Music Interview: No Chet is an island

By Katherine Fletcher

There are a couple of things you need to know about Kau’ai. First, it’s the oldest and northernmost of the main Hawaiian Islands–a paradise of various cocktails with colourful paper parasols and hula dancers mimicking the undulations of the ocean, the colour of which parallels the vibrant azure sky. Secondly, it’s the namesake of Chet’s long-awaited sophomore album.

If you’re a university student, chances are you’re more able to afford the alt-pop ensemble’s CD than a week’s vacation in the Pacific Ocean. Nevertheless, Chet’s music invokes the pleasantry of lying in a hammock and sipping back pina coladas. The guitar on Kau’ai recalls a ukulele while the organ and cello summon the feeling of walking barefoot on the beach at midnight and vocalist and guitarist Ryan Beattie’s deep, haunting voice adds a crestfallen element to the mix.

“What we are attempting to do is provide the melancholy right next to the bliss,” remarks Beattie. “They are both representing the melody and lyric and they become equals. That is sort of what Kau’ai is about, balance of the most awful things and the most innocent, beautiful things, much like the island paradise wrought with American culture.”

Chet are no strangers to island life ­–the band hails from Victoria. The laid-back sound of their music fits perfectly with the slower moving island lifestyle.

“I love the ocean, I’ve always lived near it,” Beattie says. “But there is something about an island that seems more romantic to me. You can read about bands and things that are happening in big cities, but it all seems to be a different country or something, another place.”

This separation from the rest of the nation may explain why some people don’t view the government town as a hotbed of musical activity. Although the public might not realize it yet, Victoria’s music scene is booming. With Hot Hot Heat enjoying an ever-increasing worldwide profile and bands like Frog Eyes and Run Chico Run garnering fans across the country, Victoria is poised to give Toronto a run for Canadian music supremacy. Of course, Chet is playing an important role in Victoria’s renaissance as well, since their 2002 debut The Tiger is in the Window, the band has shared stages with Modest Mouse, the aforementioned Frog Eyes and the highly acclaimed Arcade Fire.

“The music scene in Victoria is amazing,” Beattie says. “On this tour we’ve been promoting it as the Republic of Vancouver Island.  Not because we are separatist-elitist snobs, but because we are just very proud of the island and its connected art and music community.”

This community is evident in Chet’s members who were involved in several musical projects before Beattie and his brother Patrick conceived Chet along with friend and drummer Alison Therriault, who had virtually no drumming experience in the beginning. After their debut album, the trio became a quartet with the addition of cellist Hank Pine. Therriault and Pine were on set for the recording of Kau’ai, but have since departed from the group. Drummer Isaac Flaag and cellist Emily Gooden are accompanying the Beattie brothers on the tour.

“They live in Victoria, they are friends and we asked them to play,” explains Beattie of Flaag and Gooden’s involvement. “They fit perfectly. Also, they didn’t already play in other bands, which is a rarity in Victoria.”

Accompanying the release of Kau’ai is a disc from another of Beattie’s projects, Himalayan Bear.

“Himalayan Bear is sometimes just myself and sometimes several people,” he explains. “The record [Hive Fidelity Records] is releasing is an EP of Hawaiian songs and heartache songs that I wrote.  This will, I hope, conclude my hokey fixation with Hawaii.”

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