Interview: Chris Littler of Chamber Band

From the title alone, you probably realized this isn’t a normal kind of article for Game Knight Reviews. This is the first music interview on the site and for one very good reason. Chamber Band’s debut album, Deities, is chock full of D&D. Yes, you read that right. 🙂

Chris Littler dropped me a note a couple of weeks ago about their album and I was immediately smiling. Nowhere else have I seen songs with titles “Lawful Neutral,” “Constitution,” “Yeenoghu,” and more! If you want to take a break now and check it out, you can stream the whole thing at the band’s Bandcamp site. Don’t worry I’ll wait…

Back already? You can read my review of the album itself over at BlogCritics.org, but I wanted to get a bit more detail about how the album came about. What is the gaming connection between Chamber Band and these lyrics?

Well, Chris was kind enough to answer my questions and here we go…

Chamber Band - Deities coverQ: How did the five of you meet?

I met Anthony first. In New York. He and his brother saw me doing a solo show at the Living Room. This was three years ago. I’d just moved there for this insane job and playing these little ditties was my way of blowing off steam and feeling like I was still an artist. We were pretty much friends by the end of the night, and after that the others joined organically. There’s a strong Sarah Lawrence element in the band. Three out of the five of us went to the most liberal school in America. We’re pretty much Rage Against the Machine, is what I’m getting at.

Q: Did the gaming come first or the music?

I’ve been a gamer my whole life. I think that’s a generational thing. I’m the Super Nintendo generation. It came out at the perfect time. And I’m from Arizona, so gaming replaced outdoor sports – outdoor anything, really. The music came later. And the two didn’t mingle in my mind until this.

Q: Where did the name Chamber Band come from?

We had really strange criteria, I remember. I wanted something that sounded antiquated. Yet present. Something I could yell at a bar and people would hear it clearly and remember it. It’s also a name that promises the exact opposite of what we deliver. So it’s a mix of good and bad engineering. I knew it was the right name because it made me laugh.

Q: Do you game together regularly?

We don’t play DnD together, really. I’ve got my own groups for that. We definitely have a band that feels like a family, but even families have to be away from each other. We play a lot of Catan. Anthony is currently on a hot streak. He has a business degree, so he’s got the upper hand on the sheep for wheat trade. He’s been obliterating us on this tour. He’s really friendly about it, though. The friendliest baron you’ll ever meet. Or maybe you’ve met a lot of nice barons.

Q: Some of the stories in your songs definitely sound like they came out of a gaming night or two…

I could see that.

Q: Do RPG sessions turn into songs?

Well, no. I mean. It’s more like the RPG sessions have given me the vocabulary, which I then turned into songs. I think if Ellen and I were just singing about stuff that happened to fictional characters, the whole thing would feel empty.

Q: What’s your process, then?

For Deities? That was being holed up in my apartment in Los Angeles for a few weeks, feeling sorry for myself. I’d had a bunch of songs left over from a musical that had fallen apart, and so I was playing those, wondering what to do with them. I sang Yeenoghu over one of the parts, and thought that was really funny. There you go. Yet another decision that came out of finding something funny. That’s my version of the smell test, I guess. Anyway, I sat on that for a car ride, and when I got back to Los Angeles, I started writing songs about ex-girlfriends, and trying to come to terms with my own shortcomings and bad decisions, and instead of appealing to God for guidance, I appealed to the gods. And the rest of it fell into place the more I wrote, based on years and years of playing clerics and druids.

Chamber BandQ: Where have you been playing lately?

I’m in Arizona right now, actually. We just finished a tour of the southwest. A mini-tour. We called it our Mino-Tour.

Q: How was Comic-Con?

Insane. We should have gone to more than we did, but for most of the band this was their first time in San Diego. Which is, you know. San Diego. I knew it was over when they saw the beach. I mean, it makes sense. We were flying in from New York, so the idea of walking down narrow passageways with people dressed up in crazy costumes is like, “Guys, we could have just gone to Williamsburg.” We definitely got a good taste of it, though. We’re planning on going back next year. Every year, probably. We played Gam3rCon, which is down the street. They have entire rooms devoted to playing tabletop games, Super Smash Brothers. That appealed to us. I found a Dreamcast and almost missed our show.

Q: Are you heading to Gen Con?

I wish. God I wish. I talked to them and we had a really solid idea, but in the end it turned out that what we wanted to do we couldn’t do with the time and resources we have right now. The band is going into writing mode again. That’s important to us. They were really accommodating and wanted us to make it, so we’re talking about what needs to happen to get us there next year.

Q: So you’re working on a second album?

Yeah. It’s not DnD. We’re ready to move on. I could probably write another album of DnD songs, honestly. I just feel like we’d get diminishing returns. I’d be digging up bargain bin deities.

Q: What’s the response been to your music so far?

Overwhelming. People are amazing. Just in general. Though none of my ex-girlfriends have Facebook messaged me to say they understand and accept me for who I am, so I guess I wasn’t obvious enough. Maybe I should have included less mythical beasts. Or more. I take it back. I should have included more. I’m going back to the studio.

Q: Who are your musical influences?

It’s hard. I know who I listen to, but not sure who the band is emulating. Not consciously. Beck and Ben Folds are there, pretty blatantly. The Decemberists hit me hard in high school, though sometimes they’re too close to what we’re doing for me to enjoy them anymore without that little nagging voice comparing us to them. Which sucks. Radiohead, Coldplay, the White Stripes. I find myself actively emulating acts that I grew up with, and know personally, because it seems like an achievable level of emulation, if that makes any sense.

Chamber Band 2Q: What are your favorite D&D campaigns?

You know, I’m no great scholar. Of DnD, I mean. I’m a great scholar of many other varied, interesting things that would blow your mind if you heard me talking about them. Just not DnD. So when I DM, I’m using it as a chance to build a world with the players and get better at thinking fast on my feet. I feel like if they have to do it, I should have to do it, too, and I don’t want to be consulting someone else’s sourcebook. If I make it up, even if it’s just the most basic details, it tends to stick in my mind better.

Q: So beyond D&D and Settlers, what do you like to play?

There’s not a lot, any more. I told myself when this album came out that I would hunker down and play the twenty games that I missed that my friends are shaming me over and spoiling via Twitter, but there just hasn’t been any time. I’m watching someone play through The Last of Us on YouTube right now. That’s what my life has become. Watching someone else play games over the internet.

Q: What do you all do when you’re not gaming or making music?

Working, I suppose. New York is probably the worst and best city to be creating music in. You have all the resources in the world, but never the time or money to take advantage of them. It’s a constant struggle. Struggle is the wrong word. It’s
a challenge. It’s like having a smelly little bird on your shoulder that’s asking you every day, “Do you really want to be doing this? Are you suuuuuuuure?” Then it takes a shit on you and you wake up the next morning with ten new songs in your head.

Q: Any advice for fellow gamers trying to get into the music biz?

For me, the best stuff comes from when I’m writing the stuff I don’t really want to think about. When I’m committing to detailing the nastiest, darkest parts of my soul in front of total strangers. I’m a coward. I was only able to do it by framing it in this language. By tossing fantasy creatures and gods into the mix, I thought it might stop people from getting what I’m really saying about myself. It hasn’t. Which was a terrible surprise at first, but now I’ve accepted it. And it’s freeing, because lord knows there’s an endless amount of skeletons in the closet. It’s a big closet. I have a walk-in. They’re all very comfortable in there.

——————————

I have to say a huge thank you to Chris for not only contacting me in the first place for the album, but for answering all my questions!

If you want to know more about Chamber Band and their album Deities, I encourage you to…

The album’s a blast!

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