The indie band talks about their DIY attitude, performing live, and their upcoming album.
Brooklyn-based, indie band CHAPPO has moved away from calling their sound “space rock,” but listening to the ethereal falsettos of lead singer, Alex Chappo, one might get the impression that their music comes from another planet. In fact, space and black holes are key concept elements behind their next album, Future Former Self, which is to be released in March.
“This whole album tells the story of a guy named René, who is traveling through a black hole in order to talk to a parallel universe to help save his world,” says Chappo. He describes the record as a sequel to one of the band’s first EPs, Plastique Universe II, which ends with the eruption of an underwater volcano, the same sounds that open the first track on the new album. The band plays Thursday night at Tipitina’s.
CHAPPO has found success embracing bizarre themes and eclectic sounds. The track “Come Home,” a single off of their most recent album, Moonwater, which flirts with ideas of time travel, was recently featured in a commercial for Apple. Not so surprisingly, the group’s captivating strangeness has New Orleans roots. A Baton Rouge native, Alex Chappo lists ‘60s New Orleans psychedelia, along with '70s California beach rock as major influences, adding “There’s definitely a little moonshine in there, a Dr. John vibe meets surfy garage rock.” Although Chappo embraces New York as his current home, saying that he had always planned on moving to the city since he was a kid, the lead singer claims that his Louisiana upbringing contributes significantly to the band’s overall sound and image. “I think it comes through in my voice, the attitude and some of the feelings,” says Chappo. “It’s definitely there in the live shows.”
The otherworldliness extends to the group’s live performances, where members of the band dress up in Native American-themed, feathered costumes, form spontaneous drum circles or start tribal dance offs, and arm their audience with dream catchers and confetti cannons, which Chappo admits, “a lot of times they like to shoot into my face.” He continues, “We try to engage the audience in different ways, whether it’s a spiritual, moon shaman kind of vibe or a straight up dance party. Obviously you want an amazing musical experience but I think for us, we also want to give someone a performance too. If you are going to a live show, you want to see the artist perform the songs, not just the record being played and the guy standing there.” The band’s focus is to create an intimate, surreal moment for their fans, and they often cater specifically to the audience at hand. “There was a show we played, somewhere like Toledo,” says Chappo, “where only like fifteen people were in the audience. It was such a small show that I decided to get everyone on stage. Nobody was in the audience; everyone was on stage which is a kind of cool experience.”
Lo-fi and DIY, the band prefers to keep things simple and personal. This includes having friends help out with creating album art and produce many of the group’s music videos. “We love working with local artists and our friends,” says Chappo. “The Moonwater artwork was from a New Orleans artist, a good friend of mine who I grew up with and does amazing stuff.” The group’s lo-fi gear provide not only the psychedelic aesthetic that CHAPPO aims for, but also allows the band to escape the craziness of city life in order to focus on recording, often spending fifteen hours a day perfecting tracks. So far, it’s been a winning strategy. Moonwater was recorded in Vermont and the album produced a few hit singles. Future Former Self was recorded in Long Island, and Chappo believes it to be their most complete album to date. “This record is a lot more cohesive, it’s got more distinct contours and moves in and out of styles a little more eloquently than Moonwater did. This is more like a ballet dance between different styles. It strips down to an intimate song like ‘Something’s Ringing,’ then goes into a more funky, ‘70s disco track like ‘Mad Magic.’”
Chappo even describes the album artwork on the latest album as more simple and sleek, but hopes fans don’t mistake the changes as downgrading their sound and image. “The album definitely has depth,” says Chappo, “but a goal going into it was that we wanted to make this one feel more complete, cohesive, and trim some of the fat.” Judging from the mellow but enticing release from their upcoming album, “I Don’t Need the Sun,” fans might confidently conclude it was a mission accomplished.