By Christine Leonard
BeatRoute.ca is proud to premiere “Seattle,” a single from Chron Goblin’s upcoming studio album Backwater. The song “is named after an inebriated jam we had celebrating Josh’s birthday at the Experience Music Project in Seattle on a day off while on tour. They had a few mini-recording studios at EMP and we decided to jump in and make some noise on the first new material we were working on for Backwater. The song captures a snapshot of the band while in transition, facing new experiences and seeking change. This is represented in the more relaxed style of the song with a laid-back tempo, expansive choruses, a pensive melody, and the rare appearance of synth organ,” says percussionist Brett Whittingham. Read our Nov. print cover interview about the band’s history and upcoming album by author Christine Leonard below.
CALGARY — “Initially we thought we’d made a horrible decision, but these days we’re feeling pretty safe with a name like Chron Goblin.”
So begins founding member Devin “Darty” Purdy of coming-up-smelling-like-roses amidst the current shitstorm over controversial band names.
The decision to stick by their icky name (thanks to a healthy dose of stubborn persistence) has paid off for the Calgary stoner rock outfit comprised of lead guitarist Purdy along with drummer Brett Whittingham, bassist Richard Hepp and vocalist Josh Sandulak. Together since 2009, Chron Goblin has been racking up experience points releasing their self-titled debut album in 2010, the ambitious EP One Million from the Top in 2011 and their popular Life for the Living LP in 2013.
Sharpened by tours throughout Canada, U.S., and U.K., where they performed at Desertfest, Chron Goblin has earned their place on the docket with the likes of Vista Chino, Lord Dying, Bison, Red Fang and, of course, their idols Orange Goblin. The resultant upsurge in creative focus and capacity comes to a head on their newest album, Backwater, which is due for release in mid-November.
“We’ve been working on the structure of the new album for a while now and had a number of songs loosely written prior to our trip down to Stumpfest in the spring of 2014. When we stopped in Seattle to play a show along the way we decided to use our day off to visit the EMP (Experience Music Project) Museum,” says Sandulak.
“We went in to one of the mini-studios after having a few drinks and being pumped up by the inspiring exhibits on display there,” percussionist Brett Whittingham chimes in.
“Hit one button and you have guitar, bass, drums, keys and vocals. There’s a YouTube clip of us in the booth there jamming out the infancy of the song ‘Seattle,’ which wound up being the second song on Backwater. That track was one of the first new songs we wrote and draws on the positive vibes we were feeling in the Pacific Northwest; it’s like nothing we’ve ever done before. It’s crazy when you realize that it all came about because of drinking with friends and tethered drumsticks.”
Enduringly optimistic despite the doom and gloom tendencies of their ’70s hard rock and metal foundations, Chron Goblin’s incendiary nature allows them to navigate the fog of negativity unscathed. After all, why wallow in despair when you can dive deeper into verdant pockets of psychedelic blues and indulge in restless midnight rides along a zigzagging coastal highway? Pointing their white tour van, Rita, south once again the foursome repeated their Green River pilgrimage in February of 2015 for the chance to muddy the waters and record their latest offering, Backwater, with Oregonian producer Adam Pike at his Toadhouse Studios.
“We loved working with Adam while we were down in Portland,” Sandulak confirms. “He really took us in. We’d work with him all day long and he’d still want to hang out and give us a different experience of the city every single night. It’s also were we got our taste for gin.”
“Really, our goal was to complete our album without distractions, but going into unknown territory proved to be the adventure of a lifetime,” Purdy adds, swirling his tumbler of Bombay and soda with an index finger. “I remember going out on the town after a 10-hour recording session and putting a serious dent in a 60 of gin and then bowling the best game of our lives. People were looking over at our lanes like ‘What the eff?,’ because they couldn’t believe the heat! Brett can attest to this as he was pretty much sober.”
“You were crushing it. Rich split his pants,” Whittingham confirms. “I started calling him and Devin ‘the Gin twins.’ By coincidence, the Portland Metal Bowling League was there at the same time. As well, we happened to randomly bump into well-known Portland-based artist Martin Ontiveros, who had done a T-shirt design for us.”
“We couldn’t have jammed more fun into two weeks if we tried,” Purdy summates. “Another memorable moment was performing Stripperoke (at the Devil’s Point, Portland’s rock ‘n’ roll strip club), which is exactly what you think it is. A fine lady removing her garments as we blast out our best CCR cover. Then the monitor dies and Josh leads us through it because he’s the only one who knows the lyrics.”
An exceptional warm-up exercise for the serious work being put in during studio hours, Chron Goblin’s hedonistic exploits seemed to have fuelled rather than depleted the intention and intensity conveyed on Backwater. From the initial strokes of the opening cut “Fuller,” the collective elevation of the group’s musicianship is evident. Venting some of his most emotive lyrics to date, Sandulak kicks off Backwater with a musical flip of the bird and hits the woodland trail down to a rocky shore, “Well I’ve been through everything; just to say that I lived again.”
“The compositions on Backwater definitely allow me to sing more,” says Sandulak. “The arrangements are more dynamic and have more of a live performance feel, which is something I’ve definitely been seeking. I think Adam captured my voice in its most natural state, including qualities I knew existed onstage but had never been fully realized in the studio. Adam knows how to get the emotion and soul out of you and encapsulates your voice ‘as is’ for better or worse. He also created an atmosphere where you had no nerves or self-consciousness going into the process. It was an environment where you could carefully let go. I have to thank the prairies for making me a better singer, too. Our climate is so high and dry; it was such good preparation for me. I was able to stand 20 to 30 feet away from the microphone at times, or even in an adjacent studio with the door open, and record my voice that way.”
Surrendering to Backwater’s weighty undertow, Sandulak’s lupine howls are a fitting match for the moonshine tides and churning vortexes of Purdy and Hepp’s promethean ball of strings. An utterly compelling and gut-liquefying achievement, Backwater overflows with raw vocals, black-and-blue bayou breakdowns and hallucinatory quagmires.
“The number one change is that the new album is a lot more melodic,” says Purdy, proclaiming his love of the band Elder in the same breath. “Life for the Living was very compacted; very pedal-to-the-metal and vice versa. There’s subtleness to the way in which the heaviness and melody of the songs on Backwater complement each other. At last, we were consciously writing parts not just because they fit, but because they were meant to be there.” Purdy continues, “Opening for Sandrider in January gave us the opportunity to run through Backwater in its entirety. It’s always cool to see the reactions of people who have never heard those tunes before. The ultimate goal is to sound like ourselves without writing the same song twice.”
A deceptive amalgam of hypnotic “smoke beer” headnodders and hooky “carpe diem” breakaways, Backwater’s mercurial momentum threatens to yank the magic carpet from beneath you. Pushing the tight-knit quartet past the point of no return, Sandulak’s stormy tirades hurl themselves against his bandmates sonic shieldwall, throwing up sparks on hard-hitting tracks like “Hard Living” and “End Time.”
“We didn’t want anyone to forget that we’re a heavy band,” assures Whittingham. “The Oregon sessions have a mysterious melodic sound to them, but still retain the same full steam ahead rippers that characterized our previous album. Our motivation is to work together, and take that paintbrush and do something new with it, and never get stale.”
Recently signed to the well-reputed Ripple Music label, desertrockers Chron Goblin will be quenching their thirst thanks to another fruitful partnership, this time with local brewers Big Rock. Hopping right to work, the band put in some genuine sweat equity at the brewery to produce their own signature beer.
“Danny Northfield contacted us about the idea of partnering up with Big Rock as part of their new promotion,” reports Purdy. “As fans of the product, we were excited to be the first of a series of bands who have been chosen to make their own unique Big Rock beer. We spent a full day working at the brewery grinding and mixing the right ingredients. We’re fans of lighter ales, so we think people will appreciate the balance of caramel malt and citrus notes that give Chron Goblin’s Trippin’ Ale its flavour profile.”
Chron Goblin will celebrate the CD release party for Backwater on November 13th at the Nite Owl with Witchstone and MANcub. Big Rock Trippin’ Ale is exclusively available on tap at the Drum & Monkey for your enjoyment. Also read Brett Whittingham’s “American Sound Engineer’s Guide to Slang Terminology Commonly Used by Canadian Musicians.”AB, Alberta, Backwater, Big Rock Brewery, Chron Goblin, Drum & Monkey, Nite Owl, Seattle, Trippin' Ale