Last Friday, Chasms released their second full-length LP, The Mirage, via Felte Records. The album is an instant classic, channeling the inner sanctums of grief into a beautiful, meditative record that’s easy to lose yourself in.
In light of the album’s release, we had the chance to catch up with Jess Labrador and Sky Madden to discuss the process of evolution, the healing power of performance, and the interconnectivity of music.
Congrats on The Mirage! How does it feel to have it out in the world?
Jess: It’s pretty wild. We’ve been waiting so long, so it feels good. There’s been a lot of support, and more of a team behind this record. There’s more of an audience that we’ve established, and the team feels a bit more holistic, with multiple people involved.
The album is a shift from your previous sound – moving away from heavier, doomier sounds and incorporating more electronics and dub influences. What inspired the shift?
Jess: I think we’ve always been huge fans of electronic and dance music and we’ve always found ways to incorporate those elements into our music. I think the shift really happened when Sky showed me King Tubby – I remember thinking, “man, i really want to do something like that and really make it interesting.” Obviously shoegaze is an influence, but I didn’t want to write the same songs over and over. Every Chasms song is different, and we’re taking great care to make that the case. There’s something about dub that makes a great cross section between all the electronic music we like – techno and house – it somehow made it possible to infuse this sound into our music and keep the guitar and to explore effects. Dub just served as a bridge for all of that, something just clicked with it.
Sky: I know every artist likes to say how natural and organic their progressions are, and that’s very true, but I could not have expected that we would go this way, but it felt really natural and it feels really good.
Jess: I’ve been a fan of Basic Channel and Seefeel for a long time, but I didn’t understand that music was dubby until hearing King Tubby from Sky. I liked Seefeel coming at it from a shoegaze route and Basic Channel via techno, but I didn’t understand that this whole genre of dub techno existed. So it all clicked, having to work backwards from techno and going straight to the source, and shifting around from there through different generations of how the music has evolved.
It’s amazing to see how everything comes together, the older I get and the more I listen, it’s amazing to hear how everything is connected in a way, how slight variations can make a big difference on paper, but how organic and fluid music is deep down.
Jess: Yeah totally, and it felt so natural. We had the intention of making something dubby but had no idea how we would make that work at first. Whatever came out was us trying to figure that out.
Was there anything out of left-field that you were pulling from? Something that isn’t as apparent on first listen but that still inspired the process for The Mirage?
Jess: A lot of early 90s dance music, actually. Things like Orbital and Future Sound of London. I remember listening to that a lot and trying to recreate a lot of those drum patterns, but then I would try to slow them down. Not sure if that comes across though, can you tell?
Now that you mention it, I definitely think so – especially Future Sound of London. They have a record that’s much more textural and ambient as well, so I can definitely see where that connects.
Jess: I’ve also been listening to a lot of Everything But the Girl – a recent discovery since 2017 or so even though Walking Wounded came out in 1996. I remember Sky also showing me Atari Teenage Riot – the ONLY Atari Teenage Riot song. I love that song – I don’t know how you’d describe that beat, but…
Sky: *chuckle* I know what you’re talking about.
Jess: It’s just that ONE song.
It’s been a few years now since you’ve relocated to LA. Did the move have any effect on the record?
Jess: Yeah, I feel like we had more time and space to work on the music than we had in the Bay. Also, LA just has a better climate for working I feel.
Sky: So here in LA, we are playing in a practice space, but also playing in my living room and then in Jess’ bedroom putting stuff together. Jess was arranging things. We’re able to meet 3-4 times a week. The Bay Area is more stressful to make that kind of stuff happen. Something about it being sunny here too, it’s the anchor for my existence, and holding on to that has helped us be able to try new things, even when the band has been going through some hard times.
Jess: I think we’ve been able to make music more of a priority down here. There’s more of a climate for it here, a bigger audience, and more of a community. Being around so many other musicians is really inspiring. I do think there’s something to be said about the weather, sometimes I wonder if we made this record in the Bay Area if it would have been more filled with despair. I think it certainly could have, and in the past would have, especially while we’re in this intense state of shock and grief and transition.
Sky: It feels really good to be a part of Felte, too. I’m really happy that The Mirage is on Felte.
Jess: Being close to Jeff has been great, for sure. He was there for the mixing process, he came to every session. He really lifted us up and supported us during the hard times. I could say the same about everyone on Felte too, it’s been such a great family.
How did you channel all of this loss into the writing process? Was it more of a healing process where things came together really fast, or was it cathartic to unpack things like the Ghost Ship fire via the work?
Jess: I think channeling all those emotions was necessary – we had no other choice, really. How could it not inform what we were creating, you know? Making the record definitely aided in processing these feelings. As for arrangement, we hit some roadblocks. We thought to ourselves “how are we going to pull this off? How do you use a real bass and a real guitar and all these electronics and dance concepts.” We had to workshop stuff over and over for months and make changes all the time. We even did a tour when we were halfway done with the record to play some of these songs out. Some songs came together easier than others, though.
Were all the arrangements done prior to recording and mixing the record, or did some of it come together with during the production phase? Did Josh Eustis help unlock the arrangements at all?
Jess: It was all pretty much arranged before we brought them to our engineer Lauren (Grubb), but there was definitely room for Josh to experiment a bit. He definitely had a role in helping shape the way some of the songs end, but everything was pretty laid out. I wanted to leave some space there, and I think that really came through in the effects for some songs and the way they fade in and out of each other.
I know you’ve been playing with a live drummer these days. Is that still the plan, going forward?
Jess: Yes, we’d like to play with a drummer as much as possible. I don’t think every show can accommodate for it at this moment, especially since we’re still figuring it out logistically, but it’s definitely more fun for us to play live with her (Sandra Vu).
How does the live drumming integrate with the more electronic arrangements?
Jess: Honestly, it’s taken a bit to get that right to prep for the live set and we’re always workshopping things. It’s been interesting trying to find that balance. We do want to keep the electronics intact and we definitely don’t want to sound like a rock band. I feel like the real fun has been in working out the dynamics; how much restraint she should use when playing to not overshadow all the nuances of the tracks.
Sky: Also she brings the songs to life in a different way. We’re going to start playing “Deep Love Deep Pain” out more and it just feels like a different song with her. She has such a good understanding on the technical and skill set side. I think Jess and I feel spoiled now that when we play as a duo, she’s definitely missed. As the bass player, having another person in the rhythm section that I can lock in with makes it feel much more alive and powerful.
Other than the short run of dates you have planned, are you hoping to do a larger tour soon?
Jess: We’re working on it – we’re trying to get to the east coast in May, after we finish our current dates!
The Mirage is currently out now via LP, CD, digital, and cassette. Click here to purchase a copy via Bandcamp.
Photos by Jess Garten and Priscilla C. Scott.