The Chambermaids
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The Chambermaids


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"The Chambermaids - Down in the Berries: Local record review"

The Chambermaids - Down in the Berries EP (Modern Radio)

New York's The Pains of Being Pure at Heart have been getting national attention recently for integrating what was so great about shoegaze into their pop songs, but local band The Chambermaids have been quietly doing that very thing here at home for years. With their vinyl-only release, Down in the Berries, they've become even more successful at patenting their brand of neo-shoegaze meets moody rock meets sincere and heartfelt pop – minus the angst.

On this long-awaited seven-song EP, siblings Neil and Martha Weir, who started playing as The Shut-ins in 2003, are joined by Nate Nelson (Private Dancer, STNNNG) and Mickey Kahleck (ex-Shotgun Monday, Chibalo), who since the album's recording has replaced Colin Johnson of Vampire Hands on drums. The siblings continue their journey into the shadowy songwriting depths hinted at on their 2006 self-titled release. The melancholy of the EP is perfectly complemented by Martha Weir's light, airy vocals (as a member of Finger Pressure she provided guest vocals on Private Dancer's debut). The studio engineer background of Neil Weir (he of The Old Blackberry Way studio in Minneapolis) is apparent – the album is well mixed and balanced, but doesn't seem overdone or too polished. The songs sound live and completely natural. It's as if they've been playing together forever - which Neil and Martha very well probably have been.

Those NYC Pitchfork darlings should take note: The Chambermaids have struck that delicate balance between sounding new but familiar, unique but evocative, and faintly nostalgic but still relevant (which is probably what also makes friends and labelmates Vampire Hands so appealing). While fans of older bands like The Smiths, My Bloody Valentine and Joy division will get their gloomy pop fix from Down in the Berries, they'll likely discover a favorite new band in the process.

-Dana Raidt -

"The Chambermaids stand firm on keeping it vague - The Onion"

The Chambermaids began as a collaboration between Twin Cities brother-and-sister duo Neil and Martha Weir, inspired, however unconsciously, by their shared love of 1980s-era bands like Wire and Joy Division. "It wasn’t like we were trying to start a band that sounds like this," says bassist/vocalist Martha, but "everyone’s reaction is the same: 'This reminds me of Joy Division, of Wire, of Pixies, of My Bloody Valentine.' So, obviously, it’s in there." Guitarist Neil agrees, adding, "We just had this understood idea that this is what the band’s about." Perhaps surprisingly, given how tightly constructed their driving, catchy post-punk sounds are, the Weirs' intuitive, instinctive collaborative approach is a hallmark of their creative process. Their new EP Down In The Berries catches the band in transition, with original drummer Colin Johnson recording part of it before leaving to concentrate on his psychedelic band Vampire Hands, replaced by a new iteration of the band with in STNNNG/Private Dancer guitarist Nate Nelson and drummer Mickey Kahleck. Before Thursday's show at Sugar Maple, the group talked with The A.V. Club about its evolving sound, easygoing partnership, and the death of the CD.

The A.V. Club: Martha, you were gone recently for a year in Austria teaching Swedish. Did the time away from music change how you felt about it?

Martha Weir: No, I don’t think so. More than anything, it renewed my interest. I was kind of overwhelmed here and felt like I was kind of in a rut. I went somewhere where everything that I do here didn’t exist. There was one record store in town, and they had like 12 LPs for sale. There were no shows. Nobody played in bands. The only people that did were 15-year-old kids. If you went to those shows, you were the old lady. It was weird, living this other life for a short time. It made me really appreciate my life here. It was a good move. It made me want to write more and really get going on stuff.

AVC: How much did Martha's absence slow the band down?

Neil Weir: We’ve got a lot of stuff we can turn into finished songs fairly quickly. When Martha was gone, the three of us would work on stuff and, but we never really totally finished anything because we knew things would change when Martha came back.

MW: What’s different now too since I was gone—before, Neil and I always did the core writing. I think these new songs will be a lot different than if I had been here—it’s like a totally different process since I’m not involved in the first step.

NW: But there was also a lot of thought where we’d be standing in a room together and be like “What is Martha [going to do] here?”

MW: [Laughs.]

AVC: You opted not to release Down In The Berries on CD at all, but just on vinyl and as a download. Why?

NW: We like the idea of having a larger palette for the artwork, and, as people do more and more downloading, also having something that is physical, that people are buying for something besides just the music. Having the big artwork is pretty appealing.

MW: CDs have become more and more disposable with CD-Rs; I remember the first CD I ever got, and I just pored over it, and now I just walk on them. I still hold vinyl at some sort of higher level, I guess.

NW: It’s easier to sell vinyl, too at shows.

Nate Nelson: I think it’s just impossible to sell CDs right now. No one wants them.

AVC: The artwork for the Down In The Berries cover was created Wes Winship of local design collective Burlesque Of North America. How did you direct him?

MW: We had a lot of conversations [with him] about what we were going for, as a band. What we’ve always tried to convey musically is a vagueness and a haziness. We conveyed that to Wes, and gave him free rein. I personally love it.

AVC: Does it capture a particular moment in the album?

NW: No, I think it represents the whole thing. Kind of like what Martha was saying: It has the feel of something visually interesting but isn’t clearly defined, and I think that that goes along with our approach to music.

MW: A lot of people ask us, “Why don’t you put lyrics on things? What are you saying?” or “What does this mean?” And, even when Neil and I first started, we had this idea of keeping the vocal kind of low [in the audio mix], not ever printing the lyrics anywhere, and letting people come up with their own interpretation of what our songs mean.

NW: Also, we were trying to do something that has this almost deadpan, anonymous quality to it vocally, instead of being like, “Here I am: Personality!” You can hear it in some of the Yo La Tengo or My Bloody Valentine stuff, where the lyrics and melodies are good, and they’re very important, but they’re not presented in a way where they’re the focal point and everything else is framing that; [in our music,] everything is more on equal footing.

MW: Which is hard to pull off live. [Laughs.] Really, really hard.

AVC: Especially when your singing is double-tracked, like on “The East Place,” where you’re singing back-up at the same time as you’re singing lead.

MW: [Sighs.] Yeah. [Laughs.] This is a constant debate that we have. I want to be able to do all the parts! How do we do that?

NW: You have to approach the song differently. It’s kind of a shorthand version of it live.

Mickey Kahleck: That’s the way I look at it. Just do the best you can live. Decide which part you want to do. I’ve been in bands where you get too caught up in trying to do all your overdubs live, and it just sucks the wind right out of the song.

MW: When we were trying to do the first record, I was really obsessed with trying to figure out a way to do as many of the vocals as possible live. We went and saw Blonde Redhead, and they had all the pre-recorded background vocals, and they were all just slightly off. I was like, “Okay, never mind!” [Laughs.] “Maybe less is more.” - The Onion, Milwaukee

"The Chambermaids - The Onion"

The Chambermaids, Down In The Berries
(Modern Radio)

Twin Cities post-punk quartet The Chambermaids sounds like it might have stepped out of a time machine, freshly arrived from 1983. Its new seven-song Down In The Berries fits comfortably back-to-back with spiky, art-punk classics like Wire's Chairs Missing or Joy Division's Unknown Pleasures, and though it's undeniable that the band's hardly breaking new ground by bringing that sound into 2009, it's accomplished with real verve, driving rhythm, and a good ear for pop hooks and harmonies.

If '80s post-punk is alive and well in The Chambermaids' hands, though, the compact disc is dead in the gutter: Down In The Berries is only available on vinyl and as a download. It's a trend that's becoming increasingly common—Vampire Hands did the same thing for their new Hannah In The Mansion. Perhaps not coincidentally, VH's Colin Johnson is also the former drummer for The Chambermaids, leaving them amicably shortly after recording Berries to focus on his other group. The Chambermaids have since picked up a new drummer in ex-Shotgun Monday skinsman Mickey Kahleck, and a second guitarist in STNNNG/Private Dancer ax-wielder Nate Nelson. Fronting the band are brother-and-sister co-vocalists Neil and Martha Weir, and their deft musical interplay is apparent not only in their harmonizing, but the way Neil's My Bloody Valentine-esque guitar lines spark off Martha's bass work. Johnson's drumming, meanwhile, is almost brutally direct compared with Vampire Hands' two-percussionist complexity. But the more simple approach serves the songs here well, giving the shoegaze-style title track a shot of adrenaline that works like a series of exclamation points. The weak link here is Neil's flat and monotone singing, which serves the music adequately but without lending the dominant stamp of personality that Ian Curtis or Colin Newman gave their bands. Martha, on the other hand, adds liveliness everywhere the way Kim Deal spices up the Pixies, whether she's just lending an "oooh-aah-oooh" in the background or taking the lead on "The East Place."

- by Christopher Bahn August 28, 2009 - AV Club - The Onion, Twin Cities

"The Chambermaids Shoegaze into St. Paul"

In 2003, with a humble drum machine and a bit of sibling love, brother/sister duo Martha and Neil Weir formed the band that would later evolve into The Chambermaids. Inspired by their Twin Cities post-punk and rebel rock predecessors - namely The Replacements and Husker Du - and a knowledge of music history large enough to impress even the most melancholy shoegazer fan, The Chambermaids released their self-titled debut full-length EP. It didn’t take long before local radio stations Radio K and 89.3 The Current were blasting it’s singles on the air waves, much to the pleasure of local post-punk aficionados.

Chocked full of the “quiet menace” of post-punk, lazily strung out boy/girl vocals, and catchy art rock-laced compositions, The Chambermaids could easily be the love child of No Wavers Sonic Youth and Shoegaze inventors My Bloody Valentine, or at least their morose teenager. The Chambermaids‘ siblings are joined by guitarist Nate Nelson (STNNNG, Private Dancer) and drummer Mickey Kahleck (Shotgun Monday, Chibalo) to create a heavy synergistic sound perfect for rocking Twin Cities stages.

Tonight, join the local four-piece as they celebrate a special vinyl-only release of their latest EP, ‘Down in the Berries,’ through Twin Cities-based label Modern Radio, featuring beautiful artwork designed and screenprinted by Wes Winship from Burlesque of North America. The band will soon be embarking on a Midwest tour early next month, so catch them while you can.

With guests jam band, Haunted House, the psychedelic sounds of Daughters of the Sun and ghettotechers, France Has the Bomb. - Secrets of the City

"Playback: stl Review"


Blend the buzzsaw punk of Hüsker Dü with a dash of the boy/girl pop of the Vaselines, and the result would sound an awful lot like the Chambermaids. The Hüskers are a very obvious starting point for this Minneapolis power trio, with Neil Weir shredding out lightning-fast, distorted guitar licks over his sister Martha's deep, throbbing bass and Colin Johnson's steady, unadorned drums in what sounds like an attempt to recreate their hometown heroes' brilliant 1985 album New Day Rising and, surprisingly, doing a damn good job of it. The Chambermaids are at their best when blazing through the album's many two-minute thrashers, including an excellent cover of the Wipers' "Mystery," though the longer songs tend to drag, especially the nearly seven-minute shoegazer dirge "Sleeper." The vocals are buried far too deep in the mix, the din obscuring the Weirs' pleasantly complementary voices—although, to be fair, all this does is make the band's sound even closer to the desperately-in-need-of-a-good-remastering early-'80s punk records they're trying to emulate. With their self-titled debut, the Chambermaids have created a fun, enjoyable throwback perfect for all punkers convinced that they just don't make records like they used to. | Jason Green - Playback: stl

"Punkplanet Review"

Punkplanet Review
Chambermaids, the-S/T CD

You might have heard the Chambermaids before. In 2003, they were called the Shut-Ins, and they hustled the heck out of Minneapolis. The real-world experience has treated them well, and the album features plenty of drone, punch, and minimalism. Siblings Neil and Martha are an especially smart vocal pairing. The one is to the point, and the other loops a little, so there's an occasional harmony in the overlap. Overall, a solid first outing ("Sleeper" feels like someone is running a zipper along your spine . . . in a good way), with room to grow. (MC) - Punkplanet

"Big Takeover Review"

the chambermaids

down in the berries ep

(Modern Radio)

This is one of the rare bands where the bio claims “RIYL Wire, My Bloody Valentine, J&MC, etc.” and it’s on target. If this Minnesota foursome’s second LP was on Creation, Rough Trade, Hut, or 4AD in 1990, they’d be touring America with Pale Saints or Boo Radleys (whom they remind me more of), and my ex-girlfriend and I’d be fighting an NME scribe for the front row. Co-singer/guitarist Neil Weir sounds a bit like Moose’s Russell Yates, while sister/bassist Martha Weir might be the Twin Cities’ Miki Berenyi (Lush), and their harmonies are trés Kevin Shields and Bilinda Butcher. If these names mean nothing to you, you have my pity for ungodly riches missed. But if they mean loads, I’ve got current wealth for you. Down is a wired indie-rock/fast-shoegaze mix, seven-songs-in-17-minutes manic pop thrills. ( Rabid
- Big Takeover, upcoming issue # 65


1. Down in the Berries 12" EP on Modern Radio - September, 2009

Tracks "Lily," "Down in the Berries," and "The East Place" have been on rotation locally on Radio K KUOM and 89.3 The Current, as well as nationally.

2. s/t CD on Modern Radio - January 2006

Received national and local airplay. Top 2 Album of 2006 at WMBR.



Siblings Neil and Martha Weir formed the band (under the name the Shut-Ins) in 2003 in Minneapolis with a drum machine. They cut five demos, and began playing shows in the Twin Cities. The demo was well received by 770 Radio K who asked the band to perform a live in-studio session. Shortly there after the band began playing with a live drummer, Colin Johnson. The three piece then began playing under the name The Chambermaids and began recording tracks which would later become their self-titled debut full-length. That record was released on CD by Modern Radio in the Fall of 2006.

It has been awhile since that debut LP was released. However, the band has been plenty busy since then. During that time the band has added a second guitar player in Nate Nelson (STNNNG/Private Dancer) and a new drummer in Mickey Kahleck (ex-Shotgun Monday/Chibalo). Original drummer Colin Johnson left to focus on Vampire Hands shortly after recording on Down in the Berries. With a solid lineup and Martha back in the country after a teaching stint in Austria, The Chambermaids are poised to return as a force in the music community.

On first listen, The Chambermaids' second album Down in the Berries, sounds like one of those lost and forgotten 70s art-punk records put out by Flying Nun or 4AD that give collectors wet dreams and keep Ebay fanatics awake at night. There's a bristling intensity to the seven tracks on the Twin Cities-based four piece's latest effort that recalls the quiet menace of British post-punk stalwarts Wire or shoegaze innovators My Bloody Valentine. But this is no throwback record. Certainly, the core sibling duo of Neil (vocals/guitar) and Martha Weir (vocals/bass), alongside guitarist Nate Nelson and drummer Mickey Kahleck, knows their music history. They also know how to make it. Neil has recorded some of the most exciting bands playing today, at his studio, The Old Blackberry Way, Cannon Falls' famed Pachyderm Studio and the University of Minnesota's Radio K. He's worked with local favorites like Vampire Hands, Gospel Gossip and Daughters of the Sun. And he's worked with national acts like The Breeders, A Place to Bury Strangers, and Jay Reatard. This careful approach to both the technical and aesthetic aspects of rock'n roll is subtly evident in each track on the album. The Chambermaids themselves have shared the stage with the likes of Grant Hart, Tapes 'n Tapes, and Calvin Johnson.