Chain Poets
By Ronnie

Chain Poets is our indie band focus this month. This powerhouse trio based in Atlanta recently released an exceptionally strong indie debut CD. In my opinion, Chain Poets are the best band in the Atlanta music scene today. Memorable, melodic power-pop songs, stop-on-a-dime instrumentation and powerful vocals are what you will find both on their CD and their live performance. I recently spoke to singer/songwriter Greg Kaegen about the band, their aspirations and the obstacles facing an unsigned band.

E.C.: Chain Poets began in 1997. Was it always a trio? I'm just amazed at the sound you guys get live! Does this lineup limit you in any ways?

Greg: Yeah, it's always been the three of us. We never really talked about it. I think we've always loved the challenge of a three-piece. It can be limiting onstage soundwise, as far as fattening things up, but i think our sound is the result of trying to figure out ways to overcome that. Sometimes it would be nice to have a rhythm guitar or keys, but we never wanted to mess up the chemistry by adding a fourth member. And T's done some really cool things with the 12-string bass, almost functioning as a rhythm guitar as well as a bass in those songs that need some fattening up. Plus everyone sings, which is nice. Also, a three-piece frees everyone up to try new things and improvise a bit without stepping on anyone's toes. We never really play the songs the same way night to night.

E.C.: I hear a lot of Beatles, Cheap Trick and Queen in your songs, but not in an obviously retro way. Are these your main influences? Is there a place for melodic pop in today's music?

Greg: Those are probably some of the more obvious influences. I mean, if you want to write good pop songs you can't do any better than those guys. Cheap Trick wrote the book on guitar based power pop, and the Beatles just wrote the book period.

But we have pretty eclectic tastes, we all listen to a lot of different kinds of music, which i think gives the music a bit of depth it might not have if all we listened to were Brit pop bands or bands that kinda sound like us. Mike listens to a lot of jazz and r&b, I listen to anything from Bartok to Burt Bacharach. The Beach Boys are also a big influence. Anything that starts with a B really. I think there will always be a place for melodic pop. There will always be people who appreciate good melodies.

E.C.: Is Cheap Trick the band that you are most compared to? The obvious comparisons are the Hamer bass, your melodic songs and a lead voice easily as powerful as Robin Zander. But, I think the comparison would end there. Your leads are closer to Zeppelin than Rick Nielsen. Plus, I couldn't see Cheap Trick doing, "Little Tin Toys". Do the comparisons to Cheap Trick help or hurt the band?

Greg: Well thanks for even mentioning me in the same sentence as Robin Zander. Actually we don't get that as much as you might think, which is probably due to the fact that a lot of people don't know too much about Cheap Trick these days except for the hits. We hear Replacements comparisons a lot, which is funny cuz I've never really listened to them.

But you're right, the comparisons only go so far. We really don't sound like Cheap Trick or even play like them. As a band, we probably function a bit more like Zeppelin --Mike and I play off each other a lot, like Page and Bonham did. We've been playing together for 13 years, so we've got some ESP going on. And "Little Tin Toys" is really more of a Queen/Sweet type of thing.

E.C.: Speaking of that song, my fave off the new album is "Little Tin Toys". There is just so much going on in that song: cool riffs, Queen-like harmonies and really ripping leads. It stands out from the rest of the album. Do you see that song as a departure? How important is experimentation? Will we see more surprises on the next album?

Greg: Thanks, that's one of my favorites too. It's the "everything including the kitchen sink" song. We always end our shows with that one, cuz we couldn't possibly follow it with anything else. That's the first take you're hearing on the record incidentally. But I don't really see any of our songs as a departure. The whole idea of this band from the start was anything goes, no rules. So there's a lot of different feels on the record, and that's just one of our many personalities. We're a bit schizophrenic that way.

Experimentation is important to an extent, but I really think that depends on the artist. It's good to push yourself into new areas and not stand still rewriting the same song over and over. But i think you can get caught up in trying too hard to be different or weird and then it just sounds contrived.

E.C.: Is it a group effort in the vocal arrangements?

Greg: Yeah, we usually work those out together. If I write a song I may have a certain harmony in mind, but most of that stuff is a group effort. It really helps having three singers in the band who all have good ideas.

E.C.: Tell me about your 4 song EP released in late summer '98. Were any of the tracks re-recorded for the full-length album? I'm just trying to see if there was a different approach.

Greg: No, we didn't re-do any of those. We remixed Counterfeiter Moon and Emotion Sickness, which were really just demos. I wish we could have recut Emotion Sickness, I think we could have done more with that. The EP also had Blink and Too Bad. Those two we just remastered with the rest of the record so they didn't stick out like a sore thumb, sonically speaking.

The EPs are sold out though, I don't even think I have one. If we get signed they'll be going for 300 bucks on ebay.

E.C.: What were your hopes for the new album? Were they realized?

Greg: We wanted to get the energy of the live shows first of all, which is easier said than done at 10 in the morning with no audience. We also wanted to capture the diversity of material, we didn't want a one dimensional album. So we did some things in the studio that you wouldn't get to hear us do live, like Sweet Dreams which is a piano riff instead of guitar. A record should be a little trip you take for 45 minutes or an hour or whatever. You should see and hear some different things along the way. The trick is to maintain some sense of unity across the album as a whole, and hopefully we did that. We're all album fans, as opposed to singles, for the most part.

E.C.: What is the hardest thing about an unsigned band trying to release a CD and get it heard?

Greg: Well, releasing it is the easy part. Getting it heard on the other hand & Putting out a CD is actually much easier today than in the past. There are more options for bands as far as CD mastering and duplication, computers have made it much cheaper to do quality artwork. Look at a lot of unsigned bands' CDs - they look every bit as good as the stuff from the majors.

But money is still the big hurdle for an unsigned band. You have to compete with records that cost a quarter of a million dollars (at least), mixed on SSL boards, and mastering alone probably cost 10 grand. Tape costs a lot of money, so you can't burn too much of it - which means not doing a lot of takes of a song. You don't have as much time as you'd like to get the sounds you want, especially drums. So there's a lot of compromise involved in just realizing the music.

Getting it heard is another story, but the internet has certainly helped a lot. We get emails from all over the world, people who've found our stuff on or And if they like it they can just go to amazon or whereever and buy our album. This was unheard of just a few years ago. Someone in Tokyo hears our song and likes it and can immediately buy the thing - that's pretty fucking cool. But again, the major labels control distribution and radio, so without big marketing dollars you're just another band among thousands with a CD.

E.C.: What are your feelings about the Napster debate? Is the internet and mp3's the future of rock and roll?

Greg: I have mixed feelings about that. I'm all for mp3 swapping. It's no different than me and my friends taping each others albums when I was in high school. And for an unsigned band, you just want your music heard, and the internet is great for that. And I think most music fans are still buying the cds anyway. I mean, a compressed file on your hard drive just isn't the same thing. But I have a problem with people thinking that music is free, something you can just pluck out of the air for nothing. It's easy to download a song in couple minutes, so it's easy to take it for granted. But someone wrote that song, put their heart and soul and probably their own money, in the case of unsigned bands, into making this music for you to listen to. If you like someone's music the least you can do is help support that artist, otherwise you're taking and not giving back. I think it's a real danger to view art, any art, as something disposable and free for the taking. I don't think the problem is with the technology but with people's attitudes and how they use it. I find corporate record companies whining about morals and ethics pretty funny though. Since when do morals and ethics have anything to do with the music business?

The future of rock'n'roll is definitely tied to the internet. Where it goes from here is anyone's guess, but let's face it, the old system is not exactly fair for all interested parties is it?

E.C.: I imagine all the members have day jobs? Does that limit your touring, which in turn limits your exposure?

Greg: Let's just say we all have alternative sources of income outside the band. It does limit what you can do as far as touring. And I think our live show is our biggest asset, because you get more than you get on the record.

E.C.: Speaking of live shows, what is the furthest that the Chain Poets have toured?

Greg: Not very far I'm afraid. We were trying to put together a west coast tour last year which we had to put off for lack of finances. Plus we were trying to get a record out first, so now that it's out we can concentrate on the touring part. We're anxious to get out on the road.

E.C.: What is your main goal for the Chain Poets? A major record deal?

Greg: I used to think so, but now I'm not so sure. I mean, it'd be great to get signed to a major label, but you can't count on that. And you can get caught up in that whole paper chase and before you know it you're writing songs that you think the A&R guys want to hear. Just turn on the radio and you'll hear what I mean. Personally I'd like to keep progressing as a band and as a songwriter. I feel we've only scratched the surface with this record. I'm still learning as a singer, and as a writer, and we're still learning as a band. We were fortunate to work with Tom Lewis, who really made it possible for us to try some new things in the studio. So we have that to build from on the next record. We can take it a bit farther and try some new approaches. In fact, we did a version of "Every Night" for a Paul McCartney tribute CD that's coming out this fall. We got asked to do it the week after we finished mastering our CD, so we had just come out of the studio and we went right back in and did it in a few hours. We couldn't have done that before we did the album, and I can hear a more confident and self-assured band on that track, very laid back and relaxed. I'd like to hear more of that on the next album.

E.C.: Does rock and roll have a future? Or is it dead in the water? It seems like every passing year, there is less and less good music coming out? Do you agree and if so, why?

Greg: Absolutely rock and roll has a future. There's still nothing like going out and seeing a good live band. They say rock is dead every few years when everything gets stale like it is right now, but it never really goes away. It's survived the Carpenters, disco and microchip synthesizers, I don't think it's going anywhere (I like the Carpenters by the way, but rock and roll it ain't). I think there's still a lot of good music coming out, but it's harder and harder to find. What you get on the radio these days is pathetic, the same 10 songs every hour. So the good stuff is probably being released by small indie labels who don't have the money to shove it down your throat every half hour. But something will come along eventually to shake things up again, it always does. Maybe Van Halen will get back together and save us all.

Click here to visit the official Chain Poets website