“At no point in time was I interested in being rockish.”
There comes a time in any successful band’s career – if they’ve been around long enough – where the members start to see things a different way. Priorities shift. Gone is the optimism of youthful triumphs and unexpected momentum. Tensions run higher and conflict runs colder. Instead of showing up together to the gig in a tour van, everyone flies in from their separate European villas.
None of this is true of Chantillion (yet) but it’s that kind of world-weary, aging-rocker aesthetic that frontman Jackson O’Connell-Barlow had in mind when shooting the art for the band’s latest three-song EP, For Those About to Rock, We Will Sue You.
In the photo, the four members – including drummer Gregg Weber, bassist Justin Pelissero and “lead synthesizer” Amos Levy – sit at the end of a conference table, surrounded by various rich guy paraphernalia and looking somber and ready to do business.
“I wanted it to look like a seasoned band who had made their money and their best songs were behind them,” O’Connell-Barlow explains. “They’re now getting more into lawyer-based revenge and they all hate each other, they’re on their second or third spouse, their waning libido is picking up in other, much creeper manifestations.”
Chantillion is only a couple years old, and its detailed, robust synth-rock is a long way from jaded gimmickry, but its members have collectively accrued decades of experience hustling in and outside of the Pittsburgh music scene. O’Connell-Barlow (Grand Buffet, Mrs. Paintbrush) and Weber (Cyrus Gold, Glow in the Dark) were long-time acquaintances, having seen each other perform with various acts for years. Weber suggested that maybe they work on some music together (“I was very interested,” O’Connell-Barlow recalls. “He’s a really sizzlin’ drummer). Pelissero (Cyrus Gold, Miracle Worker) came on as a kind of counterpart to Weber (“I guess we are the rock ‘n’ roll, noisy boys of the group,” Weber says via email). O’Connell-Barlow brought in Levy (a.k.a DJ Thermos) as, he says, “someone who was more from my world, with the hip hop and electronic and sample-based background.”
For Those About to Rock We Will Sue You opens with “ARBUSS,” a spacious, proggy, stadium epic punctuated by catchy synth runs and anchored by O’Connell-Barlow’s highly refined stream-of-conscious-ish lyrics, a style he’s polished over many years of hip-hop freestyling and conversational riffing. “OCEANIA” is a little spooky and a little sleazy, perfect for busting out some interpretive dance in your bedroom. Closing instrumental “VEXTER” makes some room for spacey cinematic soundscapes and triumphant electro-peaks.
“At no point in time was I interested in being rockish,” O’Connell-Barlow says of the band’s sound. “That was the one stipulation, there was to be no six-string guitar or lead guitar, just to avoid any type of blues scale stuff.” He mentions Simple Minds as a major influence – “I look at [Chantillion] as post-punk in its instrumentation,” he says – but he draws inspiration from all over the 1970s and early ’80s. Weber notes, “We were all, ‘Duran Duran, Gary Newman, Simple Minds, Depeche Mode, David Bowie, Killing Joke, Van Halen,’ but I’m not sure we align with any of those folks.”
It is safe to say that Chantillion is filling a space in the Pittsburgh music scene that, perhaps, no one even knew was missing. And it certainly gives its talented members a little extra room to explore. “Chantillion allows us all to do something we haven’t done before,” says Weber. “We’re still figuring our sound out, but I like where it’s going. I dig the visceral work of being in a band,” he adds. “Writing, composing and practicing new music with cool people. Recording and playing shows is cool, but the dirty work is where it’s at.”
For O’Connell-Barlow, fronting an actual band is a major shift from performing alone as Mrs. Paintbrush, or as a duo with Grand Buffet, and he still feels like he’s working out the kinks. With only a few shows under its belt, Chantillion is still figuring out how to fully hit its stride as a live experience. Since O’Connell-Barlow says that singing while working an iPad and synth trigger is the most multitasking he’s ever had to do on stage, “it’s been a lot more meat-and-potatoes with me… I haven’t turned into the prima donna frontman that I became with Grand Buffet, where … that’s my little kid mirror where I can do whatever I feel.” But don’t worry, it won’t take him long to get there. After all, he’s a professional.
“I think Jackson is a supreme front person,” Weber says. “He’s constantly on fire. At 1 a.m., after practicing full blast for three hours in a humid, sweaty warehouse, he’s doing push-ups and David Lee Roth kicks in between verses. … Vocally, he really challenges himself in this band. I’ve never heard him howl and wail, or linger into Peter Murphy territory before Chantillion, but I love that he does.”
There’s clearly a great deal of mutual admiration among the Chantillion members – O’Connell-Barlow describes Weber as Hulk-like in his playing but the GREY hulk, which still has Bruce Banner’s intelligence. Weber calls Levy (a.k.a “Slaymos”) the “brainy younger brother of the group,” and praises his longtime collaborator Pelissero for his tasty, often unexpected basslines.
O’Connell-Barlow promises that Chantillion’s best material is yet to be released, and may take the form of additional three-song singles, given shortened audience attention spans. Touring will happen somewhere down the line, he hopes, though various family obligations may limit that. “We’re kind of homebound and doing weekend warrior tours until we get that Blockbuster Video or RC Cola sponsorship,” he deadpans. Mostly he’s focused on trying to make a really good music video, something that can be used as a calling card for future national promotion (and if there are any great videographers out there reading this, he says, hit him up. Chantillion doesn’t let anyone work for free.)
As far as future goals, Weber says, “I think I can speak for all four horsemen when I say that the focus is always to write killer music and have fun.
“Hold on to your younger, seething self. I’ve been playing in bands for almost 30 years and that’s one of the only motives that’s really stuck with me,” he adds. “Big middle finger (with the thumb stiffly out) to playing golf, keeping up with TV shows, and sports statistics.”
Listen to Chantillion at chantillion.bandcamp.com
Margaret Welsh is the Pittsburgh Current Music Editor. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org