The Chain Gang of 1974
"My brothers and I were surrounded by music growing up," explains Kamtin Mohager, the shape-shifting singer/multi-instrumentalist behind the Chain Gang of 1974. "Not Beatles albums or anything like that; more like the Persian records our parents played all the time. And when we got older, it was up to us to discover everything." Born in San Jose and raised in Hawaii, Mohager spent his first 13 years obsessing over inline hockey and the idea of being drafted by the NHL one day. A series of life-changing events were set in motion once Mohager's family moved to Colorado, however. The first of which involved the final scene from Real Genius—quite possibly Val Kilmer's finest hour—and its penultimate 'popcorn song', a.k.a. "Everybody Rules the World." "I love '80s music, but not typical new-wave stuff," says Mohager. "Like I'm way into Tears For Fears and Talk Talk, the other side of the spectrum, really." That's abundantly clear on White Guts, a record that's nearly as restless as Chain Gang's previous collection of early recordings, Fantastic Nostalgic. The way Mohager sees it, his first proper release was "all over the place, from a piano ballad to songs that sound like Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Primal Scream or Justice." White Guts, on the other hand, funnels three years of instrument-swapping, sample-splicing experience into a lean, focused listen. So while "Stop!" and the rather epic "Hold On" hint at everything from LCD Soundsystem to Talking Heads, they make perfect sense in the context of deep cuts like the synth-flecked "Don't Walk Away" and bass-guided "Matter of Time," shimmering power ballads that could have been on the soundtrack of Sixteen Candles or Pretty in Pink. What sets the Chain Gang of 1974 apart from other Reagan-era revivalists is Mohager's innate sense of rhythm, a skill he acquired at an early age. And we're not just talking about his parents' punchy, groove-riding record collection. We're talking about family gatherings and traditions that taught Mohager how to make a crowd of cool kids uncross their arms and dance like there's pistols pointed at their feet. "Everyone lets loose at our shows," says Mohager. "It's a party, man. If only I had a dollar for every time someone bum-rushed the stage or grabbed one of our instruments." Things are bound to get worse, too, as his live band—a quartet that's a far cry from Mohager's original iPod/bass setup—spends the next six months spreading the Chain Gang gospel far beyond its Rocky Mountain beginnings. Or as the man behind every last beat puts it, "I'm letting the music just be, and if something's meant to happen, it's meant to happen."
Empires have emerged from the deep freeze of Chicago with a collection of tunes imbued with a thick-skinned Midwestern charm. "Orphan" – the band's upcoming album on Chop Shop / Island Records has producer John Congleton (St. Vincent, The Black Angels, Explosions in the Sky) at the helm, perfectly capturing a band in their truest form. Empires are out on the road this winter & spring – with stops at SXSW and various festivals – introducing songs from the new album, including the debut track 'How Good Does It Feel'.
The Active Set
Matthew Stolarz was dissatisfied. A Los Angeles native, he had helped form and was playing bass in an punk rock band, but it just wasn't enough. Drawing from a wide range of influences, he had written an abundance of material that needed a proper home. He quit to make this happen, and formed the Active Set. Collaborating in the studio with some of his closest friends, a six-song EP was created, the first release. Through ways and means, English export Wayne Russell found his way to the band and was thoroughly hounded until he came on board to play guitar. How lucky for the Active Set! An ad for a second guitarist was posted everywhere and eventually spotted by guitarist Francis Ramsden, who liked the ad's use of the word "smart." He fit right in, and eventually cut his hair. The band moved forward from there, cracking into a wealth of new material and playing non-stop. The adoption of keys/synths was a natural progression, bringing the sound of the band both into the past and the future. With a healthy nod to '80s post-punk and new wave, the Active Set offer a high-energy dose of indie, intelligent and upbeat. They love quirky, driven melodies with smart hooks. Then they like to change their minds, and change it up. Welcome to Los Angeles, a place for movers and shakers. It's a place to really get things started. If you don't live here yet, you will.
"Los Angeles four-piece, The Active Set, has served up a batch of alt-rock tunes that are as fun as they are smart on their debut 11. Quirky percussion, bouncy bass lines, hooky guitar riffs and pained vocals filtered through a none-too-serious lens leads to equal parts shoegaze indie and beer driven alternative that is tough to categorize, but easy to appreciate." -Enter The Shell