Randomness seems to be the name of the game with The Chap. Most questions I ask them seem to come to the conclusion of randomness. Their new album’s title, Ham, is, I am assured, random. As is one of the track titles Emerson, Lake and Palmer (the old ‘seventies supergroup; member Greg Lake reappears on Christmas albums trilling I Believe in Father Christmas); I am promised this is random.
“It just sounded good as a subtitle.” Panos reassures me. “You open the CD case, and you see Emerson, Lake and Palmer, and you see The Chap. It had nothing to do with anything.”
The Chap are nothing like Emerson, Lake and Palmer before you have nightmares of progressive rock grandeur, although perhaps there is some of the self-indulgence. Ham has attracted interesting reviews; in fact some critics have accused The Chap of being pretentious. When it turns out they have a recording of Keith making a sandwich, I feel my inner eyebrow raise. With my dictophone running in the background, Johannes’ face lights up as he teasingly asks for the recording to bring “the aura of eating food into our work.” I’m pretty sure he’s joking.
In fact The Chap seem like a pretty good team who just like doing what they do. We’ve decided to meet in a surprisingly good little Turkish café near Manor House playing a bizarrely melodic tune in the background (I am reassured this is much better than the East European techno they usually play). It turns out this innocent café has been the hub of their lives for some time now (“Once it closed for two weeks and it was really bad”), so it seems a fitting destination. Keith is a modest, quiet sort of man who also moonlight in tour management (his long hair and general confusion also confirm this), Panos is the lively Greek whose eyes dart around but aren’t afraid to settle on mine when he talk to me (it takes a while for the other two to relax to this level), and Johannes is quite shy and hesitant. When he does speak, it is suitably profound. He laughs politely and jovially at my own attempts at polite joviality. Fourth band member Claire is at pilates. Good choice.
With The Chap’s experimental genre-hopping tendancies, it is easy to see how they defy definition. Their press release defines them as “electro-fuzz”, however they shy from classification.
“My current description, “muses Keith, “is we’re a cross between Kraftwerk and Sonic Youth.” This prompts anarchic mutterings amoungst his companions who disagree, although Keith defends his point. Johannes still disagrees; “I would say we’re a modern pop group…It’s just slightly more Lofi..a bit more electronic…. Somebody else would say its not that cool, they’ll say its weird.”
Panos is still musing over Keith’s suggestion; “What do we have in common with Kraftwerk?”
“Not much”, mutters Keith.
There have also been accusations in reviews that this album, the band’s follow up to the critically acclaimed The Horse, is a move towards the mainstream. But despite their banter that they have sort of played with Oasis (“when they played Finsbury Park, we were playing in a tent five minutes away”), The Chap are quick to separate themselves from any mainstream aspirations, and suggest they could be “esoteric electronica”.
“The new album isn’t so much a new sound through its tunes; we just got more earfriendly because of how we recorded it rather than a transition- we just got better equipment”, shrugs Panos. Equipment seems to be an issue for The Chap- they tell me how they use every room in Panos’ house to record all the different sounds.
Panos also expands on the band’s approach to their so-called ‘pop-ier’ sound; “we’re quite self-concious. When people write they think, ‘this sounds really stupid but I really like it’, and I think this is how we think.” Johan nods his agreement, “This is basically what you think when you write pop music…it’s the definition of pop music.” The boys are clearly warming to their subject. Panos concludes smugly, “The difference is people don’t know that they write really stupid music but they write really good music and that’s a problem.”
This is a strange conversation to have with a band who gain full marks for originality and strangeness. They seem to attribute more to David Byrne, Lou Reed and Devo than Kylie. However, Johannes is quick to assert that this is the closest The Chap will ever get to the mainstream and their eclectic sound is safe. I ask them what in the media shares the same roots as their work. Panos is clearly the most excited of the bunch providing Level 42, Boston’s first album, the film The Holy Mountain and the Mannequin soundtrack (‘eighties flick starring Kim Cattrall). Keith provides Dire Straits’ Brothers in Arms and Phd’s Never Let You Go. These provide much thought while learning the rudiments of Turkish food (I am convinced there are chillis hidden in my meal that the band are aware of without my knowledge).
After musing over Crazy Frog on people’s phones, (“these people should just be like…banned for a year”) and Dot in Eastenders learning to drive, I appreciate that The Chap, despite accusations of grandeur, are in fact a very ordinary band trying to do what they do best, and look around them for the best inspiration. Their exotic sound draws from so many sources that it certainly holds an appeal for the Kraftwerk-Bowie-Brian Eno set. As I leave the band a cry stops me.
“Oh wait,” I turn round to see Panos gesturing wildy. “The Coco Pops ad. That inspires us.” I promise to make a note.