainly emits a strong and warm hallucinatory vibe, and the accompanying video, which we’re excited to premiere today, taps into that sense of the absurd with visuals from Colin Mulligan that land somewhere between a surreal head trip and a late-night psychic infomercial. It’s a virtual sea of unceasing motion, one wave of pulsing geometric patterns or semi-expository text leapfrogging into the next, that somehow manages to encapsulate CHEW’s amorphous appeal.
For all their commitment and hard work, it’s perhaps their whirlwind of persistent mutation, their willingness to seek out their goals, to abandon structure and formula, that connects most with fans, who never really know what to expect from the group. The aura of the unknown can be powerfully liberating, and Pittman acknowledges that the drive to be daring and unique is one of the trio’s chief motivators as artists and musicians: “Musically, we want to make every release a different, distinct mood and to explore our freedom as an instrumental band to its fullest.”
With the EP now out in the world, CHEW are once again ready to venture out and explore it themselves. Next week the trio will embark on their first European tour with dates scheduled in the UK, France, and Italy. It’s a significant leap for the band, one that will further expand their horizons and open the door to new possibilities, but like everything else they’ve accomplished, they’re taking it all in stride.
“The accents!” Wilson exclaims when I ask what the group is most excited about their upcoming trek. It’s a joke, of course. “But for real,” she continues, “we all have never been to Europe before so I’m excited to experience this with my band and to take this beast overseas.”