Chevelle has been rocking faces off crowds for over 10 years. The three piece is set to release its sixth studio album in December, Hats off to the Bull. Their most recent release, Sci-Fi Crimes, was a Top 10 album on the Billboard charts, fueled in part by the band's hit “Sleep Apnea.” CityBeat spoke with drummer Sam Loeffler before Chevelle's show in Cincinnati Friday with Bush and Filter at PNC Pavilion about the band's rise to fame, the current Occupy Wall Street protests, corporate greed and the importance of Wikipedia accuracy.
CityBeat: I’m kind of intrigued by this family band concept.
Sam Loeffler: We get that a lot. Pete and I just always played together since literally 23 years ago when we picked up instruments. We just always started writing songs from the very beginning and it was just a coincidence that we both got really interested in music at the same time.
CB: What was the age at that time?
SL: 12 and 14.
CB: Are you the older one?
SL: I am. That’s how I think of myself, as the old one.
CB: The wiser one. I was explaining to someone from college that when I was in college, this music and these bands were a big deal.
SL: It is kind of like that. Our first big record wasn’t until 2002.
CB: But you guys were around in’99.
SL: Our first record came out in the end of ’99.
CB: That’s when I was still in college. How do you keep the music relevant over a 15 year time frame?
SL: I think it is important, as a band, to write the music you love so you are not faking it. And that is what we do. We write hard rock and melodic music. There is no formula to it. You are writing good songs or you are not. I can name bands that have great singers, bad lyrics and bad music, but they are still cool because it is a cool voice. You really like to hear somebody sing — no matter what they sing — with a good voice. Roy Orbison could sing anything. Johnny Cash could sing anything. Then there is the other side of it with people who write really good songs. They don’t have a really good front man and the lyrics are bad. Certainly, to me, at the end of the day, it is just the songs.
CB: And there are people now who can’t sing at all and who can, in the studio, make it sound good.
SL: And we are closer to them everyday than we think. CB: No you’re not.
SL: Well, I don’t mean us necessarily but we see those bands every day that are studio-effected.
CB: Right. I take photos at concerts and I am so shocked sometimes when I see people aren’t singing because I can see … I am right there.
SL: Do you think you can tell?
CB: I think I can tell, yes.
SL: Well try to figure out tonight who is lip-synching. You can look around and there is usually someone on the side running the ProTools (and studio effects).
CB: Sometimes there is real reason, people are sick.
SL: I don’t think there is a real reason. If you are sick, then you sing sick. You sound sick and people sing along with you to help out or you cancel your show. But to have everything cued up so you don’t have to sing is fully a cop out. You have one gig, to sing your parts. Sing poorly if that’s what it is but sing.
CB: I agree and people can tell.
SL: Most people would agree except for a lot of singers would disagree.
CB: I know you personally write most of the music right?
SL: Well, Pete and I write. Pete writes all the lyrics definitely. But we will write music together. He’ll usually … it is one of two ways. One is he’ll bring us a riff like something he played on acoustic or it will be just a melody or just a couple of chords or else we will be sitting together.
CB: A lot of people write by themselves and then they bring it together as a band but you guys sit together.
SL: Oh yeah, we do. Like I said, more than half of everything is written sitting together. Definitely more than half, because it is just about being in the moment and feeling something.
CB: Can you write in this setting of being on the road or do you usually do it at home?
SL: We could. We actually, at one time, we did this tour and we took out this second bus which just a studio on it. But it wasn’t a very good environment to work on.
CB: I can’t imagine. There is so much chaos every day.
SL: Because we were off cycle at the time but we wanted to do the tour anyway and it was only five weeks long. So we took this other bus out with us which costs about eight grand a week. It cost us like $50,000 for five weeks to have this other bus with us and we got three songs out of it. So it wasn’t really worth it.
CB: Well, now you can almost do it on a Mac.
SL: We were doing that. The thing is, for a thousand bucks a week, we could have had someone come into our dressing room every day and set up all our stuff and tear it down.
CB: It just wasn’t worth it unless you are up all night doing it while you were driving.
SL: That would have been more worth it. We should have done that, in hindsight.
CB: Where do you see yourself in 10 more years? You guys aren’t that old considering when you started out, at age 12.
SL: Yeah. There are some poor people out here that are 47 years old and I am 37, so in 10 years …
CB: Do you think you can do it?
SL: I don’t know. I feel a little silly right now, honestly.
CB: I talked to Theory of a Deadman a few weeks ago and their guitar player Dave said, “I don’t know. I’m going to be 44. At some point I may have to grow up.”
SL: That’s what I am saying. I feel a little bit silly. It is like watching Star Wars now from 1977. I watched it, like the first half hour last night, and there are the guys walking around in their stormtrooper outfits and then the other guys with the crazy helmets on, at the very beginning with the laser guns, but they aren’t shooting anything. All the sort of prop actors can’t act at all. They are fully looking around. You know George Lucas is going, “I don’t know what I am doing. I am just trying to fight through my first movie with models.” I kind of feel like that. When I watch bands now and they are rocking out and into it and they are owning it, I’m like, “Dude, seriously, I know you. You are a total nerd and that’s not helping. Your tattoos are stretched out and faded now. You’re still hanging.” It’s just a little silly. The whole thing is a little silly. We have to look at it like that right?
CB: But you have to still keep doing it. Do you still really love playing every night or has it ever become a job?
SL: I love to play drums. I love to play our music with Pete and Dean. I love that part of it. The silliness is the lie that people think is Rock & Roll. That is the part that I really don’t enjoy. Because now, especially as an adult, there is almost nothing that I haven’t done, with the exception of winning a Grammy, but we have played all over the world. We have played all 50 states, literally thousands and thousands of shows, every television show, every magazine, every event, we have played in front of 75,000 people, we have played in front of 500 people, our own shows, other people’s shows, the bars. I tried to count the other day, we have had like 60-something different tour buses.
CB: I can’t believe I have never photographed you guys. I am so excited, I really am excited.
SL: And that is awesome. That’s the thing, all I can do and all we can do is go out and play our songs and own them the best we can. That’s all we do. I’m not going to sit up there and twirl sticks around. That’s just silly at this point. I just want to play the songs the best I can.
CB: It’s still fun for you and it’s still the best job you could ever have.
SL: It’s fun for me to play those songs because I have been part of all them. It’s even fun to play other people’s songs. Being a drummer, totally fun, being a musician, fun, being part of a band, totally fun. It’s the photo shoots and the videos and the other silly stuff that goes along with it that I don’t particularly care for. But you have to do it because people give a crap about what you look like for some reason. I mean, Keith Richards is crazy ugly.
CB: I was talking about him today. Somebody said to me, “Do you know any bands that have really been on drugs for like 20 years and survived?” I said, “Have you seen Keith Richards. He is the poster child for that. He is alive and well.”
SL: I know other ones too. It’s amazing.
CB: But you guys still look good. You do.
SL: Thank you. I stay out of the sun.
CB: You have played Cincinnati a lot. You have played Bogarts many times. Any crazy Cincinnati stories?
SL: Bogarts gets more and more scary every time. Are there any crazy stories from Cincinnati? I mean, to be honest we try to roll with it, so there aren’t any crazy stories. We have had some crazy radio things where we have went and did stuff for the radio and they brought people in for bowling. That worked out pretty weird. Another time one of our reps was like, the first time we met him, he was just freaking, he had been up for three days straight and was a drug addict and had been to the strip club.
CB: Like your rep here?
SL: Yeah, from our record label.
CB: In Cincinnati, you met him?
SL: Oh yeah. He is not with the company any more. He hasn’t been for like five years.
CB: OK, so he had been up for three days …
SL: Yeah and he was tweaked out of his mind.
CB: So what did you do with him?
SL: We got in his car and rode halfway across the city and tried not to close our eyes so that we’d have to see our death coming at us literally at 60 miles per hour.
CB: Is there anything you like to do here besides Skyline?
SL: I do love Skyline chili. The chili dogs with the cheese and the onions. I am an eater — while foodies may not consider a Skyline Chili Dog, it is fantastic.
CB: I know you guys are from Chicago, and they have good hot dogs in Chicago …
SL: Oh yeah, Chicago has some of the best food that there is.
CB: Does Chicago affect your music?
SL: I think the weather affects your music. I think being stuck inside in gray weather for six weeks at a time when it is four outside … yeah, the lake brings you down. I think those things affect your music and how we grew up affects our music, the fact we were carpenters and framers and whatever else we could do, that stuff affects your music; having to go to work in the freezing cold, proper work and then come home pack up your stuff, drag it to the city, play a show, drag it all the way back, and have to be at work the next day at 8-ish.
CB: So you guys did have jobs before this was full-time I assume?
SL: I haven’t worked a day job since 2001.
CB: So you have been retired for 10 years?
SL: Well, you can say it, but at the same time, the last tours we did were almost 19 months straight.
CB: It’s all relative. Do you think if you ever stop playing music, you are still really young, let’s say you retire at 44 or 47, do you think you could go back and do a day job? Do you think you’d be bored sitting around all day?
SL: I’ve never sat around in my life, ever.
CB: You’d find something to do?
SL: Oh yeah, you say retiring, and I know what you are talking about, you are saying retiring from playing music professionally. But I would still have to work. I haven’t made enough money that I can afford not to work. I mean, I am doing fine, there are no problems.
CB: Were your parents always supportive of the music?
SL: Yeah, I think they were supportive. I don’t know, do you have children?
CB: No, sorry.
SL: If you ever have children, you can tell them this — no matter what it is, just pick something and do it and do it well. It doesn’t matter what it is, if you are going to be a deli meat slicer, slice that meat so crazy thin and perfect and pass those tools down to your kids and make them slice it even thinner.
CB: I want to talk about your new record. You blew this all out today on WEBN with the name of the record and a crazy ass video this morning where you guys were just sitting there looking scared with a guy named Shroom.
SL: Yeah, he was funny and we had just woken up.
CB: That makes more sense now. You guys are sitting all on one side of a table and this dude is screaming and running in front of you …
SL: We had, well the car was here to pick us up at noon and I woke up those guys at 11:35. They had to get up, brush their teeth, do a little coffee. It is a 20 minute drive to the radio station and we walk in there and there are 20 people with no chairs eating pizza and drinking coke.
CB: And then you said the name of the new album, what was it, Hats Off to the Bull?
SL: Hats Off to the Bull. It sort of stands for rooting for the underdog.
CB: What’s it going to be about?
SL: The record, well the song “Face the Floor” specifically actually has (swindler Bernie) Madoff’s name in it. It’s sort of about being taken advantage of. It is a little bit about our financial crisis we are in, loosely. It is about what it is like to feel completely ripped off by your peers. In this situation, he is citing that Madoff would have not liked for those people to find out they had nothing. It is one thing to go from being 70 years old and thinking you have a few million in the bank and to being 70 years old and having nothing and knowing that you have to sell your home if you can and move in with your kids. It’s brutal and it happened to thousands of people.
CB: Yeah, many, many people. There is a lot of things like this. There’s the Enrons and there is all this stuff where people who are really greedy have done really bad things.
SL: And this whole thing with what they are doing with the stock market right now with the protest and stuff, I love it. It is like the coolest thing I have ever heard in my life.
CB: Except it is getting a little crazy …
SL: They should burn it down. OK, they shouldn’t burn it down. They should metaphorically burn it down. They should start over. It doesn’t work because everyone is out for themselves.
CB: Greed does crazy things to people.
SL: All these congressmen are out for themselves, toom which is weird when you are that old and you are still looking out for yourself. Nobody wants to admit they are going to die. What’s the problem? You are going to die.
CB: You sound like Steve Jobs today. That was his big speech they are playing all over the world from Stanford in 2005 about how every day you are closer to dying, are you doing what you want to do?
SL: Yeah, that’s great advice. I hope you don’t die for a very long time, by the way, or at least until you get to do what you want to do.
CB: The record is going to be out in December right?
SL: Yeah, Dec. 6th.
CB: Is it good?
SL: I think it’s great. There are only a few songs on it that are first-listen songs, where you listen to and get it. The rest of them, you really have to listen a few times.
CB: You guys had a lot of success with Sci-Fi Crimes and you guys have had great success over many years.
SL: You know we have sold 3.5 million records. Isn’t that weird?
CB: I know you have. I read it — and I question everything I read on Wikipedia because I have gotten burned in interviews.
SL: Every once in a while I’ll go on and fix stuff.
CB: You do?
SL: Every couple of months.
CB: You’re fixing your own Wikipedia, that’s a good idea. You should tell every band to do that.
SL: Well people use it. To be fair, you take it with a grain of salt.
CB: I do. I’m looking at recent interviews and researching.
SL: For the most part, I think most Wikipedias are accurate. It’s not a valid source. It is a source of information but not something you can quote.
CB: Are you guys going to tour with the new record another 19 months?
SL: At least, that’s the plan.
CB: This one has been two years.
SL: Yeah, that’s pretty common.
CB: Are you going to play any songs new tonight?
SL: We’ll play “Face the Floor” tonight.
CB: Have you played that on TV yet?
SL: We have Jimmy Kimmel scheduled. Pete wants to play more new stuff, but no one knows it. You get that sort of thing with dogs when you whistle. That’s what people do. And here with the Bush crowd and the Filter crowd, there is a nice mixture of people.
CB: They are my age.
SL: Yes, but we still have younger people. It is somewhat surprising to me that we have a lot of teenagers still coming out. You want to make new fans. That is the goal, always to be making new fans.
CB: So you think the new people are here for you?
SL: I think it does seem to be that way. I’m not going to swear by it but it does seem like that. I’d say our average audience age is late 20s, there are a lot of people in their 30s and some in their 40s, but there are without a doubt, if there are 3,000 tickets sold tonight, I bet you there is 10% of them in their 40s. You know what though? That is very special that people in their 40s are coming to a Rock show.
CB: Why? That’s not that old. I have a lot of friends in their 40s.
SL: I agree that it is not that old but most people in their 40s have a lot of other commitments. They have to take time out of their lives and come to a Rock show on a Friday night at 5:30 or 6 o’clock. That is a pretty big commitment.