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House Music

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 move on.

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 towards pop.

"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 together.

"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 doing."

"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 versatile."

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 entirely justified."

"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