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Eight albums into a 20-year career, Chevelle is still growing an audience

Chevelle plays the Knitting Factory on Tuesday night. (Christian Lantry)
Chevelle plays the Knitting Factory on Tuesday night. (Christian Lantry)
By Alan Sculley Correspondent

Chevelle might not be considered one of the top acts in hard rock. The Chicago-based trio hasn’t had multiple platinum albums of bands like Disturbed or Shinedown, and doesn’t headline amphitheaters and arenas.

But drummer Sam Loeffler isn’t complaining about where Chevelle is two decades and eight albums into the group’s career.

Chevelle’s previous album, 2014’s “La Gargola,” had the highest chart debut (No. 3) of any of its releases, and it produced a No. 1 single on Billboard magazine’s Mainstream Rock chart in “Take Out the Gunman.”

Now the band’s recently released follow-up album, “The North Corridor,” has produced another No. 1 Mainstream Rock single with “Joyride (Omen),” while opening at No. 8 on the “Billboard” Top 200 album chart.

And it’s apparent to Loeffler that the group is still gradually growing its audience. With a healthy cache of top 10 rock hits in its arsenal, the group is enjoying the kind of reliable success that should be sustainable for years to come.

“Probably the best way that we see that happening is at our live shows,” Loeffler said in a recent interview. “We see a lot more younger people, people that didn’t start out with us or even start out in the last two records, people that just found this (‘La Gargola’) record or found (the 2011 album) ‘Hats Off to the Bull’… So I definitely think these records are connecting with a new audience.

Chevelle’s biggest success actually came early in its career with its major label debut, 2002’s “Wonder What’s Next.” Featuring the hit singles “The Red” and “Send The Pain Below,” the album sold more than 1 million copies. The band’s next album, “This Type Of Thinking (Could Do Us In),” went gold while producing two more rock radio hits, “Vitamin R (Leading Us Along)” and “The Clincher.”

The next four albums, “Vena Sera” (2007), “Sci-Fi Crimes” (2009), “Hats Off to the Bull” and “La Gargola” didn’t match those sales, but they achieved solid success, each selling several hundred thousand copies while adding several more top 10 rock radio hits to Chevelle’s résumé.

Chevelle has continued to solidify its career while also pushing forward musically, trying to make each of its albums different and better than the last.

Getting these new dimensions into the music, though, was not easy when it came to “The North Corridor.” Several factors made the project more challenging than recent albums – beginning with the songwriting, which is handled by Loeffler’s brother, singer/guitarist Pete Loeffler.

“The main thing was we’re trying to write songs we haven’t written before – not just write songs he hadn’t written before, but also write something in a different vein than what he’s written before,” Loeffler said. “So while maybe there’s a certain melody that comes to mind right away, he didn’t want to necessarily use that melody. He wanted to use something totally different, because he wants the songs to be not only different from other songs, but different from what we’ve done in the past. So that was probably his biggest reason for sort of it taking a long time that way.”

Writing, in fact, extended throughout most of 2015. The group, which also includes bassist Dean Bernardini, also had to deal with not having producer Joe Baressi available to join the band for pre-production. So the three band members did pre-production themselves and had Baressi provide his input from home. It wasn’t ideal, Loeffler said, but everyone made it work.

In the end, “The North Corridor” came out well, and Chevelle got an album that introduces some new wrinkles. It’s one of the band’s heaviest albums, with many songs employing fairly abrasive guitar tones and tempos ranging from deliberate and thick – as on “Door To Door Cannibals,” “Last Days” and “Joyride (Omen)” – to fast and aggressive (“Enemies” and “Warhol’s Showbiz”). Still, the band builds enough hooks into the bracing sound to keep the songs plenty listenable. On a more subtle level, Loeffler noted, he used a variety of different drum setups (sometimes within the same song) to add rhythmic interest and left more room for guitar solos and instrumental parts.

The new songs should work well live, but Loeffler said Chevelle isn’t going overboard on playing new material as it continues its touring cycle with a run of winter headlining shows.

“You’ve got some singles, some really deep cuts, a couple of new songs,” he said. “It is difficult, because at this point we’ve published 90-something songs probably. So we really have to pick out somewhere around 18 songs to play (for a headlining set). It gets pretty difficult to write a set list.

“It’s a good problem to have,” Loeffler said. “High class problems we call that.”

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