Spaghetti Western rock and roll dance party from Vienna, Austria? Chick Quest ’s debut record, Vs. Galore, is the sound of four people playing sweaty, explosive, danceable rock and roll built on creativity and fun— trumpet and all. It’s feeling the floorboards bounce while dancing to Violent Femmes in a crowded house at 3 am, not trying to show people how “hard you rock” for the umpteenth time.
The original name for the band was Lee Van Cleef, named after the famous actor who starred in many classic western films like The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Ryan White, an American expat living in Vienna, Austria, had the idea of taking “Spaghetti Western” influences and mixing it with his own indie rock songwriting for a couple of years. In mid January of 2014, while listening to The Go! Team’s debut album in a bar, a drunken conversation with his friend, Iris Rauh, convinced her to buy an electronic drum set and learn to play the drums from scratch so together they could create dance parties for their friends in Vienna.
Unlike most drunken “great ideas,” this one stuck, and Rauh bought her electronic drum set the very next day. White began to focus on writing “straightforward” songs based on chopped up snippets of “Spaghetti Western” chord progressions and simple, repetitive drum beats. In order to alleviate himself from more complicated guitar work so he could focus on vocals and performance, he wrote melodic bass lines underneath the drum patterns and rhythm guitar that had now taken a back seat to the song. The idea was to be “simple” in structure and technique but intricate in arrangement and layering, and energetic and explosive in delivery. The only instrument in the band with a license to do any kind of soloing would be the trumpet, which would emphasize the “Spaghetti Western” chords and bring a different color to the often exhausted Post-Punk genre.
The album was recorded at Listencareful Studios in mid December of 2014, with additional recording taking place at FrauRauh Studios and Stark White Studios over December 2014 and January 2015. It was mixed and mastered by Alexander Lausch at Listencareful Studios in February 2015.
Ghettoblaster recently caught up with White to discuss the album, which was self-released on April 21. This is what he said about it.
When did you begin writing the material for Vs. Galore?
I started writing the songs sometime around February, 2014. “Somebody Call a Doctor” had already been worked out by then but I still needed to finish the lyrics, but its raucousness and its melody helped me gain the focus for the general sound I wanted to go for. I knew from the beginning I really wanted to write some super simple, straight-forward, repetitive songs in structure, and then pile on some busier bass lines and trumpet lines to counter the simplicity. So I kept notes of tons of ideas on my iPad– usually I’d come up with a lot of melodies, beats, and/or lyric lines while walking to and from my workplace. Sometimes I’d rush home with an idea that was evolving while playing drums on my legs and humming out something (I’m pretty musical when I go for walks) so that I could pick the guitar, write down the tempo and chords or lyrics, and then come back to it a little later to see if the idea was still something cool.
At the time, Iris and I had been in the middle of watching all five brilliant seasons of The Kids in the Hall sketches, and so just about every other night after work, I’d go to her place to show her what I came up with, she’d tell me if something was really just flat out cheesy, and then we’d watch a few episodes of Kids in the Hall, go back to playing through the ideas on my classical guitar on her couch, then watch more episodes. This would go on until like five in the morning for months until we ran out of episodes. Eventually, some song ideas matured into what you more or less hear on the album, and some song ideas would die out in favor of some other song idea that had evolved faster than it. I think I had roughly 20 song ideas going at one point– riffs, chord progressions with a melody, rhythmic loops, etc– that I eventually whittled down to 11 fleshed out candidates to be taken into the practice space and smoothed over with the whole band.
You’re an Austrian band, but you hail from the states. What brought you to Vienna?
I had backpacked from Istanbul to Berlin in 2008 and that was an amazing experience for me. I went all over Europe, including Vienna. Eventually I ran completely out of money and had to move back to the U.S. and get a job, so I started a career doing web development at a company in Athens, Georgia. In 2009 I was in a very horrible, near-death car accident while driving to Atlanta with some co-workers to meet some clients. I was more or less fine, but some other people in the car had to be rushed to the hospital and came frighteningly close to dying; they had to be cut out of the car with the jaws of life, etc. That experience pretty much messed me up, and now I have a general fear of automobiles, so I decided to quit my job, sell my things, and move to Spain to play music with a friend. I was in Spain for a few months but my friend and I had a bit of a falling out. I was pretty discouraged and directionless at this point, so I considered moving back to the U.S. to do the whole career job thing again, but some friends I made in Vienna on my first backpacking trip convinced me to come hang out, saying that if I was just going to go home, I might as well come to Vienna first, travel around, and then go home. So I gave in and ended up in Vienna.
Which of the songs on the LP are most different from your original concept for the song? Were there any straight up rock songs that you later had to “westernize?”
Well, since the western idea was something I knew I wanted from the beginning, I can’t say there were songs I had to go back and “westernize”. However, I also knew I didn’t want this band to be some gimmicky thing where we play kitschy western clichés, so I more or less just wrote songs like I normally wrote songs, and sometimes songs would grow in a more “western” direction, and sometimes they’d just be “normal” songs. Some of the reviews we’ve gotten have pointed out the tasteful addition of the “western” feel– it’s never overdone. This really makes me happy that people get this. I tried to keep it tasteful; the songs themselves should just be good songs as they are, and the whole western feel is just more or less icing on the cake, but the song itself isn’t hinging on it.
Now, with all that being said, I can say that “Vengeance is Fun” had to be completely reworked. The original version of it was really cheesy, and after a few months of development, we started to see it, so I heavily reworked it. I was listening to a lot of early B-52’s at the time for inspiration, and so I think they found their way into the new version of the song. But here is an example of a time where I stopped in the middle of an otherwise non-western song and said, “You know what would be cool? If we broke up the whole dancey B-52’s feel of it and go into halftime with a glorious trumpet solo over spaghetti western chords.” The lyrics for the song were, even from the first draft, describing a showdown– but with a girl fighting a guy instead of just two guys. I was trying to use it as a metaphor for a woman overcoming sexism in the workplace, but I don’t think the lyrics ever graduated to cluing the listener in on what I was trying to say and instead just stayed on the showdown imagery. Regardless, the lyrics helped support my decision to throw in a musically random spaghetti western segment in half time and make it work.
The name Lee Van Cleef gives off an obvious impression of what you might sound like. The name Chick Quest is more vague. How did you come up with that name? Was it a conscious effort to not have such a spaghetti western-like name?
Yes, it was a conscious effort. The Lee Van Cleef thing was a cool idea in theory, but building a music project that you plan to take public on top of a famous person’s name is probably not so smart down the road. The other issue was that I don’t like being boxed in and I think a name like Lee Van Cleef can easily do that, especially if you’re going around dubbing your first album “spaghetti western post-punk”. I’d like to reserve the freedom to change on the next album if I see fit.
“Chick Quest” was something that popped in my head when I was reading an online comic series called Graveyard Quest. Everyone in my band didn’t like it because it didn’t roll of the tongue and “sound cool”, but once I started sending them old b-movie sci-fi movie posters on the internet, they agreed it kind of worked. After a long while of coming up with other ideas, “Chick Quest” started to sound better and better to them.
For me, I think band names are overrated. The Beatles, The Smiths, Vampire Weekend, Beastie Boys, The Shins, Godspeed You! Black Emperor– they all have terrible names in my opinion, but they all made great music, and so I think it’s natural that you just succumb to something once you associate it with what you “perceive” is cool; this often happens when someone tells you it’s cool and you just accept it. Thus, it’s like your band name is either defining you (which in this case I don’t want) or you’re defining your band name (which then means your band name kind of doesn’t matter). As a graphic designer, I think “Chick Quest” is a name that looks great on paper: you can position it horizontally or stack it and it looks good; it’s short, odd, and memorable; and Q’s are always great for typography. As a lyricist, I like the awkwardness in the sounds from the -ck to the Qu; the juxtaposition of the two words is interesting. I like that most people wouldn’t have chosen this name; a lot of bands try to sound cool with their band name and it just comes off as forced poetry. There’s the cheesy ambiguity in the words: is it a girl on a quest or a guy on a quest for girls, what the hell is a chick quest? I like that it doesn’t make any real sense until you put it on an old grindhouse-looking poster: suddenly “Chick” brings up imagery of girls on motorcycles or a swamp creature holding a girl, and “Quest” is just terribly over-the-top dramatic for whatever this movie’s going to be about. Likewise, put it on some Conan the Barbarian D&D poster and you get something totally different. But ultimately, it means nothing, and so, I can write whatever music I want and let the name get defined by the music.
Do you have any plans to tour the states?
Currently, we are planning a tour for Europe, and we don’t yet have the resources to make it to the U.S., but we would love to. We’ve had an overwhelmingly positive response to our album, with some reviewers and fans expressing a desire to see how we do this live, and so it would be amazing to have the opportunity, but we’d need to come up with the money first to do it. We’ll see what the rest of the year has in store for us and take it from there. So far, we’ve done everything ourselves: financing, booking, design, producing, etc, but if we can manage it, I would absolutely love for it to happen.
(Visit Chick Quest here: https://www.facebook.com/chickquest.)