Chains of Love likes its retro pop imperfect
It’s a blustery Monday night, and two figures are hurriedly making their way towards an East Hastings storefront to escape the rain. One is Chains of Love frontwoman Nathalia Pizzaro, the other is the ’60s-pop-inspired group’s new, though temporary, bass player Karmin Poirier. Small talk is exchanged with the Straight in front of the shackled entrance while the singer makes a quick phone call. Before anyone gets too soaked, guitarist Felix Fung soon emerges from the building, unlocks the gate, and leads everyone into Little Red Sounds, the act’s headquarters and local producer Fung’s place of employment.
The aging building’s once-open spaces are primarily filled with analog recording gear, a drum kit, guitars, and stacks of amps. On one side of the room, though, there are a few couches, and over beers and sodas, it’s here that the combo explains how it ended up with its just-released debut LP, Strange Grey Days. While the band—which also includes keyboardist Henry Beckwith, drummer Steve Ferreira, and guitarist-vocalist Rebecca Marie Law Grey—is getting together this evening to jam one last time before a quick trip down the West Coast, its story developed over a series of Tuesdays.
Fung explains that the band was initially conceived as a studio project aiming to deliver classic pop tunes in the mould of the Ronettes and other AM-radio girl groups, and his goal became even more achievable once he hooked up with the sultry and smoky-voiced Pizzaro.
“Every engineer/producer guy has their Phil Spector dream, to do their wall of sound,” Fung admits between sips of cola. After the pair hooked up for the project, Fung cast his net towards a handful of seasoned local musicians he had come across over the years: Grey and original bassist Clint Lofkrantz were plucked from Fung’s goth act Mode Moderne. Beckwith moonlights in janglers Capitol 6; and Ferreira has pounded skins for Time Copz and Manic Attracts. (While Brian Nicol is the band’s current full-time four-stringer, Poirier is filling in for the time being.)
Shortly after forming in late 2010, Chains of Love began writing and recording every Tuesday during the rare chunks of free time available at Little Red Sounds. While following the template of ’60s radio pop, the troupe also arrived at its sound due to the time constraints, adopting a no bullshit, one-or-two-take policy when recording. This may occasionally leave things a little rough around the edges, but that’s just how the unit likes it.
“It’s a balance of slightly ‘out’ things,” Fung asserts of Chains of Love’s charm. “The guitar might not be the perfect guitar take, but we’ve got to get it done because the next idea might be exciting. Or we’re just running out of time.”
The soundsmith adds that years of working behind the boards for nitpicky artists has helped him see the value in appreciating a character-filled mistake over a perfect, though clinical, performance.
“What I notice about recording other people is that they’re hesitating all the time and second-guessing themselves—I don’t know if that makes anything better. Perfection is the enemy of good.”
Despite the self-imposed rush job, Strange Grey Days never comes across as half-baked. Following two terse seven-inch singles, the full-length kicks into high gear with opener “He’s Leaving (With Me)”, a Wrecking Crew–style soundscape mixing fretboard-bouncing bass lines, gorgeous backing vocals, shoe-shuffling drum beats, and layer upon layer of reverb. “Lately”, meanwhile, puts Beckwith’s key tinkling on display, placing a sassy and saturated organ line that recalls ? and the Mysterians’ “96 Tears” atop Pizzaro and Grey’s harmonious vocals. However sweet it sounds, the lead singer hints that the song wasn’t recorded as Chains of Love intended.
“If you listen to it, the piano is off by four or five notes in the intro. It wasn’t what Henry was supposed to play but eventually we realized it’s a fuck-up, but it sounds good. Whatever,” she says before pointing out her own minor foibles. “There are a couple parts in the songs where I’m a little bit flat.”
Whatever the singer believes she lacks in pitch, she makes up for with her powerfully emotive delivery. Whether playing the femme fatale on “He’s Leaving (With Me)” or sadly making a go at giving up on a beau on the sock-hop slow jam “Mistake Lover”, Pizzaro’s rich and commanding vibrato will have even the most hard-hearted weak in the knees. Having played guitar and bass in Manic Attracts, NatRat, and the Spreads, the performer relished the opportunity to put away her instruments, “put on a lot of eyeliner and just go for it”.
“I wanted it to be dramatic,” she continues. “I wanted to be able to go up on-stage and not just be singing like ‘I’m so cool’ and just standing there. You see footage of Tina Turner and Otis Redding and they’re fucking freaking out—I wanted to be able to freak out.”
Chains of Love will have plenty of time to get wild on the road this spring when it embarks on a month-long trip across Canada and the U.S. supporting local popsters Said the Whale. It’ll be the band’s longest tour to date, but chances are as soon as the group gets back, it’ll be back to its old tricks, laying down tracks one Tuesday at a time.
“This is Felix’s bread and butter. This is where we have the opportunity to do these great songs, and he has the equipment here,” Pizzaro says warmly as she looks around at her bandmates. “We always try and bring it back to Little Red Sounds.”