UPDATE SINCE PRESS: This show has been updated to feature Slam Piece (not Helichopter) with CHEW at Satellite on Feb. 10.
Whether full-time instrumentalists or singer-songwriters who have taken a temporary hiatus from lyrical storytelling, musicians who solely focus on instrumentals in their work seemingly intrigue. Upon interviewing many, encore often hears: “We can’t sing” as their reasoning, or even, “Lyric writing just isn’t my thing.” For Atlanta-based psychedelic trio CHEW, it’s simply about surrendering to the passion for soundscapes.
“We like being instrumental because you get lost in the music,” CHEW drummer Sarah “Snare-uh” Wilson affirms. “You can put people in somewhat of a trance. The meaning and the emotions of the songs are all up for interpretation.”
That’s not to say Wilson, Brett Reagan (guitar/electronics) and Brandon Pittman (bass) aren’t open to work with vocalists. In fact, they have in the past, but at their core they’re instrumental.
“The right combination of lyrics and music is undoubtedly one of the most moving experiences when done in the right way,” Reagan muses. “[But] words can be polarizing, and singing oftentimes takes you away from the music, as opposed to contributing to the song. Also, a certain amount of ego is required to be a good lead singer—and that component is dissolved in CHEW.”
Since forming in June 2015, CHEW continues to cultivate hypnotic, electronic, space-wave sound experiences for live audiences. They’re coming back to Wilmington on Saturday, Feb. 10, to perform with Slam Piece at Satellite Bar and Lounge. They’ll have a collection of new tunes in tow.
CHEW’s sophomore EP, “A Fine Accoutrement” (November 2017), was recorded with Stolen Body Records in the U.K. for a couple of reasons. Reagan wanted to connect with a label overseas in places they wanted to tour, but Stolen Body also aligned most with their vision. “A Fine Accoutrement” reflects a slight tonal shift since their 2016 “3D EP” debut.
“Maybe there is a more concise concept to [‘A Fine Accoutrement,’]” Wilson suggests. “Our songwriting has matured, and in some ways has grown more complex. ‘3D EP’ is very upbeat, with six solid songs to show what we can do, whereas ‘Accoutrement’ is a little moody, a little darker, with some spacey transitions. It seems more like a movement.”
While there is a “playfully sinister” tone with “A Fine Accoutrement”—with more percussion, bells and tablas than before—Pittman assures it’s not out of any personal frustrations on the band’s part. Like any collection of CHEW songs, they naturally reach their own tones and personalities as they add interludes and transitions.
The band’s collaboration and songwriting process typically goes one of two ways.
“Jam, lock into something good and a song gets written that way,” Wilson starts.
“We then take that idea and flesh it out between the three of us, while structuring it and adding more parts until we are satisfied with the end result,” Pittman adds.
“Or Brett brings some kind of melody to the table, either on the sampler or on guitar, and Brandon and I write our parts to it by jamming and finding something that sticks,” Wilson continues.
“It’s a very organic process,” Pittman says.
The word “accoutrement” became stuck in the trio’s collective psyche when they played 2016’s Bonnaroo in Tennessee. Like the title track, some songs almost materialize and write themselves, and it set the tone for the album. Despite being all instrumental, there are still stories behind and within this collection of songs—typically about food, dimensions, cults and travels.
“We like playing with esoteric concepts,” Reagan says, referring to “Numerology”—originally penned for “3D EP” but never made it. “Numbers can often contain hidden meanings, and if you look, you can find some in our song titles, patterns and imagery.”
“Mystery School” and “Crunchy” bookend the album, as they happened to develop and evolve with similar sounds. As well, they both lack any guitar parts and add a bit of symmetry to the order.
The common assumption of an instrumental band is the work must lend itself to a great deal of improvisation for live shows. While this might be true to a degree with the origin of “Deep Inside The Fade”—featuring somewhat improvised sounds by friend Jared Pepper picked up while tracking—Wilson says CHEW songs don’t typically feature improvisation.
“We only improv when we play long sets,” she clarifies, “otherwise we play it as written. The only song we typically improv on is ‘Mother Hubbard,’ once I start doing my drum solo, and then we freak out on a jam.”
While touring with “A Fine Accoutrement,” CHEW now have new songs (“Future Prom” and “Huevos Satanica”) with even more added dynamics and elements from Wilson’s drum set. “We also have one brand new song that we will be premiering this month,” she divulges, “and about three more in the works. Our next album will be even moodier, darker and electronic, and we already have a name for it: ‘Darque Tan.’”
“A Fine Accoutrement” is their first album released on vinyl, so CHEW especially wanted it to visually reflect the new textures, colors and imagery appearing in the music. Listeners can choose one of two color schemes: “Blue Moon” or Wilson’s favorite, “Mellow Yellow and Pink Cadillac.”
“It’s good to have variety,” she says. “[And] it looks so cool! . . . We are definitely selling this album very quickly, and I’m so happy and proud of us on what we have done thus far in three years. Let’s party, Wilmington—it’s been too long!”