Old School Music

dealing with punk rock, speed/thrash and other music styles of the 80ies and beyond, a webpage connected to Red, Black & Green

Friday, November 22, 2013

Chalk Circle interview part 1

C'├ętait fin 2011...interview de Sharon Cheslow What were the influences of the band when Chalk Circle started playing? How and why did you move towards post punk/new wave kind of sound? We were all huge music fans and loved a lot of different bands and types of music. So our influences were pretty eclectic. Tamera and I both worked at record stores, so we got to hear so many great records before the band started in 1981. There were some tastes we had in common from the 1970s, such as the Rolling Stones, Stevie Wonder, David Bowie, Roxy Music, the Runaways, Patti Smith, the Clash. As for local D.C. area bands around 1979-81, we loved our friends' bands because there was a tight-knit community. We liked the Slickee Boys, Bad Brains, Teen Idles, Red C, Minor Threat, Tiny Desk Unit, Velvet Monkeys, Egoslavia, Half Japanese, and Trouble Funk. There were so many great local bands, but those were the ones most of us loved best. We all liked pretty much the same punk bands as our friends (bands like the Buzzcocks, Damned, Avengers, and Germs were huge influences on people in D.C.), and we also liked a lot of late '70s post-punk and no wave that some of our friends hated. But I think what made us sound so different from our friends' bands is that Chalk Circle was a mix of our pre-punk tastes from the '60s and '70s. The Slickee Boys had more obvious garage rock influences, the Bad Brains had more obvious jazz and reggae influences, and the Teen Idles and Minor Threat had a lot of heavy metal influences, whereas Chalk Circle had more obvious glam rock, funk, and psychedelic influences. Mary, Jan (our 1st bassist), and I all really liked early Pink Floyd & Syd Barrett. Anne and I liked early Led Zeppelin, Sweet, and New York Dolls. Anne and Tamera (our 2nd bassist) liked Iggy Pop. I liked the Stooges. Tamera was influenced by Parliament-Funkadelic and Sly Stone. She and I liked delta blues guitarists (Tamera was originally a guitarist before she picked up the bass to join Chalk Circle). Mary and Tamera liked Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. I liked the Byrds and Buffalo Springfield. Chris (the bassist who replaced Tamera) didn't talk about her influences prior to Chalk Circle, so I'm not sure what she listened to. Mary turned me on to Fairport Convention and I remember I liked them but not enough to buy any of their records. A few years ago I got "Liege and Lief" and now I listen to it frequently. I can see how Mary was influenced. Our sound evolved because we were really inspired by all the late '70s/early '80s bands we heard, either on record or live. Tamera worked at the 9:30 Club and got to see tons of bands, and the rest of us went to shows as much as we could. Many of the bands we listened to were experimental and veered from the original fast, loud, basic song format of punk or hardcore, but were still raw. I was also listening to stuff like John Cage, John Coltrane, Throbbing Gristle, and Yoko Ono. You wouldn't really guess it from listening to Chalk Circle, though. But maybe it comes through a little. I don't think we were skilled enough as musicians to be able to sound like we wanted. It took us about a year to feel confident enough to try different things. At the time I wouldn't have considered us "new wave" because I thought that term was only used for bands that had a more slick sound, which we never had. But later on I realized it also included weird bands that were too pop sounding to be called punk or post-punk. We all loved pop music! Could Chalk Circle have been featured on the famous Dischord compilation "Flex Your Head" (as bands like Red C who didn't exactly play the same kind of music as Minor Threat or State Of Alert were there)? Sure, we could have, but we weren't asked! We had been together for almost a year by the time it came out, we were friends with most of the bands, and we'd already done some home recordings in the basement where we rehearsed. Our first Inner Ear recordings were in Feb. 1982 and we could have recorded earlier if we had been included. Partly we weren't asked because there was a gap between when Jan left the band and Tamera joined, and so we only had played one show in 1981. According to you why so few women involved in punk and hardcore acts, and then so few 100% female HxC or punk acts, in the beginning of the 80ies, in Washington DC and also the whole hardcore scene? Because when you watch pictures, you see men and women in the audience, not a 100% male attendance... Yes, you can see that the audience is not 100% male. There were lots of females involved in punk in the beginning. In fact, punk would not and could not have happened had it not been for all the girls and women who helped shape the style and sound. The problem is that up until recently either there was not as much documentation of the bands with females, or the documentation focused more on the men. As for hardcore, that style of music was very aggressive and it turned a lot of girls and women off because there was a very real threat of getting seriously hurt. Nonetheless, there were hardcore bands with females and they didn't get as much recognition as their male peers. The key is to keep recognizing what really happened. It's getting better now because of labels releasing old recordings or things like YouTube. There's incredible footage out there of all these bands with females that's never been seen by a large public before, which is great. Could you explain to the readers what Coterie Exchange is? I think I should give a little background first. After Chalk Circle disbanded in 1983, up until 1998, I was in several other bands, including Bloody Mannequin Orchestra, aka BMO (with Colin Sears and Roger Marbury who went on to Dag Nasty), Suture (with Kathleen Hanna, who was in Bikini Kill at that time, and Dug Birdzell from Beefeater), Red Eye (with Tim Green from Nation of Ulysses), and the Electrolettes (with Julianna Bright who went on to the Quails). I had played guitar in Chalk Circle and sang on some of the songs, and then when I joined BMO we all switched around on instruments and experimented a lot. I mostly played guitar but also played bass, drums, and casio, and I helped with some of the pre-recorded tapes we used to have in our live shows. So I took those experiences with me. I played both guitar and bass in Suture and Red Eye, and played guitar and electronics in the Electrolettes, I did some singing in Suture and was the main singer for Red Eye and the Electrolettes. While I was in the Electrolettes, I started creating sound collages. In the late '90s I decided I wanted to focus on doing solo music/art projects and on collaborating with various musicians and artists for group events, with varying instrumentation. Coterie Exchange was the name I came up with for all the different lineups of the collaborations. I had been thinking of creating something more conceptual than I'd done previously, building on what I'd started with the Electrolettes. So Coterie Exchange was conceived to allow for the exchange of ideas among the different participants. It was sort of like a revolving collective, although I was always the facilitator. I had been listening to lots of noise and free improvisation and sound art and wanted to incorporate some of those elements into a band format, while retaining some elements of song structure. Coterie Exchange has included everything from music performances that are very much like a normal band to experimental music composition with text scores (such as the "Sonic Triptych" series of sound performances/installations) to sound/video collages. I've released some of the audio and video on my own label Decomposition and also on compilations by other labels (two of the videos are on Kill Rock Stars). The presentation and instrumentation always has depended on the people with whom I collaborated. Some of the Coterie Exchange projects have included people in bands who brought with them their approaches to playing music, such as members from Deerhoof, Flying Luttenbachers, KIT, Yellow Swans, Fat Worm of Error, Charalimbides, Magik Markers, and Silver Daggers. But throughout all of the collaborations, I've always stuck to playing guitar and/or electronics, and sometimes I've sung. Some of the themes or images I've explored within Coterie Exchange have included subject/object relationships, communication, dreams, home, household appliances and tools, duct tape, the body, rooms, and the sky.


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