Chin Up Chin Up
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Chin Up Chin Up

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The best kept secret in music

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Rating: 7.6

Chin Up Chin Up's debut record had a back story before it was even completed; it's not a behind-the-music tabloid tale, but a genuine tragedy: In February 2004, the members of Chin Up Chin Up had just finished mixing demos for We Should Have Never Lived Like We Were Skyscrapers, their first full-length, and attended a show at Chicago venue the Empty Bottle. A little after 1 a.m. on Valentine's Day morning, bassist Chris Saathoff ducked out of the club with his girlfriend. The couple crossed a neighboring intersection as an SUV sped toward them, striking Saathoff as he pushed his girlfriend to safety. The driver never stopped, and Saathoff was dragged for nearly two blocks. The 26-year-old was pronounced dead at the scene.

After that, the band "all hung out together more than we hung out as a band," according to singer Jeremy Bolen. "We didn't think about music for a long time." However, after some encouraging from Saathoff's own parents and a few benefit shows at the Empty Bottle, the band were ready to continue, and completed the album while keeping as much of Saathoff's bass parts on it as possible. The only track recorded afterward, album closer "All My Hammocks are Dying", has no bass at all.

Chin Up Chin Up's sound owes much to artists like 90 Day Men, June of 44, Slint, and Tortoise; the album's busy guitar parts, xylophones, and unwieldy song titles all scream math-rock. Yet on this record, the band sound like they're growing out of and beyond that scene. You can hear it clearly on the title track, which opens with swirling keyboards and an acapella vocal before the fastest rhythm of the album takes hold, which the band stops and starts around moody interludes and strange group harmonies.

Elsewhere, a thumping post-rock intro falls away while the band gets all Rapture on the verses of "Collide the Tide" (re-recorded from their self-titled EP, this version has busier production and is a little stiffer) with phased synthesizers and hand-muted guitar scrapes. The band's kitchen-sink approach its arrangements threatens to overcome its melodies, but the tracks are saved by CUCU's grasp of tension and release as well as their memorable hooks. And tracks like "Collide the Tide" and the Modest-Mouse-ish rave-up "All My Hammocks Are Dying," We Should Have Never... reveal a band with its eyes looking in a few different directions.

The record's big obstacle is Bolen's vocal delivery. His voice doesn't sound "bad" so much "forced," with vocals sung in hushed, scratchy tone that seems either insecure or like a misguided attempt at sounding cool. Fortunately, he doesn't always sing in such an affected whisper. There are occasions, like on the album's other big stand-out "Virginia Don't Drown", where Bolen reaches for the notes in a normal voice while the band breaks into a note-perfect Cure imitation behind him. Moments like this feel like cracking a window on the album's claustrophobic arrangements, and give a glimpse of how much more Chin Up Chin Up are capable of.

-Jason Crock, February 1, 2005 - Pitchforkmedia.com


"Picking Up the Pieces:
Chin Up Chin Up lost their bass player to a hit-and-run driver in February, but they took pains to make sure he'd be on their new album."
By Bob Mehr

On February 13, 2004, bassist Chris Saathoff and his bandmates in Chin Up Chin Up went to the Empty Bottle to see the Ponys and We Ragazzi. They were in the mood to celebrate: they'd just finished mixing a batch of demos with engineer Jeremy Lemos at Semaphore Recording, and it looked like they were finally ready to record a full-length follow-up to the EP they'd put out a year before.

A little after one in the morning, Saathoff left the rest of the band -- singer Jeremy Bolen, guitarist Nathan Snydacker, keyboardist Greg Sharp, and drummer Chris Dye -- and ducked out with his new girlfriend, Tiffany Weeder. It was a few hours into Valentine's Day, and as they walked he told her he loved her for the first time.

Weeder says the couple was crossing Division at Western hand in hand when an SUV careened through the intersection, striking Saathoff as he tried to push her to safety. (She was also injured.) According to the police report, the driver never stopped, and Saathoff was dragged for nearly two blocks. The 26-year-old was pronounced dead at the scene. Within the hour police had arrested William Giraldo, 20, and charged him with aggravated DUI and reckless homicide.

"None of us knew," says Bolen. "When I drove home that night I saw all the cops there, but it didn't even cross my mind. I think I was the first one to get the call the next morning."

The reality of the situation had sunk in by that evening, and the band fell into a state of shock. "After that," says Bolen, "we all just drank a whole lot for about a month."

Meanwhile Saathoff's parents, who live in Colorado, decided to establish a charity in their son's memory, the Christopher Saathoff Foundation (www.chrissaathofffoundation.org). They enlisted Chin Up to headline and help organize a pair of benefit concerts. According to its mission statement, the foundation hopes to become "an instrument to support the art of music in the Chicago area" and eventually "develop programs, activities and even a center where we can make sure 'the music never stops.'"

The first show was at the Bottle on March 19. With Saathoff's friend and roommate Quinn Goodwillie of the local band Mt. St. Helens filling in on bass, Chin Up played its set to a packed house of friends, family, and well-wishers. "As weird as it sounds," says Sharp, "it really felt like Chris was onstage with us that night."

"Greg asked everyone to clap along with the last song," recalls Bolen. "And this is at the Bottle, a place where that never happens. It was just amazing to watch all these people getting into it. His parents were there. His mom actually scattered some of his ashes on the stage afterwards. It was . . . intense and really beautiful."

Buoyed by the outpouring of support and directly encouraged by Saathoff's parents, Chin Up decided to continue as a band even after the second benefit in April. "In the end we all kind of felt that's what Chris would've wanted," says Dye.

In May, Bolen sent the four-song demo the band had finished in February to more than 50 labels. Three days later the local label Flameshovel responded, and within a few weeks a deal had been finalized and a fall release date set.

The band bought producer John Congleton (of north Texas art-rockers the Paper Chase) a plane ticket and holed up with him for eight days in July at Electrical Audio and Soma, working 14 hours a day. "We had no cushion whatsoever making the record," says Bolen. "We finished recording and mixing, mastered the next day, and sent it out to the manufacturing plant that same evening." We Should Have Never Lived Like We Were Skyscrapers will be officially released on October 26.

The process was a challenge in part because Chin Up had decided to make Saathoff a part of the new album. They isolated his bass tracks on the four demo songs and recorded new tracks around them -- an especially tricky task for Dye, since drummers can usually count on the rest of the band to follow their lead. Snydacker, who played bass on the remaining songs, based his parts on ideas Saathoff had developed in rehearsals. "Even though we were recording without him, going back through all the tapes, listening and pulling out bass lines he'd written, it really felt like he was part of the process," he says. "It kept the momentum going for us." The disc's only post-Saathoff song -- the closing elegy "All My Hammocks Are Dying" -- doesn't have any bass at all.

The album's dreamy, lachrymose pop more than delivers on the promise of Chin Up Chin Up's self-titled EP. "The best description anyone's ever given about our band was that our songs are like walking home on a really beautiful spring day after your girlfriend just dumped you," says Bolen. "That's a pretty accurate assessment of our sound."

In the studio Chin U - Chicago Reader


Rating: 7.5

The only time I’ve ever felt dangerously stupid in my life was when I took pre-calc as a junior in high school. I just couldn’t even begin to get my head around that shit, and I specifically remember this one day I found myself sitting in the back copying off this fucking kid named Emecka who I normally wouldn’t have even talked to for fear that whatever learning disability he had was contagious. It was one of the most distinct ‘what the fuck am I doing with my life’ moments I had back then. Anyway, I think that’s why I never ‘got’ math rock either. It was just too much for me, and sure it was pretty cool, but I couldn’t understand why. Chin Up Chin Up are math rock for kids like me. You get the distinct feeling that there is one kid in this band who majored in English or something in college, and when the nerds are going nuts at practice he’s the one reigning them in, being all ‘yeah yeah, that’s pretty intricate dude, but melodies and a linear progression are fun sometimes too.’ I love that guy and this album.

BROCOLLI MCEGGPLANT - Vice


"Ghost-Ridden: After the death of one of its own, Chin Up Chin Up holds its head high once more."
By Jason Heller

It's cold, the sky is spitting rain, and I'm driving a dead man's car across Texas to see Chin Up Chin Up. The Chicago quintet is playing tonight in Denton, north of Dallas, and since I just spent Thanksgiving with my girlfriend's family in San Antonio, I figured I'd trek up and interview the band in person. The catch? I'm driving back to Denver solo in a silver Buick Century that belonged to my girlfriend's stepdad. He died three months ago. I never got to meet him. Still, his absence has loomed over the trip, an almost oppressive void that seemed to haunt every festive intent of the holiday.

Chin Up Chin Up has a ghost of its own. Last February, as he and his girlfriend were leaving a show at the famed Empty Bottle in Chicago, the group's bassist, Chris Saathoff, was hit and killed by a drunk driver. The SUV dragged him for two blocks before finally relinquishing its grip, and he was pronounced dead at the scene. He was 26. Such senseless, random tragedy is enough to break any band apart. But Chin Up Chin Up pulled itself back together, finished the album it was writing, and is currently on tour promoting its gorgeous debut full-length, We Should Have Never Lived Like We Were Skyscrapers. A depressing title, no matter how you slice it. But as it turns out, the act has managed to keep its head above water -- even while sunk in a flood of grief.

Fittingly, Denton is a swamp of sleet and mud as I pull off the highway and into the desolate industrial area that houses Rubber Gloves, the venue for tonight's show. It's literally across the tracks, sandwiched between a rail yard and a processing plant. But inside, it's an oasis: the Smiths on the jukebox, Tecate in the can and every manner of confused youth and washed-up hipster infesting its dank, grimy confines.

A few minutes later I find the five of them -- singer/guitarist Jeremy Bolen, guitarist Nathan Snydacker, keyboardist Greg Sharp, drummer Chris Dye and new bassist Marc Young of Kansas's renowned Appleseed Cast -- hanging out near the stage. Introductions are passed around, and soon the band goes on. It's a funny sight, and sublime, too: Five Midwestern dudes in plaid thrift-store shirts and various states of hygienic neglect pouring their hearts out in the shape of dense, arty pop songs. They begin with their record's opening track, "Why Is My Sleeping Bag a Ghetto Muppet?" It's as surreally vivid as its title, an emulsion of clattering rhythm and pinprick guitar. It's hard to remember the last time words like "drywall" and "trifecta" were uttered with such swooning poignancy. On the CD's version of "Sleeping Bag," vibraphone is provided by Aloha's Cale Parks, and Roby Newton, formerly of Milemarker, sings backup. But here in this clammy Texas dive, Chin Up strips it down to a skeleton of melody and melancholy, a faint pulse of song that seems to shudder with each halting breath.

"We're all basically from emo bands or math-rock bands, but we wanted to play music that was softer and more poppy," Bolen explains later, after he and his comrades have wrapped up their short yet infinitely graceful set. We're in the club's "green room" -- more like a closet, really -- sitting on ratty, cigarette-pocked furniture. Everyone is huddled close except for Young, who perches on the arm of the couch with his back half turned. You have to wonder if he feels a little awkward, being the new guy thrust into interviews that focus mainly on the man whose shoes he's filling. But Young was a friend of Saathoff's, too, and had even stood in briefly for the bassist on tour. Still, that didn't make it any easier last spring when he appeared with the reborn Chin Up for the first time at the Empty Bottle in front of a packed house of Saathoff's friends and relatives.

"I've never been more nervous in my entire life," Young admits. "I played a show with Appleseed Cast once in front of 3,000 people, but it wasn't as scary as playing this show in front of 400 people at the Empty Bottle."

As traumatic as Saathoff's loss was to Chin Up, the group was jolted back to life by a force that could not be ignored: his parents. Brad and Marlene Saathoff, who live in the Boulder area, arrived in Chicago the day after their son's death and immediately began to implement a plan they'd come up with on their trip, a non-profit project called the Chris Saathoff Foundation that aims to supply instruments, lessons and a sense of community to aspiring musicians. Their first priority was to organize a series of benefit shows for the organization, with Chin Up as the headliner. Although paralyzed by shock and grief, the band found it a hard offer to refuse.

"When his parents came and said, 'We want you to keep going,' it just kind of cemented it for us," Snydacker notes.

Nolen agrees: "Losing your bandmate is like losing your brother. We all spend more time with e - Denver Westword


Rating: 4 out of 5

WHO?
Chicago indie rockers who've shared stages with acts like the Mercury Program, the Paper Chase and Make Believe.

SOUNDS LIKE?
Atmospheric indie pop that's intricately layered without sounding too busy.

HOW IS IT?
Although the story behind it is heartbreaking (bassist Chris Saathoff was killed by a hit-and-run driver during the recording of this album), Skyscrapers is ultimately an uplifting -- and captivating -- listen.

ROCKS LIKE
Fin Fang Foom, Mercury Rev, Tristeza - Alternative Press


Discography

We Should Have Never Lived Like We Were Skyscrapers [Flameshovel 2004]
S/T EP+3 [Flameshovel/Record Label 08.09.05]

Photos

Feeling a bit camera shy

Bio

Look beyond the steely skyscrapers jutting into Chicago's grey sky, past the potholed streets and shadowed alleys, and you might be able to find something beautiful in this scuffed-up metropolis. Something like a cornflower pushing through a cracked sidewalk, struggling its way toward sunshine. Or the sun glinting off choppy lake waves at dusk. Or the sounds of Chin Up Chin Up, whose disarmingly resonant debut album We Should Have Never Lived Like We Were Skyscrapers is ready to carry you through autumn and beyond.

Recorded by John Congleton (90 Day Men, The Roots, The Paper Chase) at Electrical Audio and Soma studios throughout July, We Should Have Never Lived Like We Were Skyscrapers proves that sentimental pop songs don't have to be cloying or trite. Meticulously layered with solid drums, keyboards, and warm guitar, these ten songs will wrap themselves around your mind and stay there all day.

The band's history reaches back to 2001, when Jeremy Bolen and Nathan Snydacker formed Chin Up Chin Up (think optimism and perseverance, not exercise). The two guitarists were joined shortly thereafter by percussionist Chris Dye and bassist Chris Saathoff. In January 2002, the band released a self-titled EP, which inspired MOJO's call for readers to "meet your new favourite Chicago art-pop band." Later joined by keyboard player Greg Sharp, Chin Up Chin Up toured extensively, playing shows with the likes of the Appleseed Cast, the Mercury Program, Pedro the Lion, the American Analog Set, Broken Social Scene, Smog, and Pinback.

But midway through writing We Should Have Never Lived Like We Were Skyscrapers ­ hours, in fact, after mixing the demos the band faced a tragic loss. In February, bassist Chris Saathoff was walking home from a show at the Empty Bottle when he was struck and killed in a hit-and-run accident. For months thereafter, the rest of the band mourned the loss of their good friend. "We all hung out together more than we hung out as a band," Bolen recalls. "We didn't think about music for a long time."

In due time, Chin Up Chin Up decided to regroup and finish the record. Using three discs' worth of practices that the band had recorded over the last few years, they pieced together the record's final six songs, keeping Chris's bass lines as intact as possible. Nathan then played the bass on the remaining tracks in near-homage to Chris's last writings. "Falcons and Vulcans," "The Architect Has a Gun," and "Get Me Off This Fucking Island" feature Chris's last performances with Chin Up Chin Up, but his talent and creative spirit live on through the band's music.

Chin Up Chin Up makes music about hope, about persevering through tragedy, and the redemption of optimism. Listen to We Should Have Never Lived Like We Were Skyscrapers from the title track's crescendoed bounce to the banjo and guitar of "All My Hammocks Are Dying" and you'll discover the beauty of old souls dancing like adolescents, their hearts bruised but beating stronger and louder each day.