Chevelle has always been a band that has lived between the margins. Brainchild of the brothers Loeffler (Pete, vocalist/guitarist and Sam, drummer), the Illinois outfit have performed and toured alongside metal legends, punk royalty and hard rock hitmakers for two decades and counting.
Not quite mainstream enough for pop-rock radio, perhaps lacking the aggression for the diehard metallers, Chevelle occupies a rare void in the realm of 'heavy' music. Yet there is little dispute that the seasoned duo can write a fucking riff.
Pete Loeffler caught up with Metal Injection ahead of the release of Chevelle's ninth studio album Niratias to talk early career successes, shady record deals, rising through the ranks of Ozzfest, cutting their teeth with thrash gods Anthrax, which song he loves – and hates – to perform on tour, being influenced by sci-fi and horror and much more!
On Longevity, Early Successes & Shady Labels
I spent a lot of time with my brother on the road, but lately he's been at home, you know, doing his family thing and we haven't seen each other as much. But this time we actually got to hang out and go get some real work done. And it did come up (Chevelle's longevity). It felt good, I guess, a realization to still be here. I mean, I will be honest with you, I did interviews when The North Corridor came out five years ago and at that time I was saying things like, are we relevant in any way to the music world, to our fans? Where's the staying power? Those thoughts after 20 some odd years in.
I mean, we started playing shows around 96, maybe 97. It's just been such a long, winding, sometimes really fucked up road. Signing terrible record deals and then getting out of them and then signing other deals and then the whole learning the ropes. We took a lot more time on this album, writing and recording than we did normally. Every record we put out I could have used another year working on the music before I did it. I feel like I was a little bit pushed by the management at the time and that wasn't the best thing for creativity, because it was like this machine.
We signed an eight or nine record deal with Epic. It wasn't that big in the beginning, but it kept getting added to. It was like write, record, put out an album, tour for a couple of years and then do it all again. It was the system that we are in. This last one we just took a lot of time and then Covid hit. We were going to put the record out last year, but it just wasn't the right time.
We just completed that record contract, what we were contractually bound to with Epic Records, and we delivered. This is the last one we're bound to anyway. So the future is kind of open and it's kind of freeing in a way. I don't know what's coming next. I just want to make good decisions in the future. I'm 44 now and I'm seeing the sort of glimpse of actually owning my work for once. The way the music business and the system is set up, the artist doesn't always own anything once you sign that deal. I'll say this, I'm wondering what's going to happen after this and where we go.
We did the first album on an indie and it was the worst thing we ever did was to sign to that indie label. There was a lot of deceit going on back then. We didn't know what the hell we were doing and we eventually got out of that. So we started out with that (Steve Albini, producer) record and we had a little bit of buzz going in the college radio scene and we toured with some cool bands, Static-X and Sevendust and Filter. They were big back then. We had a moment where it started to go and then it all crashed and burned and attorneys got involved and we had to try and get away.
We were like, well, we need to get out of here. There was some deceit going on there and lies. Go figure, it's the music business in general. I was so naive. We got out of that and we signed a pretty great deal at the time, and we wrote and recorded Wonder What's Next … I remember a lot and then there's so much that I don't remember because of just the sheer exhaustion and everything. It's hard to take it all in. Now I'm 44 so things have to fall off the conveyor belt sometimes for new shit to land on there … but it was wild. Everything was going fast and it was like this is a crazy, crazy experience.
On Fascination with Space/Sci-Fi on Niratias
I think back in Sci-fi Crimes days … I was really getting into conspiracy theories about where are all the aliens, Fermi paradox, space being limitless and things like that. So at the time in the band when we hung out and we drank copious amounts, we would just get into that world and the conspiracy of the day. And so that just sort of came out in that. It's like it hasn't been answered yet.
We came back around to it and over the past couple of years I've had time to just delve into videos to expand my mind a little bit. Of course we're all watching Elon Musk, his SpaceX rockets trying to get interstellar. We're trying to get to Mars. He says if you want to live humanity needs to be interplanetary. So I just find it fascinating and it's just kind of working its way into my lyrics, you know? I mean this is definitely a spacey themed album as well. It (also) deals with a few things that are super personal I've dealt with in my close family. Without getting too deep into that, "Self Destructor" is a very personal song for me. It's about a conversation I had with someone close to me.
I'm confused by science deniers and anti-vaccers, flat-earthers and things like that. And I don't want to offend people, but I just don't understand it. That's just my personal view. I don't need to have a platform to debate on these things. This is just my music and my lyrics and this is what has come out of living and having conversations.
On Influences & Teetering Between Genres
You know, it's not something that we've really thought about. I just try to write music that I like at the time. And what's really risky about taking too long to release an album is that if we didn't put it out sooner than later then I'd change it all. You don't want to sit on it that long. It's a snapshot in time in your life and where you were.
I love a lot of different music. I love 80s music. I love Depeche Mode. I love Tears For Fears. I also love Pantera and heavy bands as well. I had my punk phase with Firehose and Dead Kennedys. So I jump around a lot when I listen to music. But when it comes to this band it's just sort of a riff heavy rock band. For some reason I dabble a little bit with piano and keyboards in this album. I'm trying to get different soundscapes going on. That just kind of shows you how much time I had to get it done, which is great.
We didn't really fit in any kind of click. I have friends in other bands that are in these communities which I definitely wish I had. I live outside of Chicago proper, so we played venues wherever we could and we'd get in the city as much as we could. But I wasn't in the pop punk scene that was happening really hardcore. I have a friend in Rise Against. They're clearly in their genre and beloved. And yet we can play with bands like them and we play shows with some of the heavy ones as well.
On Memories of Ozzfest, Lollapalooza & Touring with Anthrax
We hit the road, I believe, with Ozzfest in 2002. And we were basically playing at 9:30 a.m. some days. And then you would move up another half an hour and you go on at 1- and then you go at 10:30 and it would go all the way up. You had like these two stages of bands that were more or less smaller and they're trying to break. So that tour was exhausting. I'm glad I was in my 20s when I did that because it was go, go, go. And it was a great experience.
We met a lot of really great people and still have those friendships today. And then, of course, 2003 hit and they asked us back to do Ozzfest to open the main stage, which was a really cool thing. Sharon Osbourne was a big supporter back then. We did 2002, 2003, and then next thing you know we're playing with a lot of these bigger bands that we had grown up listening to.
I cut my teeth with Anthrax. It was one of the first tours we did. We did a month with Anthrax on the road and we had a blast. We got to hang out with metal legends. That fan base did not love us every night, but you broke through where you did and then we moved on. We've toured with a lot of different styles of bands and we continue on.
I'll tell you one thing we did. 2019, I believe, we played Lollapalooza here in Chicago. I mean we just did it for fun … It was one of the side stages which was just the normal stage. But you know how big those main stages are, they're massive, right? We get there and I'm listening before we go on and there's literally a vocalist on a piano across from us. And it's just like this beautiful serenading of the crowd. And it's all peace and love (laughs). And then we come on and it's just all heavy shit. It was a blast. I went to the first three Lollapalooza. I was fifteen, sixteen, seventeen. I got to see the best years I feel. You got Nine Inch Nails on them. I was there when Pearl Jam made the whole lawn rush the stage. I got to see all my heroes. Jane's Addiction was so big for me
On Most Loved/Hated Songs to Perform Live
Yeah, I mean, if I didn't have to play "The Red" again you wouldn't hear me complaining. It's just one of those things I think a lot of bands probably feel after a while that's normal I would imagine. So much so that we started changing how we played it live. The first half of it was just me and a guitar and the crowd singing it back to me, and then the second half was the band kicking in. When I'm on stage I don't mind playing it, but we just don't rehearse a lot of these songs. It just doesn't really feel like it's that exciting in rehearsal, so you sort of set those aside and know that we'll rehearse them on stage and we'll see what happens.
But I love playing the song "Door to Door Cannibals". To me it's a heavy rock track that I'm proud of and it's sort of the style that I enjoy playing live. It's a little intricate, but it also has a heavy, heavy meaning to me. When I was a kid, when I was a teenager, I had some rebellion. It took years for me to write this song. I grew up in a certain sort of household that was pretty strict. I needed to make my own choices, so I ended up walking away from religion, certainly in the way that I was brought up. So this song to me is all about my problems with organized religion and my disgust at a lot of it.
That song is all about the people that go door to door and take up your time when I don't really have time for that. No one really knows the answers to some of these huge questions, and I don't have time in my life to sit there and have someone tell me they do. That song is powerful when I can play that. I really love it and it never gets old for some reason.
I just don't want to be closed off. I don't want to have a close-minded mindset, and certainly in the way I raised my kids. I'm going to raise them without guilt, the way I was brought up. So I definitely have some strong feelings about some of those things. And that's one of those songs that I can pinpoint that I finally got to put out from pen to paper.
On Horror Meeting Heavy Music
La Gárgola I was getting back into horror films. I was like, all right, let's just do an album that allows us to watch as many horror movies that I can and and it'll seep in. And we wrote and recorded that album, but it just made its way over to the The North Corridor.
There's two covers for that. One is Black Philip (from horror film The Witch). We actually went to the creators of that movie and asked them and got their ok to use his likeness. I'd gone to the theater on a weekday late with two of my friends and we smuggled some drinks in and it tripped us out. We just kept looking at each other, like this is heavy. It was a really well done movie, made you think and it was just creepy as hell. There's some creepy content lyrically (in The North Corridor) as well so I was like let's see if we can use his likeness and it came down to the wire.
Then we did a limited edition run of a picture of my son looking down the hallway in our house. That's out there as well. I looked over and as a kid, he's just staring down this hallway and it looks so creepy and had like a horror movie vibe to it. I snapped a photo and then we just took it, kind of doctored it up a little bit and I threw it on as a limited edition cover. So it's kind of fun to do that sort of thing.
On Two-Decades of Chevelle
I would agree with that. Chevelle 2.0 we'll go with. It definitely feels like a rebirth. Out with the old, in with the new, a lot of that. I'm hoping that the second half of this year is going to open up and we're going to be able to perform these new songs live. That will be sort of a culmination, that full circle of getting this album out there and in a weird time … It definitely feels like a new beginning.