Bringing Rock’n’Roll to the Post-EDM Generation: An Interview with Chase Simpson of The Shelters

November 12, 2016
The Shelters group photo

photo credit: Brantley Gutierrez


Rock and roll is alive and well with The Shelters, playing The Rex Theater on November 18th as part of the Alt Nation Advanced Placement Tour. Since releasing their self-titled LP in June, The Shelters’ hit single “Rebel Heart” has racked up over 3 million plays on Spotify. The Shelters’ energy makes it hard to sit still when you listen to them, and you’re liable to wake up with one of their ear-worm riffs stuck in your head.

Band member Chase Simpson grew up in the shadow of Tom Petty—an experience that shows up in the meticulousness and work ethic that fills their music with fun licks and subtle surprises. Simpson called in from the road to The Cut to discuss bringing rock and roll to a new generation of music listeners, curiosity as creative inspiration, and touring with Tom Petty.

The Cut: Chase, thanks so much for taking the time today to speak with The Cut. My name is Mark Egge, and I’m a columnist for The Cut. We are Carnegie Mellon University’s (first and only) music magazine.

The Shelters are playing Pittsburgh on November 18th. When fans come to your show, what should they expect? There are three bands on the bill.

Chase Simpson: It’s interesting. The first night of the tour, we headlined. Last night in Chicago, we were first, and The Hunna headlined. Everyone’s just rotating. It’s like, if you were first, you’re going to go second. If you were second, you can go third, you know? And it keeps going. I’m not sure where we’ll land in Pittsburgh—it’s a roll of the dice when we get there—but the two shows we’ve had so far on the tour have been wonderful. You know, the crowds are lining up for doors, so if you’re the first of three it’s still full. It’s been really rockin’.

What to expect from us is everything on our record, but maybe a bit grittier and grungier. We tend to amp things up live—not really even intentionally, it just happens.

TC: I’ll be honest, I hadn’t heard of you guys beforebut now that I’ve listened to your LP album, I’m hooked. Your energy is awesome, and your guitar riffs are super catchy. I’m expecting the live show is going to be a really fun time.

CS: Oh, yeah. And lots of guitars. There’s lots of guitars. You’ll be happy.

TC: What does the songwriting process look like for the band?

CS: It comes in a few forms. It’s developed over the course of making that album. Basically, how the album was written was [that] Josh [Jove] and I were able to hide out in the studio. One of us would have an idea and we’d just start recording it, and we’d just start adding to it and taking away. We’d go, “Oh, this is making it better.” We spent hours and weeks and months and years in that studio . We’d have a guitar riff, and maybe a couple lines, and we’d just start going. And then we’d say, “Oh, let’s see what an organ sounds like,” or, “Let’s see what a snare drum sounds like,” or whatever. We’d just go.

Now that we’ve developed our songwriting a bit and our projection and engineering capabilities, we’re a little bit smarter. When you do that, sometimes you work really hard on a piece of shit. So, now I’ll come in with an acoustic guitar, and I’ll sing the band a song, or the band and Tom [Petty] a song, and they’ll go, “Alright, let’s do that,” or, “You should go back and work on that.” For the most part, now, Josh, or I, or both of us will have a song idea that’s, let’s say, 75 percent. Maybe I’ll have a chorus and the music, but I don’t have the words for the verses, or I have just the verses  but not the chorus line, but I have the music. If it’s strong enough, we’ll start recording it, because we’re lucky enough to be able to have full access to this wonderful studio, so we can just experiment a lot more than most people could.

TC: It sounds like what comes through on the album as spontaneous and breezy is actually the product of a lot of hard work and choices.

CS: Yeah, I mean there’s a lot of spontaneous stuff that’s really serendipitous, but it’s all just because we’re curious. I think the album is a product of our curiosity. Josh and I would set up a couple crazy guitar rigs in the live room, and we’d press record in the control room, and we’d go out there for four hours, not talk to each other, and literally play guitar and just make crazy sounds, and then go back and listen for a couple hours and find a 30 second piece of crazy-echo-clipped-out-reverb guitar fuzz, and that might have made it in the rave up of “Never Look Behind Ya” or the echo part of “Rebel Heart.” Things like that, to me, made the album what it is.

TC: You mentioned the studio you’re recording in. I understand that’s Tom Petty’s personal studio. How did that come about?

CS: Tommy was always a great supporter of mine musically. I’ve known him from my childhood. He knew that I was always into music, and any time he was around, I’d pick his brain about music. He was always super encouraging. I guess, when he started to see the more I got into it, and the more he saw that I was trying to pursue it professionally, the more he would encourage me. And the better I got, the more he’d get involved.

When [Josh, Sebastian, and I] started this band—we had all previously played in another band basically together, and that band fell apart. When that fell apart, everyone was really bummed, and everyone was going to go their own way. I had just met Josh, and we had this really great (I thought) chemistry between our guitar playing, how we wove together, and our styles. So, I called up Tommy, and he was like, “Look, you guys gotta start something new. You and Josh have something really great going—you guys should pursue that.”

So, I called Josh up and said, “Hey man, do you want to start something fresh? We’ll figure it out.” We just started getting together, and then we got Sebastian to come in, and we made a couple demos and showed them to Tommy.

He was like, “All right, all right, how about you guys come in and cut a track.” We cut our first track over there in the studio and it was infectious, just the energy of the young. Tommy, he wants to help carry the torch. Our curiosity and our passion and our eagerness got him excited, and you know, little by little, we earned our stripes over there. It wasn’t like, “Oh you can just use the studio whenever you want, all the time, just touch everything, all my mics and everything.” Little by little, we earned his respect, and it got where it is today, which is just a wonderful mentorship and friendship.

I like to think of it as, if I was in his position, and I saw some guys really trying to make it happen that I thought were great, it’s kinda what I hope…that one day I could do for someone.

TC: You mentioned the idea of passing the torch on. Obviously, Tom Petty has been making great rock and roll for many years, and you guys are the new generation. I think some people say, rock and roll is dead, or something that belongs to the older generation. How would you respond to that?

CS: There are not a lot of bands that are doing straight-up rock and roll anymore—I agree with that. But to me, I used to think, five or eight years ago, that everyone’s into electronic music. It’s hard getting people turned on to rock music. But now, there’s so few bands doing it.

For instance, it’s like rap music is your older brother’s music. Even a lot of that electronic music is getting old now. A lot of these young kids haven’t heard rock and roll. They didn’t grow up with it. I think our generation was the last generation to grow up on rock bands playing guitars, drums, and bass.

I grew up in the 90s. Most kids now, they didn’t grow up on Nirvana or Oasis. They’re growing up on EDM music. I actually think that we have a chance to grab their attention, because it’s something they haven’t seen. I feel that way during these opportunities we’ve had to play for 16-year-old kids. It’s like, I can see it in their eyes. They’re like, “Man, that’s fun!” They’re so used to the other stuff. I think we’re carving out our own spot, and I think we can hopefully get people turned back on to [rock].

I’m a firm a believer in just great music. I don’t really bother myself with genres. That’s something that, in our songwriting, I try to apply, and just listen to music. I just really feel that great music lives on and will always have a place.

TC: I like how you describe connecting to a younger generation that didn’t grow up with rock and roll.

CS: When I was learning guitar, it would be like, “Right now I like Nirvana because I’m 8 years old in 1998. Okay, who did he like? He liked this band, The Beatles.” That’s the way guitar players look back. They’re like, “Oh, Jimmy Page. Who did he like? He liked Muddy Waters.” We go back. I think that the younger generation doesn’t go back as far, which is why there’s less rock and roll in their blood at the moment. Hopefully that can change.

TC: You guys went out on tour with Tom Petty’s band Mudcrutch this summer. How was that?

CS: That was just an incredible experience. It was like being out on tour with your whole family. We happen to know those guys really well. It was fantastic. They have a wonderful crew. The shows were all big, sold-out shows with everyone there ready to have fun. That’s always the most exciting part–when you get there and the whole room is ready to have fun. You have so much fun. You don’t have to convince them to have fun. They’re there. They’re ready.

It was a really great experience and opportunity. I think we really grew as a band. It was definitely like we wanted to make Tommy proud and do our best. I think we did well, and everyone seems to really dig it.

TC: Were you able to connect with the Mudcrutch fans of the older generation?

CS: I think that’s one of the great things about our band, I like to think that our music is pretty universal. So, for them, they all grew up on that rock and roll. If a song reminds them of The Doors, we’re in tall cotton. I think it’s easy to connect to the rock and roll generation for us because we’re really inspired by that music. But I think, luckily enough, it translates. Most of the audiences we’ve played for, we’ve opened up for a lot of different styles of bands, and it’s all gone pretty well for us.

TC: As a final question—we’ve been talking about this generational shift from the old generation to the new generation, and playing music that spans generations. For The Shelters, what’s more important for your band’s success: the radio, or Spotify?

CS: The music business has changed so much. All those classic molds you had in your head about how things work aren’t how they work. Everything’s changing constantly.

Specifically, they’re both really important. There are two examples I can think of.

Spotify now has playlists that have millions of followers. We’ve been fortunate enough to be placed on a few of them. For instance, we’re a pretty unknown band, but “Rebel Heart” has three million plays because it got put on this rock playlist that has two million followers. It gives us such a big stage to stand on, and such a great opportunity to gain new fans. That’s something that never could have existed before. Now, of course, you’re not making any money from that, but what’s way more important than money is just gaining fans and gaining people who are going to come see you at all your shows.

Same thing for radio. We’re on this Alt Nation tour. Alt Nation has been so awesome to us. They’re just playing the hell out of Rebel Heart, and even a couple other songs, and it really shows, when you get to these towns. I’ve never been to Detroit, and when Rebel Heart came on, everyone’s singing along. It’s a crazy, wonderful feeling.

TC: Well said. Thanks for taking the time to talk with The Cut. We’re looking to being part of the crowd to welcome you and have fun with you on November 18th.

The Shelters play The Rex Theater with The Hunna and NIGHT RIOTS on Friday, November 18, 2016. Tickets are $16, or $18 at the door. Doors: 7:00 pm. Show: 8:00 pm.

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