Music | Interview | The Chambermaids

By Kieran Webber

If you are a frequent reader of our humble blog then you will remember that The Chambermaids were featured on our introducing section, the Minneapolis band were kind enough to answer a few questions of ours.


So you recently had a lineup change what was the reasoning for this?

Neil: Nate Nelson (guitar) and Alex Rose (drums) became busy with family obligations. As much as it was disappointing to not be playing with them, I like the idea of having each record explore different ideas rather than just creating a collection of new songs in the style of the previous release and the lineup change really forced us to do that.

With the new lineup has your sound changed or taken a new direction?

Neil: I was into the idea these new songs being more spacious and varied with a more mellow intensity. Max and Ollie fit well with that approach. Ollie brings a peculiar, creeping textural and melodic sense and Max has a great feel, a touch that makes the drums sound wonderful and he knows how to hold back. That type of drummer is very hard to find. Max and Ollie also have different arrangement sensibilities that Nate and Alex which has pushed thing farther in new directions.

Max: As someone who first experienced the band from an outside perspective I would say the sound has changed. I went to a lot of Chambermaids shows before I was in the band. I think the music is definitely more atmospheric, and it seems to be focused on different things. A lot of the songs that were written before me and Ollie joined that we still play have a different feel than they did before. At least I think so.

Martha: Definitely. As much as I loved playing with Alex and Nate, Max and Ollie have not only brought an interesting and fresh perspective on the existing songs, but also pushed me to think outside the boundaries of how I personally approach arrangement and songwriting. More than anything, they’ve made me excited about this band and music in general again.

“Thematically, most of the songs on this record are addressed toward either people who have died, people who have had an impact on me or written as a sort of prayer-like internal existential dialog” – Neil

Explain to us what it is like to live in America at the moment?

Neil: 15 years ago, our generation was isolated from the rest of the world, worried that our computers might stop working at midnight and we hadn’t really experienced a major catastrophic event. Now we’re living in a more violent version of “Idiocracy.”

Max: Things feel more politically divided than I can remember them being, but that could be because I wasn’t paying much attention. I still try not to pay attention to political stuff, but it seems more noisy and inescapable as more public tragedies take place. In day to day experience and interactions people are generally nice and pleasant to work with/be around though. I can’t say whether things are more violent, but I do think that people are more aggressive and less willing to compromise when it comes to their opinions and politics which is discouraging.

Martha: Yeah, I feel more and more like i’m retreating and becoming more insular in my life and my creative pursuits because of it. That’s probably not the best approach, but it just feels so hopeless a lot of the time. Music is an escape for me, and also just a comforting way to cope with what’s happening around us.

Where do you draw your influence for your music?

Neil: Partially from other music. I might hear an old soul record, like the beat, atmosphere and drum sounds and begin thinking about how we could fit something like that into our music. I find that with a lot of contemporary shoegaze music, the drums sound like something that some jackass hyped up in a computer and have little sense of real acoustic space, mostly because they have to be heard through such dense instrumentation. Our approach has been the opposite of that.

We’ll decide, for instance, that we want the drums to be played lightly, like say, a ’70s Neil Young record and then we’ll thin out the density of the instrumentation surrounding them so that we don’t have to process them in order for them to be heard. This is all done at the source in terms of how we’re playing and what we’re playing rather than trying to do it after it’s been tracked. I have no problems with good digital equipment but music that’s performed by a group of people sounds uninteresting if there’s too much of a Pro Tools imprint imposed on it.

Thematically, most of the songs on this record are addressed toward either people who have died, people who have had an impact on me or written as a sort of prayer-like internal existential dialog.

I guess these ideas can be traced back to other songs, too. John Cale’s “Mr. Wilson,” for one. I like songs where the narrator addresses God like in T-Rex “Girl” or Big Star “Try Again,” too. Gospel music, too. I’m usually not very interested in songs about interpersonal drama. I’m not religious but I’ve tried on this record to made the lyrics more prayer-like. Asking “What should I do?’ is more interesting to me than saying “This is what I think.” or “You made me mad / sad / etc.” right now. Asking vague questions of yourself or something outside of yourself I guess. So much pop music is about amplifying the persona and directing attention toward it but I’m more interested in getting into the areas behind the personas. Irrational obsession is always an interest of mine, too.

Max: With drumming I can’t really say I draw much influence from other drummers per se. There are drummers who I love to listen to, and I love to play the drums. I’d say whatever I contribute rhythmically is inspired foremost by what Neil, Martha, and Ollie bring to the table, and outside influences creep in here and there after the fact.

How did you all end up meeting to form The Chambermaids?

Neil: Martha’s my sister and I became friends with Ollie and Max though recording other bands that they’ve been in. I also played with Ollie in a band called Pony Trash.

Martha: In the very beginning, it was just Neil and me. Over the years, we’ve met other musicians we have collaborated with, and each variation lent itself to a different sound. Same with Ollie and Max. We became friends through playing music in various bands in Minneapolis, and I was thrilled when they both wanted to join Chambermaids. I’m really excited to see where this goes.

“We all tend to like organic sounds that aren’t harsh sounding” – Neil

How and why did you choose The Chambermaids as a name ?

Martha: We were sort of forced into finding a new band name when our first record came out. It ended up that someone else was already using the band name were performing under at the time, and needed something right away. It was either The Chambermaids, or some random thing i could see in my immediate vicinity: Lamp. Desk. Chair.

As a collective do you guys share a strong influence when it comes to music?

Neil: We share a strong overall aesthetic sensibility in terms of sounds, feel and song construction. We all tend to like organic sounds that aren’t harsh sounding. I think we’re all drawn to subdued playing with a steady, hypnotic feel. We like a lot of the same records but that’s not something we really talk about a lot.

What are your individual influences within music ?

Neil: Apart from My Bloody Valentine, I’m not particularly influenced by shoegaze or psych music. Isaac Hayes’s “Hot Buttered Soul,” Serge Gainsbourg’s “Historie De Melody Nelson” Crazy Horse, Brian Eno and Broadcast all inspired ideas on this record, especially with their use of receptive grooves, space and organic / analog electronic sounds and the ability to sustain an idea without fear of the listener getting bored. That’s something that drives me nuts about a lot of music. A bandmate of mine in Sativa Flats calls it “channel changing.” I see it all the time in the studio. I’d much rather see an idea explored and elaborated on rather than jumping immediately to another part out of fear that the listener might be bored of the first idea. I love minimal music where interesting things can be done with one or two ideas rather than jumping around a lot. I like to be sucked in as a listener and that happens when feel like a band is naturally exploring an idea rather than desperately trying to grab my attention.

Max: I‘m not really familiar with a lot of shoegaze music to be honest. I like Galaxie 500 and MBV but that’s kind of where my knowledge of the genre starts and ends. I gravitate more toward more concise and melody driven songwriting – Guided By Voices is my favorite band. I listen to a lot of 90s indie rock type stuff. Hip hop too.

Martha: I’m probably the one in the band that listens to the most shoegaze type music. I’ve been really into Cocteau Twins and MBV since I was a teenager and that influence hasn’t waned much as the years go by. But that said, I also love melodic hooks, which influences my bass and vocal parts, I’m sure. Like, I LOVE Robyn you know?

You decided to head straight to the studio to start writing on your music as opposed to playing a live show’s first, why was it you chose to do this and what effect has it had on your music ?

Neil: I often compare live music to live theater and recorded music to film or TV. An actor has to play to the perspective of the audience. If an actor were to perform as if he was in a theater where exaggerated gestures and delivery were needed to reach the the back of the room with a camera only a few feet from his face, it would seem like overacting. He has to play to the camera.

As a musician, you have to play to the microphones and the room that you’re in. I’ve found that if I’ve been playing a batch of songs live, it’s easy for muscle memory to take over and that muscle memory is remembering the way you’ve played in front of a live audience, making it harder to tailor the performance to the studio. Recording the songs early also allows us to sculpt our parts to suit what sounds best recorded rather than becoming attached to parts that may be great ideas but just don’t fit into the mix well. To some degree, you can’t tell what things really sound like until you get the instruments mic’d up in the studio.

I also think the recording process is more rewarding this way in that we’re creating as we’re recording rather than struggling to recreate what the song was like when it was fresh and new.

Doing it this way takes a lot of time but since I have a studio (my day job is recording other peoples’ music,) we can take our time, which obviously comes with its own dangers in terms of the potential for overworking things. Luckily, none of us list “endless tweaking” among our interests.

Max: There are definitely advantages to recording songs soon after they’re written, rather than trying to recapture something later on. That’s something I like a lot about this record – we recorded many of the songs without that muscle memory that Neil is talking about. It’s fun to listen back to them now that we do have that muscle memory with these songs and see how differently we play them live compared to when we wrote and recorded them.

“There are definitely advantages to recording songs soon after they’re written, rather than trying to recapture something later on. That’s something I like a lot about this record” – Max

What is the influence behind your latest LP?

Neil: I can’t say that there was a particular influence. In the demo stage, there were a lot of instances where I used that Eno technique where you remove the primary instruments or the ones that you recorded first and see what that suggests. Often removing the rhythm guitar or changing it to have a more minimal roll opened up a lot of space, so we pursued that a lot, whereas in the past, many our recordings were propelled by a more driving rhythm guitar. There’s been a lot more experimentation with removing elements and sometimes replacing them with parts that in the past would have played a more secondary roll. As a recording engineer, I’ve come to realize that playing instruments with a lighter touch can make things sound more expansive and less cluttered and we’re been exploring that a lot. I’d those ideas ideas have had a strong influence on the way this record has turned out.

Explain to us the process as a band you go through when recording? is it set out and planned or pretty free flowing?

Neil: It’s not always consistent. Sometimes I’ll make a demo in the studio and then we’ll play it as a band and the group will make it into something better. Sometimes we’ll strip my demo back a little bit and the band will overdub their parts together live. I’m a big fan of tracking live rather than working on each part in isolation. Occasionally, we’ll just start playing together with a rough idea that somebody has and it’ll suddenly turn into a song. Those are often my favorite songs and they’re usually the least labor-intensive to bring to a completed state.

We usually spend a few afternoons working a song out as a group and then record it live, knowing that things may be added or removed at a later date, with sections edited down if they outstay their welcome. Although we’re working digitally, most of our edits are done analog-style, “splicing the tape,” so-to-speak, rather than the sort of digital micro-editing that tends to make all records sound the same.

Lastly, what can we expect from you guys in the future?

Neil: Well, this record is almost completed and we’re trying to finish it up and figure out who’s going to release it. After that, we’re planning to continue with this lineup. I’m sure we’ll change up some concepts and working methods in order to make things feel fresh to us and differentiate the next group of songs from this batch.

Max: I’m looking forward to getting back to work on some new ideas soon. I think there’s a lot to explore within the framework we’ve been working under and I’m excited to see where it goes next.

Martha: Yeah, I definitely don’t feel a sense of finality with this record. Quite the opposite. Rather, it feels like the start of something new and exciting and i’m also looking forward to seeing where it goes too.