Chagall Guevara

Still Searching for George

Notebored Serious Rock `N' Roll
May/June 1991 Volume 4 Number 6
© 1991 Notebored Publications
Pages 8-9

by Brent Hershey

"It was something that we all came to a juncture where we were going to change and do something else," starts Dave Perkins, talking about members of Chagall Guevara's crossing backgrounds. "There were probably a variety of options for each of us, and we joking threatened each other with starting a band. It shows you just gotta watch what you say, because sometimes it comes true and you have to live with your circumstances," says Perkins as he jots a playfully sideways glance across the table at bandmates Steve Taylor and Lynn Nichols.

If Chagall Guevara is the result of a threat, then we all live in much too safe of a world. This quintet (Taylor on vocals, Perkins and Nichols on guitars and vocals plus Wade Jaynes on bass and Mike Mead on drums) has served up a real-life, gutsy, kick-in-the-pants debut album on MCA Records that follows quite naturally both The Innocence, Perkins' 1988 What? Records release, as well as Taylor's last album, I Predict 1990. No-nonsense guitar rock, a charismatic frontman and humorously revealing lyrics characterize this sometimes wacky, sometimes hurting, always relevant band of five.

The trio of Taylor, Perkins and Nichols had worked together in various capacities over the late eighties. But as each forged ahead, often setting new standards within their niche (Taylor mainly as recording artist, Perkins as producer, Nichols as Word Records executive), each became growingly frustrated with the built-in restrictions of the Christian music business. And even though they each were in somewhat differing circumstances, that frustration was a common factor.

"We had all worked together, had points of intersection on projects and had gotten to be friends," says Nichols. "And we found ourselves in similar situations, where we were hitting the ceiling. Whether the ceiling was lowered or we were getting too big for our shoes, I'm not sure--it depends on who you ask, I guess."

"Well, I think it was a little bit of both," chuckles Perkins. "When the ceiling starts getting lower, you kind of rise up to meet it yourself."

The last straw most likely was Taylor's Predict record, his first for Myrrh, which involved Perkins as producer and Nichols as the A&R exec who signed Taylor to the label. There was a good bit of negative response within the Christian market upon its release; one charge assumed Taylor was possessed due to the album art's resembling a tarot card. It was a point at which they all became fed up with staying within a certain set of creative boundaries.

"I think it all ends up spelling that out," agrees Nichols. "When people say, 'We can't play your record on the radio anymore,' or 'We're having a tough time with this,' or 'The stores don't like your cover'--it all comes to the point of having to change, or not have a record that sells."

The change can be made in two ways. Either clean up your act--in this case, become something that you detest and have exposed for years (but become accepted and successful)--or drop the ball and move on to a much larger arena where creativity is unequivocally accepted (but start from scratch). By now, you know which avenue they chose.

"Unfortunately, the (Christian) community that marketplace has all these 'boogie men,' these spooks, that scare people," states Perkins. "They force things into a very generic, gray area--a middle ground where certain types of, let's say, spiritual and intellectual masculinity can't come into play. And basically, you start emasculating the art."

"I think people make it (Christian vs. secular) into a huge deal, where they question your spirituality and your goals in life," Perkins continues. "It's almost like they want to imply that the gospel music scene is, as a business and as a marketplace, ordained by God through scripture, and it's not--it's a man-made institution. I think you're just making a decision of who you're going to sell records to."

Taylor, as well as the rest of the group, is quick to assure that CCM-bashing is not their intent, though. "I think we all have bands on gospel labels that we like and think do great work, but the tricky part is you can't make a living doing it. The three of us just got together and said, 'Well, what's the most financially irresponsible thing we could do?', and it was, 'Let's form a band.' So that's what we did."

Humor is one thing that this band does not lack. It only takes a listener about two-thirds of the way through the album to find that out. It is there we meet the loveable "Missus Edmunds" in a hilarious two-minute piece called "The Wrong George." She is trying to get ahold of her old friend David Perkins, some soul whose name is also that of the talented Chagall Guevara guitarist. Between various "Huh?"'s and many repeated phrases, it is found that the David she is trying to reach has a brother named George. This Perkins tries to inform the older woman of her mistake in various ways, none of which are successful. As most listeners are breaking up, she finally gives up.

It was with this piece playing on the house system that the band took the stage early this spring in a small club outside of Philadelphia. With the rest of the group dressed down in jeans and old sport jackets, Taylor came on the scene in a dark blue pressed suit, complete with red tie. During their set, he acted like he wanted out of it, dancing and prancing around the stage with all the reckless abandon of... uh, well... Steve Taylor. He seemed trapped on such a little stage; his antics deserved a much larger arena.

As did the band's scorching music. They tore it up that night, playing most everything from their new record. Perkins' and Nichols' alternating guitar leads were both sharply pointed, yet they fit together with ease. Jaynes' bass was, much like the album's, outfront and looping, almost like creating a third lead instrument in places. And drummer Mead amazed behind the kit, reproducing the crisp pounding and thrashing of the album's percussion with an assured flair reminiscent of Mellencamp drummer Kenny Aronoff (both possessing a slight frame and big sticks). The total performance was even better than the individual parts; this is one tight rock `n' roll outfit. The clincher was during "I Need Somebody," when they stopped on a dime after a mini-bridge late in the tune, and the five shot back as if out of a cannon a short two beats later. It's refreshing to realize that Chagall Guevara is just as good live as they are on record.

The humor resurfaced a little later in the night, when Taylor announced that they were from Nashville, and that they were required to do a country song. They launched into a hilarious foot-stomping parody, with Perkins and Nichols again trading guitar licks, only this time of the Country & Western variety, with all five in full deadpan. They had talked earlier in the evening about their desire to keep their songs coming from the proper perspective.

"A lot of bands do things that are more topical," says Taylor, speaking about songwriting. "But it often gets so weighty that the art starts disappearing and it becomes almost propaganda. One of the things that these songs do well is that they keep enough humor and sort of sideways glances that they don't become too weighty."

What more would you expect from a man whose past song titles--heck, album titles--were good-natured fun at least, and sarcastic, biting, yet true-to-life metaphors at best? Well, how about lines like, "You still play God/How'd you get so good?" or "Birds roar, lions soar, sheep are cruel/Snail's pace, papers chase, midgets rule/Stuffed shirts, status hurts, we ain't foolin'."

But at the same time, Chagall Guevara contains "The Rub of Love," a heart-tugger about a father's lost love, told from the child's perspective. "Dad's not talking at all/Everything's making him mad/I used to come running to him/now I'm learning to crawl." This is not just a one-dimensional, non-stop party group. The members are in touch enough with reality to be able to define their roles. While they prove life can be fun, they also know it's dangerous to own rose-colored glasses.

"We're not preachers in the religious sense or in the political sense," states Perkins. "We're artists. And if we're going to do something topical, we want to do it artistically. Sometimes that means funny; sometimes that means tragically gut-wrenching. We want to be able to paint all the colors of the human experience, and hopefully paint from an unlimited palate."

"We want everyone to come to the party," assures Perkins in closing. "We just want a bigger party." Then, with the perfect timing that brought the group together and fuels their best material on stage, he delivers the punchline.

"Uh, 'cause Lynn has the concessions."