Listening to the new Hans Chew album, Life & Love, we are reminded of why we love rock’n’roll music. It has swagger, it has soul and, most importantly, an energy that remains undiminished throughout. At the centre of it all is Hans himself – seemingly throwing himself into every track. The feeling you are left with is one of an artist giving his all to make the record he wanted, his life and his love – how much more rock’n’roll can you get? As a listener can you ask for more?
Hello Mr Hans Chew – how are you Sir? Where are you writing to us from?
Great thanks! Never been better…I’m writing to you this morning from Spanish Harlem, New York City, USA.
‘Life & Love’ has been ‘unleashed’ for nearly a month now – are you pleased with the reception thus far?
Yes indeed, the album’s reception so far has been good…we’ve had quite a bit of press on the album already, both print and online, and I hope that this has been successful in helping to get the music into more people’s ears. That’s the most important thing to me, that people can experience the music. With my last album, it took awhile for it to really build up a head of steam, perhaps six months or more…we’ll see if Life & Love continues to gather momentum with more press and touring this summer to support it.
We say ‘unleashed’ as this is one ferocious rock’n’roll album – what was the process of getting it recorded like?
Well, my first album was recorded piecemeal before I had a band, with basically just me and the engineer playing all of the parts ourselves and layering things up in the studio. But by the time Life & Love was ready to be recorded, I had assembled my band and had been playing the songs with them for some time, and we knew that we wanted to try to capture our live sound as much as possible on the album, so we decided to try to record the songs that way in the studio. For example, we tried to limit the isolation of the amps and mics, all playing in one room together, as well as tried to limit the overdubs, playing solos and improv sections as first takes as much as possible. I think it gives the album a really loose and spontaneous sound. Yeah, maybe even ferocious at times!
To us it harks back to some of our favourite blues/rock bands – were there any specific influences when putting this record together?
I think a lot of our influences come through unconsciously of course. For example, Dave Cavallo really loves the Allmans, Faces, and Hendrix, and you can hear those sounds in the guitars for certain. I think you can also hear my influences in the piano as well, the little nods to James Booker or Leon Russell or Nicky Hopkins. But in terms of specific influences, I think that I had it in mind to try to make an album like Physical Graffiti, an album that I loved as a kid, that has diverse styles yet a similar live sound running through it. For example, I was imagining Chango as an album side opener similar to In The Light, yet also combining the slow build of Gallows Pole (from Zeppelin III) with the brutality of In My Time Of Dying, while also injecting our own spirit into it…I think essentially Life & Love was my attempt to make a “classic rock and roll” album.
You give the piano some treatment on this album – how many went to the piano graveyard whilst recording? Is the piano always the starting point for your song-writing?
Ha ha! The studio where we recorded had a gorgeous, 8 or 9 foot Yamaha grand piano, which was one of the most important reasons we decided to record there. It was actually an extremely robust instrument and never required a re-tuning during our entire recording run. I think the piano sounds fantastic on the album, the engineer Paul Suarez did an excellent job with microphone placement and recording levels et cetera…you can really hear it breathe on the album, it’s just a glorious sound when you really hear it open up, like on the Supplanter’s Song, or hear it shimmer like on the piano solo of The Wedding Song.
Strange Love is one of our favourites on the record – especially when it goes a little Stevie Wonder – tell us about this particular song.
Yes, you got it: I absolutely wanted that clavinet “Superstition” breakdown on Strange Love! It just seemed so obvious…I’m glad you like that song, it’s very special to me. I thought it was going to be my “hit”! Sadly, I don’t feel like we were able to capture that song as I had envisioned it, but I do like it as it is on the album, I just felt like it was really going to be THE outstanding track on the record, but something about the arrangement or recording or mixing of it just got lost for me. The song was actually written around two very painful events for me and my wife: one was the symbolic loss of some people very dear to us, and the other was the physical loss of someone very dear to us. The song was about a need to express how real love feels, not an expression or statement of love, but active, quantifiable, supportive love…sometimes you can feel and experience the powerful effect of love from someone who never even expresses it verbally towards you, and on the other hand you can have someone tell you that they love you but wonder why you are left so cold and alone…
I reckon these songs are a lot of fun to play live – any particular favourite?
Oh yeah, it’s so much fun to play these songs live. I can really be transported to another place almost every time when we hit the improvisational outro section of Love, and Junker’s Blues usually takes on a life of its own and drives us out of control down a hell-bound track when we play it. The Supplanter’s Song can be very powerful, especially during the drum solo and coming back out of it into the full band improvisational section… It’s a great feeling to have this band behind you, it must be the same feeling for a jockey sitting on top of a prized thoroughbred, or how it feels to be sitting at the wheel of sports car or something, just knowing there’s all that horsepower supporting you and at your disposal. I know how to perform the songs in certain ways that whip those guys into a frenzy if I need to…ha ha! For the soccer fan in me, here’s the sporting analogy: I know that despite my running and playing soccer and trying to keep in shape I’ll never be able to compete on a professional level, but with my band behind me it must be like how it feels to be Gareth Bale and know that when you call on your body to make a 90 yard run down the pitch beating everyone else on the field, that the energy is there…
When will the ‘Life & Love’ tour kick-off?
At the moment it looks like we’ll be kicking off the Life & Love Tour at Truck Festival on Saturday, July 19th just outside Oxford, UK. We’re lucky to be headlining the Saloon Stage, hosted by our wonderful label At The Helm Records. We’re still booking at the moment, so there could possibly be a show come in before that, but right now it looks like Truck Festival on July 19th will kick off our European dates.
Tell us a little about the amazing cover art? Were you a patient at ‘sitting’ for your portrait?
The album cover was painted on canvas by my wife, Melodie Provenzano. She also painted the first album cover. She is an artist, and has tirelessly indulged me by executing these weird visions of mine. Both covers are 2 feet by 4 feet works on canvas, and required many, many hours on her part! She is incredible. Both covers were actually compiled by me in Photoshop, essentially collages of images, which she then prints in sections and hangs around her studio and paints as she sits at her easel. I didn’t have to sit for anything, only the photo we took of me that we composited into the scene. Several people have asked us jokingly, “do you have those Caravaggios hanging in your house?”…
You’ve put together a great video for ‘Junkers Blue’s’ – was it shot local to where you live? Any strange looks during the shoot?
Yes, the concept to shoot the video on the streets of New York was all our guitar player Dave Cavallo’s idea. He is a cinematographer and runs his own production company when not playing with me. In fact, a documentary he shot on filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowski is playing in theatres in the US right now. So yeah, we shot the video around where I live here in Spanish Harlem, as well as in Brooklyn and down near Times Square at Port Authority bus terminal. Bus terminals are always magnets for unusual behaviour right? There’s something very raw about them no matter where you go. We got some great looks and participation from bystanders…I wish we could have kept everything in the final cut but we had to make decisions. It was a lot of fun. The concept was basically just “you walk down the street performing the song and I’ll try to catch anything good that happens around you”. I was kind of envisioning human piranhas ripping the clothes from my body as I was thrashing in the crowded streets, but mostly it was laid back, “thumbs up” supportive and interested onlookers and the occasional dancer or two as I slouched through some street corners…I need to work on my dance moves…
How would you say your sound has developed between this record and your previous LP ‘Tennessee & other stories’?
Well, I think that Life & Love is a little less “Americana” than Tennessee & Other Stories… It’s more of a straight up rock and roll album. I think I’ve also made an attempt to write more focused, traditionally structured songs, than before. It’s a goal of mine to have a simple, two minute and thirty second popular song at some point. For me, those are really hard to do…it’s much, much easier to write an epic, six or seven minute song with multiple sections and lots of words than to write an under three minute song with two verses and two choruses and a melody that one could hum after a single listen. That to me is a real challenge: to be able to pare a song down to its most barest, essential elements. To be able to quickly render a perfectly recognizable anatomical spot sketch of a nude model, as well as then be able to paint an abstract expressionist deconstruction of the same scene excites me. To me, I’ve always been interested in the idea that to do the latter well one needs to have mastered the former. Maybe not…
If we booked you for our fictional 3-day festival – who would you recommend us to get in as headliners?
Endless Boogie. Steve Gunn. Allen Toussaint.
Finally, Hans Chew is an awesome name – what are its origins?
My full name is Hans-Harding Alexis Chew. Hans was a name that my father compromised on with my mother: he wanted to name me Bjorn, after Bjorn Borg the tennis player (my father was a tennis pro), but my mother hated that name. I guess Hans was the compromise…maybe it still sounded European? My father’s name was Jon, so Johan, Johannes…Hans…it’s kind of like he named me after himself but not exactly. The Hardings were a family that took my father in when he was young and basically raised him through high school: he left home and didn’t have much to do with his family, the Chews. I think home life was problematic for him. I only ever really met his mother a few times. I think that Chew is an English name: actually when I was on my first tour of the UK, on the way to Bristol we saw on the map this place Chew Stoke, and then Chew Magna, as well as the Chew River Valley and Chew Lake. So I figured “this must be where my people come from!”. We diverted off the road to Chew Stoke and had a lovely afternoon there before our gig in Bristol. I walked into a pub to proclaim that I had returned to claim what was mine but no one was interested…