It's a moment to relish when an artist shares a window into the backstory of songs. Years ago, watching notoriously cool New York outfit The Strokes, I lamented to my friend that Casablancas purely launched into the songs, sans commentary. Over the guitar strains of the iconic track 'Juicebox' she yelled enthusiastically, "they're from New York!" and continued dancing wildly. As if that should make all the sense in the world. It didn't, and to this day I've always loved hearing about the context of songs.
One such New York artist has helped shift my perspective, Chancius. A solo musician, he started busking acoustically in the subways, bars and clubs many moons ago. A dabble in electro-rock outfit Automatic Duo moved him into more dancey and funky tunes, now settling into his latest project.
'Bando' is the latest jaunt, a concept album brought to life by fellow musicians, after he'd written and recorded a good part of the album."Bob was such a key factor to getting the project to where I wanted it to be, because he knew just the right people to bring for the right parts. He was really [a] gift from Gods and he and I got along magically." 'Bob' is Robert Weir, who helped extensively with the engineering and production.
Bando is an unusually novel decision. Chancius explains it is an "Alternative rock concept album, a sci fi opera if you will, of a character who cheats death and discovers what it means to survive beyond, all while examining what made him who he is in the first place."
The album is a 12-track selection of chapters with remarkable melodies, each carefully revealing (mostly) the story from Bando's point of view. "But the song 'Pliers Donar', is named after the doctor who performs the operation on Bando and the chorus is meant to be from Donar and his staff's perspective. The song 'Bando' is meant to be an ode to Jazzel while Hologram King actually has Jazzel (or thinks is Jazzel) approach Bando." Maximus wife Jessica poignantly sings Jazzel's lyrics.
He explains further, "a rock opera tells a coherent story, and may involve songs performed as if sung by separate characters in a drama. Bando is the personal journey listeners take with the title character on a journey of self-discovery and what it means to be human in the 21st Century."
At times Chancius vocals and composition remind me of the UK band Metronomy, although his New Wave influences are palpable. I regularly sojourn to old Visage, OMD and Siouxie Sioux clips so any vestige of keeping this movement alive is embraced. He emphatically believes that creating the album this way helps to set him "apart from the rest of the pack."
He reveals, "there were 3 reasons why I chose to create a concept album as my newest project. First, I thought about what other artists were and weren't doing. The few musicians that do record concept albums do so mostly in a theme of loosely related songs rather than a complete cohesive story like Sufjan Stevens' 'Age of Adz' or The Flaming Lips' 'The Soft Bulletin'."
This lead him to the second reason which was a purely from a marketing standpoint and raises a valid conversation. The rise of mp3s albums have allowed fans to select songs they really like, "but if an entire album's worth of songs were all connected by a central idea, this could possibly peak the fan's interest enough to want to own and listen to all the tracks on the album like The Killers 'Sam's Town', which is another concept album with a personal, more linear narrative."
Thirdly, his love of sci-fi tempted him to "try my hand at that kind of album like David Bowie's The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars." As an independent artist, it is a brave expedition and one he has mastered artfully. The music is delicate, his vocals are evocative and the idea of Bando is incredibly tangible. It adds personality and a sense of irreverence, which I'm really drawn to.
He illustrates this point; "with this album I really went out of my comfort zone when it came to writing and recording material. Normally I start out writing lyrics off guitar parts I've cobbled together (since that's my main instrument) and I wanted to try a different route with this album." Instead of relying guitar, he only brought it in way down the line, "after I had already laid down multiple instrumental parts. That was quite a different approach for me."
The story Chancius is telling through the album had a great affect on the song creation process. "That was like putting together a completely different puzzle because it can be difficult just writing one individual song." He adds, "but to create a group of songs that all fit into a theme and make sense can be challenging. I wanted there to be some kind of continuity." In order to do this, he had to look at the story he wanted to tell as a whole, and then decide, "what pieces needed to be fleshed out and in what order did they work the best in."
The beautiful craftsmanship has produced a well-thought out and contemplative album. If you love a good story, Bando is an experimental quest to the recesses of New Wave bliss. Let's hope Bando's adroitness procures a metamorphosis into a second rock opera.