Since forming in 2005, the CHI Club have been playing shows around San Diego wherever they can. Whether you run across the band rocking on the beach, at a house party, a farmers' market, or a bar, you'll notice one thing for certain -- these guys love playing.
CHI (pronounced "chee") Club singer/rhythm guitarist Roland Gabriel cites among the band's influences the Rolling Stones, Widespread Panic, Tom Petty, Beck, and the Mother Hips. Songs such as their reggae-influenced "No Bad Day" and "Pacific Breezes" have cemented the band's Southern California charm. If the Laurel Canyon scene in L.A. had played out 30 years later in Ocean Beach, the CHI Club would be the house band.
Most of the lyrics are written by Gabriel and long-time friend Rain Samuelson, but the musical development of the songs is a collective process. Gabriel describes it as "No song is complete until all members have seasoned the song with their own flavor."
Since its inception, the CHI Club has had a revolving door of members, with a couple of different drummers and guitarists, a horn player, a harmonica player, and an extra percussionist traveling in and out of the fold. On the eve of the release of their first full-length disc in October, Gabriel feels that the band has finally settled into somewhat of a stable lineup.
"We now feel like we have a core or a family-team sort of feeling -- which is real comforting, knowing we can now go the distance," says Gabriel. This current team is Brenda Berry on vocals, Bill DiBiase on keyboards, Mike Cardwell on lead guitar, Serge McCoy on drums/vocals, Rain Samuelson on bass, José Maldonaldo on percussion, and Gabriel on rhythm guitar and vocals.
What does the band's name imply? What is this "CHI"? "It came from a slang term we made for a person who Can't Handle It!" Gabriel explains. "Someone who passes, or 'chi's out,' on doing anything."
1. Ryan Adams, Heartbreaker ("Because I played it so much at a time when I was trying to learn to be a better singer, I learned how to play the entire album. I became obsessed. I have lost every copy of that disc I have ever had.")
2. Outkast, Aquemini ("When I was on tour and in Seattle in 2000, I got a chance to get out of the van and ride to the next show with a friend. It was on that ride I heard Aquemini for the first
time -- it got me so pumped! I have lost every copy of that disc I have ever had.")
3. Jimi Hendrix, Axis: Bold as Love ("This has to be the best rock record ever...next to Are You Experienced.")
4. Bob Dylan, Blood on the Tracks ("When I was a little kid, there was an 8-track of this in my house. I loved 'Tangled Up in Blue' so much. I would have to listen to the entire album just to hear that song again.")
5. Michael Franti and Spearhead, Stay Human ("I have been a fan of Michael Franti since 1998. I buy his albums the day they are released. Stay Human is a great anti-death-penalty concept album. I love this one because even though the music has an important message, it's still fun and uplifting. 'Power to the Peaceful!' ")
Berry: "I just watched this DVD of Neil Young from 1972 [Live at Massey Hall 1971]. He was introducing a lot of his newer songs and had just bought a ranch up north -- that's where he was inspired to write a lot of the Harvest Moon album. It's a classic watch, very moving."
Top five bands of all time?
1. Widespread Panic ("Because they opened my eyes to a whole different music realm, not what you hear on the radio. It comes from the soul, and I have mad respect for these guys.")
2. Ben Harper ("Because he's got so much down-to-earth soul.")
3. Mr. Blotto ("They're from Chicago, and I've been waiting for them to cross Colorado for years. These guys rock hard and are very versatile at going in different directions musically.")
4. Damien Marley ("Man, I think this guy is on the same level as Bob...props for that tight-ass rhythm.")
5. Peter Green ("Wrote 'Black Magic Woman,' which a lot of people think Santana wrote. He was one of the founding fathers of Fleetwood Mac back when they were a British blues band, pre--Stevie Nicks. From what I've read, he toured with the Dead during the heyday and kinda lost it. He went back to England and became a recluse, literally grew his fingernails out for 20 years so he couldn't play guitar. One day about 10 years ago he met this guy Nigel, who jump-started him back to life. I saw them at the House of Blues in L.A. about 7 years ago -- little did I know at the time that that show would jump to the top of all shows.")
Digital or analog?
McCoy: "Analog for recording and listening. It gives the warmest sound, closest to the original as possible. Except for ease and convenience of recording, I like MP3/ACC files."
Strangest audience member?
Gabriel: "Rhythm Lounge, 2005 -- a nice, strange man at the bar loved our music so much that he was humping the floor. We labeled him the 'floor humper.' "
"If I could kick anyone out of the band it would be...":
McCoy: "I would kick out Bill because he looks like Grizzly Adams now, with his scary beard."
Samuelson: "I would kick everyone out so I could keep all the money and buy an all-robot band. Ah, just think: 'C-3PO and the Funky Bunch.' "