CHAPTERHOUSE SEEM GUIDED BY SOME
extraordinary force, a powerful sense of when the time is right to
move out and move on. In the space of little more than a year, the
Reading five-piece have gone from the soulless toil of the pub circuit,
survived a debut album whirlppol, and moved on to become
indieland's latest chart-hijackers with the infectious, lilting piano
groove of "Mesmerise", their most recent single. The key to their
success seems to be the recognition that, to stay ahead of the pack,
you haveto be prepared to let this innate idea of when it's time to
progress toke over completely. All you have to do is ignore your own
press, actively seek out new approaches and, above all, never move
sideways if you can move forwards instead.
Anxious to remove themselves from the confines of The Scene,
Chapterhouse are aiming for first place in the longevity stokes.
They've let the hopefuls pace them, but now, as they all turn the
final bend, it's time to stretch out breakthrough the finish line and
To many, the approach and sound of "Mesmerise" conflicted
heavily with the identity created on tracks like "Pearl" from the
"Whirlpool" album. The phased beauty of "Whirlpool" itself and the
band's live appearances - a hectic and often frenzied torrent of
white noise, drones and swooning melody - only added to the
confusion. As the band explain, it was, and always has been, a
conscious decision to attempt something different to embrace new
methods and to try out new sounds.
"As with a lot of things to do with this band, it was one of those open
experiments that worked really well," says guitarist Stephen Patman.
"We took the idea and said 'How can we lift the thing up, what could
we use?' We all agreed the sound of the piano riff doing that
repetitive thing over the bass line gave it that added dimension, that
hookline. It occurred to us that this wasn't what people expected, but
we thought it was the right time to look for a little variance in the
sound. Sometimes it can get very samey if you let things go. For us,
as a band who were influenced by a real spectrum of sounds, the
confinement to one area oould become frustrating."
Fellow quitarist Andrew Sherriff, a man who appears to float
several feet off the ground like the hippy in the Our Price ad, laughs
at the thought of alienating certain peaplewith such an overt shift
"It wasn't like we looked for a deliberate way into that side of things,
we just went with what sounded good at the time. We've always
been like that - ever since we stoned out playing stuff like Stooges
covers. It sounded good at the time, so we did it.
Bass smasher Russell Barrett offers a more concrete explanation of
what prompted the change of sound.
"I really went outto geta different sounding bass line for
'Mesmerise' and I decided it should be heavy on the real low end - a
really meaty dub sound, repetitive and infectious. I used my
Musicman bass to get a warm and full sound off the amp and the
split into the desk. With three other guitars all competing for the high
frequencies, I knew the bass had to be good and heavy just to hold it
"When we play live I make especially sure that the bass is low and
thick so it fills the gaps. I use ap old HH head through a Peavey 15"
cab and it seems OK, but I want to move up to something better soon."
The only real problem I find is eq on the low end, and l have to use my
Boss graphic through the amp's gnaphic just to hit the frequencies I
want. It can still sound too toppy, so I roll off the top and deaden it.
The little phaser on the HH adds some dimension to the sound and
gives it enough movement but, in general, I look for bass lines that
will enhance the guitar lines, but be totally outside of what they're
"I like everything from Boohy Collins to Peter Hook so there's no
real limitations to what I think of as effective bass and it could go
anywhere, really. The only bass I hate is the flashy stuff. What's the
point of playing the bass if you spend all
your time up at the 20th fret playing those
shit high runs?"
Surprisingly, Chapterhouse seem to revel
in an understanding of their gear.
Here, too, they seem ever forward-looking,
testing out new sounds and looking for
ways to improve their particular breed of
guitar pop. Third guitarist Simon Rowe puts
forward a reason why the actual sound has
become critical both ive an in the studio.
"With three guitars going at any time-
12-string 330 Rickenbackers, Fenders and
the occasional Jaguar - you need to be able
to isolate each sound and actually be able
to hear what's going on. We don't have
deady defined roles like lead and rhythm
quitar, so you might be playing a melody
line for one song and doing a drone chord
the next. The equipment has to be
Andrew: "We used to have things like old
Marshall valve combos and Stephen had a Fender Twin, but they
couldn't cope with what we wanted to do. The rig I use now for
recording and live is based round the Gallien Krueger head, going
into a closed EV cabinet. I wired the two speakers separately so the
output of the GK, which is stereo, gives me a stereo source on stage,
or wherever. They just mic up the two speakers and I'm there, so
you get the full benefit of the effects system without doing it from the desk
or on the outhoard in the studio. I deliberately went for a transistor
amp because the valve Marshall I had couldn't handle the sort of
sharp reverb sounds I was using - there was too much harmonic
overspill. The GK with the clarity of the EVs makes the sound truer to
the signal you get off the effects in your rack, so patches you get in the
studio end up sounding the same on stage.
"Actually, we all got the new QuadrOverb GTs while we were in the
States, but we haven't quite managed to switch all the sounds over
from our old system, which, in my case, is the Midiverb 3. I find the
GT's reverb sounds really artificial, which I really like, and the set-up
preserves the weirdness of that artificiality. Without that clarity you
can just dissolve in to this massive white noise. We're not a jamming
band and, in the studio, it's all quite arranged, so we want to be able
to reproduce that arrangement live."
Stephen, the Mr Makit and Fixit of the band, has a custom rack that
he designed and built himself. He puts his Fender 12 and his home
built Telecaster through a valve Marshall 100 and into an EV cab.
"On 'Mesmerise' we used the 12-string Ricky which Simon, the best
player among us, put down, but, live, I play the lush rhythm part on
my Fender 12. I have to hear the warm
spread of the 12 as well as the effects I use.
This system seems up to it I have a Boss
Super-overdiver and a Rat, plus this Big
Muff cause I hate digital distortions. The
rest is digital. I have the GT but I haven't
worked it out totally. Most of my sounds I
get on the Yamaha FX 500, which I trigger
from the foot controller. It's slow between
patches, but the GT should deal with all
that. The Marshall is just the chassis fixed
into the rack going through EVs. It sounds
good at the moment."
With Simon Rowe opting for a
Rickenbacker and a Fender Jaguar
through a similar set-up, the guitar line-up
is complete, and a cross section of
influences from My Bloody Valentine,
through Sonic Youth to the bass funk of
Larry Graham, makes the band's options
limitless. Their desire to rise above their
peers has led them to move firstly into the more modern
aspects of record making. Nowhere is this more
apparent than on the rhythm track to "Mesmerise". On the
percussion side, the use of drum machines, and, in particular,
samples, is to the fore. Stephen argues that this use of technology is
"We all have portastudios, and we all write using drum machines
and samplers, so why not use them live? If you make a record in the
studio it's natural that you should want it to come across live the same
way, but with all the spontaneity of the live buzz. We use the sampler
to help fashion the rhythm and supply the piano sound. As that's the
basis of the track we want it in there."
With Chapterhouse back in the studio towards the end of the year it
remains to be seen whether they are bold enough and
uncompromising enough to capitalise on their initial steps forward.
Trusting in their well-trained sense of what's good and what's not it
seems probable they wiII. Pop is cool if it's done well.
From Control Zone (Hi-Tech Low Down)
Edited by Tony Hopkins
Orignally appeared in Melody Maker November 16, 1991. Copyright © Melody Maker