INTERVIEW: The Chariot
Nine years after forming THE CHARIOT as an abrasive, confrontational hardcore outfit from Georgia, the present four-piece have reconstructed their breed of music to become an innovative piece of their community’s history. At every angle, their fifth studio album One Wing still embodies rich, ecstatic noise but it pushes the authenticity you’d find in their live performances, that when even taken to the floor of a small club show, can revolt with sheer power. As he was spending the day at E1/Good Fight office in New York, we spoke with vocalist Josh Scogin about the new record’s personality, the deeper meanings behind it and why the band is pleased with finally having a blank page.
Charlie Chaplin said “we think too much and feel too little” – in terms of being a songwriter with and without the band, is it easy to mold personal emotions into an art form without being overly analytical?
Yeah, the quote “we think too much and feel too little” is a pretty good way to sum up The Chariot (laughs). When we record we always to try to give ourselves just enough time to make what we think is a good record. But we don’t want to have too much time – like two months in the studio or something silly like that – because you can become over-critical and start picking out things which could be better. In that sense, I feel like we dehumanize and that’s happening a lot in the music world, for example “he didn’t hit that note, let’s auto tune it.”
To me there’s a point where you can just cross that line and suck all the soul out of something. As an artist, especially in the genre that we’re in, I feel like you need to hear certain details, like when guitars strings are a little out of tune, because you need to hear the things that make music real. That’s why I think some of the music of yesteryear is so much better sometimes, because they didn’t have the options to change details.
When you began writing new material, did you envision the final product to be as diverse and original as it is or was the process just a natural continuation?
Typically with the records we do, it’s just a natural progression. I don’t think any of us planned this. We have a path that we start walking down and we’re able to take left turns or right turns and whatever we feel we need to do, we do. We’ve had entire songs completely changed mid-way through recording them because one person says “I think things could be better,” so we start heading down that road and see what that looks like. We rarely ever look back because the band’s a forward-moving machine. For us, to be able to be impulsive and be spontaneous is what really helps things stay fresh. We enjoy that process.
The spontaneity you mentioned is pretty apparent when you look at One Wing; it’s hard to find two tracks that sound alike. How did you draw upon outside influences, like films/past albums to produce something inventive?
Well thank you for that! I don’t know to be honest (laughs). We just sat down and starting writing an album. We didn’t necessarily set out to make all the songs sound different, but we didn’t necessarily want them to sound the same. Again, it was very impulsive and very spontaneous; we all joke that we have A.D.D. and we think that helps in making our sound, which is always shifting and always changing and making one song sound a little different from the next. We ourselves are going to get bored first, and therefore if we can prevent that then hopefully it’s easier to prevent everyone else from getting bored. I believe we are our own worst critics, so if we can put out an album that we’re really happy with at the end of the day, then hopefully that will translate as well.
What first sparked the idea to draw from influences like Italian composer Ennio Mirrocone and the 1940 film The Great Dictator for songs like “First” and “Cheek”?
That speech from The Great Dictator is just a game-changer and it’s a very moving piece. For us, it’s crazy that Charlie Chaplin wrote something so profound so long ago, and yet in this day and age, especially with the music industry, it’s so applicable. The film is awesome, and we fought to get it because it was something that spoke to us. It’s a really cool story for us as huge Charlie Chaplin fans because we actually went the proper avenue to get the rights to use the speech, and Josephine Chaplin, who is his daughter, actually signed off on it. She heard our song, read our lyrics, and I can’t say she liked it, but she liked it enough to sign off on it (laughs).
From your perspective, is the album better viewed as a whole or two separate halves?
Definitely a whole. This one more than any other record we’ve done because it was a journey, and it wasn’t necessarily planned to be like this. Once we heard all the songs we knew it was meant to be listened to in order the way it’s laid out. I know people will skip to their favourite track, and that’s fine, but I hope in the beginning it can be played in the order that we designed it to be in. For us, Track One is supposed to be that and so on and so forth. It’s definitely more of a journey than most of our other records which are just ten songs that make up an album.
Do the song titles themselves relate to their individual meanings at all?
No, they’re totally different. As a writer, I feel like my lyrics are able to speak for themselves, so for our band we don’t need a title to further push an idea. On top of that, we aren’t the type of band who just names their song after a chorus because we don’t even have choruses. I may as well take that medium and be able to say something else. For me, the song titles and lyrics don’t ever need to be congruent. I like when they have their own thing to say.
Is the name One Wing unrelated in the same way?
One Wing is definitely connected because it all ties in together and it’s a statement. We’re on our fifth record and the whole thing ties together a message of “You’ve been doing this for a while, don’t forget your first love. Don’t take things too seriously, fall deeply in love with the things you should fall deeply in love with, but be able to laugh and poke fun at yourself. Finish the race and finish the journey you’ve set forth on.” I think the title of One Wing itself says, “I’ve got one wing, and this is awesome and miraculous” and that until your task is finished, or until you have the second wing, it does you no good. That ties in with the first set of track titles, like “Forget not Your First Love.”
Like I said, we are on our fifth record, but we still love playing shows, even though the music industry is always shifting and changing. Regardless of whether we’re bigger today or smaller tomorrow, we can always play shows. When I was dreaming about being in a band, playing shows is what I dreamed about. I wasn’t dreaming about sitting at some desk signing a contract or getting endorsed, it was just about playing a show. All of these things just tie together to become a very accurate time stamp of where we are as a band and also as individuals.
You’ve incorporated some instruments that are less conventional to hardcore music like a piano and a brass section and the ingenuity of “Speak” has been well received by your fans, peers and the media alike. For a band that doesn’t do melodic, how did that song come about?
That song actually came about as a challenge. I don’t even remember where the initial idea came from, but we just wondered if we could find the basic passion to pull it off. As The Chariot, our songs are riddled with feedback, screaming guitars and energetic drums, but since it’s all such a catalyst to an emotionally influenced journey, can you strip all of it away to just a voice and one simple instrument that’s been around forever? That was the original idea and the challenge was if we could do it. We had no idea if it would necessarily even work. We have plenty of ideas that people never hear about and sometimes when we record them and realize we couldn’t pull them off, we delete it so no one will hear it. This was one of those ideas that could have ended up that way but at the end of the day it became something that we were very stoked on. We’re very excited to let people hear it.
How did your supporting team and record label react to the album?
Well it’s funny hearing it from me, but they loved it, they absolutely loved it (laughs). I’m actually in New York City right now at the E1/Good Fight Entertainment offices and they’re crazy about it because they love it. When I sent the album to the label, I kept receiving email after email as they went through each track. It’s very good to hear that the people who are on your team are completely for it and enjoy what you’re doing.
In my mind, unexpected surprises define The Chariot and the band’s live performances. As your new material relates to that unexpected nature, how does it signal a new chapter for you and the rest of the group?
I think it’s a new chapter in the sense because of all of the doors we opened with this new record and all of the artistic ventures that we’ve traveled down. We’ve opened a lot of new doors now, so hopefully with the next album, whenever that is, there will be even less preconceived notions about what The Chariot should sound like or what we’re supposed to do. As artists, we hate those boundaries and borders, like for example, when people label us as metalcore or mathcore. That stuff is really irrelevant to me, but the idea that we’ve opened these doors and we have the ability to just be completely open-minded — that’s a great place to be as an artist.
Hopefully I’ll be able to say that with every record after the next one. We don’t know what to expect, and now we have the freedom to do whatever. We were going to do that anyway, but to hear people be so kind is great. You never know what to expect, and therefore I don’t expect anything (laughs). It’s really nice to have a blank page.