Carl Chesna has been making and performing his music throughout New York and New Jersey for the past several decades. In fact, the Jersey Shore rocker’s band, aptly named Carl Chesna & Co., recently released its debut album, Prayer to the Black Madonna, as a testament of sorts to the Asbury music scene. We had the opportunity to chat with Chesna about his musical upbringing, the inspiration behind his latest work, and his future plans as part of this month’s Unsigned Band Issue!
Where are you from?
I was born in Sleepy Hollow, NY. Westchester County. Land of the Headless Horseman.
How long have you been an active musician and how did you get started?
I started playing music and writing songs after my brother gave me my first guitar at around age seven. I have been performing on stage since I was 11 years old when I started playing in bands in junior high school.
How would you describe your music to someone who has never heard you before?
My music is part alterna-folk, part Americana, and ultimately all rock ‘n’ roll. Reminiscent of John Mellencamp, The Pretenders, REM and Tom Petty, the band and album capture a contemporary sound influenced by the Asbury Park lifestyle and music scene.
What was your latest release of music and can you talk about that a bit?
My band, Carl Chesna & Co., just released its first full-length album this week entitled Prayer to the Black Madonna, a retrospective record that was recorded at various locations featuring a collective of musicians I’ve worked with throughout the years. That’s why the band is called “Carl Chesna & Co.” — because we call in different folks for different songs/gigs, etc.
Also, it was important to me to keep the release as “Asbury-centric” as possible. So a lot of the recording, and all of the artwork, mastering and many of the musicians are “Asbury-local.”
People ask if it’s a religious album — because of the title — but it’s not. The original concept was generated as a result of my research when I wrote the song “Dark Night of the Soul.” I was reading a book about the Black Madonna and exploring the female archetype throughout theological history including Joan of Arc, the Whore of Babylon, and Demeter & Persephone — all of whom are touched upon in this record. I strayed from the theme here and there, but ended up keeping with the original plan! Women are underpaid, undermined, and exploited in practically every culture on the planet, and meanwhile they’re represented with power and dignity in most religions since the beginning of time. They bring life to our world for crying out loud!
What is your writing and recording process like?
It varies. Sometimes I get an idea for a lyric and jot it down. Other times I start fooling around with my guitar and come up with licks that are catchy or fun to play. A couple of songs came to me in dreams! I would wake up and sing the melody and lyrics into my cell phone.
What are current projects you are working on?
I just filmed a national TV commercial in Asbury Park this week and that was a lot of fun. I play a character based upon an Andy Kaufman original that I used to parody around town at different venues. The producer remembered it and invited me to do something similar for the national ad spot, and I was happy to do it!
Other than that, I’m planning on filming a video for the song “Wintertime Greys”, which has its roots in Greek mythology. I’m also thinking about recording an EP of our favorite cover songs that we love to perform live.
What is your favorite memory as a musician?
I once had the honor of opening for Leslie Gore at the Algonquin Arts Theatre. We were in the green room and there was a bit of catering including a bottle of wine. I was nervous and had a couple glasses. When the stage manager realized what I had done, she flipped out, angrily informing us that Ms. Gore had requested the wine in her rider and it was supposed to be only for her! But by then it was too late…
What are your goals for the future as a musician?
I want to do a tour across Canada and along the East Coast. I also have the opportunity to play some gigs in Seattle — somehow I’ve never been there, so that’ll be fun. Otherwise, I just want to keep recording and delve into some different musical styles — territories unexplored!
What are your plans for the rest of 2018?
I’m heading to Ireland for a week in November to do some writing. I also have tickets to see Elvis Costello, Stone Temple Pilots and Judas Priest where I will be Screaming for Vengeance!
Where can readers find your music?
My music can be heard, downloaded and purchased on my website: carlchesna.com