DATE OF INTERVIEW:
31st October 2015
Four years on from the release of her debut album, 'Like No Other', Chantel McGregor finally delivered her sophomore full-length platter of music in October 2015. While diverse within the scope of its Southern Gothic aesthetic by combining elements of stripped-down, no-nonsense rock, with metal, grunge and prog flavours, plus sonic divergences into hauntingly melancholic mellowness, 'Lose Control' is a more cohesive, well-rounded and tenacious work as a whole. It's one that sees concept inextricably married with music, where one reflects the other in all manner of dark subject matter. It's also an album that showcases Chantel's ever-evolving musicianship, and a new compositional maturity that packs some serious punch and affective poignancy in equal measure. Winding up her current UK tour with a show in Lincoln on Halloween night, before heading over to mainlaind Europe for further giggage, Metal Discovery met up with Chantel for a chat about all aspects of 'Lose Control', from conception to reification...
METAL DISCOVERY: As it’s Halloween today, will you be dressing up for the occasion?
(Chantel McGregor on her recently released, sophomore album, 'Lose Control')
"...I think it succeeded in being a lot darker and a lot grungier than the first one."
Chantel McGregor - promo shot
Photograph copyright © 2015 Steve Howdle
Interview by Mark Holmes
CHANTEL: Absolutely! I mean, I dress gothy anyway… but, yeah, I’m going for the vampire look tonight.
MD: With teeth marks on the neck?
CHANTEL: No. Well, I’m going to be the vampire, instead of the bitten… [Laughs]
MD: Always a good way to be… take the power!
MD: You posted on Facebook yesterday that Thursday’s Brighton show was the best you’ve ever played, so what makes the perfect gig for you?
CHANTEL: I think it’s our enthusiasm. The night before was a bit strange; we played a show and I think it wasn’t what people were expecting, because they were expecting me to be like some folk/acoustic singer/songwriter type of thing. And, when we went up there and rocked it, they were like: “It’s too loud! It’s too loud!” They were really old people and they walked out! It was really soul destroying because seeing people walk out of your gig when you’re doing your best… I was really upset about that. So I wrote two songs about it on the way to the Brighton gig, listened to Alanis Morissette the whole way there, and got there and went, “I’m gonna rock tonight and it’s gonna be loud!”
CHANTEL: But all of us got into that frame of mind that this is gonna rock and we’re gonna give it everything, and we did and it was just brilliant.
MD: So you were in the zone, as they say?
CHANTEL: Exactly. And it was sold out as well, so that always helps.
MD: Congratulations on the new album, it’s absolutely incredible.
CHANTEL: Thank you.
MD: Production, composition and performance are all incredible, so you must be proud with what you’ve achieved there with the second one?
CHANTEL: Yeah. It’s been one of those things where it was like having a child… [Laughs]… you know, it sort of felt that way, the creation of it. It took forever and then it grew and grew, and we were developing the songs on the road, and we were developing them in pre-production rehearsals before we went into the studio. And then the studio took a couple of months, just for the recording bits and stuff, because I’m a perfectionist so it was like: “That’s not right, we need to redo all these bits and replay everything.” Then the mixing took a few months because I was not happy with everything and it was like: “No, do that again; change that; change the drum sound; you can hear me breathing so cut that out.” It was a very clinical way of doing it but it got there in the end; so, yeah, I’m really proud of it now.
MD: Because you’re a perfectionist, do you listen to it now and hear bits you’d want to change?
CHANTEL: I’ve stopped listening to it!
CHANTEL: There’s bit where I’ve gone, “oh, I wish I’d played that different”… because they’ve developed again since the album, because that was the end of last year we recorded it… this time, but a year ago. So there’s been another year of those songs developing, so they’ve changed a lot again.
MD: Why did it take so long to come out if you finished recording last October?
CHANTEL: I think it was May it was finally mastered and went off to the manufacturers, and came back in June. So we got five thousand of them delivered in June and then we needed three months to market it, and do the build-up, and the press and everything… so it didn’t come out until October.
MD: An apt time for it to come out, in time for Halloween, what with the nature of the songs with serial killers and cults and whatever else…
CHANTEL: Exactly, precisely!
MD: You have raw, stripped-down rock, prog, grunge, metal and haunting, mellow stuff on there, so quite a mixed bag. Did you set out to make an album with all those elements, or did it naturally transpire to be that way?
CHANTEL: It just became that. Originally, it was like, well, I’m just gonna write songs about things that I know. And then it was like, well, actually, I need a bit of a theme here because what do I know, other than being on the road and going to the pub and stuff like that! So, I decided to do this thing where it was like this Southern Gothic thing, because I watch a lot of telly programmes like ‘True Blood’ and ‘True Detective’ and, you know, weird voodoo films and horror films. So, I thought, okay, I know about it, I like watching them… I get to watch more of them to do research!
CHANTEL: But just the feel of the songs - you know, the heaviness or the lightness of ‘Anaesthetize’ and stuff - that was more just sort of how it came out. Because I was writing the lyrics based on what I’d seen on TV or a film, or even artwork I was studying as well to do it, and it was like, these are the lyrics, what would fit the lyrics, conceptually and the feel of it? So, that’s how it happened.
MD: For the Southern Gothic thing, you’re quoted in press blurb as saying you wanted “to immerse myself in the sinister, dark world of depravation, magic and voodoo…” The music matches that, so did the theme come first, before the music?
CHANTEL: Yeah. As far as the music part of it, that was influenced by the Southern Gothic thing. I put a playlist together on Spotify that was all Southern Gothic artists. I mean, a lot of the Southern Gothic stuff’s acoustic; you know, so it’s quite creepy and acoustic and sinister. So, it was like trying to feed that and the melodies into the electric stuff as well, so it kind of all tied in. I wanted it to be cohesive this time.
MD: It works as an album in its entirety. My only criticism, though, is that there are not enough cats on there…
MD: Actually, there are no cats at all…
CHANTEL: Yeah, I need some familiars!
MD: Yeah, exactly!
MD: Did you see no place for cats in the Southern Gothic thing?
CHANTEL: I don’t know. There was enough place for cats walking on the keyboard while I was trying to demo the songs! [Laughs]
MD: Awww, so they played on it a little bit?
CHANTEL: I don’t know, they just annoyed me while I was trying to write it, I think!
MD: So, was it a fairly long production period because, when we spoke this time last year, you were in and out of the studio, in between gigging?
CHANTEL: Yeah, that’s kind of why it took so long as well because I was going down for three days and then I’d be on the train back, and then doing the shows, and then going back down. It was a lot of travelling so, I think, next time I do it I’m just gonna block out a month or two and say, “no gigs”.
MD: There’s a much more organic sound to this one compared to your debut, but would you say it’s more difficult to attain those natural, organic sounds rather than a more clinical sounding record?
CHANTEL: Probably, yeah, actually. You’d think it’d be the other way round because you could just be a bit looser with it and not as precious with the organic thing, but you’ve got to craft that. It’s not as easy as just going in and, “I’m gonna put loads of distorted guitars.” If you just play loads of distorted guitars, it cleans up, essentially, because everything cancels everything out and it just sounds a bit naff. So, it was like, I need to do lots of layering. To try and get that grungy sound, you’ve got to use clean and layer it, so it was probably a lot harder to do that. But, yeah, I think it succeeded in being a lot darker and a lot grungier than the first one.
MD: Yeah, it’s still very polished, but it has that raw edge at the same time. It sounds like purposeful rawness, like you said, rather than arbitrary.
MD: Your guitar sound on the album is incredible, for lead, rhythm, and acoustic. Did you spend a lot of time in the studio playing around with different setups to get the precise sounds you wanted, or did you know what you wanted before going into the studio?
CHANTEL: I kind of knew what I wanted. I think we had four things going on, on each thing. We had a microphone on… I think I used the Egnater and a cab, and a mic on the Carvin and a cab, and then a DI taken A/B’d from both and, also, a direct line which was then re-amped through some program or something, just to really beef it up and we just blended all of the tones.
MD: I think when it first hit me just how great it sounded was on ‘Your Fever’, the second track, when you can hear your guitar in isolation. I compared it to Bob Rock in my review, like his production work. Did you have reference points?
CHANTEL: Yeah, big style. Everything was referenced on the album; everything. And it’s cheating a little bit but, you know, that’s what you do, isn’t it! I think ‘Your Fever’ was referenced from a mix of Soundgarden and Stone Temple Pilots. Those were my reference points on that one.
MD: Good reference points! On the subject of ‘Your Fever’, it has some unsettling and haunting guitar layers on the outro… it sounds like an EBow on one of those layers. Is that an EBow you used there?
CHANTEL: Yeah, I did… or did I? Did I on that one? I don’t think I did on that; I think I just messed with the feedback. We put in-line a… I think it was like a 24-band EQ or something that he had lying around. It was from the racks and things, so it wasn’t even a guitar EQ. It was just like, well, we’ll mess with this and boost all the frequencies that we want to feedback and I’ll just sit really close to the amp and try and craft these awful, disturbing frequencies out of it.
MD: It’s kind of like dissonant but, at the same time, sort of very melodic; you’ve crafted a melody out of the dissonance.
CHANTEL: That was the aim.
MD: It sounded like an EBow to me but why buy an EBow when you can play around with feedback!
CHANTEL: ‘Walk On Land’, that’s got an EBow on it. But, yeah, that one, it was meant to feel like being isolated in a desert and really uncomfortable and not knowing what’s around you. So that was the kind of eerie sound I wanted to create with it.
MD: Do you always try to experiment with different techniques and sounds?
CHANTEL: Yeah! [Laughs] It’s fun! You’ve got an instrument there that you can do anything with, pretty much, so you might as well try and do it.
MD: The second half of ‘Your Fever’ reminded me a little of Blackfield, so is that the Steven Wilson influence creeping in again there?
CHANTEL: Not really on that one. Vocally, I was taking a lot of influence from Skunk Anansie for it. Melodically, I didn’t really reference anything in the end part.
MD: You have a very personal song on the album too, with ‘Home’, which I gather is quite an introspective piece about being on the road and reflecting back on stuff? Was it important for you to have a personal one on there too, amidst all the Southern Gothic darkness?
CHANTEL: I don’t know… it was weird because that song really changed. When I first wrote it, it was about something even more personal and I was listening back to it and thought, no, this is just too personal, I can’t do this… [Laughs] So, it ended up getting changed to just being about home and being on the road and all that sort of thing. So, it is personal but, to me, it’s not something that I sing and it makes me cry or anything. It’s just about home. Having said that, everybody seems to be coming up to me, going, “oh, I’ve just listened to it and it’s made me cry and it means so much to me, and it means this to me.” And it means so many things to so many different people. So, I guess people see more in it than what I do! [Laughs]
MD: Do you find the subjective stuff easier to convey the emotions in your playing and voice, more than the objective themes?
CHANTEL: Yeah. Well, I think, for me, actually writing to a template… it sounds silly… is easier for me, rather than writing about personal things. Like going: “Okay, I’m gonna write about Southern Gothic and I’m gonna detach myself from it, treat it as a story and draw a mind-map about it, and create lyrics from that.” So, it’s very clinical the way I write, really. It’s that thing of what do you write about? There’s only so many times you can write about ex-boyfriends and, you know, people you meet on the road… you can’t really write that much about it so you’ve kind of got to draw your influences from other things and go, “how do I make this interesting?” It’s probably because I did that sort of thing at uni where it was write to spec, so that’s how I write; writing to spec, basically, and having a criteria.
MD: You have some cello and violin on ‘Home’, and some of the other tracks too, which you’ve said is to help emphasise the emotions already in the music. So, did you write the string parts yourself, or just let the guys do their thing?
CHANTEL: Liv did most of the string arrangements, with me going, “okay, can we change this?”, or “can we put this in?”, or “how about we try this?” And we kind of collaborated on writing that, but a lot of the string parts on ‘Walk On Land’ were all me; the piano parts and everything were written back at home. The demo for that was pretty much finished by going into the studio… we needed to re-record it all to a good standard, but the demo was exactly the same as the finished product as far as the arrangement goes.
MD: Do you find it easy to place trust in other musicians that you bring into the studio to add something to your music?
CHANTEL: Yeah. Well, the thing is, they play for the BBC Orchestra and stuff, so…
MD: … they know what they’re doing!
CHANTEL: They know what they’re doing!
CHANTEL: So, if you whack a sheet of music in front of them… I mean, they were sight-reading it. I’d, literally, never met them before, but they came in, had one run through with the sight-reading, and we recorded it. I think we finished both of them in two hours, and they came in at an hour’s slot at a time.
MD: Wow, pretty cool.
CHANTEL: Yeah. [Laughs]
MD: Would you ever want to experiment by including strings on some of the rockier/heavier stuff? Do you listen to any of the symphonic metal bands out there like Nightwish and whoever?
CHANTEL: Yeah, I’d love to do that, because I was always into when Evanescence were doing stuff like that; I found it really interesting. I suppose it goes back to the whole Led Zeppelin thing; you know, when they were doing ‘Kashmir’ and stuff.
MD: Yeah, I guess Deep Purple did the whole orchestra thing first, like mixing that with rock.
CHANTEL: Yeah, exactly. So, I’d like to do it… possibly for the next album… [Laughs]