In a world where so many bands are half-baked rehashes of guitar music from 20 years ago, Minneapolis band Chalk are a reminder that punk music can be lighthearted and inventive.
Their latest album, Water, is a whip-smart punk LP that's been filtered through an endless, kaleidoscopically hued, fog-filled chasm. Bouncy basslines, dreamy synths, and crunchy guitars pool together to form a record that echoes Pavement and, at times, Weezer.
City Pages caught up with the band before their album-release party on Saturday at the Kitty Cat Klub in Minneapolis. The members of Chalk told us how copious amounts of caffeine led to writing their new single, and how to beat demons on the hellish hoops court of the soul.
City Pages: How did you meet and begin performing together as Chalk?
Michael Voller: Forrest [Fritz-Storhaug] and I met on the playground of Marcy Open School in Minneapolis. We would hang out at his parent's house where his dad has a bunch of music equipment in the basement, and we would spend our weekends jamming out and playing Playstation 2.
Back then our band was called Silver Pennies, and we did our thing until about midway through high school. Flash forward a few years to when I am in college starting up a new project with my friend Jake Schemm on bass, and we need a drummer. Forrest was the first person I reached out to and it clicked right away. We started playing a bunch of shows around town under the name Chalk and eventually Anthony came into the fold on lead guitar. This was the lineup that recorded our first album Haunted House.
This is also the lineup that recorded our new album Water except we had additional help from our friends Taylor Harrison (of Half Tramp) and Sean Levine (of Ghostmouth). There have been a few member changes since then and now our lineup includes me, Forrest, Anthony [Casey], Hayley [Swan Johnson], and Sam [Frederick].
CP: You all have such eclectic backgrounds in music. How do you think you were able to condense it all into this project? How do your other projects contribute into what you do here?
MV: I think what keeps everything condensed into this project largely has to do with the way the songs are formulated. Usually I will have a handful of chord progressions/riffs and melodies that form the different parts of a song and we jam on these parts for a while until the song starts to take shape. Occasionally I will have something specific in mind for the other instruments to play, but for the most part everyone comes up with their own thing.
Eventually all of these pieces naturally coalesce into a complete “song” that we have written together. I think it's due to this open-ended nature of the songwriting process that the individual members are allowed to totally be themselves. So however their other projects inform what they would naturally do, is how they inform what they do in Chalk.
CP: In what ways has your sound changed since your first album Haunted House?
MV: The process of writing the songs for Water was very similar to the process for writing the previous album, but we had all grown as musicians and we had spent more time playing together so we all further developed an inherent understanding of what Chalk sounds like.
On top of this, we spent a significant amount of time in the studio with our good friend Tony Schurbon, doing extensive overdubbing and meticulously sculpting the songs to sound just how we wanted them to. Eventually it became apparent that we would need to expand our lineup if we wanted the live version of our songs to achieve the same impact that their studio counterparts had and so we brought Hayley in on keyboard. In this way, our studio recordings enhanced our live performances.
Overall, with Water, I think our sound has expanded outward in every direction we pursued on Haunted House.
CP: Tell me about the song "Future Sport."
MV: “Future Sport” is one of the more lyrically driven songs on the album. With that song the music and structure were somewhat firmly in place before any of the words were written. One day I was very sick and very tired and highly caffeinated, sitting in a computational heat transfer class at school when a fugue-like state overcame me.
I have a hazy recollection of humming melodies to myself and furiously scrawling words into my notebook, but mostly I remember dragging my body to class, being very surprised at how fast time had gone by, and then looking at my notes and realizing that I had just finished writing a song.
I took it to the rest of the band and we put it all together the next day. It sort of just fell out of my head but I think the song is about pursuing your passions and how, sometimes, that can make you feel like you are playing a game for your soul against all of your worst psychic demons on some kind of hellish basketball court.
CP: Any other songs you're particularly proud of on this album?
Forrest Fritz-Storhaug: I am extra proud of our single, “Future Sport,” as well as “Garbage,” “Wave Bye-Bye to the Bureaucrat,” and “Dormitories & Hospitals,” which is our longest song on the album and really takes me on an adventure when I listen to it and play it. I think people will dig that tune a lot.
MV: I am particularly proud of the album as a whole. While some of the specifics might be obscured, I think the whole thing comes together into a cohesive narrative, with similar themes, textures, and moods expressed throughout the songs. I like the idea of someone listening to the complete album in multiple sittings. Sort of like a book.
CP: What are you excited to share at the album release show?
MV: Lots of things! I am excited to share these songs live amongst my best friends at my favorite venue. I am excited to share the evening with the truly talented artists we have on the bill. I am excited to share the bad-ass T-shirts that our good friend Brooklynd Turner designed, who also did the album artwork, and who happens to be my favorite visual artist in the city.
With: Wetter, Good Doom, Devata Daun (DJ set), Infinity Suite (live visuals)
Where: Kitty Cat Klub
When: 9 p.m. Sat., Oct. 22
Tickets: $5; more info here