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Don Chambers Conjures Strange New Spirits

A dusty old book full of rituals and rites, a symbol drawn on the ground, candles all around… there are a lot of ways to conjure ghosts and spirits, and young men make the mistake of thinking they’ll be able to harness and control whatever it is that shows up when the incantations get going. Don Chambers loves conjuring music, but he seems to have reached a point where he knows that the idea of control is a sucker’s campaign—it’s better to channel than to tame.

A followup to last fall’s quiet solo album A Sudden Loss of Elevation, Chambers’ new album, Disquietude, goes with that flow, explicitly influenced by Chambers’ recent forays into improvised noise. He is picking up pieces of the world around him, or reflecting them, at least, and what he has come up with this time is a raw, dissonant, noisy thing. Disquietude is titled well.

“I have been recording incidental sounds for a while, collecting them and not really sure how to use them. I knew I wanted this record to be a departure from [my former band] GOAT, and particularly from anything that smacks of ‘Americana’,” says Chambers, whose clawhammer attacks on amplified banjos defined his rustic, rusted sound and image for years.

“I played banjo, because I thought it was punk, like Roscoe Holcomb—it was about intensity, never about trying to be folksy or traditional,” he says. “But once you play folk instruments, folks want to lump you in with this or that, which I find frustrating. I just want to chase after that dark spirit in the maze. I don’t know where I am going.”

Though the sonic palette of Disquietude veers from Chambers’ earlier recordings, his lyrics remain relatively constant, focusing on the state of what it is to be a person in a world that may or may not care, overseen by a God that may or may not exist. The in-store radio may ask you to “clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth,” but the truth in Chambers’ tunes is a persistent and companionable lonesomeness—so much so that there’s comfort in that.

“I guess we all write from some center of our body that I really don’t care to control,” he says. “It is not intentional, I am not an intellectual writer—it’s from the brain onto the tip of my tongue… The worst shit I ever wrote I thought about too much.”

That’s not to say the gentleman is bleak or depressing. Ghosts and blood and weather and the unceasing progression of time all play a part in Chambers’ music, but this is the South, and Chambers is a Southern man. Pay a little attention, and you’ll even find moments of existential satisfaction and romantic contentedness among his words.

It’s been 20 years since Chambers’ first band, Vaudeville, released its debut album, a cassette called Demonstration. Vaudeville was a noisy holler of a band, and while things quieted a little for Chambers as he launched his solo career about a decade ago, his music got increasingly louder and more raucous. He was backed by GOAT, a formidably muscular rock band, for years. But these new recordings loop back to that cassette aesthetic; Chambers even used cassette recorders to degrade the quality of Disquietude. But it all only happened once he had decided to scrap a self-imposed hiatus. 

After GOAT took a break, Chambers says, he wanted to reconnect with his background in painting and drawing, so he put music on the shelf for a while. But music had another idea.

“I went for a a drive the day after I decided, ‘No more songs for a while,’ and as melodies and lyrics popped into my head, I remember thinking, ‘This is ridiculous—can’t somebody turn this writing thing off? Instead, I gave into it, wrote 100 songs in 100 days, [and] that’s [what] both Sudden Loss and Disquietude were born out of: trying to quit.”

Chambers recorded the songs on Sudden Loss in one night in a fit of panic; he felt he had to get them out immediately, warts and all. But creating Disquietude was a more deliberate process that spanned six months or so. He recruited friends and collaborators Eric Harris (on circuit-bent keyboards), John Barner (drums), Lucas Kane (guitars, loops) to flesh out songs he had recorded on his own. “It just kept building,” Chambers says. “I kept adding field recordings. At one point, it was a real mess. [There was] way too much going on, so I started to strip it away until I felt like the sonics were working with the songs.”

Though it’s been two decades since Chambers first dove into the Athens scene, he says there’s still much around town that energizes him. 

“I think I fell into the old-townie role for a while—[that] jaded, “Oh yeah, so-and-so used to do something like that 10 years ago” mode. It’s bullshit. Fuck that. I like a lot of really young bands, full of piss and vinegar and excited to play music in front of their friends. Thats all we all ever did, anyway. 

“I like watching people discover, and I like to discover. If I ever get to the point that my eyes and ears aren’t open to new sights and sounds, then shoot me. The scene is still driven by young people moving to town to try and make something in this very open, forgiving, petri-dish environment, [to] see if they can grow artistically. I welcome that. I need that, still.”

WHO: Don Chambers, Future Ape Tapes, Grant Evans
WHERE: Caledonia Lounge
WHEN: Saturday, April 5, 10 p.m.
HOW MUCH: $5 (21+), $7 (18-20)