Bands often book studio time in remote, isolated locations where the biggest distraction is the refrigerator, and the best way to kill the boredom is to get to work on the task at hand. Multi-platinum Epic recording artists Chevelle took the opposite approach, recording their new album VENA SERA at the Palms Studio in the heart of Las Vegas. There they were flooded with temptation-from the bustling poker tables and ringing slot machines to the flashy Lamborghini lent to them by casino owner Gavin Maloof.
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"It was a totally different vibe," says Chevelle guitarist, singer and songwriter Pete Loeffler. "It was chaotic and crazy. We'd get up and go work for a while. Then at nine or ten at night, we'd hit a different club or go to a different venue."
"We decided to make the experience like a vacation," adds band drummer and Pete's brother Sam Loeffler. "And we were disciplined enough to separate the work we needed to do from the fun we wanted to have."
To some extent, VENA SERA reflects the environment of its birth. The music is still bruising and propelled by angry, stomping grooves, but unlike much of the band's back catalog, many of the songs are uptempo and suffused with strong vocal melodies and vibrant harmonies.
"I wanted to sing more and get into those upper registers of my voice," says Pete. "I've done a lot of screaming in the past and this time I wanted to get away from that."
"We spent six to twelve hours a day-for four months straight-working on the melodies," adds Sam. "We really put in the time that we needed to make these songs what they are."
It shows. VENA SERA is Chevelle's catchiest, heaviest, most dynamic and most expressive album to date. Filled with an array of sonic styles and tempos, colored by personal, passionate lyrics, the songs are both a declaration of contempt for the mainstream and a celebration of a counterculture driven by crashing beats and blasting power chords. The first single "Well Enough Alone" starts with chugging guitars and a prolonged howl, and segues into a bipolar blend of angst and euphoria. "I Get It" features jangly guitars and a pulsing dance beat that contrasts with bracing guitars and haunting vocals. Then there are the stormers: "Antisaint" features an abrasive riff and swerves jaggedly between foggy-headed confusion and blunt condemnation. And "Wandered" rides a surging wave from mid-paced ambivalence to pulse-racing conviction.
"We spent two and a half weeks in Chicago with our producer [Michael] Elvis Baskette mapping out the songs before we got to Vegas, so we knew exactly what we had to do and we just went for it," Pete says. "We were able to work really well and really quickly, so we never lost that sense of freshness and excitement."
Also contributing the influx of new energy was bassist Dean Bernardini, who joined the band in August 2005, replacing original member Joe Loeffler, who left in July 2005. Originally a drummer, Bernardini - who happens to be the Loeffler's brother-in-law -- has played bass for the past decade, so when he expressed interest in joining, the Loefflers handed him a list of songs to learn, then set up an audition.
"He blew me away with the knowledge of the material," Pete says. "And he sings really well, which is something we've never had. He's a music fan, a musician and a really talented performer."
In addition to possessing exemplary musical skills, Bernardini brings a unifying spirit to Chevelle. Much has been written about Chevelle's previous-and tempestuous-inner circle, but studio sessions are no longer filled with bickering and contrariness; now they're bursting with creativity and even optimism. "We still write dark music, but the whole vibe of this band is totally different," Pete says. "When we get together and rehearse, we actually have fun and we enjoy being on the road together. It's not doom and gloom all the time the way it used to be. Everyone's up for anything at the drop of a hat, so it's like hanging out with your friends all the time."
After Chevelle recorded guitar, bass and drums at The Palms, the band traveled to Baskette's studio at a remote beach in Virginia so Pete could finish writing lyrics and record his vocals. After the fast paced chaos of Vegas, the warm sand and placid waves were just what the band needed. "It was very relaxing," Pete says. "We went during the fall, and I would hang out, run with the dog on the beach and then go and write for three or four hours."
During these sessions, Pete penned his most pointed and personal lyrics. "Anti Saint" is about the hypocrisy and deceit he has encountered over the past few years, "The Fad" addresses the rampant consumerism and artifice he saw in Vegas and "I Get It" is a motivational cry to those afraid to chase their dreams. Other tracks are more imaginative, such as "Saferwaters," which is about a misanthrope who strives to distance himself from humanity. "The guy is really sick of being a part of the human race, so he says he's crawling back to sea," says Pete. "It's taking an evolutionary mindset. He can't stand being on the earth, so he's basically going back home to the water."
Most of the tracks on VENA SERA were fine-tuned over the last 18 months, and some of the passages were assembled from bits and pieces of old songs that were recorded, but never released. "Some of that stuff was really good, but it was never finished," Pete says. "So I just dug it up and pulled it apart to make the best new songs I could."
"Well Enough Alone" is almost five years old," Sam adds. "But we changed it a lot. It used to be almost six and a half minutes long and now it's just over four minutes."
The Loefflers formed Chevelle in Chicago in 1995. After climbing to the top of the local hard rock scene, the band entered the studio with legendary producer Steve Albini and recorded their debut album Point #1 in 1999. After several high profile tours, Chevelle were signed by Epic Records, and in 2001 they entered the studio to record their second album Wonder What's Next. Propelled by the single "Send the Pain Below," which climbed to #1 on the Mainstream and Modern Rock chart, the album quickly went platinum and Chevelle were one of the main stage attractions at that summer's Ozzfest.
The next year, the band released the concert CD and DVD "Live From the Road," and in 2004 they returned to the studio to record their third album This Type of Thinking (Could Do Us In). The disc continued Chevelle's winning streak; "Vitamin R (Leading Us Along)" climbed to #1 on the Mainstream Rock chart and "The Clincher" also received heavy airplay.
With VENA SERA, Chevelle has returned stronger and more tightly knit then ever. Not only does the album reveal the band's musical growth, it revels in a renewed sense drive and determination. Chevelle are still an evocative, crushing hard rock band, but they now gleam with solidarity instead of threatening to fall apart at any moment. "While we were working on this album we have gone from a really hard time in our lives to having the time of our lives," Pete says. "Before everything with this band was filled with drama obstacles, and now the road finally looks clear up ahead."
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