Towards the end of their fourth album, the members of Chiodos bring their voices together to declare, "Look at us now, we're right back where we left off, It's our time to really do things right." 'Nuf said, in a way.
DEVIL is Chiodos exactly the way the band, its frantically devoted fans and a legion of supporters and admirers within the music industry want to hear it. The 13-track set finds founding frontman Craig Owens back in the fold after a painful -- but, for both parties, productive -- three-year schism. It also marks drummer Derrick Frost's return to the band and the recorded debut of lead guitarist Thomas Erak, both of whom make significant impacts on DEVIL's dizzying sound collage. And in Grammy Award-winning producer David Bottrill (Tool, Muse, Stone Sour), Chiodos found a kindred spirit visionary who drove the group to even greater and more adventures sonic heights. Just listen to DEVIL -- and put a GPS on your face so you can find it after it's been blown off.
"We're trying to do things right, now," says Owens. "We had a lot of work to do, and what's different now is the way we communicate. Every once in awhile we catch ourselves getting into old habits, but we know how to deal with that now. We're more mature and know how to listen to one another and communicate. We're different people now, and that makes our experiences together different and working together different -- for the better."
And what's the same? "What's the same is the feeling that we get when we play music together," Owens explains. "The music is what always felt the same, what we were always good at. That's what held us together for years -- and what brought us back together." Adds keyboardist Bradley Bell, "When Craig and I got together and wrote a couple songs on the acoustic guitar, we felt the chemistry again. We knew this was stuff we should show the band so we could do this again."
Chiodos had, of course, built a strong enough foundation to return to -- and beyond -- form. Assembled in Davison, Michigan (near Flint) while the band members (including guitarist Pat McManaman and bassist Matt Goddard) were still in high school, the sextet quickly drew attention for its ambitious, out-of-the-box songcraft and inventive arranging skills, creating aural three-ring circus songs rich in nuance and detail and driven by pulverizing, aggressive dynamics. ALL'S WELL THAT TENDS WELL hit No. 3 on Billboard's Heatseekers chart in 2004, while Chiodos burned up the road on Alternative Press' Sub Invisible Sideshow tour, the Sub City Take Action outing and the Vans Warped Tour. Its dizzy, dazzling shows built an audience that was salivating for the arrival of 2007's BONE PALACE BALLET, making it an instant modern rock classic that debuted at No. 5 on the Billboard 200 and topped the Alternative Albums, Hard Rock Albums, Independent Albums and Rock Albums chart upon release.
That mindset is determinedly intact for DEVIL. Following their separate creative explorations -- the band with a third album, ILLUMINAUDIO, Owens with the all-star band D.R.U.G.S. -- Chiodos righted its ship during April of 2012, playing a few weekend stands to reacclimate with each other and assure the future direction of the band. The singer shares, "I'd say when we played in New York at Irving Plaza and sold it out, it just felt right." Bell, meanwhile, was pleased to see the reunion expand beyond his initial hopes. "I wanted to just make sure that if it was the end of the story we put a period on it. Everyone was feeling it again, and we knew that if we were going to continue our music efforts that this was the way it should go."
Both agree that having Frost back and Erak in the lineup provided a little extra octane to the regrouped Chiodos. "He takes me out of the box, which is frustrating but pretty important if you want to improve as a musician," Bell acknowledges. "You wouldn't think so if you listen to our music, but I'm very rules-based and I like things to make sense a lot of the time. But people like Craig and Thomas don't care about rules, and Thomas definitely doesn't care about them. He'll try to explain to me why the things he wants to do make sense, and even if it still doesn't make sense to me I sit back and let it go and let the parts develop, and it works."
DEVIL is filled with brash, bold and defiantly rule-breaking music. "We're Talking About Practice" is a blast-furnace rocker that gets more done in it's three minutes and 12 seconds than some bands achieve on an entire album. "Ole Fishlips is Dead Now," "Why the Munsters Matter," "Sunny Days & Handgrenades," "Duct Tape" and "Expensive Conversations" (which was previewed during the 2013 Warped Tour) marry theatrical song structures and whiplash, blink-and-you'll-miss 'em changes -- "Stop and check your pulse," Owens advises during "Behvis Bullock" -- while the closing "I Am Everything Normal" is a nine-minute-plus epic that rolls from anthemic majesty into spacey, psychedelic ambience.
"The mission was to go somewhere new creatively but to also make sure that we didn't lose the old Chiodos in the process," Erak explains. At the same time, however, DEVIL features some of Chiodos' most direct and straightforward material, including the groove leaden "3 AM," the acoustic-leaning "I've Been Looking For a Tornado" and melodically stout "I'm Awkward and Unusual" and "Under Your Halo." "I think we're just confident in our skills at this point, and comfortable with them," says Owens, who fills the album with lyrical ruminations about relationships both good and bad, resilience and the never-ending quest for a better future. "We wanted to be able to show people that, 'Hey, we can write abstract, crazy, weird things, but we know how to write a song, too.' We know what we want to hear, and through all of our experiences we know how to get there."
These songs are deeply personal to the band collectively, and of course specific selections are especially poignant to band members individually. For Bell, "'I'm everything that's normal' embodies the fact that we are all back together and moving forward together again, and that message is important to us as a unit. 'Why the Munsters Matter' was the first song that we wrote all together again, and the first song with the help of Thomas on guitar. For me personally, it got me so excited to write music again." The track "Duct Tape" is cited by both Owens and Frost. Chiodos' front man reveals, "Ever wake up and wish you were someone else? Ever wish it so bad, that you tried fitting into shoes that just weren't made for you? I think we all have at one point or another. That's what this song is about. This is my journey through finding out who I am, who I was, and who I want to be.. and anyone that has felt that before knows, it's scary as hell." For Frost, he reflects, "The song displays a new and unique level of creativity for me personally. Never in my life have I gone about recording or creating a song this way. On all the Chiodos tracks, drums were recorded first but, with 'Duct Tape' the entire song was completed before the drums had been laid down. The challenges the song presented in the beginning were frustrating at times but, the outcome couldn't be any more satisfying." For Goddard, "3 AM" is a track that, "represents the broad spectrum of Chiodos. It has this playful aspect that brings me back to when I was 19, and didn't have a care in the world but still represents the maturity of being in this band for over 10 years. The best way to put it is it's a snapshot of what Chiodos has done and has become, I'm super proud of this song."
Owens is a front man with a deeply rooted sense of self. He has few inhibitions in speaking openly about his past, and the impact it has had on him becoming the man he is today. His lyrics are a piece of his heart. They reveal pain alongside triumph, and inevitably breathe optimism at times. His lyrics for "3AM" share a yearning for love in his own life sharing, "We all have a dream of what we wanted to be growing up, and this was mine. Love has always been what I wanted most in my life. Unfortunately, I got caught up in some things that I am not proud of, and have to live with the memories of it every day. These things never gave me a chance to love, and stopped anyone from truly loving me. This song describes my fight for the freedom that comes with loving yourself first, and battling with the temptations on the other side." The title of the album itself reflects Owens, and inevitably the band's daily struggle to stay the course in living a productive life amidst the adversities of each day. The singer offers, "Devil isn't something I thought long and hard about. It is something that hit me, and hard. I asked myself if I was brave enough to stand behind such a strong, emotionally evoking word.. and I knew right then, that was it. This title is not to be confused with the muscled, red horned man surrounded by fire. This is about the temptations of everyday life; the things that become regrets; the moments where you are forced to make a choice that will determine how it is that you look at yourself for the rest of your life. This album is my definition of Devil." Guitarist McManaman weighs in sharing, "I like the simplicity and elegance of the title DEVIL because it can be taken so many different ways. It's however it applies to you."
With DEVIL, Chiodos returns with a new partner via the band's own imprint at Razor & Tie. Frost states, "One thing remains constant over the years when it comes to Chiodos and that is upholding integrity. Wherever we travel, we are the ambassadors of our brand. Expanding and growing is a collective effort with which we have teamed with R&T to do. While there is a limit to what you can foresee in the future, I have no doubts about the hard work and effort that this band and the people that work with us will make. While baby steps seems to be the cautious choice, I'd like to think we prefer the alternative, giant strides. It is overwhelming exciting to have our own imprint drk/lght records being released via Razor and Tie. This is one step closer to being in complete control of everything we do." Owens adds, "My hope is that it helps my & our creative outlets come across in a much more efficient, and focused manner. I don't ever want to stop making music, and I don't plan on it. When I am 60 years old, I want to be in my basement making records, and drk/lght gives me an opportunity to do that in a much more consistent fashion." Additionally as McManaman reveals, "I'm really excited to have the new imprint in partnership with Razor & Tie because it allows us to release albums from band we find and like."
Assisting on the journey was producer Bottrill, somebody whose previous credits put him on Chiodos' short list. "We really liked a lot of the albums he'd made, and he worked with a lot of awesome bands that we really looked up to and shape us as musicians in the first place," Bell adds, "Working with both Botrill and Wilbur who mixed the album was a blessing. Going into it I was a huge fan of their past work, and the sacrifices they made to work with us showed their dedication and true passion. When asked if interested, Wilbur told our A&R that he felt he was right for the job and nobody was going to care about it as much as him. That's the type of things you love to hear when looking for musical partnerships. With Botrill, we have a lot of personalities and things that conflict, but he's an incredibly intelligent and very kind person and was able to deal with it all. He put himself in the song with you and drew some songs out of us and really helped it all make sense. He was really the leader of the ship."
Select tracks on the album display the band member's keen acumen in integrating string arrangements in to a traditional rock song. Bell offers, "When getting this lineup back together, we felt it was very important to keep the theatrical vibe that we had with BONE PALACE BALLET. So, we were able to get the same orchestration team to work on this album as well. They know exactly what we're going for when we send them our ideas and replicate them perfectly. Most often better than we would imagine. The strings always breathe a new life into our music and make it a well-rounded beautiful listening experience."
With DEVIL ready to descend upon a music community that's been waiting for Chiodos' return, the group's sights are now set in the road -- a natural habitat where it brings the music to light in a different way than it can in the studio. That's what brings us together," Bell says. "I think touring is definitely what drives us, and with this (new) music we're very excited again." And, Owens notes, the road "is where we really get to embellish what it is that we do. That's where we get to enjoy ourselves and have fun and be ourselves and just be honest and passionate and let the songs live for ourselves and for the audience. I'm looking forward to sharing these songs with people and having them sing them back to me."