Chess Club
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Chess Club

Band Rock Alternative


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"Only Chess Club beats theater"

Listen Up.

Joining Chess Club was a good move for drummer Chris Vickers.

"The last few years, I've been doing a lot of musical theater and I was absolutely fed up with it," Chris said.

He played drums in the orchestra for "Guys and Dolls," "Evita" and "A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline" at Playhouse on the Square. "It gets really tough to stay interested in music when you're playing the same musical five nights a week for six weeks. In the Patsy Cline show, you played 'Crazy' four times a show, and we had two shows on Sunday. So, I was playing 'Crazy' eight times a day for six weeks."

He wanted to play fresh, energetic music with a band.

At first, Chess Club's lead singer, Jason Barnett, didn't think Vickers would fit in. "He's so slow and arduous about his processing," Barnett said. "He wants to get it down and be very creative and explore all his avenues. So, instead of jumping and shaking it all around, he kind of went, 'Hmm.' And a little of this and a little that. And I was like, 'What are you doing?'"

But Doug Walker, keyboard player, was impressed when Vickers played the songs on their demo "solid and without hesitation. He had charted out all the parts."

"I've been doing the theater stuff for so long it's sort of second nature," Vickers said.

Chess Club grew out of music Walker and Barnett created more than a year ago for Breeding Ground's modern dance piece, "Breaking Ground" at TheatreWorks. Barnett and Walker met on that project and, when it was completed, continued to write together.

Amy Brooks, bass player, joined the group shortly after moving back to Memphis. She had moved to Los Angeles to go into acting, but got sidetracked and began deejaying in clubs. She also played bass in a punk rock band.

"300 HP Lie Detector" is one of the band's most popular songs. Barnett, who wrote the lyrics, described the song as a dialog between two people. It's basically about "two people being in a bar and being in different relationships."

He and Brooks perform the vocals on the song. In part:

Barnett: "My girlfriend --"

Brooks: "She's no good for you."

Barnett: "-- wants to break up with me."

Brooks: "Finally."

Barnett: "She says I'm --"

Brooks: "I'm listening."

Barnett: " -- too lazy."

Brooks: "I disagree."

People like the song partly because "it's a girl fighting back with a guy on stage," Barnett said.

"Hardcore Pink Hearts" is about "a dancer I fell madly in love with," Barnett said. "It was like a very short, quick, sharp shock and she was gone."

"'Apes' is the most pop song ever," Walker said. "Very Cars-y the way it turned out in the studio. The way we wrote it sort of sounded like U2. Then when we got done with it in the studio, it became the Cars. It doesn't sound like the Cars. Jason's voice is an octave higher than Ric Ocasek's."

"Easy now," Barnett said.

The song is "about the acceleration of humanity and the deceleration of humanity by its own technological means," Barnett said. "That kind of sums it up. No matter how advanced we are, we're all apes."

Chess Club plans to go back into the studio to record a full-length CD. "We're striving whole-heartedly to really get into the industry as far as we do want to make a living," Barnett said.

They've talked to producers. "Everybody likes our stuff," Barnett said. "It's just one of those things where in music, anything you do from an artistic end, people go, 'That's great. I don't know what you're gonna do with it. Good luck with it. But I like it.'"

Chess Club at 9 p.m. Thursday at the Hi-Tone at 1913 Poplar. Cover: $5. Listen Up spotlights area performers. Michael Donahue can be reached at 529-2797. - Commercial Appeal - Michael Donahue

"Smart, carefully crafted pop rock"

Mark Jordan
July 21, 2006

Around for a little more than three years, the band Chess Club, like its namesake school repository for the dateless, has existed somewhat outside the mainstream of the local music scene. Their smart, carefully crafted pop rock -- which would have placed them well in the mainstream a dozen years or so ago -- has alienated them in a town dominated these days by rappers, punkers, jammers and rednecks. More the pity since it has kept a lot of people from seeing a band that, though hit and miss, is never less than intriguing and often downright great.

Despite what seems to be a near constant state of personnel flux -- the band is currently on the lookout for someone to replace outgoing bassist Jason Hatcher, if you're interested -- the group has just released its first full-length CD, an expansion on last year's eponymous four-song EP. Making the crossover from that earlier release are three songs: The Cars tribute "Apes," the rare rock-and-roll duet "300 Hp Lie Detector," and "Leche Marron," a peculiar mashup of Joy Division and Pink Floyd. All are much brighter and more present on the new record thanks to producer, engineer, mixer Jeff Powell.

At this point if you're still reading (gotta get to that Dr. Bombay), phrases like "smart, carefully crafted pop rock" and references to the Cars have led you to dismiss Chess Club as an '80s retread, but that quick categorization negates the subtleties and eccentricities of the band's sound. The lead track "Devastortion" plays like late Pixies or Weezer. "Boy On A Bicycle" alternates between a ska-flavored verse and a power pop chorus with a rap interlude from special guest Free Sol. While "Hey!" is Bowie's 'Suffragette City" as interpreted by Supertramp.

And somehow all these disparate elements flow together into a sound that is consistent and singular throughout.

Is it front man Jason Barnett's high vocal that ties it all together?

Or is it his partner Doug Walker's always playful (sometimes cheesy) keyboards? Whatever it is A Generation Of Pleasure Seekers is a great opening move from the Chess Club.

- Commercial Appeal

"So outside they're inside"

Rachel Hurley
July 21, 2006

Jason Barnett and Doug Walker, the founders and masterminds behind local power pop band Chess Club, would have you believe that they're not part of the Memphis music scene. But when your debut full-length record, A Generation of Pleasure Seekers, is produced by Jeff Powell (known for his work with Primal Scream, Big Star, Bob Dylan and Alvin Youngblood Hart), and your guest performers are local heavy-hitters Susan Marshall and rapper Free Sol, you don't exactly qualify as outsiders.

Chess Club will hold a CD release show Saturday night at Neil's on Madison.

Walker, who plays piano and keys, moved to Memphis in 1991 from Columbia, Mo., to learn to play the blues.

"I moved down here with a romantic idea that didn't pan out," he says. "I quickly realized that a white boy from the Midwest ain't gonna make it."

After playing in a number of bands, some semi-successful, others not so much (Walker spent some time living on a bus in New York City playing with a band called Junk), he met Barnett through a former girlfriend. They sat at a party one night and discussed their musical ambitions.

Barnett pushed things into action in 2003 when he made an alcohol-inspired call to invite Walker over to jam.

"The first night, we were like, 'Wow this is really cool,'" says Walker. "The songs are certainly influenced by our previous bands. They're what happen when hard-core punk and industrial guys try to write pop."

After playing plenty of local gigs and releasing three EPs, the group has had 11 people come and go in their rhythm section. They've lately worked with drummer Dave Wells and bassist Jason Hatcher.

Their break came when they caught the ear of Cameron Mann of Young Avenue Sound, who invited them into the studio.

"I'd actually been keeping up with them for the last two years and came across their old EP about a year and a half ago," Mann says. "I was struck by two things: Jason's vocals, very falsetto and very unique delivery, and second, Doug's gigantic keyboard setup and his choice of old-school, analog-synth sounds."

Mann inked a production deal with them for Young Avenue Records and a plethora of local musicians were called in, including Free Sol, accordion player Rick Steff (Cat Power, Lucero) and Billy Swan's daughter, Planet Swan. Susan Marshall, Powell's wife, shows up on two songs, "Boy on a Bicycle" and "Leche Marron."

"Jeff (Powell) coaxed out the best performances," says Barnett.

- Commercial Appeal

"Record Reviews"

Chris Herrington
July 5, 2006

This local four-piece rock band with guests (Free Sol, Susan Marshall, Planet Swan) has a sound that's hard to pin down. Sometimes they sound like radio rock from an earlier era; sometimes like an indie buzz-band from another city; sometimes like an art band from another country. Clearer and cleaner than the Memphis indie-rock norm, they always sound like themselves and never lose an inherent hookiness. A find. ("Apes," "Hey," "Your Best Work") - Memphis Flyer

"Record Reviews"

June 2006

The four fellows in Chess Club write and record smart hard pop tunes that are sometimes reminiscent of Oklahoma's 1990 rockers The Chainsaw Kittens. These fellows' music seems remarkably out of place in today's musical climate...and for that, they obviously deserve to be recognized. The guitar pop tracks on A Generation of Pleasure Seekers are clean and articulate. Musically, these fellows keep things simple...which allows the listener to focus on the exceptional vocal melodies and insightful lyrics. Instead of writing music for today's tasteless airheads...these gentlemen seem to view composition as an artistic release. The more we spin this album...the better it sounds. Cuts like "Devastortion," "Casual Conversation," "Hey!," and "Your Best Work" are both classy and cool. Well done. -

"Chess Club Does Rock"

Stacy Pennington
July 2006

I went to the Chess Club CD release party for A Generation of Pleasure Seekers last night at Neil’s. You normally couldn’t drag me kicking and screaming into Neil’s, which is strange, because it is only of the only bars in Midtown Memphis that I just do not enjoy visiting. I think it comes from the fact that it used to be a restaurant and wasn’t converted very well to a bar. Or maybe it is their frustrating sign outside that you have to look at every time you are stopped at the Madison-McLean stoplight that reads “Free Beer Tomorrow”. They really shouldn’t tease hot and thirsty Memphis drivers in the middle of July.

I work with one of the members of Chess Club, co-founder and keys-vocalist Doug Walker, but that isn’t enough to make me see over a dozen of their shows over the past three years. There is just something in their music that is infectious. You don’t sit around craving it, but when it comes on, it pulls you somewhere else. In a lot of ways, it is like a French movie or taking in an excellent art gallery. When the show is over, you’re glad you went, you’ve changed in a way difficult to quantify, and you can’t figure out how they pulled off what they did.

A Generation of Pleasure Seekers is Chess Club’s first real record. They’ve released singles before, as well as a self-produced EP, but the new album is the real deal. Produced by Jeff Powell at Young Avenue Sound, it is evident that everyone put in a lot of hours getting everything just right. The production really lifted up the masterful, yet quirky, songwriting of Doug and guitar-lead-vocalist Jason Barnett. On songs like the melodic, catchy Leche Marron, the thoughtful Boy On a Bicycle, and the Chess Club classics, such as Hey!, Hardcore Pink Hearts, and Apes, the album gives the group just a few milliseconds of clean, pure silence throughout the songs to pull the listener back into the flow of the music. I wouldn’t call it “cleaning up the songs,” but the end result is a smooth, yet textured, sonic tapestry that makes you pay attention.

Chess Club would probably be classified by most as pop, but like most labels, this one doesn’t stick well. Check them out on iTunes and see what I’m talking about. Speaking of iTunes, A Generation of Pleasure Seekers should be available there soon, but the Chess Club EP is available there now (search for “Chess Club”). The new album should be available at record stores throughout Memphis (and hopefully beyond) this week. -


1. Four-Song Extended-Player
2. Self Titled EP
3. Chess Club: It's a Lark (also in 5.1)
4. Chess Club: A Generation of Pleasure Seekers



Chess Club is a collective that spans several musical genres and diverse lyrical themes ...

The four members of Chess Club produce music that is both aesthetically pleasing as well as intellectually stimulating. The music is carefully planned from lyrical to musical content but never sounds un-spontaneous. Intelligent lyrics and careful musical arrangements are the norm even in the more discordant passages that undeniably make up a fully-realized Chess Club song. Each song contains it’s own sometimes obvious and sometimes subtle hook that pulls the listener in and demands their undivided attention. The songs, whether played live or recorded, always leave the listener satisfied but forever wanting more.

Chess Club likes to think of each member as an element. Each element has spent considerable time honing his expertise on the respective instruments that make up the band's musical canvas. This is readily apparent in the music as well as the ease and comfort with which they perform live. They are always aware that a truly good band is more than the sum of its parts. There is a relationship that is formed within this musical collective which allows the elements to simply "know" where the music is going.

Chess Club is a collective that spans several musical genres and diverse lyrical themes; but in the end what they create is simply music.