Chuckanut Drive
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Chuckanut Drive

Band Americana Country


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This band has not uploaded any videos


The best kept secret in music


"Chuckanut Drive: Alt-country appeal"

Chuckanut Drive and I go way back. I recall selecting tracks from a Chuckanut Drive Demo to play for my "Local Pick" as a daytime DJ for KUGS back in 1998, well before I had an obsession with the local music scene. The project has come a long way since the reverb-drenched pop of the demo. During the middle of their last live on-air performance on the Corner Pocket - a local music show I host on KUGS - I recalled that they were one of the first acts I had played live on the show. It was only fitting that the final band to perform live on my incarnation of the "Local Show" be Chuckanut Drive. I told them the last song they had to play was "The City That Took You Away," a wonderful, heartfelt number with the chorus "the moon still haunts me when it's full / goddamn that curse you laid on me," a kind of fisticuffs line I like to scream towards Bellingham when I get a little annoyed at how a four-year degree at a local state college turned into a full-fledged love affair of non-metro, smaller town life.

Since that adolescent demo, Chuckanut Drive has released a batch of short run EPs that have mostly been available at local shows and record stores. This relative obscurity has always been a mystery to me, as I recognized early on that Steve Leslie, the songwriter behind the band, is amazingly talented and well versed in the rootsy-Americana tradition the band has progressed along. His sharp, squeaky twang and three-chord delivery was a familiar sound to me long before the O, Brother revival boom and the emergence of the genre's pop icons like Gillian Welch and Ryan Adams. I was always confused to catch the band live and see less-than-large crowds listening in on the beer-drenched laments of this Texas and Tulsa native. That's right, though watered down by our West Coast's sentiments and surrounded by false imitators, Steve's accent is real, folks.

Backed on bass by Aaron Ansley and accentuated on drums by former Chuck Israels jazz student Erik Anderson, the band had a pretty solid alt-country foundation to appeal to. But it wasn't until Loren Huggins, of the Wastelanders, joined the band on lead guitar last February, that things really started to click. Loren's smooth, twangy leads pushed the songs to a new level. His rootsy leanings gave the poppier tracks an extra dancing boot-to-the-face and provided the sadder love songs with a few more deep ounces of tear-soaked beer. These new dynamics come through amazingly well on Chuckanut Drive's first real record, the recently released self-titled eight-songer that they partially recorded and entirely mixed at Lab Partner Studios.

The standout songs on this record is the heartfelt "If You Don't Think It's Right," a song that brought me to tears when Steve first played it solo during one Chuckanut Drive on-air performance. It is well worth any price you pay for the album alone. Loren's additions to this song, and recent live performances of it, have me further confused as to why this band isn't at least a regional sensation. The song is an easy radio hit and a testament to how strong Chuckanut Drive has become as a band. You should hear them now, before the Nashville tug finds these boys fleeing our non-metro, small town indifference. - Bellingham Weekly

"Chuckanut Drive, self-released"

Steve Leslie proved himself to be a songwriter of much potential with last year's Juanita demo. With the release of their recent self-titled album, Leslie lives up to that potential with a solid set of reflective, mid-tempo ruminations on, above all else, love and booze. Leslie and his bandmates appear to embrace those four little words most bands despise: "they remind me of ..."

By turns clever and affecting, Leslie's songs always seem to strike a familiar chord, not because they're terribly derivative (they're not), but because he’s walking a well-traveled road. Hearts get broken, heads get dizzy, and the combination of the two seems to lend itself to Leslie's particular brand of lyricism. "If You Don't Think It's Right" sounds as though it could be one of the multitude of tunes Ryan Adams has written and discarded during the years, while the jangly pop nugget "Wildflower" borrows a bit from the Tweedy school of roots-rock songwriting. Mostly though, Chuckanut Drive recalls the Old 97's (Rhett Miller's band before he became a sheeny Both bands possess a willingness to wear their influences on their sleeves, while still managing to write engaging, original country rock, making it look (and sound) far less difficult than it is.

The biggest change in Chuckanut Drive since Juanita is the addition of Loren Huggins (Wastelanders) on lead guitar and backing vocals. Huggins gives the band the slight edge they were lacking, and contributes melodic, twangy fills and an uncanny understanding of timing. Simply put, he knows when to play and when to keep quiet – a rare and invaluable quality, and one Chuckanut Drive benefits greatly from.

So, one year removed from Juanita, Leslie and Co. have added an excellent guitarist and honed their songwriting, producing one of the more enjoyable releases this year. Not a bad year, I’d say. - Whats Up Magazine

"Rocky Road: Chuckanut Drive draws from scene's roots"

Sure, he was born in Texas, reared in Tulsa, Okla., where the eight-track player in his uncle's Cadilac blared Willie Nelson’s "Poncho & Lefty," circa 1982. But Steve Leslie picked up his twang at Cost Cutter.

"My car had just broken down, and I was walking home from the store to my house when I wrote this tune 'Worn Out Shoes,'" says the Bellingham singer/guitarist, whose band Chuckanut Drive, plays the Wild Buffalo next Thursday night. "It was the kind of song when I realized, 'Wow, I can be a songwriter and not just someone who plays an instrument. I can do this.'"

He's had help from friends, too – including bandmates such as drummer Erik Anderson, bassist Aaron Ansley and Wastelanders guitarist Loren Huggins, who replaced the band's original guitarist about a year ago. There's also Emmylou Harris, Kris Kristofferson and The Band, who arrived for a quarter from Goodwill and spent the past month chillin' on his turntable.

All have a say in Chuckanut Drive's two CDs, from its initial "Juanita Demo" (featuring "Worn Out Shoes") to the self-titled EP it released this past September with help from Seattle's Unsmashable Records. Some may be more vocal than others. But the influence? There.

Observe the galloping giddyup and scorned-city name-checking on "Mexican Daydream." Or the Wilco-like self- loathing, with gentle easing from over imbibement, on "Can't Stand." Or "Black-Eyed Blues"' black eye.

They’re lonely tales sung in tongues whose heyday has passed, but they’re shared by numerous roots-rockers – from Kasey Anderson to the Wastelanders to Gus and Kati – that shape the scene in Bellingham. Which, Leslie adds, is about as far from the Mason Dixon Line as a twanger can get.

A Houston native, he ended up down the road in Lake Stevens by his teenage years. There, as a 17-year-old, Leslie played bass for his first band with older brother Sam – the two passed as twins so the younger Leslie could perform in bars.

Then it was onto another band, Bloomsday. Then a record deal. A tour, and another. A breakup. An entrance into Western Washington University’s journalism program. A degree. Underemployment. Unemployment. Cost Cutter. The twang.

"I think people in Bellingham relate to this kind of music because it's very people oriented, worker oriented," Leslie says. "People here have to work really hard to survive. It's like what I heard (local songwriter) Robert Blake say once: 'Bellingham is a dead end with a good view.'"

So Leslie has stuck around. He plans to make his next Chuckanut Drive CD a concept album whose songs detail a disgruntled dude who leaves town, comes on hard times, reconsiders his move and ends up done wrong and jailed before he can do anything about it.

It's a liberating way to work, he says. And it's rooted in his own experiences: The towns in "Mexican Daydream" are ones he’s passed through for various reasons. "Can’t Stand" is dedicated to Sam, whom Leslie visited in Spain shortly after WWU graduation and with whom he was kicked out of bars for entirely different reasons than during his teen years. And "Black-Eyed Blues," Well ...

"Let me think. When was the last time I got a black eye?" Leslie says. "I'm not a fighter, so I’m not sure. But you know, you don't have to write about yourself to be honest. And right now, I'm finally doing the stuff I want to do with the people I want to do it with - Bellingham Herald

"The Crooked Mile Home"

It was Friday afternoon. I was working on a few station updates. Really, it was Friday, so I was not working that hard, in fact, I think I was actually playing poker on line. Anyway, I was in the middle of a big hand and a new mail message popped up and blocked my view of the river card. I won the hand. The next hand sucked, so I decided check my new email. It was another submission for the station. I get quite a few and I give them all my attention, but let's be honest, it was almost the weekend and I didn't really want to get into a CD review that late in the day. However, this email contained these words "Our sound is a mix of Exile Era Stones/Gram Parsons with the Byrds and a touch of Stax Soul thrown in for good measure". Those words caught my attention, not because I believed them, but because I have been hearing that for years and nobody really sounds like that. Congratulations, they are the first band who has actually described their sound with a good level of accuracy. I never even described my band correctly.

Enter Chuckanut Drive from Bellingham, Washington. They are Steve Leslie, Chris Hess, Loren "Hot Sauce" Huggins, & Garth Highsmith.

In a world where Nashville has moved into the dark days of Kenny Chesney's sleeveless shirts, Cowboy hat and sandals, Austin has thrived with such new acts as Cross Canadian Ragweed, Bleu Edmondson, and Randy Rogers (as well as the legends like Joe Ely & Ray Wylie Hubbard). They all have a great sound and bring their own contribution to the table. A few years ago there was another rebellion that I like to call the dark ages of "No Depression". For the most part the music was great, but the magazine and the movement were every bit as clickish as Nashville. I mean artists from everywhere were trying to "Out Country" or "Out Roots" each other. The good ones are still making music, though some have moved on to a "new sound", like Wilco. Well, Grant Alden got a lot right. In no way am I speaking poorly of his magazine. After all, some guys in Washington State (at least that is where they are now) were paying attention. I know this because I have listened to "The Crooked Mile Home" from Chuckanut Drive. I really don't know how old these guys are, but they were probably just past fetus stage when Gram died. However, they must have listened to G.P. or Grievous Angel and dug it, because "Crooked Mile Home" sounds honorably familiar. Steve Leslie's vocals are unmistakably powerful in their simplicity. During the first spin, I heard some great songs. The second spin is when the real story came to life and it hasn't left my head since.

These guys are the real deal. If you want to find out more about this band, you can check them out at or of course you can listen to Johnny Attitude Radio where they will be in rotation for some time to come. I look forward to great things from these guys. - Johnny Attitude Radio

"Chuckanut Drive: The Crooked Mile Home"

I’ve been looking for a way around using it, I didn’t want to dive into the pratfalls or stereotypes of describing "country" music, but when talking about Chuckanut Drive and their latest release The Crooked Mile Home, I have no choice but to use the word twang. From the vibrato on lead singer Steve Leslie's voice, to the note-bending lap steal guitar solos on songs like "Eight Days," twang runs rabid through this release. Good ol' boot wearin' straw chewin' twang.

Chuckanut Drive's talent seems to lie in their ability to set moods. From the echoing sadness of "Juanita," to the foot stomping guitar licks of "Any Way I Can," I was constantly shifting my emotions, and hand tappin' to follow along with the songs.

Overall this is a solid album of well crafted and thought out music. The quality of the recording will never have you questing wether this group is professional, or that it's made up of talented musicians who know what they have to offer, and don’t hesitate to put it out there. I look forward to hearing how Chuckanut Drive will continue to evolve, and will make sure to check out their next local show to see if their onstage presence can match this disc. - Whats Up Magazine

"Crooked Mile Home"

Finally, I got exactly the kind of email an artist should send if he or she wants me to listen to their stuff.

I got an email from one of the guys in Chuckanut Drive. First of all, the email had a link to a page where I could hear full versions of all of the songs on their new record. Second, he described the band as "a mix of Exile Era Stones/Gram Parsons with the Byrds and a touch of Stax Soul thrown in for good measure." So either he's been reading my blog and has condensed my musical taste into 22 words, or this is my kind of band. I listened to a few of the songs, and they are very, very good! My favorite so far is Pittsburgh (I put it on my server to keep the location provided to me private and so I wouldn't be stealing bandwidth). This is a mighty good song that will be in the Rancho Radio rotation next time we update. It might even get on the upcoming City Names edition of our RanchoCast. I'm looking forward to hearing all the songs over the next few days.

As a songwriter, musician, sometimes entertainment lawyer and Grammy voter who has an internet radio station and does a podcast, I get a lot of music sent to me. Most of it is of less than Uncle Tupelo quality (to put it delicately) and some of it is too hard to access. Within about 3 seconds of reading this email, I was listening to some mighty fine music.

Anyhow, check out Chuckanut Drive. I'm going to. - Rancho Radio

"Chcukanut Drive - The Crooked Mile Home"

The thing about alt-country that picks my ass is that most bands don’t have a clue about the soul. They play the twang, they bring the pedal steel and the guitjo, and forget the goddamned soul! I swear at the altar of the Lost Church of Gram’s Capo that the soul is what makes it all come into place. Where the Burrito Brothers walked Down the Dark End of the Street, the fellas in Chuckanut Drive deliver a searing concept-driven LP recorded in a church in Bellingham and produced, excellently, by Johnny Sangster. The themes of loneliness, despair, heartbreak, and separation weave in and out of the song cycle like people passing each other on a dark, shitty day. Listen to “Pittsburgh”, “Juanita”, “Back on the Tarmac”, and “Reno To Vegas” and you’ll understand the soul of C&W…
- Boy Howdy - Nerve Magazine Vancouver


Juanita Demo, Chuckanut Drive, Crooked Mile Home, all have received some radio and internet airplay


Feeling a bit camera shy


Taking its name from the nearby scenic highway, Bellingham, Washington band Chuckanut Drive's sound often weaves over the lines separating musical styles. Chuckanut Drive counts such rock icons as The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, The Band and The Beatles among its many influences; the band also tips its hat to earlier American songwriters such as Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson, as well as contemporary artists like Wilco and Whiskeytown.

The band started to take form in 1999 when songwriter/guitarist Steve Leslie and longtime partner-in-crime, bassist Aaron Ansley, talked about starting a band. Leslie had originally moved to Bellingham to get away from music and finish college; Leslie's previous band Bloomsday had called it quits after a year on the road, a full-length album and two EPs. Bellingham's budding music scene and wealth of talented musicians, however, kept Leslie from abandoning his musical ambitions entirely.

After early rotations in the lineup, Leslie and Ansley began to jam with jazz drummer Erik Anderson and guitarist Mark Sobolesky. Nearly two years of gigs and dues-paying followed before the band parted ways with Sobolesky and entered into a short hiatus while searching for a new guitarist.

In February 2003, Leslie spotted Wastelanders guitarist Loren Huggins at the famous 3B Tavern - long-time heart-and-soul of Bellingham's live music scene - and approached him about joining the band. After a brief session, Huggins was on board as Chuckanut Drive's new lead guitarist, giving the band the energy it needed to get back on stage. With its self-titled debut album in the can, the band is once again hitting the road with a newfound fervor to share its music.

The band isn't afraid to blend old sounds with new, and does so with soul and skill. Leslie's songs radiate a human warmth rarely heard in today's popular music. Chuckanut Drive plays pop music, but Leslie's lyrics often have an intimacy you would expect to find in a folk singer. Chuckanut Drive plays rock music, but Huggins' twangy guitar lines evoke a sprit of the by-gone honky-tonk era. The result is the vibrant sound of an American band carrying on an American musical tradition.