Interview by: Carla Taylor (RIPple Puddle)

chasca line up
Catch Chasca June 11 at Empire Control Room for the Megafauna CD release
and June 17th at 502 Bar in San Antonio

A few months back, I was walking through Rainey Street with friends in from Amsterdam and London. We decided to duck in from the drizzling rain that had started seeping past the first layer of clothes into the Blackheart, a bar that I like to support because of their artist residency program. On that night, we stood there, mouths agape, funneling our attention at the performer on stage wearing a face full of makeup, tight spandex and guzzling Big Red from a 2 liter bottle. He addressed the crowd with moxie, turned around to put on a technicolored glitter coat and then proceeded to rock our faces off. I turned to the friends in from out of town. “See, this is just the magic that you find walking down the street here in Austin. You can stumble into any bar and get incredible live music.” But deep down, I knew that I was fibbing. This was not the usual band you find in Austin, this is not the usual entertainment. I was entranced by the music, the gyration of the crowd, the inside joke the band seemed to share. It was like I was watching an entirely new version of Queen, a version where Freddy Mercury rocks a flute and spouts innuendo. I live for moments like this, and all around me, I can tell that everyone else is equally living for it too.

I got a chance to sit down with the glitter gods, J.T. and Junior of Chasca to see what inspires them, how they evolved into their unique performance style.

Carla: Watching your performances, I’ve seen a few now, I can’t help but anticipate certain costume changes. When you go on stage with spandex and makeup on, and you’re jamming, there’s a power there right?

Junior: It actually is empowering and yet it is also revealing. In some ways, the makeup is our truest face. What you assume is that it’s a mask, you put it on and it’s armor. No matter what, good or bad you’re protected from it. But with us, it’s a bit different. When you’re legitimately enthusiastic about something, it makes you vulnerable. People are like ‘oh my god, you care. that’s so uncool.’ Right? But when we get our costumes and makeup on, what we’re expressing to our audience is: we’re really committed to this. And If you respond positively to us, it’s going to feed our souls.

J.T. : A good costume should conceal the identity and reveal the essence of the wearer.

Junior: There it is. (cont’d after picture)

The Concert Pub (North) Houston, TX, photo by: Maurice

The Concert Pub (North) Houston, TX, photo by: Maurice

J.T. It’s interesting from a sociological standpoint. We put the makeup on at the venue in full view of the clientele. We get there three hours ahead of time to get all done up and then people see us walking around. It immediately evokes a range of curiosities…and skepticism.

I think a lot of people in our culture have probably set a good expectation that if something looks like a gimmick, or looks inauthentic or filigree, it’s probably to compensate for lack of substance. They think we’re going to get up there and bite the heads off of chickens.

You know, all squirt and no juice, right? I think the 1980s set up a lot of expectation, if you appear to have a lot of peppermint about you, then you probably don’t have a lot of essence.

That skepticism, and people setting their dial to be particularly critical is pretty interesting. I mean, they’re already engaged right? When you can melt cynicism, which there’s an abundance of, it’s an effective device. It wasn’t like we plotted it out that way, ‘we’ll make their cynicism peak and then we will go in for the kill.’ It sort of just happened that way.

We are a glam rock band but I don’t think that quite captures the essence of it. It’s not just the glitter and makeup. It’s a full commitment to going balls out for the performance. And I think that makes people feel, on the best nights, oh these guys are doing something well and having fun: we can have fun too. So the hair comes down, the inhibitions melt a little. And it becomes, in a weird way, us separating ourselves from the audience. It’s like the antithetical punk thing, instead of being one with the audience, we are inviting you into our world and everyone is welcome. That’s the spirit that I sense going on at our shows on the best nights. Some of the Blackheart shows that we played are like mardi gras, we can lift our shirts and shake what we got and it’s all ok here cause these guys are doing it and they’re not bashful about. it.

Carla: And the best moment is when the metal heads come out.

Junior: They seem to have the highest level of skepticism and they like to communicate it too. Look, I saw what you were wearing. I hated it and I hated you. But by the third song, I loved you. I can feel in those moments that it’s important for them to connect with us and to let us know that we were this close to turning them completely off. But in the end we got them. Well, the performance is quite unique. It’s kind of hard not to be engaged.

Carla:  What was the creative brew that happened during the evolution of the band? This seems like a very authentic expression. The crowd can sense it. With so much noise, how did you pull this out of yourselves?

J.T.: The short answer is that everything we do is a synthesis of all the things that influenced us. For good and ill. We are all big fans of Queen, and of that genre and era of music, when the intention of the artist was to bring a largess to the show, a spectacle. Give people a reason to go out and spend their hard earned dollars. And I particularly am fond of Genesis, the Peter Gabriel era. There’s just a lot of stuff in our DNA as musicians and performers that comes from that era where the sexuality is mixed in, you know, a little bit from column A, a little bit from column B. There’s a theatricality to the music. That’s what we cut our teeth on. It takes us to that high, white peak of ecstasy when you listen to those songs. We were never old enough to see those bands in their heyday but thanks to Youtube we can access that.

Junior: And before that, we watched the late night MTV Classic concerts.

J.T.: You watch that and all of a sudden it’s Bowie or T Rex and you’re like ‘who are these guys? This is weirder than anything I’ve ever seen on Headbanger’s Ball.’

Junior: Even bands that aren’t as much of an influence to us musically, we still take cues from. The New York Dolls, Kiss, Iggy Pop. When I was a little kid and I saw Gene Simmons spitting fire and blood, flying over the crowd, I thought ‘you can be a superhero and a rockstar at the same time? Sign me up!’

JT: Gene Simmons said that Kiss became the band they wanted to see, that they weren’t seeing. We thought it would be interesting to take all the aspects of the bands that we love, and try to do our own thing with it. At the very least we’ll have a gas doing it. Even if everyone else hates it. We’ll feel like it was at least a fun risk to take. But it did take us a little while to catch our stride. We realized that the way to really make it work is to go full on commitment with it. To make the costumes inhabit some characters for the songs, make the makeup bigger. It’s an ongoing process.

Junior: And to be fair, if we find two years from now surround by other bands wearing costumes and makeup, you’ll likely see us in suits. The idea is to stand out, to find a different way of expressing a performance and art that is incongruous with the other things out there. We’re trying to be true to ourselves, but we’re also going ‘hey if this shoe gazer thing is in, let’s not do that.’

JT:
The makeup and the cosmetic aspect of what we do is just another way to dot our i’s and cross our t’s. That’s just one facet of the show. If we got up there and stood there playing the music it wouldn’t be as effective. But if we decided to take all the makeup off, we’d still jump around and stuff. You have to be inherently entertaining.

Carla: The theatric nature of what you’re doing is effective because all of the parts work well together. You’re telling a story using scenery and costume to tell it. You could tell the story standing still, but you it wouldn’t be as impactful as creating the full audio atmosphere.

JT: Absolutely. Whatever it was that we wanted to achieve at the beginning, we wanted to make sure that we weren’t dumbing it down or trying to be consistent with an actuarial chart, ‘this is what people want. this what will get a reaction.’ We had a lot of faith that people would handle something low brow but high minded.

One of the things that was a lone star for me, as far as what the public will accept is the TV show Lost. Here’s a show that has it all right? Production is great, the stories are interesting, the mythology around it is complex. The writers are pulling from all kinds of literary sources and science. You’re either gonna hang with it or you’re gonna hate it. They took a big risk and it paid off. This was around the time when the band was starting to incubate. I kept thinking, why aren’t there more things like this? It’s accessible and good and you can somehow package it for a primetime audience, an audience that might not be used to Apocalypse Now meets 2001. I can see the suits being like ‘this is really heady stuff for Joe Six Pack.’ But if you do something well, I think, yeah there are gonna be people who don’t like it, but at least they’ll not like it honestly. But there are also going to be people that respond to it.

JT: We’ve all been sidemen in other projects. When bands talk to crowds, you sense a bit of trepidation. People get into music because they like music, not because they enjoy addressing other people. Being conscious of communication with the audience was an important thing to establish. The best performances come from performers who you sense don’t need validation. In many ways the performer is a lion tamer.

Carla: And sometimes you poke the crowd!

J.T.: It’s a high wire act to an extent. You have to be judicious and ready to roll with whatever reaction you get and hope you have the presence of mind to respond accurately. But part of the show is an interaction and you want people to feel like they are a part of the show. Each night is a different night. As the lion tamer you gotta know when to throw a treat and when to crack the whip. It’s a fine line to walk and it’s a constant learning curve…the whole point is to have fun and to bring the audience to the party.

Junior: And it’s wise to keep in mind that a good comedian can get some mileage off a blown joke.

J.T.: Some of our funniest and best crowd engagement come from things that tank. It’s funny to call yourself out on that. Sometimes I make a note to self: ’ok, no more sodomy references in west Texas. Sometimes it’s nice to be the foil in your own bit but it takes a lot of confidence to be the person getting picked on; to not be rattled and at ease having said something stupid but that you’re inviting everyone to laugh at you. That’s part and parcel to what we are trying to bring to in a live performance. Everything that happens is part of the show. There are no missteps.

Carla: It’s funny how art has to be so serious…and we aren’t one dimensional beings. You can have comedy as part of your art and still have it be impactful.

J.T.: I don’t buy into the idea that art has to have this dark gravitas. If you look at Oscar Wilde, his stuff is self-deprecating, witty and funny but also cutting. Humor does a lot of things and many of those things are not trivial. We take our performance seriously but at the same time don’t. It’s another dichotomy inherent in our schizophrenia. We want to a make something that, as Wilde put it, can be admired. There are two schools of thought in art or creative pursuit: you do it for yourself and don’t care if people like it or you do and you want people to respond to it. We’re putting it out there so that people will react, hopefully in a positive way. I’m suspicious of anyone that says ‘I don’t care what people think’. At the same time, we’re also not going stop ourselves from doing something because we’re worried about what people will think.

Carla: I believe an artist’s most exciting power is to translate messages or information that is not easily communicated. What messages do you think you translate?

J.T.: This one guy came up to me after a show and said ‘you made me believe in rock and roll again,’ which was a sweet thing to lay on someone. But there was something in the sincerity in which he said it that was humbling. Here we are playing this dumpy little club for a few people, and we’re this little piddly shit band playing locally. To get a reaction like that where someone has been genuinely moved and not even because of what we did but because the zeitgeist of the moment was such that the bullshit of life was not bothering him for that second. I mean, you can live the rest of your life happy that for a fleeting moment you played a small part in somebody having a degree of, for lack of a better word, hope, that there are still corners of the world where just because you can do something cool, you do it. Without there being any other motivation other than, hey, life can at its moments be a fantastically interesting and awesome, uplifting experience.

Looking out at our crowd it’s a polyglot of different people. We have the co-eds over here and then the metal guys and then the old fans of classic rock and then the hipsters and the hiphop guys. Just seeing people react to us being like, hey we think this is good from stem to stern. Seeing people from all walks of life walking out with a smile on their face…

Junior: It’s a good high.

J.T.: What we hope to impart is that, you can have the courage of your convictions to do something unique to you. That life does not belong in a box. That it’s ok to sprinkle stardust and belt rainbows.

Carla: It’s nice to get that feeling today especially at a time when everything is so safe and homogenous.

JT: We are just a part of the greater longing for things to not be so banal and streamlined and corporatized and mechanized.
If things are done well, they can get a genuine reaction. Our biggest skeptics, the people that we have to fight against are the ones that won’t book us and are like ‘well this is real fruity. I don’t know what to do with this.’ It has proven to be a stumbling block for us, that is until we play. Then they get it. It took us a long tome to find the right venues to play but we are really grateful for the Blackheart, Hole in the Wall, Swandive, and the Mohawk.

Junior: Over the last couple years, radio has also been very supportive. KUT and KLBJ have really embraced us. They do us a service by letting the fans know: look you’re gonna enjoy the visuals, you’re gonna enjoy the drama of it all, but check out this music. It’s taken a while but the damns have started to opened. It wasn’t immediate but it’s really gratifying.

Carla: The gratification comes from a pretty deep place, one that has taken an evolution to get to.

Junior: It’s like when you first start making love. You forget that it’s a communication with another human being. You work on your moves, you want to be good, you want to be sexy. Sometimes you even think about whether you have the right underwear on and your hair is working. You become focused on the external stuff, even to the point where it ruins the mood. I remember the first time someone express to me that laughter in the middle of love making is not a bad thing. It took me a while to understand. Performance can be a lot like that. We walk onto the stage with all of these notions about how it should be performed, how it should be received, how seriously do I need to be taken. But if you actually allow yourself to give into the moment…you know, a little bit of laughter during lovemaking can make it even better. There’s a letting go spiritually that has to happen for us to do what we do. What I notice in the crowd, not only is it that we embolden them to let their freak flag fly but on a deeper level, the sense of…letting go and enjoying yourself even if it creates an awkward moment. There’s a liberation to that.

At a certain point you just have to give into the moment.  When you’re in the moment, it’s just you and pure emotion.

 

 

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