It’s a strange venue, the Chesaning Showboat in Chesaning, Michigan. It’s a 74 degree summer night as the Shiawassee River runs right behind the stage of this 6,000 seat outdoor venue. Egypt Central is about to hit the stage. In this part of the country, they are pretty well-known as local radio stations Z93.3 and Banana 101.5 have had “White Rabbit” in steady rotation since March.
Hours before they hit the stage, however, Blog Rocking Beat caught up with Joey Chicago (Bass) and Blake Allison (Drums) for a follow up piece to our Down the Rabbit Hole with Egypt Central feature.
Blog Rocking Beat (BRB): At times, you guys have worked as a five piece band with Heath (Hindman, guitar) or Chris (D’Abaldo, guitar). When you work as a four-piece, what difference does that make in the overall chemistry of the band?
Blake Allison (BA): Things tend to go more smoothly. It’s like having fewer cooks in the kitchen. We pass ideas around much faster. It’s easier for the four of to see the conception of a song and consider each other’s influences when we are developing that song. I think it makes us better.
Joey Chicago (JC): It has also opened up a world that we were always interested in, too, with Blake programming so much. It allows us to use so much of what is considered modern music through the computer. Having an extra guitar player who also wants to put himself in there and be heard, it placed limitations on what we could use in term of the candy we were putting in the tracks for this record. Instead of trying to come up with two awesome guitar parts in every spot and trying to get them to work together, we used one primary voice for the guitar and used the programming and other things to really fill out the sound.
Blake has been programming for 10 years now and it was nice to finally use some of that programming so he doesn’t feel like he’s been doing it for no reason. It’s hard to say, “Yeah, that sounds cool, man. Maybe we’ll use it on the fifth record, because we have 27 guitar players and they all get solos before we get to the programming!”
BRB: What are we talking about in terms of programming?
BA: I use Pro Tools and Reason to create tracks. I’ll sequence drum beats and synth parts. We’ll also use some special sound effects to fill out the sound. At one point in our set, we literally took every cool audio clip from the movie Constantine. We’d have an hour-and-a-half set and play about four songs and a quarter of the movie.
JC: I tried to get him to dress up as Constantine, but he wouldn’t do it.
BRB: As the rhythm section of Egypt Central, how do you approach those duties? Does the whole song just come together at once? Or do you make a conscious effort to do something solid when the guitars or programming are doing something more textural? How does that work for you?
JC: Honestly, most of the rhythms in the band come from Jeff (James, guitar) or Blake. They are rhythm masters. Both of them are like walking catalogs of what rhythms have been done before. I think I just subconsciously write other people’s songs. When I show something new to them, they say, “Oh, that’s cool. Such-and-such band made a lot of money off that.”
We discuss things a lot, though. With bass, there are so many choices. Should we go straight with it? Should we do something textural? Other times, however, like with “White Rabbit,” for instance, Blake came into it with a specific rhythm that became the bridge.
BRB: Let’s talk about the comics for White Rabbit. Joey, you did those?
JC: What you’ve seen thus far is sort of a preview to the comic that will come out sometime around Christmas. A friend of ours, Grady Hollis, is writing it with me. It’s an epic story. We are really, really excited about it. We’d been bouncing around ideas as a band for months. To see it come to fruition and see how it’s going to play out is really cool. It’s something fans don’t usually get.
We are doing a good job of making it its own thing. It’s not like a Kiss comic book, where it’s just pages of them at a show meeting with fans, but somebody drew it. This is a whole separate story that ties into the personalities of the band. Most of it is metaphorical, which is nice because it allows the comic to be its own separate entity. We’ve got some stuff coming up at ComicCon and things like that to help the comic book out.
BRB: Was the comic idea something that preceded the album? Or did you develop the idea in parallel with the album?
JC: It all came together at the same time when we started to figure out the characters we were writing about. The story played to itself. We’ve always been that way, though: let art show itself to you; don’t try to force it. This is just one of those times when it showed itself and we found a way to make it happen.
BRB: Writing on the road. How does that work for you guys? Do you write on the road or do you work mainly in a rehearsal space?
BA: We all have our iPhones. Those work as good idea takers. You just hum the idea in there. We do have a Pro Tools rig out here with us. A few of the songs from White Rabbit came from stuff we put together out here on the road. In fact, “The Drug” was written completely on the road.
JC: Imagine that. A song about coke was written on the road. ‘Hey guys – I GOT AN IDEA! I GOT AN IDEA! I WAS UP ALL NIGHT THINKING ABOUT IT! IT’S GOT A DRUM BEAT THAT JUST NEVER STOPS!!!
BA: We really have so many back-cataloged ideas. What usually happens is that we sit around and, like Joey said about the art showing itself to us, we wait until there’s this moment where Joey’s lyric that he just wrote works perfectly with this guitar riff that Jeff is playing. We’re in tune enough with each other that we can see how these pieces work together as a cohesive unit. Those are the moments you wait for.
I would say it was very rare that on either record we said, ‘Okay, let’s write this song like this.’ To some degree “White Rabbit” was done like that, but that was still mainly put together from lyrics and riffs we had back cataloged. While we’re out here, we don’t really lay it down and send it off to people. We just have groups of lyrics and riffs that we collect then mash up later.
It’s either that or someone gets really upset and just writes a song about it. It’s like every rock artist writes at least one song about going home, because they were on the road and just really wanted to see their girlfriend.
JC: The really lonely bands have three of those songs.
BA: Yeah, they write a record called Home.
JC: … or Lonely. Maybe even Homely.
BRB: Let’s talk about the bus breakdown–specifically the feeling that you get when you know you aren’t going to make the show.
JC: It feels like it’s time to drink. It feels like we need to get on Facebook and apologize, then go back to drinking.
BA: The messages start to get more endearing and missing more vowels the more drunk we get.
Honestly, though, it’s really hard. We hate to let down any fans who are coming to see us. Then there’s the practical side of things, like you don’t get paid. Tours have budgets and when you don’t get paid, it’s harder to keep the budget. So the goal is to not miss shows no matter what.
BRB: How do you guys feel about the festival shows like Dirtfest?
JC: They’re really cool. We’ve got one coming up in New York called Sausagefest, which sounds horrible. Don’t get me wrong, I love sausage, but the whole cliché that goes with it makes it sound like it’s gonna be kinda sweaty and hairy for a couple of days.
BA: It’s a bunch of dude bands, too… like man’s man bands.
JC: I hear that between sets, singers from opposing bands mud wrestle.
BRB: And at the end they crown a Sausage King who gets a belt and everything.
BA: Yeah, a belt made out of sausage links, like an ammo belt, but filled with sausage links!
BRB: What newer bands out there inspire you right now?
JC: I really like Wiz Khalifa. I like the beats on that record. I like his style. It’s like he’s half-gangster. As far as rock, we were jamming out to Deadfall Road the other night. Those are our boys from Memphis. Blake’s been working on that for awhile. It’s nice to see those guys as young kids, then watch them really come into their own.
BA: It’s kind of different to like a band that is full of people who are younger than you. We’re all twenty… four, so when you see bands that are younger than that and you really like them it’s like, ‘Is it okay for me to like this?’
JC: I might have to go all Tonya Harding on one of those kids.
BA: I think A Day To Remember is a good younger band that I really like.
JC:: I like that record that D.R.U.G.S. put out. It’s not necessarily the band, though. John Feldmann as a producer continues to impress me at the highest level. That record is incredible; you can tell it’s John. From The Used, to Story of the Year, to Atreyu, I just love the production on all those records. JOHN, IF YOU READ THIS, CALL US UP!
BRB: What’s your favorite song to play live?
JC: I personally like “Ghost Town.” I like it because the meaning sort of embodies who we are. “Kick Ass” is fun to play, too. The people seem to love it and really throw down when we play it.
BA: Consistently, all the new songs are a lot of fun to play. I can’t say I have a favorite, but I know which one I like to play even though it’s like a mile-long sprint for me.
BRB: “The Drug”?
BA: Yeah, “The Drug”. Every time we play it, I think, ‘I’ve got this one!’ Then after we come out of the first chorus and go into the second verse and it’s like, ‘Oh, man.’ And as the summer goes on, the stages are just getting hotter.
BRB: Maybe you should try playing it with sausages.
JC: You’d have to get the long ones for the flop factor.
BA: Like those ones that are so big you have to cut them. It would be like playing with a meat cane or a meat boomerang.
BRB: As you tour across the country, do you notice that crowds are different in different regions?
JC: We like playing all over because of that. It’s strange how you can be big in one area, then drive an hour and not have hit radio there. For instance, we do well in Baltimore, but we’re just getting started in Pittsburgh and they are not that far apart.
BA: We were just in Flint and Fort Wayne, which are both really big spots for us, but if you drive over to Chicago, we are just getting started there. But that’s the reason you take it out on the road.