When bands wind up in label disputes it often takes years for them to get back on their feet. Even if the musicians stockpile material, by the time they're legally allowed to release a new disc the listening public sometimes forgets they ever exited.
So it was more than a little surprising when Chicago neo-metal band Chevelle landed at #14 on this week's Billboard albums chart with Wonder What's Next two years after they started a lawyer duel with their former label, and three years after their debut, Point #1, was released.
"We were amazed," vocalist and guitarist Pete Loeffler said. "To sell so many records your first week out when you've been gone for a while, that means people are still there for you and they really get what you're doing."
What Chevelle are doing is what they've always done — playing heavy, multi-textured songs that combine the abrupt riffs and rage of Helmet and Quicksand with the moodiness of Tool. Only, these days they're doing it a bit better, and they credit their time in record label limbo.
"We had a lot of time to write music and focus on that," said Loeffler, who formed Chevelle in 1995 with his brothers Joe (bass) and Sam (drums). "That's not something a lot of bands have. There wasn't a lot of pressure this time because we weren't following up on a hit or anything. Honestly, the third record may have a little more pressure attached to it since it looks like this one will do pretty well."
The title Wonder What's Next is a reference to the turbulence that band has experienced over the past two years.
"It's about all the frustration that comes from being in a rock band and trying to go somewhere," Loeffler said. "Honestly that was the whole past two years and it was pretty hard on the band. And it kind of sums up a lot of the material on the new record. I thought it was an appropriate title."
The album's first single, "The Red," is being received warmly at radio. The song, an energized blend of hatred and hooks, is about being driven past the point of control and into the red zone.
"It really sets the tone for the rest of the record," Loeffler said. "It deals with themes of frustration, and I think a lot of people can identify with that in this day and age. We're not out there to hit people over the head or bring them down at shows, but they should just realize that there are some escapes in this world and hopefully music is one of them for people."
A video for the song was recently shot in Los Angeles by Nathan Karma Cox. The clip features an anger-management-style meeting and lots of frenetic live footage, but while Loeffler said Chevelle had a good time working with Cox, Loeffler said the video experience was foreign and grueling.
"We're musicians," he said. "We get up onstage and we play and we make records, and we're comfortable with that. But when they stick you in front of a camera and require you to act, there's this whole new aspect of being in a band that's not necessarily familiar, and you just gotta do it. For 'The Red,' I was in almost every shot during an 18-hour day. Whether they were filming in the back, front, side or on top I had to be there because of the way the video was set up I was up at the podium singing to all these extras."
One of Loeffler's favorite songs on Wonder What's Next is "Forfeit," a turbulent, angst-filled cut about morons in the mosh pit.
"It's funny to me because I'm singing, 'I wanna fight, I wanna prove I'm right,' and I'm singing it to a crowd that's beating each other up," he said. "I'm making fun of people who are big bruisers and just because the music is heavy, they want to fight. We want crowds to jump around, but we're certainly not into violence."
Chevelle plan to ride "The Red" as long as they can, but there's no question what the next single from Wonder What's Next will be. The band is determined to go with "Send the Pain Below," a song about gaining strength through agony and heartbreak.
"The amazing thing about pain in someone's life is that it's not always something that someone should avoid because if you let it, pain can make you grow," Loeffler explained. "You can use pain to create art. For 'Send the Pain Below,' I dug down deep and pulled out some garbage and threw on a guitar, and that's what came out. If you get away from situations that cause grief, you're not gonna be a well-rounded person because you're not gonna be able to deal with the ups and downs of life."