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Trailblazers or Shoegazers

Since STEVE SUTHERLAND innocently coined the phrase The S**** That Celebrates itself, CHAPTERHOUSE reckon they've been scene but not heard. Stung by press backlush of vicious proportions, they tell the hapless hack how they're determined to wreak their revenge. Pic: Joe Dilworth

"TARQUIN'S IN THE WARS AGAIN. MUMSY'S RANGE Rover gat a flat on her way to drop off Gemma atprep school so the Chaptenhouse singer had to stand in the rain for, oooh, at least five minutes waiting for her to pick him up from the library. It's a wonder the poor dear didn't catch his death of cold but at least he had the good sense to wrapup warm and not to talk to any strangers offering him sweeties. As a precaution against the sniffles, mumsy confined him to his bed until Thursday so the naughty boy was late returning his Jane Austen to the library and ended up having to pay a wacking thruppence fine. What a scamp eh readers!"

Stephen's laughing at the spoof True Stories. "Lucky we like you," he chuckles, "or we'd smash your f***ing face in."

IF Chapterhouse didn't know before that all journos are complete and utter bastards, they do now. Oh, they're putting on a brave face, trying their best not to whine or sulk but it's obvious they're reeling from an astonishing backlash. They're stung that they've been singled out to suffer the ridicule of a pop press that, only a few months ago, was happily lauding their debut LP, "Whirlpool", as a signpost for others to follow towards a bright new future. Writers who championed their breakthrough "Pearl" single have suddenly token great delight in changing their tune and the Chaps find that, instead of trailblazers, they're now called shoegazers, underachievers, Southern softies, Tarquins, university flops who led such sheltered, affluent lives that they can't possibly have experienced the physical and spiritual deprivation that is apparently a necessary prerequisite to making valid music. They are amazed this has happened, utterly bewildered, but they insist their spirit won't be broken. Chapterhouse are fighting back

In Dedicated's Kensington office, Andrew is reading a letter. As he sees me enter, he begins to read it alaud. "Do you think being lumped in with The Scene That Celebrates itself will do you any harm?" He stops reading and frowns at me. "See what you've done? This is from a girl in Philadelphia!"

How was I to know, on that fateful day back in May, that the phrase I used in a Moose review to describe the coterie of bands who were habitually attending each other's gigs around London would stick to Chapterhouse like shit to a blanket? It's no use now reminding the Chaps that, at the time, I was saying how great it was that there was this Scene That Celebrates Itself, how encouraging it was that for all the inherent dangers of incestuousness, there was a shared vision where noise and melody collided in songs that promised to gatecrash the Gallup Charts. The phrase immediately hi-jacked, imitated, and warped into a criticism of Ride, Slowdive, the Chaps, Moose, Revolver, Lush... it was as if people were just waiting for a focus for their inexplicable resentment.

Why the f*** did it happen?

"I don't know," says Andrew. "I know it shouldn't but this whole Seene backlash thing is actually pulling bands apart. Y'know, there's these friends of yours in a band but you can't talk about them and you can't go and see them play. It's nonsense. Like, I went to school with Hamish from Revolver so I went down to see them one night and when the papers cameout, it was, "Chapterhouse were down there, taking notes...' F***, I just went to see my old mate play bass in this band! What's the big deal?

"We don't just listen to our friends' records and completely dissolve ourselves in them. In fact, we go to great lengths to try and get completely out of this so-called Scene. We're listening to music which is totally diverse - Black Crowes, Nirvana, Jane's Addiction, Beatles, Nancy Sinatra, Chiffons, Shangri-La's, Neil Young, Buzzcocks. . and occasionally we'll listen to Slowdive or Moose. We're notlike people think we are."

"I was talking to someone about football last night and they were actually shocked," soys Simon. "They were going, 'You know about football!" and I said, "Yeah, and I know about boxing as well!' It was as if they were expecting me to be sitting in my room reading Chaucer every night or reciting latin before I go on stage!" Chapterhouse simply can't believe that their social backgrounds are being used as a bloody big stick t obeat them with.

"We've never considered it important, we've never even thought about it" says Stephen. "I thought we were entering a world where music was the important thing but obviously it isn't. A band's music is judged upon their personalities which is wrong. You've only got to look at Robin Guthrie and Liz Fraser to see that's rubbish. They're completely different people than you'd imagine from their music. So we're pictured as fey, ailing young laddies sitting around in our bedrooms, going to art galleries when the blatant fad is that most of the time we're out for a beer."

"And anyway," Andrew continues, "people like Everett True are always glamorising these American bands who've supposedly had such a tough time but we've just been there and the standard of living in America makes white middle class England look like a slum! I mean, these bands like Dinosaur Jr, coming from around New England area, they're f***ing rolling in it. J Mascis' dad supported him. They're from a very moneyed, carefree society and they're still making rebellious music so that proves our point really doesn't it?"

"It's just that some people really want that negative side of rock'n'roll - y'know, all attitude and no substance. Well, we're not like that."

Like that or not the Chaps are being forced to adopt a stance thev're uncomfortable with. It seems that at this noint in their career, their music alone just isn't enough. And sowe address the topics that all bands must sooner or later address, starting with everyone's favourite...

"WE'RE confident enough about our masculinity to not have to stand there trying to prove it all the time but because we don't we're made out to be a bunch of asexual fey twats." Stephen's getting a cob on. "Just because we don't go, 'Hey chick, get down on your knees and suck it' doesn't mean our songs aren't sexual. They are! Sex is one of our more pleasurable pastimes. I mean, when we were in America.... no, we're not gonna start listing off how many girls we shagged and how many drugs we took because it's not relevant"


"Well, one of our road crew got a blowjob in a lift because he was wearing a laminate and he told this girl he was in the band." Andrew shakes his head and sighs: "People think if you're in a band you've got it made as far as girls are concerned. But if a girl comes up to you and says, 'Oh, I really loved your show', you just don't wanna know."

"Depends on what you're after!" Stephen insists. "If you wanna shag, then, yeah all right, it's there. But sometimes you just get sick of how surface it is and how little it means."

Do they ever just get cynical and use these people?

"Yeah, but that's nasty. I've tried it. I don't wanna do that again. There's nothing worse than being depressed in LA, I'll tell you."

This is a story I'm not gonna get isn't it?


Stephen tells me Chapterhouse did a Spinal Tap-style in-store signing in LA and 400 screaming girls turned up. It was embarrassing, he says. They were there forthree hours, the poor devils, kissing and cuddling and signing parts of young girls' anatomies.

"People go on about how we're little cutie boys. We know that! F*** me! We look in the miror!" says Andrew. "It's just a matter of how little it means. Y'know, we're not pinning our musical career on the fact that we're five guys that girls might fancy."

That's as may be but the video for "Mesmerise", the new Chapterhouse EP, features the Chaps in a state of uncommon bliss, flooting around a swimming pool on lilos with a bevy of beautiful girls. There's not a lot of shoegazing going on I can tell you. Dovid Lee Roth would be proud of them

"I think a lot of people will be shocked," says Stephen, though he denies they did it tof *** with their winsome image. "We did it because we wanted to lie around with some beautiful chicks all day."

Andrew, who's worried he'll get grief from his girlfriend when she sees it, agrees: "we did it because we' re just so bared with the traditional indie video - y'know, playing in a room with a smoke machine looking rough broken windows or whatever. We thought we'd make a bit of a fun video, a bit of a joke... Uh, unfortunately it's a lot of a joke as it turned out!"

The Chaps aren't happy with the vid. It's too tacky, too cheesy and they were too out-of-it to keep it steady on the right side of kitsch.

"We were just skinning up all day and, by the end of it, everyone was like 'Yeah!'," laughs Stephen. "I mean, imagine' you're on a lilo all day and all these models are pushing you to the edge of the pool so you can get a blowback. I'm well into that!"

"But it doesn't do what it was meant to," says Andrew, who's worried the video will cheapen the song." "'Mesmerise' is abaut a complete union with someone, bady and soul. Sex doesn't just go on between two bodies, it goes on between two minds. But people seem to be obsessed with the physical side of life whereas we're obsessed with the spiritual side because that's really what matters, that's what makes it more than just a bestial thing."

"You're born alone, you die alone and in between there's shagging," says Stephen.

There's not a whole lot you can say to that so we move swiftly on to...

"WE don't like to talk about it much," says Stephen. "I mean, the Happy Mondays can go on about every drug they've ever taken and maybe get some credibility out of it but the fact is, we don't want to because our mums might read it."

"And anyway, there's nothing more boring than talking to people about drugs. it's so pointless. I mean, someone was telling me about how they took a load of tranquilisers and went to the George Pompidou centre in Paris and spent the whole afternoon there asleep! Then they went and hod something to eat and threw up because you can't eat on codeine. And they were saying it was great. Y'know, throwing up was the most pleasureable experience they'd ever had. Yeah?

"And listening to someone telling you about the acid trip they had last night-y'know, how there were all these patterns on the pavement. God, that's the worst!"

"Having said that," says Stephen, "you should have seen us in the middle of the night in San Diego, lying in a Jacuzzi surrounded by palm teees smoking joints! I mean, was that like outrageous rock'n'roll behaviour or what? Y'know, and we're like this indie bond from Reading!

"But people don't see that side of us and I'm not gonna start naming all this crappy rock'n' roll shit that we've done just to prove our credibility. The fact is that we're not what people think we are but I'm not gonna go on and on about shagging chicks and doing loads of drugs to prove it."

A couple of nights later I meet stephen having a smoke in the T&C at The Black Crowes gig. The Chaps got into the Crowes listening to "Shake Your Money Maker" in an open-topped Ford Mustang driving down Sunset. "Make sure you write I was here," he laughs. "You never know, it might help!"

What hasn't helped is calling the new EP "Mesmerise". The fact that all four tracks are completely difierent (the title track's very Cure) has been overlooked because the tide provides ammo for those gunning for the shoegazers. It's been suggested they have descended into seIf-parody. "That's bollocks," says Andrew. "We've never done anything that's been so druggy or psychedelic or trippy or whatever. Just because we'd had a couple of joints doesn't make it fey. It's groovy and laid back and that's the way we felt when we did it."

"The thing is, we're making druggy POP music. You can make hippy shit drug music or you can make druggy pop music and 'Mesmerise' is a pop song," says Stephen. "That's what makes it subversive, that's what makes it an achievement, precisely because it isn't preaching to the convened."

"People talk about politics but we're asking people to have revolutions within themselves," says Andrew. "we're not saying, 'Go and vote for Neil Kinnock to get a revolution together' because I think the most direct way is if people look into themselves. I always thought Spacemen 3 saying it just takes five seconds to have a little revolution was great because they weren't talking about getting up in arms and going into the street and raiding the House of Commons. It's about looking into yourself and, if everyone looks into themselves and is happy with what they're doing in Iife and what their achieving, then the wor!d would bo a much better place a lot quicker than it would through any kind of external politics."

"I think you can move people more with their minds than you can by telling them what to think," agrees Stephen "If you just draw people to their own conclusions rather than drawing them to yours, that's when you affect them. Noone ever has their mind changed by what you tell them. They have to come to that conclusion themselves.

"We deal in emotions because they're constant throughout time. Human beings will always have the same emotions - they don't change. The environment around them might change and their personalities mightchange but emotions are more deep-rooted than anything and if you write within that then the music will never lose its relevance."

"I FOUND out just yesterday that the reason Alan McGee didn't sign us to Creation years back when he had the chance was because we sounded too much likeThe Stooges! I mean, how much more f***ing rock'n' roll can you get?" Stephen's got another cob on. "It's f***ing ludicrous. Just because we've developed in what some people see as an ethereal musical direction, it's been forgotten what we were. It just seems ludicrous not to take everything in context. It's almost enough to make you think, 'Right our next record is gonna be f***ing noise destroer' - We are perfectly capable of making some f***king noisy bollock arse records if we wanted to but why should we? Why on earth should we do a record of death metal songs just to prove to other people we're not what they think we are?"

"You can't really put an act on," Andrew agrees.

"You can't come from High Wycombe and pretend to be Iggy Pop. It's either in your blood or it's not. But sometimes something does grab hold of you that makes you go wild. I went mental in New York. I'm lucky I've still got my guitar. It was really good. It purges you. That in a anger. Taking it out on your guitar can still moke you feel great. And even though I had massive bruises up my hips and everything, it just kinda got all that angerand frustration out."

"We went apeshit in Washington," says Simon, "but people still call us shoegazers, they still call us fey! We could strap ourselves naked too go a goat something and people would still soy we were shoegazing."

Hootgazing actually.

"F***! Don't start another one!"

"When we're supposedly shoegazing, we are in fact looking at our frethoards and trying to play what we're meant to be playing." explains Stephen. "We could f***ing leap around on stage as much as we wantec but it would sound like an abortion out front.

"That's what people can't seem to grasp - that the most important thing is the music. The whole time we're coming across things that are being said about us that are untrue but they're being used as a basis to judge us upon. That's what's really galling."

The story currently doing the rounds is that the Chaps lost a laminate on tour and/or slept in late and were fined by their tour manager. Bobby Gillespie even used this fictitious incident in a recent Primal Sream interview to show how un-rock'n'roll the Scene bands are!

"How could a tour manager fine us when we're employing the bastard?" asks Stephen.

"Y'know, I think our biggest fault is that we're too bloody nice!"

No more Mr Nice Gys? Apparently were going to go round and sort out a recent Backlash correspondent who written he wanted to kick their heads in because they'd been to college but they traced the address to some unnumbered squats and had to give up.

"Never mind," says Stephen, coming over all philosophical. "Peaple may be slagging us off now and we may feel irritated by it but in the longterm, we know our music's good and one of these days, after our fourth or fifth album we'll pick out some of the things being written' about us now and say, 'Look! You were wrong f***face!' We know that's gonna happen. The ultimate revenge."

'Mesermise" is out now on Dedicated. The Chaps play T&C on October 20 &21.

Orignally appeared in Melody Maker October 12, 1991. Copyright © Melody Maker