Branden Daniel & The Chics
By Harriet Kaplan
The Seattle, Washington-based band Branden Daniel & The Chics (link) are receiving high praise and attention from the media and Courtney Taylor of The Dandy Warhols for the group’s psych-rock sound fusing disparate elements together like Black Sabbath and The Doors. Adding to their expanding profile, the band seems poised to make a stronger impact and musical foothold with their video for “In Light,” which earlier this month was put into heavy rotation on mtvU and Miramax is using this song and their upcoming single, “Do It To Death,” for their upcoming soundtrack for their film, “Ditch Party.” The video, “In Light,” is getting critical acclaim for what is viewed “never-before- seen psychedelic light effects.” Recently, Daniel Branden, founder/singer/bassist/guitarist of the band, spoke with blackonthecanvas. Daniel, with his tongue firmly planted in cheek tempered by a realistic, serious view being a working musician in a very unpredictable industry, discussed how the group was formed, its sound and evolving stylistic changes, growth and more.
How long has the band been together?
Branden Daniel: Our debut album “Keep Em Flying” was written and recorded in 2011. That was the year of our inception as a band. We played a lot of shows to prepare. In 2013, our bassist left to be a record producer full time in Seattle and we brought Nate Kruz in. He became our bassist and keyboard player.
Why did the band change their name? Why was the name picked to begin with? What does The Chics symbolize or mean to you?
Branden Daniel: When I started, it was just Branden Daniel. Our current drummer Matt and I toured most of the U.S. under a pretty childish previous name and we saw the results everywhere we went. We found that we were attracting the wrong kind of attention for it. When we returned home, Aaron Schroeder joined the band on bass, and we not only desired a new name, but it seemed important for this new union. “The Chics” was fun because it sounds like “Sheiks” and people often mistakingly read it as “Chicks”. That’s the real reason we decided on it. It’s versatile and irreverent and that suits us.
How did you find the other band members?
Branden Daniel: My band was down to Portland drummer Holly Gits and I on guitar. When she left I only looked for a drummer with the intention of remaining a duo. I put an ad out and held auditions (if you can call them that). Matt was the first to show up, the moment he walked through the door I thought “That’s my guy” and he apparently thought “Man, that dude looks like Beck”.
Nate we met at SXSW, even though he was a Seattle area musician as well that was our first time hanging out. Nate is the kind of guy everyone enjoys being around and I thought he’d make a great band member. Back in Seattle, we started to play shows with his band that he writes, plays guitar and sings for called Detective Agency. He became one of my favorite guitarists in town. Our then-bassist suggested we add Nate as a second guitarist, but I was intimidated by the new format. When our bassist dropped out, Nate was the first person I wanted to ask.
What do you think they brought to the sound?
Branden Daniel: Matt really started contributing on our first record while we were recording. He has smart, well contemplated opinions and only wants the music to shine. His ability to emphasize and deepen the songs with his drumming is always a major factor to our sound. There’s an important chemistry between he and I as musicians that’s always paramount in a permanent member.
Nate changed everything with his multi-instrumentalist abilities. He became a gateway for us to try whatever we want. We’re still a three piece band, but Nate can slay on the guitar, beef up the bass and change every song with the keys. For such a small group, we have nearly endless possibilities.
Do you collaborate with them on songwriting or do you write all the songs yourself?
Branden Daniel: When Nate joined the group and our bond began to form, we added keys. So, when I would come to the band with songs, they would start to change in the jamming process. Then ideas began to pour out of Matt and Nate. We collaborate in this way often. I used to be very focused on writing the music individually and having 100 percent of that responsibility, but it’s not important to me anymore. If I write something, and it is improved by the band’s contributions, that’s great, and then they’re considered co-writers.
What is the songwriting process?
Branden Daniel: No one uses voicemail anymore, it’s really a lost art to be able to leave an articulate and effective message for someone. I still have voicemail, so I call myself and I leave my ideas on my voicemail. I try to be as provocative as possible, very soft, sexy messages. Then I listen to the voicemail and if it moves…then I know the song is solid.
Are you and band originally from Seattle?
Branden Daniel: Matt and I are both native Seattleites. Nate is a sun bum from Phoenix that has some strange affinity for the wet seasons of Seattle. I think we’d all prefer to live by the beach in some sunny part of the world, but then we’d probably never want to leave.
How has the sound of Seattle influenced the band?
Branden Daniel: Seattle hasn’t influenced our sound, except that rain is good for creativity. I don’t like hearing locals complain when our rainy months start. Sure, it might be gloomy, but have you ever peed in the rain? It’s incredible, can’t be beat and it inspires me.
Any bands/singers in particular that have left an impression on you or the other band members?
Branden Daniel: Well I can’t speak for the band because they have terrible taste. My personal favorites change all the time. For instance, 10 years ago I would have said Bob Dylan, Iggy Pop, Kurt Cobain, maybe John Lee Hooker. Now you’re more likely to catch me listening to George Michael, ELO or Thee Oh Sees.
In the official PR, it states your sound is constantly evolving, can you explain how that has happened since you formed the group. The band has also dabbled in R&B. Is that changed as well?
Branden Daniel: Well, the Official PR is written by me and I can’t write. R&B is a thrilling thing to pull off. Unfortunately, it is challenging for us and so it hasn’t stayed with us. Early on with our first record, it is was important to us to get some booties moving in the audience, and we did that with R&B-inspired garage rock. Any evolving that’s happened lately has been from us focusing on our own abilities and natural inclinations. We pay attention to the audience and how they react to new material as well. If the audience’s response matches how we feel about the new music, then we know we have a keeper and that’s what happened with “In Light”.
Why psychedelic rock/pop?
Branden Daniel: I wish it wasn’t considered psych rock, but it’s better than being called “Blues Rock”. “Psych Pop” is how we identify our sound at the moment, but that’s because it sounds appropriate and somewhat expansive. It’s hard to define and leaves us a lot of room to surprise new ears.
Why are you releasing just a single instead of another EP? Do you have a strategy in mind?
Branden Daniel: I released several EPs early on but once we recorded a full album the intention was to do another. As an Independent, recording a series of singles throughout a year is a viable way for us to keep people interested. The intention is to put 2-3 more singles out this way and then compile them with a few more unreleased tunes for our next LP.
Is Paul McCartney a big influence since there is a lot of mention in the PR about you playing bass only on the single, that is correct and why?
Branden Daniel: The Hofner (Beatles Bass) that I played on the “In Light” recording is a favorite of ours because of it’s great intonation. It’s a three-quarter bass size and has relatively light gage strings, so the action is easy and a lot of fun for a guitarist like me. When you hear the slide guitar part in “In Light” you wouldn’t think it was a bass, let alone a Semi Hollowbody Hofner bass, that’s what’s fun about it to us. Our producer suggested the slide part and we didn’t want any guitar on the track, so we used a pitch shifter and we were surprised by the result.
It seems like a lot of your music is getting licensing for various media. What part of the overall plan to market the music?
Branden Daniel: Licensing was an unexpected surprise that has really been our bread and butter. I don’t write songs with movies, video games and reality TV in mind, but if they like our final product and use it, we’re more than happy to share. It’s a strange time that we’re in with record sales being what they are for everyone but a select few. When you get paid for music that is real and unique to your life, you’re grateful. It allows us to keep going Independently if necessary which is liberating. Every placement we’ve had brings new listeners to our music, but we’ve had more fans find us through radio play than licensing.
How important is social media to your success? Clearly the band has a lot of ambition.
Branden Daniel: We do our best to communicate with our audience, but we’re very unaware of what practices are effective. It’s fun to interact with people who enjoy your stuff, but I’m no Ashton Kutcher. Too much time spent on the inter webs takes away from our creative time with music, so we try to stay focused. That said, we’ll always keep people up to date with what we’re doing next and maybe post a silly pic here and there.
How did the band come to work with well-known industry producers? The band seems to be have powerful connections.
Branden Daniel: We’ve been lucky and have learned a lot from the producers we’ve worked with. Tom Biller, our current producer, was a friend of our former band member. We love working with Tom. He’s crazy talented and he has an intimate knowledge of how we work and what to do with our sound. Getting the right producer is as difficult as adding the right band member.
Has the band toured yet? Do you plan on touring again? Does the band have a favorite state/country they have enjoyed or found interesting more than other places and why?
Branden Daniel: There are plans to tour in Late Winter/Early Spring 2015. We used to tour 2-3 times a year and have had a lot of interesting experiences. Touring reveals all inner band weaknesses and creates immeasurable growth for your live show. The best shows end up being the smallest shows in the smallest towns you visit. People in small towns are very uninhibited at live shows because they’re less common. We had a great time in Rapid City, South Dakota a couple of years back. We showed up after a grueling 13-hour drive on frozen streets thick with ice. Loaded our gear into this basement of a theater where there was an artist commune, spoken word performances, antiques, vintage clothing, paintings etc. When we set up, the room filled and people came off their hinges right there with us. There was slam dancing, break dancing, whatever that horrible “ska dance” is, but it was great. It’s good to know that you can do that with people, it’s good to know that they’re out there waiting for fun.
Photo Credit: Kelly O’Neil