At this time last year, Chevonne was launching a Kickstarter campaign to fund her debut solo album. That album turned into the full band’s debut EP, ‘Fire at Will,’ which was released on September 17.
Chevonne and the Fuzz is Chevonne (vocals), Chris Ricci (vocals), Chris Bookstaver (guitar), Mike Sarkissian (bass), Matt Graff (drums), and Nick Potters (keys).
I had the opportunity to speak with the band before their set at Tammany Hall on October 16 (part of the Big Picture Media afternoon 2013 CMJ showcase) to discuss the change to a full band, ‘Fire At Will,’ working as a band, and performing live.
Since we last spoke, you released a new EP. Could you tell me a little about it?
Chevonne: Well, the biggest difference since the last time we spoke is that I was on my own before, and now I have a band, and we are a unit together. We are Chevonne and the Fuzz, and our new EP is called ‘Fire at Will.’ Its seven songs, we got funding from Kickstarter, which is crowd funding from friends and fans and whoever else wanted to contribute. We made $10,000 and we did everything on our own; we produced the album, we got ourselves a great engineer, Kevin Kumetts, and we recorded in Lake Hopatcong, New Jersey. And it’s amazing! We are having so much fun, and we’re playing out, and we’ve added new people to the band, and… it’s pop-rock and it’s a lot of fun.
Yeah, last time we spoke you were solo and now you’re including the band. Why the change?
Chevonne: Well, when I started with my solo material, I signed on Chris (Ricci) to sing, and I signed on Chris (Bookstaver) to play guitar, and Mike to play bass, and Mike’s brother Steve to play drums. As soon as we started practicing for what was supposed to be my live shows and my record, we just started to write immediately. And we brought Nick in, and he began to write with us, and it just started to feel like magic and special band love. There was no denying that we HAD to be a band. Without them I am not even close to what I am with them. And so, it was really an obvious choice, and it wasn’t even really me including anybody, it was all of us just realizing the potential we all have together as a unit. So then, Steve recently left the band to work full time at a studio, so he’s going to be an engineer/producer now, so we’re very proud of him. We brought Matt on to play drums and today we have Chris Beta to play lead guitar. So, we’re just going with the flow and seeing where things take us.
How has the dynamic with the entire band working together?
Chevonne: Well, I will say that it’s been perfect and seamless, and we’re all in this as friends, and we all give each other as much space as possible to create. That’s what I think. What do you guys think?
Mike (bass): I think it’s a great time. We all have a mutual respect for each other and we all take everyone’s ideas and feelings into consideration. I’ve used the example… being in a band is like being in a relationship, but with six other people. So at times it can be tough but, we’ve done a pretty good job at accommodating everyone and… it’s just like she said, it’s seamless and it’s effortless, which is nice.
Matt (drums): When I first came to audition that very first night, Mike brought an idea to the table that I guess they had been working on previously, and I was just shocked at how well and smoothly everything clicked. Within ten minutes we had a full song. And that’s one of the reasons that I was so eager to get involved, was just how smooth the collaborative process was going.
Nick (keys): We all… anytime we’re working together, we all really work off each other incredibly well. We all actually come from semi-different musical backgrounds from every genre, and we all bring that to the table whenever we’re writing and playing or rehearsing or anything. And it’s just a really, really great collaborative process of all of our backgrounds coming together in our music.
What is everyone’s background?
Nick: They vary… We’re all… Classic rock is mine.
Chris (vocals): Yeah… we cover everything. I think we like… I like hip-hop, I like pop, you know. If it’s good music I think we can all agree that we dig it, you know what I mean? So, you bring it all together, you not really afraid of going in different directions and I don’t think… That’s why our record kind of sounds like seven different chapters of the same book. But definitely very different, but it sort of makes sense all together.
Chevonne: We’re very lucky to come from the first playlist generation, so… We were making mixtapes and mix-CDs, and then all of a sudden we were making iPod playlists. So we’re a very transitional group of individuals where we all of a sudden, as we were growing up, as teenagers and young kids, all of a sudden it was like, you CAN listen to Busta Rhymes and Tool and a concerto in the same playlist if you want to open your mind. So that’s how we view ourselves as a band and the records we make. It doesn’t have to fit into a box. Yeah, we’re pop-rock, but we have some tracks that are more soul, we have some tracks that have dance in them. And, actually, Matt is a reggae drummer as well, so we plan to put a lot of heavier beats into our music and really, like, make people dance, while still remaining firmly in that pop-rock world. But we could branch out as far as we want.
Chris (guitar): One of the things we always say in this band is “let’s try it.” If someone brings an idea to the table, we always say “let’s try it, let’s try it.” Even if it doesn’t work, we give everything a shot. And I think that mentality has allowed us to take our music as far as it’s gone diversely, and it’s really cool. We have something for everybody.
How is ‘Fire at Will’ different from your solo work?
Chevonne: Well… My solo work was great, but I don’t think anything that I put out or anything that I’ve done before was more truly me than what’s on ‘Fire at Will.’ I was always afraid to rock. I always wanted to rock. My first dreams of doing music were to be a rock star with big, long hair and, like, whip it around on the stage, and… I was always afraid to. I thought that, you know, I have a soulful voice and I was trained to be a pop vocalist, so how could I possibly rock? But once those boys came around me and started, even really on the first note, I realized that those were the right people that I needed to give me the strength and the courage to just rock and do what’s in my heart. So, you can find elements of me on my other work, of course, and I write all my own songs and I’m always very honest, but this is the time that I let all my guards down.
You have a really good stage presence when you perform. What goes into your performance?
Chevonne: I just feel the vibe of the audience and, most importantly I play off of these guys right here. They all have amazing energy and they don’t let me get away with not bringing my A-game every single time. Even in rehearsals we’re all sweating and… It feels like a rock show in our rehearsal room. Always, Even if no one else is there. So, yeah… what do you guys do to get your stage presence up?
Chris (vocals): Chevonne is actually a shy person in the beginning, you know. But when she…
::We move from our spot next to the venue to let someone into their home::
Chris (vocals): So yeah… she’s pretty shy. She’s the type of person that would be, you know, happy to let us kind of do our thing if we allowed her to, but we don’t let her half-step, you know. We know what she’s capable of and whether she’s shy off-stage, the second she gets on stage it’s this whole different Chevonne. There are elements of that in her real life, but on stage it’s really the best I’ve ever seen. Before we were even in a band together, when we were in our cover band, I told her she was made of magic, and it sounds silly, but I really did because there’s something about her that would just get up on stage and just make you feel something. So, that’s her stage presence as far as I’m concerned. And us, we just like to rock.
Chris (guitar): This band, it’s really hard not to get into it. I’ve been playing with them for a couple weeks now getting ready for this, and the music’s there and you really just… You hear it and you’re shaking your head, you’re moving, and it really comes through with these guys. It’s a lot of excitement and a lot of energy. It’s cool.