Interview with Sam Loeffler: Hats Off To Chevelle

Interview with Sam Loeffler: Hats Off To Chevelle

—by , March 2, 2012

One of my favorite bands of the modern era has been Chevelle because of their amazing guitar riffs and catchy melody lines. In fact, one of the band’s that I played in loved them so much that we modeled our sound and songwriting technique after them and sure enough, we sparked an interest within their management company—which is proof that Chevelle has the perfect formula for success! It was pretty much a no-brainer when I was asked if I’d like to talk to one-half of the Loeffler brothers; drummer Sam Loeffler!

Chevelle, who claims to be an underdog in the industry, recently released their sixth CD, Hats Off To The Bull. The Chicago-based hard rock band has come a long way since the release of their 1999 Independent debut CD, Point #1. It wasn’t until 2002 that Chevelle would burst onto the scene with their major label breakthrough CD, Wonder What’s Next, which featured their hits “The Red” and “Closure.” In 2004, Chevelle would release This Type Of Thinking (Could Do Us In) and in 2007, Vena Sera. In 2009, the band reached their highest entry to date on the Billboard Top 200 at number six, with their CD, Sci-Fi Crimes. Here in 2012, Hats Off To The Bull already has Chevelle off and running with some major success due to their first single, “Face To The Floor,” which became the number one most added song on active and alternative rock radio.

Chevelle is currently on the road with Middle Class Rut and Janus as they promote Hats Off To The Bull. They’ll make a stop at Irving Plaza in NYC on Feb. 29 and House Of Blues in Atlantic City on March 3. Drummer Sam Loeffler called me from tour rehearsal to discuss the band’s excitement about the new CD and heading back out on the road. Here’s what he had to say:

Congrats on the new CD, Hats Off To The Bull. From beginning to end, you guys never seize to amaze me!

Thank you, man! That’s awesome! You can only hope that people get what you’re doing, but we get both sides of it. Some people love what we do and some people think we’re writing the same record, but I don’t think that the records sound the same, I don’t think that the songs sound the same, but they do sound like us.

So why did you guys choose the title Hats Off To The Bull? Was it a knock on Wall Street or something?

Not exactly! It means more about rooting for the underdog. We got a lot of hassle over us being political, and it’s only political in the sense that it’s your country and you should be involved. That’s really it, but the record is not a political record, and we’re not a political band. We try to keep our politics and our religion—I wouldn’t say out of the music, but we certainly don’t want to make it obvious and talk about it.

But then I read that your first single “Face To The Floor” was a knock on Bernie Madoff?

Yeah, it was, and that song specifically is about greed. Obviously, Bernie Madoff was one of the greediest people in history, and what he did to those people was incorrigible!

The CD debuted at 19 on the Billboard charts and “Face To The Floor” is number one on active rock radio. Was this CD written any differently than the five previous ones?

I don’t think we did so much different in writing it. The writing process for us has always been that we’ll write some songs just together randomly or Pete will bring us riffs, which is still kind of the way we do it, but certain things like producers will effect songs in a different way and Joe Barresi (Queens Of The Stone Age, Coheed And Cambria) is such an awesome guy and he’s so good to be around and he tried so many different things. He’s not afraid of anything. We’ll do more records with him! He’s great! I can’t wait to do another record with him!

I’m sure you hear a lot from critics that there is a strong Tool influence, do you embrace the Tool reference or do you try to escape it?

Well, I don’t think that we try to escape from it, but I guarantee you that no band wants to be compared to another band. We all want to think that we’re completely original (laughs). So, there’s that, but as far as rock music goes, I think that you will wear some of your influences on your sleeve, but I think that as far as our band being like Tool, we’re pretty darn different; the same way that Tool is different from Pink Floyd. There are similarities certainly, but it’s all rock music, and it comes down to the song—if people like the song, you know what I mean? I listen to some bands that sound like some bands like Muse has been tortured over sounding like Radiohead, but we still like Muse and I think that they’re writing some really cool songs!

Now, when you first started Chevelle, did you see yourself going this long with it? Because you don’t seem to be slowing down at all!

I would say that we certainly never expected, and I think that when you’re passionate about what you do, that certainly helps a lot, but I gotta say that I still think that it comes down to the songs. If people like your songs, then you need to professionally be a band, and if people don’t like your songs, then you’re going to basically do it as a hobby, and that’s okay too! Whatever it is!

I read somewhere that you said that you wanted to capture the vibe that you had in the past; I feel this Hats Off To The Bull can be lined up right next to the others. Is that what you meant by that?

I guess so. I think that probably the biggest thing that we had about it was that we didn’t want to go with this sort of sound that has been developed over the past 10 or 15 years, where a band sounds like typewriters and they’re quantized and all the drums sound like they’re played on a Casio keyboard and every single vocal part is perfect from auto-tune and things like that. I think that that makes all the bands sound the same, and I think that was probably more of what we were trying to get, the vibe of the past being—Point #1 was recorded pretty much straight up! And Wonder What’s Next, This Type Of Thinking, and Vena Sera were kind of recorded in a different way. In sort of more of a Pro Tools way, which doesn’t take anything away from the music or the playing or anything, but I felt like at certain times, I felt like some of the vibe got lost in the way that it was played. So, with Sci-Fi Crimes and Hats Off To The Bull, there’s no auto-tune on those records. There’s no quantizing. That’s just we played the songs and we played them until they were right, and I think that makes for a better vibe!

I agree! I think that when you’re capturing that vibe, you’re also capturing the live essence of the song as opposed to hearing it all cut up.

Yes, and the thing is that Pro Tools, quantizing, and auto-tune; all those things are tools for producers to use when they need to use them, and it comes down to the band being prepared, and being able to actually know what they want. Then they don’t have to use those things.

Now, did you guys have a hand in the production of Hats Off To The Bull? Or was that all Joe Barresi?

Oh, no, we’ve produced every record with our producer. Without a doubt, it’s wholeheartedly. Every part of what we do is us! Our producer works with us, and in Joe’s case and Brian Virtue’s case, these people are great! They’re great producers and we work together on every aspect of it, whether it’s producing a song and writing it, and making it so that it’s right. Everything in those terms is simple stuff, like getting gear from one place to another, choosing a studio—all of those things are points in production.

What’s your favorite song off of Hats Off To The Bull?

Off of this record, I’d have to say “The Meddler” is my favorite song.

Okay, then what’s your favorite Chevelle song to perform live now that you’re going out on the road again?

Well, lately, “Hats Off To The Bull” has been really fun to play. That’s actually one that we’re putting into the set right now. “Envy” has been a lot of fun. We’ve been playing that in the last run. That’s a song that’s so different in our set, which is great!

This month you guys are hitting the road with Middle Class Rut and Janus, two great young bands. Were they handpicked by Chevelle personally?

Yeah, they were the bands that we wanted to [tour] with. Middle Class Rut is a great band, and those guys were in a band years ago that we played with back in ‘99 called Leisure. They were a great band that years later became Middle Class Rut, which is just great! Janus is a band actually from Chicago that we’ve known for a long time, and they’ve written a couple of great records now too. It’s a cool rock tour, and I don’t think that anybody could possibly be bored. It’s all good music and sometimes you have to go out on tour and take out a band that you don’t quite get or you don’t necessarily agree with what they’re playing, but this is a show where we can watch the whole set and love both those bands.

What’s it like being in a band with mainly relatives? At one point, it was the three Loeffler brothers, and now there are two brothers and a brother-in-law—and your sister sings on “Same Old Trip.” Because, I mean, they say to never go into business with relatives…

Well, it’s all we know, so it’s pretty much fine. Natalie singing on that song was just randomness because she was in the studio that day, and Pete was singing these falsetto parts in that song, and we just said that it would be way better to have a girl sing that part. It would be more natural. That’s how that happened and it was awesome! And we’re really, really happy that it worked out the way it did.

One last question before I let you go, Sam. What’s in store for Chevelle moving forward?

Well, we have lots of touring, and one of the things we’d like to do is put a record out in other parts of the world. We have a couple records out in the U.K. and Australia and Germany and places like that. But it’s been difficult just because of the record industry, so we haven’t gone back to many of those places. That’s one thing that we want to do, and as usual we have tons of shows in the U.S. We’ll play all the way through till next year; we’ll be on this cycle. Then there are videos! We’re trying to always do more stuff that is fan involved, so hopefully we’ll come up with some more ideas.

You can catch Chevelle at Irving Plaza on Wednesday, Feb. 29 and at the House Of Blues in Atlantic City on Saturday, March 3. For more information, check out chevelleinc.com.


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