The guys behind CHAPPO are back at it! After garnering considerable attention after a commercial with a certain teacher-approved fruit, they've made their sophomore return with their sensory-involved shows and psychedelic tunes. We caught up with frontman Alex Chappo and guitarist Dave Feddock at SXSW last year to discuss their long-awaited album, Future Former Self, and get a peek inside their creative process, smoke monsters, and a little unknown fellow sharing their namesake, El Chapo himself.
Your new album tells a story. Can you give us an overview of what to expect, for those who haven't listened yet, and why you chose that format?
Alex: I will first of all say the story is about a guy that's traveling alone through this black hole. There's been an eruption like an underwater volcano that has sort of erupted onto earth and has created some sort of disruption. This guy has been sent through a black hole to try and communicate with this parallel universe to figure out what's going on and save the world, if you will. I guess the reason why we chose that is we had dabbled in doing some concept-ish EPs and we haven't done one for an album and I think as a whole we were trying to make the album feel more cohesive and in its own world so it seemed more logical to us to set it in its own world. Through time and sort of exploring and writing the songs the story unfolded and played with time and perception and things like that.
Where did you guys record the album and how long did it take?
Dave: We recorded the album in Long Island at a studio this time which we normally do home recordings. We did it in about two weeks in the studio then spent a couple other weeks at home in other friend's studios mixing it.
How did you guys meet and decide to make music together?
Alex: You know, it's weird. You sort of forget how everything unfolds. I was living with Chris [Olson, keyboardist] at one point and I met these guys through Chris. Chris went to school with them and studied music with those guys and we all ended up hanging out at the same bars and places. We all were in different bands at that time and one thing led to another.
Dave: We ended up all playing on a show together because we all played with Alex in different settings but not all four of us until one night we played at Public Sambooth in Brooklyn and had a really good show.
Alex: It was kind of one of those moments where all the puzzle pieces fall together. It felt good, the energy was right. Let's try to do something with this, let's try to make this more than just this one show.
Alex, you grew up in New Orleans. Did the music culture have an influence on you?
Alex: Yeah. I actually grew up outside in Baton Rouge but I spent enough time there that I'll sometimes say that I'm from there but I'm not really. Louisiana, Baton Rouge, New Orleans are these cities where you can stumble upon some corner and there's music happening wherever you go. Whether it's zydeco or jazz. I have a memory of a guy playing a one-string guitar and I remember that really affected me. This guy jamming out going crazy and making music with one string. There's a lot of that.
Dave: Is that why you only use one string?
Alex: Yeah, I only have one string on my guitar. I think there's something inherently sort of DIY about that whole atmosphere: people making music on the street corners on the side. There's always something reverberating in the backbone from my experiences there. I don't know if I really answered the question but I tried.
You include a lot of theatrical elements into your performances. There was a volcano you made and other crazy stuff of that nature. What are some other projects you've made for past shows?
Alex: I actually just made for shows here at South By this little smoke monster. I had this smoke machine that I've been twirling around on stage with but I was like what if I attached some sort of thing so it's this worm-like creature with a monster face and he blows smoke. My initial idea was that it's long enough to pass around the crowd and have the crowd get the smoke juice on them which they might not like but it's got powerful energy in it. My mother is a ceramic artist and she made this weird thing on our mantle of this alien-looking worm with jagged teeth and a long tongue so I was a little inspired by that randomly so I was like that's what the monster is referencing, this alien worm. So getting rid of the evil spirits, maybe, if we want to be cheesy about it.
What is your general approach to songwriting?
Alex: I guess we are all creative in our own way so I feel we all have our own individual creative approach. I think when we collectively get together we're sort of just passing ideas around.
Dave: It starts out with us just messing around.
Alex: A lot of times we'll be in the rehearsal room messing up and messing around with ideas and playing incorrect notes or doing something strange and then it turns into something and then that might turn into a little demo that we pass around and then somebody else adds their own two cents onto it. We all are constantly making demos on our own too. Usually there's some sort of fusion between live improv coming up with it as you go and something a little more sketched out if you will. It's drums, bass, keys, guitars. Stuff like that.
Dave: It's almost always been somebody usually comes up with an idea they bring in. We never usually just jam and come up with a song right there.
Alex: Yeah but sometimes we'll jam and there will be something that starts. I might take it back and be like whoa okay I sing something over that or I start something and we take that energy so it sort of loosely all connects in some way or another. I've always been a fan of not having one particular way of doing things because then you start to trying to emulate or copy yourself or other people or try to recreate that moment where I wrote this song. I'm less interested in that. I'm more interested in finding the individual story within each song so each song's going to have its own Genesis and birth. Some songs are really painful and annoying and they're not working and we end up hating each other and like why did you not take my idea and then it ends up working itself out. And then other songs sort of come together almost magical. We sort of did that with Hollywood on the last album where we started playing and it just happened.
Dave: A couple songs like that.
Alex: When that happens it's really awesome. It doesn't always happen like that.
You share a similar namesake to another famous figure-
Alex: El Chapo?
Yes! What do you think about his arrest?
Alex: Well, it's not us. They didn't capture the real El Chapo!
Dave: I don't know much about El Chapo.
Alex: How do you think we keep this band afloat? We have our day job and it's in Mexico.
Dave: He got arrested? Is he still in captivity or doesn't he escape usually?
Alex: Last time he got caught he escaped through a laundry basket but he was working with the guards. We're getting a lot of tweets from people who don't know who we are and they think we're El Chapo so that's sort of funny or sometimes we'll re-tweet people that are posting about El Chapo and they'll be like who is this? And we'll be like, just think.
Lastly, due to your theatrical production, let's say you have to create an alter ego. Think Ziggy Stardust, Hedwig. Who is your alter ego and what do they look like?
Alex: Shit. I'll let Dave start with that one.
Dave: Mine is Sauza and he's an anything goes kind of guy. He's actually a Mexican gangster basically.
Alex: You know Wilson, the ball from Cast Away? I think that might be my alter ego. I want to be the story of the ball. What was his perception of that whole moment in time? My alter ego will be some inanimate ball bouncing around on an island cast away into the unknown.
Dave: Basically, when I put these glasses on I'm Sauza.
Alex: Oh shit, he's Sauza now! Just don't fuck with him, not with the glasses on.
Written by Jordan Blakeman
Photography by Michael Williams