Written by Dustin Bennett in November of 2008
The house was almost emptyâ€”random items strewn about, half-packed boxes and a few pieces of furniture still lingering. The setting very much fit the part of a house being moved out of. But on this particular afternoon, it also happened to be a very quiet, practical place to have a conversation. As notebooks and tape recorders were being cracked out, the four members of Chico’s Amblers began to make themselves comfortable in the house’s living room, sitting on whatever couch-space or oddball cushions they could find.
Once situated, the pop-rock quartetâ€”which includes Peter Hansen on guitar and vocals, Byron Dunning on bass and vocals, Jeremy Gerrard on lead guitar, vocals and harp and Landon Moblad on drumsâ€”spoke excitedly about their upcoming CD release show, taking place Friday, November 7th at the Towne Lounge. Those lucky enough to attend the show will be rewarded with a potent line-up of supporting bands as well as a complimentary copy of the Amblers new CD, Ottoman Empire, with the five-dollar door charge.
Existing for about a year, and gigging regularly over that time, the Amblers have already built a reputation around town as purveyors of high energy live performances (particularly Dunning, who, according to the band’s MySpace, specializes in on-stage â€œpizzazzâ€) as well as writers of party-inducing sing-alongs. Not wanting to be pigeon-holed into any specific style or genre, the Amblers music contains many different elements ranging from â€˜60s-vibed rock and country-fied twang to anthemic pop, all containing multiple part harmonies and always remaining cohesive within versatility.
â€œIt’s just, like, good ol’ fashioned rock â€˜n’ roll. And that’s where it pretty much ends,â€ said Dunning, over the ruffle of a half-eaten bag of tortilla chips found amidst the rubble. From his spot on the scattered floor, Hansen added, â€œYeah, I think it begins and ends there. I mean there’s some country influences, some blues influences. Some of it’s kind of under the umbrella of indie-rock. My intentions were to have it be accessible, and have it be poppy, without being [pauses] cheesy poppy.â€
As far as the song selection for the new CD was concerned, it pretty much came down to recording all of the material that the band had in its repertoire at that time, which was nine songs. Many of these initial nine were written, or at least partially written, by individuals in the band prior to the Amblers’ initial conception. The rest of the members then helped fill in the missing pieces, adding different flavors to the musical mix.
Ottoman Empire, which is not in reference to historical people and places, but is rather a play on words with a common footstool (which would have come in damn handy during this conversation), is one of those records that’s extremely likeable the first time you hear it. By the second or third listen, hook lines, choruses and spunky licks are already stuck in your head, as the thirty-minute long album flows along seamlessly, one track into the next.
â€œNot As Good, But Easierâ€ kicks the album off in rollicking fashion with Hansen’s high-pitched tenor swooning over semi-twangy riffs, hand claps and some smoking guitar leads from Gerrard. It’s fun, it’s loud, and it’s a perfect way to introduce the band. The album’s second track, â€œNo Kind At All,â€ might be the most instantly agreeable song on Ottoman Empire. Gerrard’s catchy vocal refrain and harmonica hook-line intro are somehow bested by Dunning’s plundering, funky bass-line on this rump-shaking hodgepodge of styles. But it is toward the end of the album, on â€œSharps and Flats,â€ that much of the Amblers’ songwriting and arrangement skills are put in full view. Centered around a repeating, lilting guitar, the song starts slowly, soaked in balladry as it gradually builds into layers of frenetic rock â€˜n’ roll. New sounds and colors continue to pop out until it all reaches an epic climax.
The album was recorded at the home studio of local scene stalwart Scott Barwick (Candy Apple, Machinegreen), and took about six months to complete. Not in any particular rush, the Amblers were able to take their time with the songs, while Barwick was able to fine tune and experiment with the mix. The process was beneficial to all involved, and the results were of the highest quality.
â€œWe were one of the first bands that Scott recorded with his [latest] studio thing,â€ explained Moblad from one of the semi-coveted couch positions. â€œSo, it was kind of a learning process for him and us. It was like neither one of us wanted to rush the other, because we both wanted it to sound as good as it could. So we were all really patient with each other.â€
Whatever decisions were made, they were the right ones. Ottoman Empire sounds as if it were made by seasoned veterans, never revealing the amount of trial and error that may have taken place, and this writer, for one, is very impressed.
As the afternoon conversation came to a close, the previously empty-feeling house took on a slightly different character now that it was filled with a greater sense of the Amblers’ distinct personalities. Different is good in terms of people, music and other things. Just ask the fixed gear bike in the corner of the room, mounted with riser handlebars. Different indeed.