While the Live Music scene in Mid-Michigan has faced the challenges of increased reliance upon DJ's providing pre-recorded entertainment and venues downsizing their weekly itinerary for live music, local musician Chase Engel is on a mission to bring excitement, sparkle, and a sense of the unexpected back to the scene - elements that are essential for the creation of compelling Rock 'n Roll that seem to have gotten toned down in the mix.
The 20-year old guitarist, keyboardist, singer & songwriter is a veritable one-man band that recently joined forces with drummer & percussionist Matt Gottlieb to form the new Chase Engel Band; and their inspired and impromptu performances have rapidly been blazing heated trails throughout the predictability of the club scene in recent months.
Hailing from Hemlock, Engel released his first CD of original music one year ago amidst critical acclaim and currently has over 40 original songs under his belt. Gaining a solid foundation in classical training from musician Bill Fiebig, Engel also hooked-up with local musical force Andy Reed to advance both his abilities and knowledge about recording and the use of Pro-Tools, which today factor in as an important component to the architecture of Engel's sound.
The re-invention to his approach to live music occurred in the wake of a series of tragedies, beginning with the death of Engel's manager shortly after the release of his debut CD one year ago. “My manager had some big plans for taking me to the next level, and then he died suddenly and unexpectedly just after my CD came out,” explains Engel. “Shortly after that I dropped two new managers, fired my drummer, and had to get rid of our bass player, who was also my best buddy in the world. Things simply got to a point where I valued the friendship more than his musicianship, so explained that it was better we get along as friends rather than band mates, which was really tough.”
In the fast & furious world of Rock 'n Roll, things change fast; and for Engel things had gotten stale with his original band. “We didn't play for a month or two so eventually I decided that when I came back out, I wanted to do it with a bang. That's basically how things started,” notes Engel.
After meeting Gottlieb on Craig's list, the two got together to reinvent their sound and their performance level. “Our show is entirely different now,” states Engel. “We want to bring the showmanship back to Rock 'n Roll, which I think got lost in the 90's with flannel shirts and Grunge. Now we wear gold jackets on-stage and are striving to bring back the flash, which can borderline on silly sometimes, with the audience wondering what the hell I'm doing,” he laughs.
“But my goal is to be different, but I want to also be accessible by being different while also showcasing more mainstream music, so the show can be appealing again.”
“Musically, we've written some new songs and also revamped our entire show,” continues Engel. “We'll launch onto the stage and run about five songs together for the first 15-moinutes or so, with songs that compliment each other; and then we also might start out with 3 originals, because we want to bring the focus back to original music as well. We won't play anything; we need to like what we do.”
In addition to his original material, Engel & Gottlieb will rework entire set lists of tasty covers. They might take a Justin Timberlake cover and make it more hard rock; only to follow with The Righteous Brother's Unchained Melody, followed by Alien Ant Farm or Smooth Criminal by Michael Jackson, which in turn segues into The Doobie Brother's Long Train Running.
“We have the ability to do this with my computer and click & backing tracks,” explains Engel, “which gives us the ability to do so much more when it comes to re-inventing the songs. The downside is that sometimes people think we're doing a Karaoke deal; but they don't realize that I'm recording every single part we perform. We're not playing a CD. It's not like that. Again, my goal is bring the fun back to Rock & Roll.”
While it might be easy to compare them to a duo like The White Stripes, this would be a mistake. Percussionist Gottlieb hails from a different musical background than Engel and was weaned more on classic R&B. “I'm trying to bring the urban feel back to Rock n Roll,” he explains. “My focus is to set more Funk to the tempo, or maybe give it a little Marvin Gaye type of feel.”
After joining forces with Gottlieb, the two rehearsed 30 songs in two weeks and played their introductory gig at Bemo's in Bay City. “The set we have now has been rehearsed for hours,” explains Engel, “and we could play it backwards in our sleep if we wanted to. Matt brings back into the sound what I wanted, because a lot of the popular music today has focused on Poppier Dance music & club type music. What I think rock lost in the '90s was the dancier Van Halen side of things, which we're striving to bring back into the mix.”
When asked what he feels distinguishes their sound, Gottlieb explains the sound he also has been able to carve and sculpt for the band. “When I play drums half of my kit is electric and half is acoustic. I use a real snare and cymbals, but the bass and tom come through the speakers, so we have a crispy clean sound when we perform live, which isn't something you often see.”
“What struck me most about Chase is his writing,” continues Matt. “He's a good writer and think he has the talent to go mainstream and get airplay. There's an energy that happens whenever we hit the stage together.”
And lest you think the reinvention of The Chase Engel Band begins and ends with Engle & Gottlieb, one would be remiss not to incorporate the talents of Cameron Swick into the mix. Swick & Engel were buddies in Elementary School, but Swick moved away for 10 years. Then one fateful night the two ran into one another at White's Bar.
“We got reacquainted and Chase told me to check out his band on facebook,” relates Cameron. “I checked it out and was kind of skeptical at first, but then saw them perform at the Hamilton St. Pub and was blown away. I went to a few shows after that and Chase said he noticed and loved my passion for the music, so we struck up an alliance after that. I have a background in film and am going to school for it, so right now I'm filming a documentary of the band, following them around and compiling live footage.”
But it doesn't end there, as now Swick is also moving into the realm of Stand-up Comedy, performing routines during breaks whenever the band performs live. “Cameron is inexpendable to this band and he's beyond reproach,” enthuses Engel. “We don't have any money to pay him and he knows that, so to have somebody not actually playing with the band show up at practices to film us is amazing. He wants to learn and likes to travel and now he's helping with the show by doing comedy bits.”
“The first time I did a stand-up routine was at White's Bar,” explains Cameron, “and from what I hear, I'm the first person ever to do stand-up at White's. How it came about is that I was mad about something one day, so I posted on facebook about how I'd like to do stand-up and could be that bitter guy that hates people. Chase commented on it and said that I could do that between sets, so it just kind of happened. Before that I was always joking about doing comedy, but I actually did pretty well my first time. It's not something that I really want to get into, but its kind of a catharsis.”
So far crowd response to the newly re-invented Chase Engel Band has been strong. “We made our Detroit debut a month back and the feedback we get at shows is that people aren't used to seeing what we are doing,” summarizes Engel. “I still would love to get hooked up with a label of some sort because the scene is going through some different times right now. It's a lot more focused toward Pop, Punk & Hardcore bands; and in my opinion, Rock and Roll has been dead for 10 years. My goal is to revive it.”
“I know if we get access to a bigger platform what we are doing will take off,” concludes Chase. “Nobody is doing what we're doing right now. I want to be the first Rock & Roll star that can dance around here. Nobody has really done that, with the exception of Prince, Elvis, and David Lee Roth, who did splits more than anything.”
“But the big thing is showmanship - that's what we're focused upon.”