On Keeping Your Chin Up Chin Up:
Notes on the Status of Chicago’s Chin Up Chin Up
By Brandon Forbes

PLAYING : "Virginia, Don't Drown"

Chicago’s Chin Up Chin Up could not be more appropriately named. Formed in 2001, the band has weathered its share of tragedy and triumph with a continual forward thinking outlook well evidenced in their layered, playful compositions. The tragic death in 2004 of original bassist Chris Saathoff put the band’s plans on hold right before the release of their critically-acclaimed We Should Have Never Lived Like We Were Skyscrapers. In due time, the band regrouped and, with new bassist Jesse Woghin from Narrator, toured and played their way to This Harness Can’t Ride Anything, a brand new record out October 12th from new label Suicide Squeeze.

Produced by Brian Deck, the new record finds Chin Up Chin Up at the top of their rich, multi-layered melodic game. Jeremy Bolen’s vocal delivery and lyrical musings have lost a bit of the cryptic character of Skyscrapers, and lead single “This Harness Can’t Ride Anything” finds a speed-up disco beat emphasizing Bolen’s somber realization that “We are one night stands that can’t walk away.” Yet through the introspection and gray outlook, the music rises and falls in grand Chin Up fashion - throbbing percussion, chiming guitars, and rolling synths guide most of the album. This straight ahead dance rock is at it's finest in "I Need A Friend with a Boat" and “Blankets Like Beavers” where big keys and driving bass develop into the signature Chin Up Chin Up sound. Above all, the record shows the band perfecting their trademark post-choruses, the genius of which was evident in nascent form in their self-titled EP’s “Fuck You, Elton John” with its invigorating outro of “I sold you down the river/You sold me to the sea.” Almost every track builds to its best moment in its final minute, with crescendoing keys, danceable drums, and a memorable vocal hook usually thrown in to boot. Even softer number “Stolen Mountains” gains in its last minute with layer upon layer of marimba and bell notes echoing across the melodic landscape

Upon a rather hot afternoon on the first day of this year’s Pitchfork Media Music Festival I caught up with the band over complimentary bottles of water and uncomfortable rented yard furniture with the muted, tribal sounds of Man Man in the background.

How did you guys get into the lineup at Pitchfork?

Basically they asked us to play and, of course, we were really excited. We were invited to some other festivals, but we decided to do this instead. This is actually our first big outdoor festival.

How did you like the set-up on stage?

It was great, though it would have been nice to have had a little bit longer of a sound check, or maybe just have a sound check. (Laughs) Everyone’s been really friendly and we’ve been treated really well.

Who are you excited about seeing at this year’s festival?

Silver Jews, Os Mutantes, Ted Leo, really just about everyone. It’s rare for me to go to a festival where I can say that I want to see everyone, but this is definitely one of them.

How many new songs did you play today?

Three. We played “This Harness Can’t Ride Anything”, “Trophies for Hire”, and then we played “Friend with a Boat”.

Is “This Harness Can’t Ride Anything” considered the first single off the record?

At this point, yeah. It’s been out there circulating, so I guess so.

Tell me a little bit about recording the new record. After two releases on local Chicago label Flameshovel you moved to Suicide Squeeze. Why the move?

Flameshovel was great. We’re still friends with them and they’re putting out the vinyl for the new record. I guess we just wanted to go to a more established label with better distribution, someone who’s been at it for a little longer. We’re super-psyched with them and we were super-psyched with Flamshovel, so we’ve been really lucky so far to have good label experiences.

What was it like working with Brian Deck (Modest Mouse) at Engine Studios?

It was very organized. He’s honed down every part of the recording experience. He knows how to keep it moving and keep it fun. It was a very fun, productive experience.

Did you have all the songs down when you went into the studio or did you write a few while you were recording?

We did have them finished for the most part. We did rework some things, mostly at Brian’s insistence. We were pleased with the changes he made.

The Suicide Squeeze site notes that the new record focuses on “breasts, beavers, and Minnesota.” Care to comment on that plug?

I think it kind of speaks for itself. I mean, what more could you want? (Laughs) Actually, those are lyrics from just one song, but it does speak for the album.

You’ve often been compared to new labelmates Minus the Bear, which I would say is a fair comparison. Both of you seem to craft melodic, layered pop with quirky themes. How do you set about writing songs? Is there a primary songwriter or is it a group effort?

Primarily we all write stuff together and then some of us will go off and arrange it. Mostly we just sit around together and come up with parts and slowly carve that into a song. We have a pretty nice practice space to do that in.

Again like Minus the Bear, you guys have some incredibly great song titles like “Why is My Sleeping Bag a Ghetto Muppet?” for instance. Do the song titles relate to the lyrical content or do they represent the feeling of the song more?

No, they relate to the content, pretty much always. I know it may be a hard thing to realize that, but it’s true.

What other local Chicago acts to you like playing with?

The Ponys, Russian Circles, Hot Machines, who played before us today at Pitchfork, were great too. Mindbender and Make Believe also.

Any upcoming tour plans?

We’re playing a bunch of dates with Oxford Collapse and a few Western dates with Cursive and The Thermals this Fall.



All opinions expressed by Brandon Forbes are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of Stay Thirsty Media, Inc.

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