Interview: Chase Tremaine

Chase Tremaine

A little bit of time ago, I was able to catch up with singer-songwriter Chase Tremaine to discuss the re-release of his sophomore record Development and Compromise, my adoration for his debut called Unfall, as well as a lot about what the future has in store for his musical path ahead. I really enjoyed hearing about what made Chase want to explore his musical journey, and hear about his influences that he draws inspiration from.

Thank you so much for your time today, Chase, and congrats on the recent release of your sophomore solo album called Development and Compromise. What made you want to rework and expand some of the songs on the original record?

Man, that’s a giant topic, so I’ll try to give a bit of an abridged version of it. But essentially, D&C, which is how I will probably abbreviate it for the whole conversation, was never originally intended to be my sophomore album. It was supposed to be an EP of B-sides from Unfall. When I made my first album, I really wasn’t sure that I’d ever get to make an album again. I was putting my best songs into this one opportunity to make an album with no guarantee of what the future would entail. And when things were going well, and I had opportunities to keep making more music, I really wanted to make a collection of the songs that didn’t make the cut for Unfall. So I scheduled five days with a friend of mine who does great production work at a studio in Antioch, Tennessee called the Hilson Studio. And we just planned on spending these five studio days recording as much music as possible, and that would be the B-sides EP. But I brought 12 songs as contenders, kind of prioritizing which songs I liked the most at the time, but we ended up recording 11 of them. And so, the question became, do I still release this as a B-sides EP? Or did I accidentally just make my sophomore album? And after sitting on that for awhile, I decided to release it as a sophomore album. And I was extremely proud of it when it first came out in January 2021. But as the year went on, a handful of things happened that made me less proud of it. In hindsight, the big regret was just the rushed nature of the production, that it wasn’t as full or layered or thoughtful as Unfall had been. And some fans have told me that they kind of missed the big three part harmonies and guitar riffs that Unfall had. And that rang true with me. Those were things that I left off because we were making the album so quickly. And the second big thing that happened was realizing that there was this thematic connective tissue on the album. And I hadn’t really seen that or realized it while making the first version. Basically, every song oscillates between the ideas of accepting reality as it is versus creating fantasies to live in. To separate ourselves from the difficulties of reality. And when that clicked for me, I realized that there were other songs in my repertoire that I potentially wouldn’t do anything with in the future, if I didn’t use them now on this record. So thankfully, the producer let me return to the studio to not only record these new songs to add to the album, but then to go back and spice up the old songs, record some new harmonies, some new guitar parts, and bring in some guests musicians to redo some things that I thought were rushed. That is the short answer! <Laughter>

That sounds like it was like a night and day difference between the first version and the second version. Can you walk through some of the second version steps in the studio that kind of stood out to you, in hindsight?

Yes, so a big thing with the first version is that it was completely “solo” for no good reason at all. I think just for my own sake, and pride, I wanted the entire album to be only things that I’d written and only things that I played. So I had a very tight grip on those original sessions, and kind of rejected ideas that my producer had. And didn’t let other people do things even if they could do it better than I could. And a big thing about the second session was inviting other people to come play, and have their own creative takes on the songs. Also, some of the new songs had co-writers. So one of the new songs, “Interrogate The Fantasy,” is something that I wrote with my brother. So that kind of broke through the idea of everything being written by me. And then as far as everything being played by me, I had my wife come in and do vocals on the duet that now closes the album. An amazing trumpet player, who actually played trumpets on “Programming The Soul,” a song from Unfall, came back to add trumpets to “Hello, Zunyko” and “Shock My Ears.” And his parts fixed my issues with those songs. There were a lot of things that he was improvising in the studio, and we were going back and forth on arrangements. So it became a lot more collaborative. My friend, Theo Macmillan, also did the piano parts for a song called “Wings Not Made To Fly,” and they were so expansive, that I actually gave him co-writing credits because of how much his parts changed the song, and the piano part that he wrote inspired me to write new lyrics for the bridge. It ended up transforming into Theo having vocals on the song and us recording a brand new, extended ending to the song. And so it was really just, like, letting the songs breathe, and having those conversations, and letting my producer have more creative input. And I toyed with ways to take the songs and really flesh them out and make them bigger and better than the originals.

That’s awesome to hear! Chase, I really enjoy your approach to songwriting. And I’ve marveled at your growth as an artist just from Unfall and now Development & Compromise. What goes into both the writing and recording process for you?

I put a strong effort into not having an answer to that question. Because I never want to allow myself to become formulaic. I do have trends and patterns and comfort zones. But if I see myself always writing music first and lyrics second, then I try to push myself to do it differently. If I have a season where I’m just always starting out songs on acoustic guitar, then I’ll push myself to start a song on piano, bass, or even drums. Or to take something that was originally written as just poetry and see if I could turn that into a song. So I am always trying to get myself out of specific patterns. But I think the biggest answer to your question is just self-editing. I got an English degree in college with a creative writing minor, and as much as I’ve forgotten from those classes, one of my biggest takeaways is how much my creative writing professors really drilled into us that the true art of writing comes through the revisions, in the editing. Very rarely do my albums give you something that’s extremely similar to what I wrote on the day or the week or the month that I originally wrote the song.

So it’s always evolving, right? 

Exactly. I push my songs through the wringer. I will try out multiple sets of lyrics, multiple sets of guitar riffs, completely different drum ideas, I will just push songs until the point where all the elements of a song are telling the same story, presenting the same ideas, and accomplishing something that is cohesive for this little four minute piece of art. So that’s the big thing for me. And it’s kind of a struggle back and forth, like a tug of war between doing that in the natural settings of me just jamming out on an instrument, versus the modern settings of me just plugging things in on a computer. And oftentimes, because I’m doing the whole “One Man Band” thing, a lot of my initial drum writing happens in Logic on my computer, where I’ll program drum beats. And then eventually, I’m actually sitting behind the kit, playing along with the demo I’ve constructed. Then I’m taking these things I’ve made on the computer and figuring out, “Okay, how can I actually play this naturally? How do I turn this from a robot playing drums to a human playing drums? And how does that change the feel of the song?” I think a hilarious example is the song “Cave” from Unfall, where the original drums that I programmed were actually way too hard for me to play. <Laughter> And kept trying and simply could not play them. And so that put me in a position of, “This presents an opportunity of not only how can I make these drum parts easier, but how can I make this song better?” Which is an interesting balance. And so it’s a style of writing where I’m trying to make the right decision for each song, as I will basically just keep on rewriting and editing until I’m in the studio being forced to finalize it.

Yeah, with some of the earlier versions, who do you trust in your inner circle, besides obviously yourself? Who helps determine whether or not something is good enough for the studio? Is there somebody that you bounce ideas off of on a regular basis?

Yes, that was actually a really big group of people for Unfall. I decided to pull together a big focus group to help me take 20 songs, and not only pick the ones that should be on Unfall, but to also get their feedback on how those songs could be changed or improved. My brother is also a big one. He co-wrote “Interrogate the Fantasy” on this album, and he co-wrote three songs on Unfall. I spent most of my life playing music with him before striking out to do it on my own. So he’s always been one for me. And one of the biggest ones recently has been Theo, who you can hear play piano and sing on “Wings Not Made To Fly.” He releases bluegrass music with his sister, as Theo & Brenna. We’ve developed a really good working relationship over the past few years. And most of our songs kind of go through one another at this point. The night before going into the studio to record the original D&C, I went over to his apartment, and just on an acoustic guitar, performed all the songs for him and got his feedback on them. And again, with his help, we molded the songs and reshaped some melodies and reworked some of the lyrics. And then recently, the big one would be my wife, since I just got married this past July. And the big thing at this point in my small little independent career, is that first and foremost, I want her to be a fan of my music. So she’s now the first ear of everything; if she likes it, then I’m satisfied!

That’s great! What made you actually want to get into writing music professionally?

I’ve been writing music since I was a kid. Songwriting for me goes back to elementary school. I have memories of listening to my mom’s favorite songs on the radio, like Stevie Wonder, or hearing songs in church, and going home and trying to rewrite them, or improve them. And I realize now the utter blasphemy of trying to improve upon a song like “Isn’t She Lovely” by Stevie Wonder! <Laughter> I had my first “band” in fourth grade, before I could play any instruments. My best friend Tyler from elementary school and I would get together and try to write songs. So it’s been there for a long time. But I spent a large portion of my life playing with my brother. And mostly it was a supportive role, so it was helping him write his songs. I’ve been his guitarist, his bassist, his drummer, and I’ve been in all these different projects with him. And we have also been in other projects together, such as hardcore and metal bands. The idea of finally putting time and effort into my own music was mostly when our lives were kind of getting separated. He got married and had his first kid, we didn’t have any active musical projects, and we weren’t playing shows anymore. I actually got out of music entirely for a little bit. I wrote songs on occasion, but mostly I wasn’t pursuing it at all. I entered grad school for a semester and very quickly realized that it wasn’t for me. It wasn’t a good place for me to be. So I had all this time and money set aside to pay for grad school, and then I dropped out and thought, “Okay, what does this mean?” And so that was when I decided to take the leap on Unfall. I basically went bankrupt, trying to make the best album that I could after a whole life of being a songwriter, a music lover, and an album fanatic, in particular. I mean, this idea of making a full length album is something that I should try to do at least once. I’m primarily a guitarist, but I finally felt confident enough as a singer and as a drummer to be able to do it all myself and to take that challenge. And so it’s really just the fact that the response to Unfall was so great. and that it’s developed a nice budding little fan base, and it got a lot of support from friends and family, that it just encouraged me to keep at it.

Let’s talk about Unfall. It absolutely took me by surprise when I first heard it, because no offense to you, but I was not expecting something that polished or professional. <Laughter> But I remember thinking, “Oh my god, this is one of my favorites that came out that year!” So what lessons did you learn from recording that debut? 

Yeah, man, thank you so much. You know, if D&C was originally made in about a week, Unfall was made over the course of almost an entire year. It was a pretty crazy process. It definitely showed me the elements of recording where I didn’t know what I was doing yet. I was really pressed as a performer and a composer to bring my “A-game,” and I realized that I still had weaknesses. For example, I’m still growing as a drummer. When recording Unfall, most of the songs were just portions of takes, glued together, and I could only manage recording two songs per evening before getting totally wiped out. By the time we get to D&C, I recorded 11 songs of drums in just one day. So there’s a lot of musical growth that was needed, and I kind of developed that perseverance. The Unfall sessions were a very emotional time for me. I recorded the album throughout 2019, so it was pre-pandemic, but ironically, I was sick nearly the entire year. So the vocals you hear on Unfall, I’m basically always sick. Every time you hear me sing, those vocals were recorded under less than ideal circumstances. I was learning when to say yes and when to say no, when to push through and when you shouldn’t push through. And then it was also like a huge relational learning experience for me. I was not as kind to my producer as I should have been. And I think I fought for “my way” too often and didn’t give him space to do what he was good at doing.

Can you think of an example of one of those instances where you didn’t see eye-to-eye?

We made three songs first, and decided to go back and make another seven. And if you listen to “Matter,” “Worth the Wait,” and “Lonely Saints,” which are those first three songs, you can hear a lot more of the producer shining through in terms of his contributions and having space to kind of be more creative with mixing ideas and creating soundscapes and adding in other elements. Then I came back and said, “Let’s make more songs like ‘Matter.’” And I was no longer giving him space to be creative. Mostly, I was just saying, “I have my vision, and I need you to reproduce exactly what my vision is.” So it was a huge goal of mine moving forward to make sure that I was making music that was still, in relation to the process, a positive experience for everyone involved and something that was fun and community-driven. Something where everyone involved would be growing closer, rather than pushing each other apart. I think we really got that on the re-recording sessions of D&C, and it just became a fun time for musicians to come, perform the songs, be creative, let ideas fly about. So that’s a tough one for me to look back on. It scars the making of Unfall a little bit for me. But I still chat with the producer on occasion. It’s not like we’re on bad terms or anything. I’m very proud of Unfall, and I don’t think I’ve made the true sequel to it yet. I still think Unfall is the better album. I think you might be in that category, too?

Yeah, I think it’s more of a pop-driven record that’s more accessible. But Development and Compromise is definitely an “artist’s record” where you can see the different nuances that came into Unfall, and you’re kind of expanding on ideas from that…

Yeah, and part of that is because for me the true sequel to Unfall is still years away. As I mentioned, D&C started as a B-sides record. So very few of the songs are actually newer, most of the songs on D&C pre-existed Unfall, and I’m working on a third album right now that also kind of comes from that same era of songs that have pre-existed Unfall. I’m effectively trying to empty myself out of all of the old songs that I want people to hear while developing and writing new material, that in my mind, would be the true successor to Unfall.

So what does this year look like for you from a music perspective? Is there anything fans should be on the lookout for in 2022?

So my hope is that there will be at least one new full-length album in 2022. If everything were to go perfectly how I imagine it, then we’d get two full-lengths and two EPs in 2022. We’ll see if that pans out. I still don’t know what live performing looks like. Anyone looking at their calendars can see that I released Unfall basically weeks before the pandemic started, so that really halted everything. I might do a few more livestreams. But I do have some plans for 2022 that I haven’t shared with anyone yet, which I thought would be a fun thing to share with you. So, making a one man band album – this big rock thing with intricate harmonies and guitar riffs and drum parts – necessitated that I form a band in order to play live. But suddenly, concerts were dead and livestreams were in. While I can play these songs acoustically, I didn’t make them to be played on acoustic guitar. I made these songs very intentionally for the full-band experience. So I started teasing out an idea of writing “sequel songs” to the songs from Unfall. And they’re specifically designed for an acoustic, singer-songwriter experience. Starting with the original Unfall tracks, I’ve been continuing the lyrics, the stories, and some of the musical motifs, turning them into otherwise brand new songs that are tailor-made for just one voice and one guitar. So I’ve had a lot of fun writing those sequels off-and-on over the past two years. And that is something that I hope to record and release as an EP, either in late 2022, or potentially even January 2023, to mark the album’s three-year anniversary. My goal is that the Unfall 2 EP would close the gap on this whole “first era” of music I’ve been releasing. Everything kind of revolves around Unfall for these first few albums and EPs, so that EP would mark the end of this era.

Awesome! Hopefully that’ll give you a little bit of closure on that chapter. And then to put it all together and be ready for that “true” sophomore album experience.

Right, exactly. And the other thing really quickly is that I do have some collaborative singles recorded that’ll be coming out soon. I’m very excited for those! It’s fun making solo music because I love having full control. I love getting to play all the instruments and everything. But I also really miss working with other people and having things like that, so that’s something I’m trying to tap into more as well.

Nice. So one of the last questions I have for you is, are there other artists or bands you draw influence from? Or are there certain attributes you’re looking for in certain artists that you can put back into your own sound?

I’m always trying to learn from whenever I listen to, and to take mental notes of the things that make me say, “That’s brilliant. I want to do something like that.” I’m hoping, this year, to maintain the practice of keeping those notes and observations better recorded when I hear something that I want to learn or do for myself – not to rip artists off, but to take structural ideas, thematic ideas, etc.

In February, we had the “Music Writer’s Exercise” where I’ll listen to a new album each day and then I’ll write one tweet about it. I could see you doing something similar, listening to 20-30 songs, and thinking about how you could rework ideas into what makes sense in your realm. That’s kind of what I see, based on our conversation today.

Right, and so I think, one of my favorite things, just about the music I write, is that it comes from an emo-pop, vaguely post-hardcore inspired vein, but with inspirations that come from all these different genres. When I’m recording these big three part harmonies, it’s because one of my favorite artists is the Backstreet Boys. And when I bring in a theatrical flair to my vocal performances, it’s because one of my favorite artists is Barry Manilow. And then you have the artists that make a bit more sense. Like a lot of people say, my music reminds them of Mae, House of Heroes, or Jimmy Eat World, and those are big ones for me. I’m not good at hiding my inspirations very well. Thrice and Fall Out Boy are my favorite rock bands of all time. And then there’s heavier ones, like The Receiving End of Sirens, Architects, and Wolves at the Gate. And you’ll see what people in other countries and languages do with this genre I love. A band that really swept me off my feet this past year is called Cinema Staff. My number one album of last year was theirs, titled Kaitei. And that was one of those weird moments of basically finding an album that does everything that I’ve been wanting to do. It’s such a perfect encapsulation of what my brain thinks rock music should be. I’m gonna have trouble not ripping them off for years to come, but they’ve been a really, really fun one to dig into.

Any last words for fans or just things you want to put out into the world right now?

Sure. I think you know, Chorus.FM specifically has been such a huge part of the support system for my music. I get a lot of kind words and glowing reviews, and people share my music in the Chorus forums. I am so thrilled to have the support from you and other people on the site. And you know, the attention I get when I do put out new music…I was very thankful for that community. I mentioned those two collaborative singles that should be coming out in 2022. One of them is with an artist named Benjamin Daniel, who I actually met through the forums on Chorus.FM. We became real life friends, and now I’ve made music with him. So things like that are so cool. And it’s easy for the internet to be a place where division thrives. Cutting people out and only hanging with people who agree with you, like the same music as you, share the same political beliefs, and so on. I really treasure the parts of the Internet where genuine community and discourse and friendship can thrive. I’m just thankful for the friends I’ve made because I have a lot of weird tastes and I don’t agree with a lot of people on Chorus. I’m known amongst a lot of users as a guy with really terrible “hot takes.” But it’s a fun place to be, and I hope it always remains a place where people can share their opinions freely and make friends through it.

That’s great, and thanks for the kind words about the site! It was great to put a face to the name and see you moving and speaking in real time. <Laughter> Instead of these people trapped behind a computer and everything. Thanks again for your time.

Talk to you soon, Adam!