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Chalaque interview with Nick Mitchell

Live, loud, raucous, raw and yet inexplicably driving and intriguing Chalaque is charting new territory in the psychedelic space scene.  Distorted, gnarled and fuzzy guitar exploding over tight driving drum rhythms drop the listener into fifteen and twenty minute long explorations of the psychedelic sound-space; a territory oft ignored and even more so underrated.  The stream of consciousness collected in whatever ways possible by Chalaque often prove that while there are certain merits to heading into a studio and planning every section of an arrangement, a warts-and-all live approach is truly the test of an ingenious band.  Nick Mitchell the mad genius behind Chalaque has only been releasing twisted tunes since last year and has already managed to chalk up an impressive six releases, spanning cassettes, 7” singles and a recent 12”, in that short span.  I have a soft-spot for such impressive musicians and Chalaque easily claim their place among the likes of Earthless, Black Bombaim, Shooting Guns, Samsara Blues Experiment, Electric Magma and KRANG as one of the most interesting and engaging instrumental, improvisational bands out there.  I recently had a chance to talk shop with Nick about Chalaque as well as his absolutely awesome record label Golden Lab Records.  From limited cassettes and albums to unreleased material, the history of the band and where Chalaque is headed from here Nick made sure to get everyone the answers they want, so take a seat, kick back, put on some tunes and enjoy a good old Chalaque-ing!
Listen while you read:

I know that Chalaque was a solo project for you when it started but that you have since recruited at least one other member to play drums with you.  Who else joins you when you are recording music?

It’s still theoretically a “solo” thing.  Although I pretty regularly play with Pascal Nichols who’s also in Part Wild Horses Mane on Both Sides and there’s a list of go-to bass players we’ve jammed with; Dylan Hughes and Kate Armitage locally here in Manchester, and Eric Hardiman out of Albany, New York when he was living in the UK briefly.  I’d like to jam with Eric again, he has a good understanding of the maxist concept that the Chalaque idea is based on.

How do you handle performing live?  Does anyone else help you out?  If so do you mind sharing who they are?

Well, I’m headed out on tour tomorrow and it’s gonna be me, Pascal and Kate in the UK and then just me and Kate in the rest of Europe.  Then there’s a little Korg Monotribe, and that’s like another relentlessly yammering member of the group.  There’s a vague plan to go to the U.S. again in April next year with Phil Donnelly from Burnt Hills playing drums and then there are three bass players to be confirmed who might be involved too.  Essentially, I don’t really want it to move beyond the basic power trio at any point.

Are any of you in any other bands at this point?  The more I talk to people the more I realize it’s common place for people to be in several very active bands simultaneously these days.  Have you released any music with anyone else?  If so can you tell us about it?

The only other active project I’m in right now is Desmadrados Soldados De Ventura with about seven other local friends, some of the very best people I know.  That was a project born out of hanging out in Albany, New York watching Burnt Hills do their thing; very wild group.  We emulate them in spirit but it’s a distinct identity.  We don’t sound anything alike.  Joincey came up with the name, means “motherless soldiers of fortune” in what I think might be bad Spanish.  I don’t know how tongue-in-cheek it is.  Hard to tell with Joincey, he likes a lot of stuff I can’t get my head around, ha-ha!

Was your home very musical growing up?  Were your parents or any of your relatives musicians or extremely involved or interested in the music scene?

My parents weren’t musical at all in terms of playing when I was living there.  My mum listened to Motown, The Rolling Stones and The Platters records, anything that “sent” her, which is her big thing.  Being “sent” by the music, as she calls it.  My dad listened to fairly anodyne country records, like Don Williams and Charlie Pride.  But then I had a cousin who was five years older than me who got me into punk and Oi! records when I was like six years old.  We would save up our pocket money and our nan would take us to the Wool Exchange in Bradford and we’d by 7”s by Cockney Rejects, Angelic Upstarts, 4 Skins and then earlier “skinhead” music, which was basically Trojan label ska and rocksteady.  My mum read some article in the Sunday People when I was around thirteen about neo-Nazi skins and at that point she coerced me into selling all my records at a record fair at Bradford St George’s Hall, worried that I might be listening to the “wrong” kind of music.  It was totally overzealous because it was all pretty much leftist music, if political at all.  Anyway, I think I got about £50 for around two hundred records.  I got ripped off.  After that, I didn’t really know what to be into.  I missed out on hardcore at the time because it followed on from punk, so I started listening to metal.  That was like two years.  I listened to all of it, all the hair metal crap included.  Then Nirvana played at Bradford University and that pretty much changed everything.  I went in wearing a Skid Row t-shirt and came out wearing a Nirvana t-shirt, and that felt like a very symbolic thing.  After that I started digging into the American independent scene and Royal Trux had a massive impact.  Neil Hagerty’s guitar playing and the fucked production values of the first few records mainly.  Then it was everything I could afford on my late teenage part-time job money from the Fisheye catalogue.  Like Shadow Ring, Inca Eyeball, Good Horsey, Dead C, The Clean, Low, Alastair Galbraith.  I started listening to older stuff, classic rock and psychedelic rock and what have you, later on.  Santana was a revelation at about age twenty-four.  I don’t really know how that particular “journey” began.

When did you decide that you wanted to start writing and performing your own music?  What brought that about?

Since I was a little kid.  We used to dance with tennis rackets in the mirror to “Sunday Stripper”.  I got a red, no-brand Strat for my thirteenth birthday and had about a year of lessons with this chopsy shredder guy called Graham who was a local session dude in Bradford.  I started being in bands soon after.  Indie music as it was known at the time.  I tried out for a band called Windy Miller, ha-ha-ha, but they didn’t want me ‘cause I wanted to play blues scale solos and they thought I sounded like one of their dads.  And then we started Summum Bonum when I was seventeen and made a couple of records that I felt really embarrassed about throughout my twenties, but when I hit my thirties I realized I didn’t give a shit anymore.  It was just a cheesy rite of passage and I was pretty much a child.  My mind wasn’t developed at all.  I was still a hero worshipper and an overcompensating loudmouth.  It’s okay to make crap music when you’re a kid, so long as you don’t get famous doing it, because then you remain under the impression that it’s good.

Where is the band currently located at?


How would you describe the local music scene where you are at now?

A very cool town in terms of the people making music right now, but very cynical in terms of the way people appreciate music.  Very money and style driven city where people would rather go to a DJ night than a show, but I still love the place.  Like I said, there’s a sweet music making scene, people/bands like Tom Settle, Jon Collin, Part Wild Horses Mane on Both Sides, Irma Vep, Dave Birchall…  There’s a show practically every night, but that can have a negative effect in that people can’t be bothered to go out to them all and so smaller, weirdo shows don’t really do so well here.  I know a lot of traveling bands feel a bit let down with the place, but then that’s offset by the really amazing shows that happen.  Mad Nanna were here the other week and that was bloody magical.

© Mike Griffin

Are you very involved in the local music scene?

Yeah, pretty heavily now for around eight years.  Promoting shows mostly.  Some people still think of me as a promoter but that’s something I was never interested in.  I only started doing it because people asked me to and I never enjoy that element of it.  I just think, if no one else is gonna do it, I’ll do it because I want it to happen.  I give all the money to the bands.  I don’t treat it like “work”.  But it’s still an easy way to lose sight of who you are in relation to music, so I’m trying to do less and less these days.

Has the local scene played a large role in the sound, history or evolution of Chalaque?

Oh not at all.  I really love Jon Collin’s guitar playing but there’s a subtlety of touch that I’ve never dreamed of shooting for there.  The heavy shred concept comes from listening to Neil Hagerty, Santana, John McLaughlin, Eddie Hazel and Takashi Mizutani.  I mean, I’m no good at it.  I just spent twenty years learning the scales and going nuts.

What led to the formation of Chalaque and when was that?

I was in a band called Beach Fuzz with Tom Settle and Fliss Horrocks, earlier with Barry Dean too, and we went to the U.S. and met some cool people.  After the dissolution of that band, I wanted to go back and tour solo and I needed a name.  Obama had just been to the UK and Scotland Yard had given him the codename Chalaque, which was possibly done as a kind of subtle insult, because its Punjabi meaning is ‘smart aleck’ or a person of cunning.  It could be taken either way.  I later found out it’s also an early Dutch-American settler spelling of Cherokee.  It’s got nothing to do with the band Shellac or any desire to deride them ironically, although people keep asking.

While we’re talking about Chalaque’s history I’m curious to ask who some of your major musical influences are?

Neil Hagerty, Sonny Sharrock, Jerry Garcia, Santana, Alice Coltrane, Kim Gordon, Jackson Wingate, John McLaughlin, Noah Howard, Supreme Dicks, Dead C, Skullflower, Mick Flower, Eric Hardiman, Bill Orcutt, Yoko Ono, J Mascis, Gram Parsons, Sun City Girls.  I could go on…

There’s a lot I love about music but describing it to other people is not one of them.  How would you describe Chalaque’s sound in your own words to our readers that might not have heard you yet?

It’s a heavy psychedelic power unit stretching the shred to the Nth degree of limited capability.

Can we talk a little bit about Chalaque’s songwriting process?  Is there a lot of jamming and exchange of ideas in the practice space amongst you all or does someone approach the rest of the band with a mostly finished riff or idea to work out and compose with the rest of you?

Oh, there are no songs.  Just plug in and go, I mean so far.  I’m currently making a ‘songs’ album, which is taking forever because I’m so out of practice, but everything out there so far is purely improvised.

Do you all enjoy recording?  I know that the end result, holding that album in your hands, it’s amazing and there’s not a lot in the world that beats it but recording that material can be a little stressful to say the least.  How is it in the studio for you all?

So far we haven’t used a studio.  Everything released has been recorded at shows, which is kind of the way I like it because it captures a kind of energy you just don’t get when you’re standing in a booth with a pair of headphones on.  Everything has this bootleg quality too, which I’m pretty into; rough and ready.  I guess that brings some kind of punkism back into the equation.

I know that Chalaque had a track features on the 2012 Infinite Circles Records compilation Form Destroyer teaser.  What track did you contribute to that release?  Is that track exclusive the Form Destroyer?  Can you tell us a little about the recording of that track?  When and where was it recorded?  Who recorded it?  What kind of equipment was used?

Oh wow, I barely remember that at all.  I think that was my friend Laetitia from Paris’ project and I have no idea what was submitted, solo guitar probably.  Those early recordings weren’t up to much, I don’t think.

You also had the Well Hey cassette tape in 2012 on Golden Lab Records which was two side-long versions of the title track.  Was that release limited?  If so how many copies was it limited to?  When was that material recorded?  Who recorded it and what kind of equipment was used?

I made a tiny stash for the first solo U.S. tour, maybe twenty copies, and sold and gave them away there.  Yeah, I had “Dancing In Your Head” by Ornette Coleman in mind with the two versions.  On one, the guitar is in tune with the backing and on the other, it’s way out of tune.  I just did it at home to a hand held Zoom H4 recorder.  I think that was the first recording where I was really starting to loosen up and let my inhibitions go.  Before that, I was a little scared of being not very good.  At this point, I was starting not to care so much and that has developed more recently.

2013 has been extremely busy year for you!  You had the uber-limited Engram Overmind tape on Golden Lab limited to only eighteen copies in the entire world.  As it’s such a limited release I wasn’t able to find very much information about it.  What exactly is on Engram Overmind?  Why such a limited release?

I don’t even know.  I was trying to find my feet in a solo context I guess, and I had some recordings.  There’s a cool contact mic’d mandolin jam on there that I’d be keen to get out there in some other format at some point.  Otherwise, it was just a series of dirgy jams with a guitar through a ring modulator as far as I remember.  But yeah, 2013 has been a good year.  I think there’s been some kind of rapid vibe progression this year where I’m happy with my own playing for the first time in my life.

Was the recording of Engram Overmind very different than the sessions for your earlier cassette tape releases?  Where and when was it recorded?  Who recorded it?  What kind of equipment was used?

Again, just on a handheld Zoom H4 in the spare room at home.

Golden Lab Records also put out your “Helderberg Howl” b/w “FTW” 7” single this year.  Limited to 300 copies this is a seriously sweet 7”!  If I understand correctly the tracks were recorded live at a gig in New York sometime last year?  When and how were these songs recorded?  Who recorded it?  Are they edits from a complete show or are there just fragments?  Do you record a lot of your live performances?

It was recorded by Ray Hare from Burnt Hills and Century Plants.  It’s two edits from a show I played with Zaimph, Yek Koo and Jon Collin.  They’re pretty much complete pieces.  I played around five improvised pieces at this show and these were the best two.  I try to record all the live shows just in case they’re worth using for a release.  Sometimes you’ll hit a vibe you’d be unable to replicate if you were to play it again.

As I’m writing this your debut full-length album, Sounds From The Other Ideology is getting ready to be released on vinyl by Golden Lab after being previously issued on cassette tape by Feathered Coyote Records.  I know the vinyl pressing is limited but how many copies is it limited to?  Is the cassette version limited at all?  Is it still in print?  When is the vinyl version due for release?

I think the tape just sold out and there are three hundred copies of the record.  Yeah, I spun it last night and it sounds like it’s supposed to.

Can you talk a little bit about the recording of the Sounds From The Other Ideology album?  Was it a very different experience than your earlier cassettes and singles?  How and when was this material recorded?  Who recorded it?  What kind of equipment was used?

We played a show at this annual festival in Salford (Greater Manchester) called Sounds From The Other City.  Eric Hardiman came down to jam with me and Pascal.  The bookers of the stage we played were really uptight about the length of our set.  Bridget Hayden had dropped out so we decided to play for an hour and fill her space on the bill.  But about fifty minutes in, one of the bookers walked over and tugged on my jacket to tell me to stop playing.  It was kind of a weird day because the festival is I guess a little hipsterish, but we spent all day hanging out with Neil Campbell and Julian Bradley from Vibracathedral and getting drunk and having a nice time with them and there were some other sweet bands playing, but the title came from the whole vibe of the event.  It felt like we were coming from a different place than the people who organized it.  The event itself seemed to be of more importance than the bands that made it what it was.  I dunno, that maybe sounds a little curmudgeonly.  It’s what I was saying about the Manchester scene, great bands, weird execution of the scene.

You also have the Augusts’ Stealie cassette tape on Lonktaar Records coming extremely soon.  If I understand correctly it’s a cassingle featuring a single track and limited to only fifty copies.  Can you tell us about the recording of that track?  Did you record it specifically for the tape or was it something that you had previously done that was looking for a home?  When is that due for release?

It’s a one-sided fifteen-minute tape recorded at the show Pascal and I played opening for Monoploy Child Star Searchers in Manchester last month.  We did two jams but I didn’t wanna release the first so it became one-sided.  Lonktaar e-mailed me to ask if I wanted to submit something for a tape and I’d just mastered that recording, so that’s what I gave ‘em.  I think it’s out already, just a super short run.  Like thirty-seven copies or something.

I know that Golden Lab in conjunction with Tomahawk Records were in talks to release a lathe cut 12” Live In Ann Arbor earlier this year.  Is Live In Ann Arbor still in the works?  Do you have any idea or ball park estimate of a release date for that?  I know that you’ve released at least one single previously consisting of live material, are you a big fan of live albums?

That’s probably not gonna happen.  I don’t know.  There are newer, better jams coming.  But ya never know.

© Estee Bee

If I understand correctly you own Golden Lab Records?  How did that come about and when did you start Golden Lab?  Do you just release your own material or do you handle releases for other bands as well?

2005, I was in a band called I Had An Inkling and we wanted to put out a record, I started the label to self-release it and then other people started giving me stuff, so I just continued with it.  My favorites have obviously been the two Howling Hex sets I’ve been privileged to be able to release.  But there’s been tons of other great stuff, two MV&EE singles, a Greg Kelly/Alex Neilson LP, a Neptune LP, Wild Gunmen, Serfs and Pink Reason tapes, Mick Flower & Neil Campbell; lots more coming up this year.  I’m trying to operate more like a “proper” label than I have in the past, actually do some hard work on each release and make sure folks know about it.  I mean, there’s only so much shelf space in my house.  I can’t be clogging it up with unsold records.

Does Chalaque have any music that we haven’t talked about yet?  If so can you tell us about it?

Well, as of tomorrow, yes.  We’re recording every show of the tour for the next three weeks so there’s bound to be something we like the sound of.

Where’s the best place for our international and overseas readers to pick up copies of your music?

Forced Exposure, Flipped Out Records, Feeding Tube in the U.S.

What about our poor U.S. reader with these absolutely insane recent international postage rate hikes?  A lot of import releases these days feel like a carrot on a stick for me, I know about all of them because of the internet and I can even listen to some of them, but because we can’t afford paying more than the price of an LP in shipping alone these days we’re left out of the party…

Nah, I’m trying to keep the wholesale prices low to U.S. stores so people are able to dig it.

Does Chalaque have any goals that you are trying to accomplish in 2014?

More jams, faster shredding, harder fingers.

What do you have planned as far as touring goes for the rest of the year (2013)?  What about the quickly approaching 2014?

U.S. in April again, can’t wait.  I’ve been promised the best Indian food in America in Albany.  We’ll see.  I’m from Bradford, curry capital of England.

Who are some of your personal favorite acts that you’ve had a chance to share a bill with?

Burnt Hills, Monopoly Child Star Searchers, Joshua Burkett, The Piss Superstition, Yek Koo, Jon Collin, Zaimph.

In your dreams, who are you on tour with?


Do you have a music collection?  If so can you tell us a little about it?

About fifteen hundred records, not huge.  Healthy rotation.  Lot more private press since visiting the U.S. so frequently, which is nice.  Just bought two Hare Krishna LPs from a car boot sale in Bradford last Sunday for 50p each, they’re my latest scores.

There’s something indispensable about physical music to me.  Having something to hold in my hands, liner notes to read and artwork to look at provides a rare glimpse inside the mind of the artists that create them; at least for me.  Do you have any such connection with physical releases?

Of course.  The juicier the format, the closer you feel to the music contained within.  I have no understanding whatsoever of the appeal of downloading music, which just makes it seem so throwaway and ordinary.  Records, and the more elaborate the packaging the better, are like magic spells on your mood.

If you can’t tell I’m passionate about my music, but as much as I love my collection there’s no way to take it on the go with me.  Digital music has not only made listening to music easier for me but when teamed with the internet, it’s been a real game changer.  I have been exposed to a whole new world of music that I otherwise would have never heard of.  On the other hand though, like with all things there are good and bad and it seems like digital music has been destroying decades of infrastructure inside the industry.  As a musician during the reign of the digital era what’s your opinion on digital music and distribution?

It’s a transitional time right now.  Who can say what’s gonna happen?  I paraphrase James Toth of Wooden Wand here.  He told me, “If Bruce Springsteen were just starting out today, he’d be on a label like Jagjaguwar,” which is cool and everything.  But that’s what the so-called digital revolution has done for music.  It’s reduced both the financial and the mass cultural value of the serious musician beyond measure, and it’s made the world a littler blander and the hunting down of rare records a little less exciting.

I spend as much time as I can every week pouring over the bins at the local shop, talking up employees and spending more time than I would like to admit listening to and researching music online.  A ton of the best tips I get come from talking to musicians like you though!  Is there anyone that I should be listening to from your local scene or area that I might not have heard of?

Jon Collin all the way.  Dude is a genius, straight up.

What about nationally and internationally?

I hear Wovoka is planning to do a new record, might be coming out on Golden Lab.  That’s what I hear anyway.

(2012)  Various Artists – Form Destroyer teaser – digital, CD – Infinite Circles Compilation (Contributed the track “?”)
(2012)  Chalaque – Well Hey – Cassette Tape – Golden Lab Records (Limited to 20 copies)
(2013)  Chalaque – Engram Overmind – Cassette Tape – Golden Lab Records (Limited to 18 copies)
(2013)  Chalaque – Sounds From The Other Ideology – digital, Cassette Tape, 12” – Golden Lab Records/Feathered Coyote Records (12” Limited to 250 copies)
(2013)  Chalaque – “Helderberg Howl” b/w “FTW” – 7” – Golden Lab Records (Limited to 300 copies)
(2013)  Chalaque – Augustus’ Stealie – Cassette Tape Single – Lonktaar Records (Limited to 50 copies)
(UNRELEASED)  Chalaque – Live In Ann Arbor 2012 – Lathe Cut 12” – Golden Lab/Tomahawk Records (Limited to 55 copies)

Interview made by Roman Rathert/2013
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