Sat. Nov 10, 2012 at 9:00pm EST
21 and Over
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21 and Over
with THE MILKMAN'S UNION
As singer/guitarist Mark Daly tells it, "back in January, before Ethan and I left for Nashville to record Look What I've Become (Audiotree Records), we sat down with the rest of the band. With no small amount of shame, we explained that they wouldn't be playing on it. Chuck, our bassist, finished his beer and walked out of the bar without saying a word. A few days later, Eric, who played keys told us he was quitting. Jamie, our drummer wasn't sure if he would stay. Ethan and I weren't sure if Chamberlin would exist when we returned."
It was quite the turn of events for a group of five long-time friends only one year into their careers. Chamberlin began 2011 wide-eyed and optimistic playing their first ever shows to packed ballrooms and theaters opening for fellow Vermonters Grace Potter and the Nocturnals. Soon after, the boys put out their debut album, took off on their own headline tour, released an EP of fan-chosen covers, and circled the U.S. five times, including a grueling three-month, 20,000 mile trip to finish off the year.
"We were exhausted," says Daly who founded the band with guitarist Ethan West after attending school together—k-16. "2011 was essentially us running a marathon without ever trying a 10K, except imagine that while trying to run that marathon you end up chained to four other guys, drinking too much and yelling at each other hungover in the parking lot of a Wal-Mart in Kentucky."
Returning home in December, Daly and West kicked off 2012 having hardly spoken to the rest of the band since the tour ended. With just a small window to record before heading on the road again in February, the two began working with Luke Reynolds, an accomplished performer and producer (fronted Blue Merle, Pictures and Sound, and now plays in Guster) who had attended their high school a few years before them. The three arranged five new songs, and plans were made to track later that month in Nashville with Brad Bivens (Kings of Leon, Norah Jones). "Suddenly," says Daly, "we found ourselves all set to record these new songs that the other guys hadn't been a part of at all. Personal tension aside, we hadn't rehearsed together in over six months and having worked out most of the arrangements already with Luke on bass and keys, we were very worried that the music would suffer if we tried to force everyone in at the last minute." Weighing all of this, West and Daly agreed when Reynolds suggested he recruit Patrick Hallahan (My Morning Jacket) to play drums. West and Daly headed south on their own.
Surrounded and challenged by a seasoned, professional team, Daly and West enjoyed their days in the studio. At night they retreated to their room at the Red Roof Inn and tried not to think about the future or the rest of the band. West says, "simply put, this EP is about jealousy, despair and resentment. While recording the vocals, it really hit us that we had inflicted those same feelings on our band mates—or rather, our best friends. As Mark sang the chorus of "Jealousy," we avoided eye contact and waited for the moment to pass...kind of like two awkward, unfamiliar teens walking by each other in the hallway. He was singing the lyric, 'Look what I've become.'"
Daly and West returned to Vermont acutely aware of the steps needed to make amends with their original band members. Although Eric was intent about leaving to work on other projects, he ultimately finished on a positive note, agreeing to tour until the others could find a new keyboard player. Chuck and Jamie agreed to stay on, with the understanding that the band would rehearse together incessantly to close the gaps that had come between them. As an assurance, the guys even moved back into the mountainside cabin where Chamberlin had formed before their initial 2011 whirlwind year. Presently, all of the members are there working on a new full-length record to be released in early 2013.
The irony of a band writing an EP about jealousy and cheating, only to cheat on each other to make it does not go unnoticed in the group of close friends. "We can all joke about it now," says West, "and even though Mark and I still feel bad for hurting feelings along the way, we're also very proud and excited about how Look What I've Become turned out musically. It also gave us an opportunity to address some major structural issues before moving forward together. It is often impossible to recover from an affair, but every once in a while people bounce back stronger."
Peter W J
Peter W J