From DC hardcore to politically driven free jazz, this collective don’t even discuss what they are with each other
Chapter Sweetheart are in their hipster element; scattered around a coffee and cigarette strewn table in Dalston’s go-to jazz joint, Café Oto, the espresso machine humming along to the sounds of Miles Davis and Moondog. While Kev carefully stores his trumpet back in its case, Charlotte adjusts the ratio of sugar to tea in her cup – in favour of sugar – and Alex produces a dog-eared book, calmly browsing its worn pages. It’s a book about American Hardcore. So much for the bebop Beatnik vibe, then.
Charlotte: “We tend to have different opinions.”
Alex: “We come from different musical backgrounds.”
Kev: “We don’t talk about it, really, we don’t ask each other, ‘What’s our band?’”
Christy: “We make the songs up on the spot.”
Matt: “We have a certain… way… It just keeps changing all the time, doesn’t it?”
Alex explains that it was he and Kevin who started the band, based on a mutual interest in DC hardcore bands, particularly The Nation of Ulysses and The Make-Up. “Me, I came from a hardcore punk background,” he says “and Christy’s into early seventies/eighties punk, then Matt came along.”
“It was a bit of a jump for me because I played in a death metal band beforehand,” says Matt “and I’ve never looked back.”
“That’s because it was terrible,” laughs Charlotte. “I’m not going to lie!”
“There was a lot of pig squealing involved…” Matt admits
“I just liked the names of your songs,” Charlotte presses, still giggling.
“What, like ‘Anal Rot’?” suggests Christy.
“No, just really terrible long-winded names that were so cliché and cheesy.” Matt looks a bit cornered.
“Did you have names like, ‘Girl With Bike On Her Head Fucks Boy Up And Spits Her Gum At Him From Her Eye And Then Falls Asleep’?” Alex offers.
“It was a dark stage,” concludes Matt, happy to put the subject to bed.
So how did hardcore and death metal turn into Chapter Sweetheart, then?
“We started writing some stuff, played a few shows and then quickly decided we weren’t that into what we were playing,” says Matt. “Then we kind of got a bit more soulful and funky.”
“Not funky, really…” Kev frowns.
“Well, not funky, maybe a bit surfy,” Matt tries.
“The more comfortable we get with the band the more stuff we add to it,” says Charlotte. “I mean, there’s four of us that are attempting to do vocals now, Kev has his trumpet, I have a tambourine, we’re all adding bits so it’s quite different from what we first started doing.”
“We always had the trumpet,” says Kev. “That was brought in from Nation of Ulysses, then I started looking into horn players who didn’t play in a traditional jazz or soul way, like Ornette Coleman or even James Chance, but especially Ian Svenonius in Nation of Ulysses.”
Kev was specifically interested in loud, sporadic bursts of brass, not tuneful, but as if the trumpet were speaking in frantic, noodling blasts. “From that start, when you’re being influenced by music that has horns in it, it easily progresses to listening to soul, and that’s a progression from playing just punk garage to something more influenced by black music rather than surf bands and sixties bands,” he says, noting that while ‘Nuggets’ is still on the Chapter Sweetheart stereo they feel that playing that kind of music alone would get boring for their audience. As for the lyrics, “they go with the music.”
“I don’t write them before – it’s not like I sit in my room, in pain, I’m not one of those musicians that sits there, wanking and crying,” Kev shakes his head. “It begins in a political way, you can’t make any kind of art without it being political anyway, even if it’s a love song or a sexy song, politics will always be in it.”
That said, the band don’t want to force politics down their audience’s throat, they’re aware that it’s a factor but they don’t want to preach. “I think people are scared to talk about that kind of stuff because Bono made it uncool to be into politics,” says Kev.
“That’s stupid,” Christy interjects. “People should write relevant lyrics.”
“But, as I say, you can’t make anything artistic without politics being in there. Orwell said that and I think that’s true,” says Kev.
Politics notwithstanding, the band want to make music people can dance to. As Kev puts it, “I’ve always said it was music for couples.”
“Is it?” Christy clearly missed the memo about that one.
“In my head, when I perform, I want it to be smooth.”
“It’s a bit noisy, isn’t it?” Christy points out, but Kev insists. “We’re entertainers, at the end of the day, and it’s not that I hate bands that make noise and stuff, but the way I always wanted to do it was as entertainment, to make people feel something.”
“Politics and entertainment,” muses Alex.
“You can still entertain people, make them feel good, and have a dark message underneath,” Kev explains, citing Chapter Sweetheart’s punky cover of ‘My Girl’ as a more feel-good number (the dark message, perhaps, being that cute little Macaulay Culkin gets stung to death in the film?). Actually, he’s referring to Motown songs in general, political in their own way but incorporating dance moves and snazzy clothing, making a production out of the performance.
“I was saying to Alex, I’m not a frontman, I’m a crooner,” Kev laughs – an interesting statement if you’ve ever heard Kev’s, erm, ‘crooning’, but this is still in the context of seeing what the band do as entertainment. “When you say the word ‘band’, it’s got certain connotations linked to it, to do with rock’n’roll or, in England certainly, indie. I think it’s hard to be an English band and be influenced by black soul music cos it just sounds weird. But I don’t really see us as a band, we’re more a musical collective.”
“We swap roles as well,” says Matt. “Someone will play the keys for a bit, we’re going to try to get Alex to play bass, we’ll all have a go at different things, make it more interesting.”
And how did this hodgepodge musical collective come to be called Chapter Sweetheart? If you look it up, the term is used in American fraternities for a girl who acts as the secretary (read: pretty face) representing the boys. In the context of the music industry, Kev explains, the fraternities are the majors, the cash-counting labels and the advertisers, and the chapter sweethearts are the bands, the pretty faces being marketed and shown off for profit.
“Bands seem to be getting big now because they can be used to sell stuff,” says Kev. “Whether that’s why they’re writing their music or not.” It’s about the exploitation of bands; when Chapter Sweetheart started out, they only wanted to play gigs for free, but found that quite difficult and now try to stick to gigs that put the door tax towards a charity or another good cause. “When we started, when we got into all these DC bands, that’s what they were trying to do,” says Kev. “They were putting on free shows or putting the money back into better things.”
Perhaps there is a bit of the Beatnik about this post-hardcore, ex death metal punk collective; ripping up the rule book and telling it like they see it, mixing music and politics to create entertainment with a whole lot of soul.
By Polly Rappaport
Originally published in issue 15 (vol 3) of Loud And Quiet. March 2010