Earlier this year, Chester Endersby Gwazda released his first solo effort “Shroud” on bandcamp at an In Rainbows-esque price of “name your own.” The result was a very dense, perfectly executed foray into synth-pop, chillwave experimentation. For years Gwazda has also produced the work of many successful artists- Dan Deacon, Future Islands, Air Waves, just to name a few.
On August 29th, Gwadza will take off on the first leg of touring that he will tackle this fall, playing his solo set alongside Alan Resnick, Height with Friends, and the Dan Deacon Ensemble. The tour kicks off at Cleveland’s own Beachland Ballroom for the measly ticket price of $10. You should be there. Because ten dollars divided by four is $2.50 and that just isn’t very much for a lot of great music.
RASCALmagazine: I wanted to start out by asking about the physical copies of Shroud that are available on cassette. I know that the album has been out there for free on bandcamp, but I was wondering how you will approach future releases. Will do physical copies? Or stick to downloads? Or what?
Chester Edersby Gwazda: Well, I definitely want to do physical releases. That’s like what every musician dreams of, to be able to put something out that people can take home and put on their stereo. I’d like to put out vinyl, I love all this vinyl stuff that has been going on; but I’m a big fan of the online stuff. And I’m really happy that I could keep my record up for free. With the cassette, I sent it to Friends Records, and I asked if I should take down the download, and they were just like “No”. I’d love to do it all for free, though.
RM: I also wanted wanted to ask you about how you got involved with Wham City and working with Dan Deacon?
CEG: Dan and I went to college in New York state together. He’s a little older than me, so he was leaving just about the time I was starting. And afterwards, I was – well, the school was not really in the kind of place that you wanted to stay that long. Not being a native New Yorker, I’m from New Jersey. So started looking for places to go, and I went to Baltimore. I did this project where I put my studio in my car. And it’s small, just like speakers and a computer and mics and mic stands and a mixer. And it’s not that much and you can put it in the back of a station wagon. So that is what I did. I did this thing where I drove from Georgia and back, twice, after getting out of school. And I would set up the studio in people’s houses, in their living rooms and stuff and I recorded in return for a couch to sleep on and some food. And that’s how I started working with a lot of people. That’s how I started working with Dan, and I started working with Airwaves from New York. I worked with Sunshine, and Future Islands. A lot of good acts that I stayed really close to. And Dan’s one that I really stayed in touch with.
RM: Wow, and you produce a lot of Dan Deacon’s work – and you produced his new album, America – what was that like?
CEG: Wow, well, it was one of the longest projects that I have ever worked on. We started like, last June, and I just got the CD in my hand last week. It’s really exciting. But along the way we had to backtrack a lot and redo what we had done because we wanted to make sure everybody was happy with it. So we actually recorded it, and mastered it, and went back and redid some parts. Working with Dan is definitely interesting, and more than anyone I work with, he knows what he wants, exactly what he is going for. It’s just a different working process. He has his own sound, so working with him is more of a challenge as an engineer. Working with Dan is great, the music and the style in which it is written, is so different from anyone else.
RM: And you’re going on tour with the Dan Deacon Ensemble and a couple other acts soon – what are you doing to prepare yourself for tour? What are you looking forward to?
CEG: I just haven’t been out on the road as much since Dan’s last album was released. I mean, I’ve done some touring with my other band, the Nuclear Power Pants. And I just got back from my first solo tour a couple of weeks ago, it was mostly down south, and that was really exciting. I have never toured with my own music before, and it was a great time. My whole solo endeavor is new, so I am trying to balance recording, playing with the Dan Deacon Ensemble, and doing my solo thing. And I am really lucky that Dan asked me to open up for him as well as play in the Dan Deacon Ensemble. It’s great because I can play with them, and I can do my own thing and not feel like it is taking a backseat in my life. You know?
RM: Absolutely! I was wondering about that – how does it feel to be a producer and then a very defined solo artist?
CEG: I’ve always been a songwriter, and I got into recording because I love songwriting and writing my songs, but I am not necessarily the most prolific songwriter. I can’t write ten solid tracks in a short period of time, but I can produce them. I work really slowly as a songwriter – it doesn’t feel any different. They’re sort of like different hats; I take off my producer hat and put on my songwriting and guitar playing hat. And when I am working on my stuff, I try to not think about the production as much – it’s kind of like a vacation, you know what I mean?
RM: Oh cool, like how do you approach songwriting?
CEG: I guess I want every song to have a characteristic sound, you know? So I guess in that way I am still producing, but it happens simultaneously. I don’t really think about it. I try to base them around a sound, or a musical concept, and then I just want melodies to be in there. Everything is like a framework for a melody that I think will work. I’m definitely a pop-based guy, so the chord progression, everything is like a net for the melody.
RM: Wow, so what was the process of writing Shroud and then getting it recorded like?
CEG: One of the songs, “Debbie Drowner,” is really old, and I recorded that a couple years an ago and revisited it, made a couple changes. Other than that, I wrote everything in about the last year and a half or so, and I write songs when I am not working with other groups. Like when I am not touring or recording with a band, I’m at my house, on my own. And then I go on tour, and I don’t write for a long time. I just went on a tour in July and I haven’t had a chance to write much because I was working with a band in June, and then I went on tour in July, and now I am working with a band from Brooklyn, Crinkles. Actually right now as we speak I am working with them. And then I go on tour, so I am not really going to be able to churn out any new songs until like December, I guess. But I already have about half of the new record ready. Yeah, I have a bunch of songs ready to go, and I have been including them in my live sets, but they aren’t quite polished yet. I am hoping to get the next record out on a label, right from the beginning.
RM: Shroud is such a condensed record; do these new songs share that?
CEG: Yes, I have an insanely short attention span. So, having a five minute song, for myself, I just can’t do that. It’s kind of like when you are making a full length album, you are compiling a lot of material, and I just don’t want to rant about one thing too long. I have to listen to a song a lot, over and over and over again and if I had to listen to a two minute section over and over again it would be terrible – I mean, I guess it wouldn’t be terrible, but like for my own music, I like to keep it short. The new songs are pretty short, they’re pop sort of things – not getting too crazy with the structure, either. I play like a twenty minute set live, like you don’t want somebody walking away from your set thinking ‘wow, I liked the first twenty minutes of that guy’s set’; especially when they might have never heard of you before.
RM: Yeah, like a lot of the structure on Shroud is very classic pop, and I was wondering, maybe out of personal curiosity, but I even sensed some Beach Boys influence – is this a real thing or am I making it up?
CEG: Naw, I actually get that a lot! It’s that a cappella that always gives people that Beach Boys element. They are actually bizarre backing vocals that seem really unpredictable, but when you play them over the original track it sounds pretty cool. Generally, you’re right about that. That is an a cappella sound.
RM: What are you listening to right now?
CEG: Well, right now, a lot of Crinkles! I don’t know, like I try to keep a pretty wide range – I really like pop music, like Mariah Carey and all that stuff. But I also really like Neil Young, who I come back to all the time. I also really like Motown stuff – I’m like looking at my iTunes right now. I just put it on shuffle. And I think that’s important for msucians, not to go back to the same tracks over and over again, to shuffle it up. I don’t know, I don’t really like to name drop, you know? I feel stupid when I do.
RM: Wow, Well, I guess I’ve already asked you about the tour…
CEG: Yeah, I’m actually going on another tour. At the end of the month I’m going on tour with the Dan Deacon Ensemble, and then I am going on tour down south with my friend Cara Beth Satalino just a couple gigs going down to Florida and back. And after that I am heading up to Baltimore and meeting Dan for the full national tour.
RM: Yeah, I know that my brother and I are going to see you in Columbus, what are your live shows like?
CEG: It’s sort of half and half of new stuff and Shroud, and I play guitar and have a drummer. I actually couldn’t nail down a drummer for the Columbus show because my drummer is also a teacher in Bostin, and we have been playing together for a long time, so he’s back to work. The show goes Alan Resnick, Me, Height with Friends and then the Dan Deacon Ensemble. It’ll be hard playing with a track, but that’s how I started. Yeah, but the tour should be fun!
RM: Wow, that’s all I have! Is there anything else you’d like to say?
CEG: Well, the album is online and there are a lot of shows coming up. Awesome, well, thank you for your interest.
Interviewed by Emily Votaw for RASCAL.