The Chesterfield Kings | Interview | “I wanted to grow up and be a Beatle”

Uncategorized July 9, 2024

The Chesterfield Kings | Interview | “I wanted to grow up and be a Beatle”

Hailing from Rochester, NY, garage rock legends The Chesterfield Kings formed in the late ’70s, heavily influenced by the sounds of the 1960s.

Instrumental in sparking the 1980s garage band revival, they influenced bands like The Fuzztones, The Pandoras, and The Cynics. Popular for their authentic ’60s sound and style, they played pivotal shows in venues like the old Peppermint Lounge in New York City. Though they disbanded in 2009, they have recently returned with new music and their first live performances in over 15 years. The band, known for their dedication to vintage gear and classic rock influences, continues to captivate audiences with their sound attack. The band will be releasing a new album later this year.

“David Fricke was the first writer to call us a garage band, and it stuck from that day on”

The Chesterfield Kings played a pivotal role in the 1980s garage band revival. What was it about the music of the 1960s that inspired you, and how did you reinterpret it for a new audience in the 80s?

Andy Babiuk: I grew up listening to The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, The Animals, and all the cool British invasion bands, but we were also into all the cool US bands like The Byrds, Paul Revere and The Raiders, The Beach Boys, The Jefferson Airplane, The Standells, as well as all the other great bands that were around in the 60s. Too many to name! Of course, we were also into 50s stuff like Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Bo Diddley, The Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly, as well as blues like Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and all the greats. Anyway, popular music they played on the radio in the late 70s and early 80s was pretty bad, so we wanted to have a band that played cool stuff, and we drew on all our 60s influences. We wanted to sound like a band from the 60s, so we got the right cool old instruments and amps, and we dressed like a band from the 60s. Punk and new wave were happening at the time, and writers would interview us and ask if we were a new wave or punk band, and we would get pissed off and say, “No! We’re a 60s band!” So we would go around saying we were a 60s band to avoid being labeled as new wave or punk. When we played for the first time in New York City early on at the old Peppermint Lounge, David Fricke and Kurt Loder came to see us. David ended up writing a big article about us in a popular NY magazine at the time called the New York Rocker. David was the first writer to call us a garage band, and it stuck from that day on. It was the beginning of the whole garage band revival thing.

After a hiatus of over 15 years, The Chesterfield Kings are back with new music and live performances. What prompted the reunion, and how does it feel to be back on stage after such a long break?

It’s not really a reunion; I never actually quit my band, The Chesterfield Kings, I just put it on pause to try something else. In late 2012, I formed The Empty Hearts with Clem Burke (interview here) from Blondie on drums, Elliot Easton from The Cars on guitar, and Wally Palmar from The Romantics on guitar and vocals. I played bass. We put out two LPs and toured in the US and Japan. It was a lot of fun, and I’m very proud of the records we made. Unfortunately, it was very difficult to tour due to scheduling and commitments that Clem and Wally had with Blondie and The Romantics, so we did not tour as much as I would have liked to. And of course, the pandemic affected everything as well as our second LP, which had been scheduled to be released with a tour in 2020, and then the pandemic happened. The LP did end up coming out in 2020, but we never went out on tour to promote it due to the pandemic. Anyway, after the pandemic started to settle down a bit and people started traveling again, I went down to New York City to visit my good friend Steven Van Zandt for a bit. We were out to dinner one night, and he encouraged me to go back to Rochester and write a bunch of songs for a new Chesterfield Kings LP. He said, “I’ll put it out on my label, help you produce it, help write it, whatever… just go back and do it!” You know, you can’t argue with Silvio Dante, so I did what Stevie told me to do. I had a lot of fun working with the guys on the new songs, and we worked with our dear friend and legendary producer Ed Stasium on a new LP. We recorded 20 new songs last August 2023 at my Fab Gear Studios here in Rochester. There are a bunch of singles coming out first, and the full LP will be out later this year. We just finished a tour of the West Coast and had a blast playing again; people seemed to really like it.

How do you see the current state of the rock music scene compared to when The Chesterfield Kings first started out?

The music industry is very odd currently. It’s almost unrecognizable. There are so many other forms of entertainment that people have at their disposal now, like gaming and just the internet in general, that consume people’s time so much that I don’t think music is as important to many people as it used to be when we started years ago.

Would you like to share about your upbringing? Where did you all grow up? Tell us about daily life back in your teenage years.

I grew up in Rochester, New York. My parents both came from Ukraine during WWII as refugees. My dad and my grandmother were very musical, and it was my grandmother who showed me how to play guitar when I was young, which was in an odd Eastern European tuning, similar to Vastapol blues open tuning. It wasn’t until I met other kids who played guitar that I learned how to play in the traditional Spanish tuning. Anyway, I really loved The Beatles, and when I saw their film ‘Help!’ it really freaked me out as a kid. I remember when I was very young, my parents asking me what I wanted to do when I grew up, “Do you want to be a doctor, a lawyer, an engineer?”. I told them I wanted to grow up and be a Beatle. My parents tried to explain to me that, “You can’t grow up to be a Beatle,” but as a little kid, I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t just grow up to be a Beatle! Well, thinking back on it all, I find it really funny. I’ve played music all my life, wrote books about The Beatles and The Rolling Stones’ gear, own a guitar shop, and I even had a Beatle play on one of my records! Ringo plays drums on The Empty Hearts’ second LP. Funny how things turn out.

Was there a certain scene you were part of? Maybe you had some favorite hangout places? Did you attend a lot of gigs back then?

We played way more gigs than I ever attended. A lot of shows were in Europe. We were never really part of a scene; we didn’t make it a point to hang anywhere specific.

If we were to step into your teenage room, what kind of records, fanzines, posters, etc., would we find there?

A Danelectro guitar, a homemade amp because I couldn’t afford a real amp, Beatles and Stones records. Pretty simple stuff. I grew up in a home with not much money, so I couldn’t afford to buy a lot of records. It was always a real treat when I got a new record. I did figure out that you could borrow records from the library, so I used to do that a lot.

The tour kicks off with a special tribute to Mojo Nixon. Can you share any memories or experiences you had with Mojo, and what his influence has meant to you personally and musically?

Mojo Nixon and Skid Roper opened for us a few times in Hoboken, New Jersey, at a place we played a lot called Maxwell’s. Mojo had that song ‘Elvis Is Everywhere’ that was real popular; he was real wild and a great guy. He was the first guy I remember seeing who performed with only two people on stage. Real cool.

The tour spans several cities across the West Coast. Are there any particular venues or cities you’re especially looking forward to playing in, and why?

Well, we’ve finished the tour, and all the shows were a blast. The LA show was real fun. There were a lot of fans there that were singing along with all our old songs.

How do you approach preparing for a tour after such a long hiatus, and what can fans expect from your shows this time around?

As we always did, we go to my studio where we have a sound stage, set up, and just start playing as we would live. It’s like riding a bike; you just start doing it, and everything falls into place. It’s very comfortable. This time, we went through all our old records and picked songs that people would always ask us to play live but we never did. This time, we played a lot of those songs, and people seemed to really like it.

What’s next for The Chesterfield Kings after this tour? Do you have any plans for new music or future performances?

Well, as I mentioned, we have a new LP that will be out on Wicked Cool Records later this year, with a bunch of new singles that will be out before then. We will also be doing shows here in the US and Europe to support the record.

Thank you for taking your time. Last word is yours.

Thank you! And we hope to see you at one of our shows!

Klemen Breznikar

Headline photo: The Chesterfield Kings publicity photo

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