Funky Flights: Chirp to welcome 2018 with a new album
"This is for all you strutters out there," announced Jay Frydenlund midway through Chirp’s headlining set at the Blind Pig on Saturday. On cue, the Ypsi-based quartet of fusion rockers launched into a swaggering, deep-pocket jam ("Dickerville") that sent an obvious ripple through the crowd as folks remembered what they came for and got their boogie on.
As with many of Chirp’s songs, this one toyed with a groove for a while before shelving it and seamlessly picking up another. This rhythmic variety keeps the audience guessing, anticipating the next transition. It also creates an opportunity for Chirp to insert covers or extended quotes from well-known songs into its original material, which the band did throughout Saturday night with a motley farrago of selections including The Meters’ funk gem "Cissy Strut" and Edvard Grieg’s "In the Hall of the Mountain King." By the time Chirp took the stage close to midnight, the crowd was loose and limber following energetic outings by psych-rock trio Trifocal (Kalamazoo) and funky blues-rock outfit Act Casual (Metro Detroit).
Chirp kept the spirit strong, striking a good working balance between tight, percussive, unison licks and spacious, freewheeling improvisational sections. Drummer John Gorine charted a deft course through myriad tempo changes, while Jay Frydenlund complemented his lead vocals with impressive guitar work. Meanwhile, guitarist Ken Ball kept the sonic textures dynamic, by turns weaving Moog- and metal-flavored pedal effects into the mix, and Brian Long grounded it all with swampy, sonorous bass lines. I caught up with Frydenlund after the show to talk about Chirp’s influences, the band's writing process, and the fresh album the crew is cooking up for early 2018.
Q: Who are some of the key influences that you four have in common?
A: Snarky Puppy is definitely a big one for all of us. Also, Jaco Pastorius and Stanley Clarke. Umphrey’s McGee is up there, too, especially when it comes to the writing.
Q: What does Chirp’s writing process look like?
A: Save for a few sections in some of our songs, I’ve written the originals we play right now. I usually bring in a form with chords, melody, and lyrics and show it the guys. I usually have ideas for what I want out of the other instruments, but I like to keep things flexible so we can all get creative with it. I think we’re moving toward the process being more collaborative throughout.
Q: Has the process of recording the upcoming album yourselves changed anything about the way you all play together? Or has it influenced the writing/arranging?
A: I think recording the album has forced us to take a more involved look at the tunes and how we really want them to come out. Our songs tend to change from night to night when it comes to playing gigs -- not in any major way, but sometimes we’ll try playing sections differently to keep things fresh in a live setting. A lot of the tunes going on the album we’ve been playing since the beginning of the band (two years ago), and they’ve sort of changed over time (whether that’s purposeful or habitual), so recording has forced us to “serve the songs” and get the essence of them out in the recording process.
Q: Is there a working title for the album?
A: We’ll possibly be going with a self-titled album since this is our debut, but we’re still very much undecided there.
Nicco Pandolfi is a freelance writer and a graduate student in Information Science at the University of Michigan. He mainly writes about what he mainly thinks about: music and food.
On New Year’s Eve, Chirp joins Stormy Chromer and Wire in the Wood, with a DJ set by Gyp$y at the Blind Pig, 208 N. First St., Ann Arbor; 18+, doors 9 pm, $15. Visit the FB event page or chirpband.com for more info.