Chevelle’s Pete Loeffler: I Don’t Want to Limit Myself to Heavy Rock Anymore – Interview
Chevelle returned Friday (March 5) with their NIRATIAS album, their first new offering in five years. It's a vibrant and more well-rounded record, pulsing with the heaviness and intensity we've come to expect, but textured with more melodic moments that reflect some of their earlier sounds.
We spoke with Chevelle frontman Pete Loeffler about the record, and he revealed one of his new approaches that flavored this record and perhaps changed how he'll work moving forward. We also got his insights on how space travel and themes from his childhood came full circle to inspire the record.
The singer also discusses how the current single "Self Destructor" became a prescient idea over the course of the pandemic, we get his take on what having extra time to work on the new album meant and Pete also discusses delving into film work. Check out the chat in full below.
I know this record was written pre-pandemic but how wild has it been to see “Self Destructor” become essentially modern day commentary over this past year?
It’s a trip, isn’t it? It’s weird how that happens, but that song was written in 2019 for sure and then the pandemic hit in February-ish. I remember hearing in February that something was going on, and I had actually gone on vacation to Florida to the Keys, but we came back from vacation and recorded that song “Self Destructor” and four other [songs] in March and by March it was ramping up. So we flew home from Pasadena.
But yeah, that song structure is almost a trip man. It’s almost six minutes long and it just deals with science deniers and conversations I’ve had with anti-vaxxers and flat earthers and things like that, so it’s kind of a trip that that song came out during the pandemic.
It’s been interesting over this past year to see the opinions of friends and family and realizing there are a lot of people that don’t necessarily believe in science. What has that been like to see the reactions this past year with this now being a very mainstream topic that everyone’s got an opinion on?
The country is divided. We see it on the news, if you watch the news, and the pandemic didn’t help. I have family members I haven’t spoken to in months, so I would imagine there are a lot of friends who are clashing as well. But we all want to be safe, right? We all want to be healthy, wealthy and wise, right? But when it comes to getting together in large groups … fuck man, I want to get back to it more than most people cause that’s what we do. We throw these massive parties in theaters and play at festivals. But we all want to be safe, and I guess that’s one thing we can all agree on when we do get to talk.
But it’s just hard with friends and families because we all have differing opinions. I have friends who have never vaccinated their kids. But I have one, I have a 6-year-old, and for me I can’t talk about this certain topics with those people and now I don’t even see them because of social distancing and I know the country is opening up and stuff and that’s cool cause I want to get back to work as well, but it’s definitely put a strain on a lot.
Chevelle, "Self Destructor"
This album delves into your fascination with space travel. I wanted to get your take on some of the challenges that we face with space travel and what were some of the things that fascinated you the most as you dug into this topic?
I started going down the wormhole a bit on YouTube. And with space travel, it’s not just the distance that’s risky. There’s the mental side of it — and we talked about social distancing. If you’re in a rocket it could take 7 or 8 months to get to Mars possibly depending on when you go. So the mental side of it is just fascinating.
They’ve already had these things they tried in the desert where they had these pods where people tried to live sustainably for a year and that had its own issues. And then you have the radiation that permeates the ship and as soon as you get out of the earth’s atmosphere you’re exposed in space. So we’ve got to figure out how to keep the human body from getting bombarded with radiation and various things like that.
We have the smartest people working on this and in order to be an interplanetary species we need to try to jump over to the next huge body. I find it fascinating, and I feel like there’s gotta be a way to do it, whether it’s surrounding the hull of the ship in water which stops a lot of the deadly rays from coming through. It’s just so sci-fi. I love it. I can’t get enough of it. With technology we’re getting ever closer.
Take me down the rabbit hole a little bit. What were some of the things you were reading or watching that put you in the headspace for this album?
It’s funny, it’s like things from my childhood have come around full circle. I read a lot of Ray Bradbury when I was a kid, so like the Martian Chronicles and things like that. And to have a kid, it kind of gets you excited about your past as well. You delve back into things from your youth.
So I came across Ray Bradbury and I read through some of it and I got some of it as a book on tape so I could relive it while I’m doing other things. I’d listen to Martian Chronicles and it was pretty awesome. And so as I’m looking at the covers of these things and as I’m looking at it I’m remembering this artist named Boris Vallejo who dabbled in a lot of different things, but he did some children’s art and I had this massive book as a kid. So I came across that again and thought this would really fit with what we’re doing.
So we contacted him and this is how we came up with the cover. He was all for it, so he sent us like 30 or 40 different cover options to go through and see if anything would fit and we narrowed it to five before going with the cover that exists now with the girl on the front with the briefcase and she’s going off.
Chevelle, NIRATIAS Album Artwork
I’m just really proud with this album. It’s not like we just came off tour and plowed through and went right into the studio and did the same old thing that we used to. I hope that our fans like that. We took twice the amount of time to produce this album, so hopefully it has more of a well-rounded response. I hope people dig it and ultimately that’s why we are still doing it.
I’m pouring over the riffs and the ideas more now, and I just don’t know if I could go back to doing a record every two years. Yes that’s a long time but you do so much in between that that you can’t just focus. If touring never came back I could put out a record every two years. I could do that cause it’d be all I was working on.
One of my favorite things you posted during the recording was on the final day and it looks like you’re balancing on a skateboard deck on a canister while laying down the guitar for the song. I was curious about your skateboarding past and what other perhaps hidden talents you might have.
That was like a skateboard you can set on a wheel and it’s good for balance and it was just something I was messing around with. And I’m mostly just doing longboard at this point but when I was a kid, I was just hugely into skateboarding. It was all the Bones Brigade and then Tony Hawk was the top and I go way back watching the innovators. But I skated all the way through until about the time we hit the road.
I skated til I was 19 or in my early 20s, and I don’t know if a lot of people know this but I was serious at one point that I either wanted to go that route and try to be a pro or be in a rock band. I was actually thinking about breaking out some of the old VHS tapes and start posting some of my fun times of me on a ramp or whatever. I could share it on social media for content. But I’m such a fan and I’ll still sit on YouTube and watch old skate videos from Matt Hensley on 8th Street or whatever. There’s just no end to it.
Now you’ve got Jaws who’s the skater who does the biggest drops out there and it’s still fascinating and something that will probably be with me forever, but I cannot wait to get my kid on a skateboard.
There was more writing with this album beyond what's on the record and challenges presented along the way ...
We kind of went more melodic on this album, at least to me anyway. When I compare it to The North Corridor, that record is super screamy and heavy and it’s really kind of angry album, which I guess is where I was at at the time. But this album to me was going back to the more melodic stuff like Hats Off to the Bull or even Wonder What’s Next. So to me it felt like some of those tracks are what we used to do.
But ultimately it’s music, and I like to sing along to my favorite bands so I was getting back to that. Barresi was saying, “You have many different facets, so what do you want to do on this one?” He sent us back to the drawing board many times and it was a long journey. It was not easy. But ultimately what we came back with he loved and he captured it.
I actually want to put out the demos to this album, which I think would be cool. I wonder if people would want to hear those, because some of the songs didn’t change at all. We just kept working and he said, “Keep writing, keep writing.” He just pushed us to keep doing better and better.
For this album, and I know it’s more melodic while still being heavy, but I saw where you wrote more on a piano and I wondered how it affected or perhaps changed your approach?
I wrote a lot for this album over time and there’s a lot of stuff we haven’t used. We may or may not and it’ll probably have to be reworked because as time goes on my tastes change.
But the piano was something I started playing as a kid. We all had to take piano lessons in my family, so I was doing recitals when I was 7, 8, 9 years old. And that was the perfect way to introduce your kid to eight octaves of notes. But with this whole album with [producer Joe] Barresi we were definitely searching for stuff, so I went home and was like, “I just want to see where this takes me.”
So I think there’s going to be more of that in the future. I don’t want to limit myself to just playing on a guitar and just heavy rock anymore. There are a lot of new changes coming with the band and some things I can’t talk about, but Chevelle dances a line. We can play with heavier bands and we can play with some lighter alternative bands.
I guess it’s a good thing to not have to play to too much of a label. I would love to have a community sort of like the punk community has, but it’s just not the way it turned out. I have very few friends in the hard rock scene. I have acquaintances, and I would love to be closer to people, but you’re in and out of festivals and in and out of places, but I wish it was a bigger community. I’ve asked people to work with us and play on our albums and have been turned down so many times that I stopped asking.
In the punk community, it’s such a family. But I’m getting to know the dudes in Rise Against really well. It’s a cool thing to have friends in the biz. I have acquaintances so it’s a new thing where I want to be reaching out more.
Did I catch that you were doing some soundtrack work as well?
I’ve had some offers and the way that some of my other work is going it’s not heavy rock. So I’m going down the road of trying some other things for the future. And possibly if it doesn’t work out I’ll just compile all of this into a soundscape sort of record you know.
If I sing on it, it’s a little more marketable than if I don’t. But as you see, I’m trying some spoken word poem stuff on the end of this album. So I’m just trying to do things that we haven’t done before. Honestly, it’s just really exciting when I do other things and it’s also more fun to dabble with other instruments right now. I guess I’ll always be a guitarist but I have other things, too, that I want to do.
We have a song coming out in a movie coming up soon and the info on that will be released fairly soon.
With Dean leaving, we've got Kemble Walters coming in to play with the band. I wanted to give you a chance to share a little background on the relationship there, what he brings to the band and how it’s going to be bringing a new person into the fold when you can return to the stage.
Kemble’s a great dude and we’ve rehearsed a few times together and it’s gone really well. He’s going to be taking over bass duties when we can get back out there. We got to know him on his other project, Aeges, when we toured with them. He’s just a cool cat and easy to hang with, super chill, Vegan. He likes beer, and I like beer. So looking forward to hanging out and talking some shit. He’s a good cat so he’s going to be picking up the bass guitar for us and I can’t wait.
Looking at your social media, I saw you post about Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid” being a “mood elevator,” but also that you’re starting to read Gary Numan autobiography, so there’s some broad tastes there. That said, I wanted to know what’s your go-to party song that never fails to lift you up.
I jump around quite a bit but if people are honest, their iTunes account is probably full of different styles. They may not want to say it and may stick to one genre, which is also cool, but yes I’m a guitarist but when we have a party at the house, it’s usually ‘80s music. It’s Depeche Mode. It’s Tears for Fears. And people may not believe but it’s also The Cure.
But then you know I have my heavy side. I had my Pantera summer where I learned to play power chords as a kid. I’ve probably been playing guitar since I was 12 or 13 and picked up an acoustic. And as soon as I got an electric, it was all about that. I run the gamut I guess. I like a lot of different types of music with strong vocalists.
Thanks to Chevelle's Pete Loeffler for the interview. You can also view other interviews concerning the new record via Loudwire Nights here and here. The band's new album, NIRATIAS, is out today (March 5), and is available to purchase here (As Amazon affiliates, we earn on qualifying purchases). Be sure to keep up with the band via their website, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts.