By Dustin Lothspeich
We’ve all heard it countless times, mainly because it’s true: opposites attract. “Seinfeld” might’ve proved it best in the episode “The Invitations,” when Jerry started dating a woman whose personality and mannerisms curiously mirrored his own. At first, it was glorious; he was over the moon. And then, like clockwork, the annoyances started flooding in until he quickly realized the spice of life is, indeed, our differences. Add local electro-pop group Chateau as evidence to that universal law as well.
“[Our influences] are across the board for all of us,” the band’s guitarist/keyboardist, Frank Green III, explained recently. “Which is why we think we work so well together.”
Ranging from Wilco and Ryan Adams to My Bloody Valentine and Joanna Newsom, the band rattles off artists from far-reaching corners of the musical universe: Uncle Tupelo-style alt-country, New Wave, experimental chamber pop. As Green tells it, “Different influences make for a well-rounded band. You don’t want to listen to the same stuff, or you’d be drawing from the same places and it would get too monotonous.”
If there is one thing the members of Chateau can boast (and there’s many), it’s that their debut self-titled EP doesn’t get mired down in the same formula from song to song. The trio (which, along with Green, is rounded out by multi-instrumentalist/producer Erik Visnyak and vocalist/producer Laura Levenhagen) veer from broad waves of stark electronica (“the Bird, the Bee, the Owl”) with the digital pulse of machine-gun beats and glitched-out synths (“Bury You”) to shimmering acoustic guitar-dominated pop balladry (“Tiger”) and everything in between — all led by Levenhagen’s impressive vocals that range from soothing coos to gravity-defying heights.
Understandably, the year-old band (which began with just Green and Visnyak) never found a concrete stylistic direction until they landed a singer — which came about when they read a review of her solo EP in a local publication.
“We messaged [Levenhagen] and ended up sending some tracks over and after a week or two, she had gotten back to them and said she had lyrics for one of the songs,” Green said. “She came over to [Visnyak’s] house in North Park and sang live over the track [the song “Flight” from the EP]. Right then, we all realized we had something that worked and decided to form the group. She brought the much-needed melody to the songs which allowed [Visnyak] and I to gain a deeper perspective into what could be accomplished.”
With a lush sound that is right at home next to Florence & the Machine, Massive Attack, London Grammar and Sigur Rós, the trio is a breath of fresh air as one of the few groups in San Diego to play the style they do (all four of those aforementioned bands hail from overseas, after all). Sidestepping the bland, bong-water reggae and garage-rock hipster doofusness that plagues America’s Finest City, they’ve all but cornered their market — and when I asked Green how they felt about it, he was unassumingly modest.
“The feeling the band shares [about it] is one of excitement and pride. We hope we’re bringing something new and fresh to the scene; that’s important to us.”
In addition to offering up an EP of new sounds to an increasingly predictable scene, they’ll be releasing it on March 21 — fittingly —at a new(ish) spot as well: The Balboa. Formerly known as The Tin Can (the intimate club that slung brews in cans and hosted its own righteous burger joint called Dood’s Foods), the club has undergone a bit of an overhaul in the past couple months, culminating recently with the return of live music to the fold on March 6.
Gone is the club’s “beers in cans” ideology (hence the name change), the nightly music and even the beloved giant octopus mural on the side of the building. With Dood’s Foods thankfully still operating on-site and churning out some of the best grub in town, the owners turned their eye to the stage, and brought in local music stalwart Jackson Milgaten (member of Cuckoo Chaos/Deadphones, among other bands, and curator of the annual Golden Hill Street Fair) to manage and book their shows.
“The look and feel of the place is quite a departure from what it was,” Milgaten said. “The whole focus has shifted. I think the biggest difference in the event planning is the decision to only have live music on the weekends. It just affords the whole operation a chance to focus on the details of what we are doing over there. We want every show, every drink, and every meal to be presented with care and consideration. So in that respect, less is more … I’m really excited about what we’ve done with the place and I’m very pleased to bring live music back to the space.”
Whereas the old Tin Can used to be somewhat of a free-for-all as far as shows went — you never knew exactly what you were going to get on any given night — Milgaten promises that since The Balboa will only be hosting shows on Friday and Saturday nights, he’ll be a bit more selective with who actually gets to step onstage.
“I’m a pretty discerning critic and my interest is more in booking acts of a certain quality than a particular style,” he said. “But as far as genres go, I think the bands scheduled to play are a fairly eclectic mix.”
When asked why The Balboa is the perfect place to throw a record release party, Milgaten offered up the unmistakable charm of the venue.
“The intimacy of the room offers a great space for a band to share something it has so lovingly created. I think that closeness of everyone in attendance is a recipe for a meaningful interaction between the performers and the audience.”
It’ll be fascinating to hear Chateau’s huge sound in such a small confine, but perhaps that’s exactly how their new EP should be experienced: up close and highly personal. For a trio relatively new in the general scheme of the scene and an EP that may be only the beginning of truly great things — it’ll be the premier opportunity to witness them at work.
Opposites and all.