"Lean In" and Listen: Ness Lake's Chandler Lach on bedroom emo, prolific songwriting, and digicore
Chandler Lach explores raw emotions and deep themes of love and heartache on his new album as Ness Lake, I Lean in to Hear You Sing. Released in May as the follow-up to Ness Lake's 2022 record, Yard Sale, the new album displays Lach's evolution as a songwriter and a more expansive sound as an arranger, lacing his indie-folk pop with electronics.
The Ypsilanti-based Lach is turning Ness Lake into a full band with Marco Aziel (bass), Jack Gaskill (drums), and Tanner J. Ellis (guitar), and the quartet is woodshedding this summer to prepare for fall concerts.
I talked with Lach about his beginnings as an artist, his writing process, what he's been listening to, and I Lean in to Hear You Sing.
Q: How did you get into writing and performing music?
A: Well, I first started learning how to play guitar in 9th grade because I thought that it would make me more socially adept. Unfortunately, it didn’t.
I found joy in learning covers and eventually writing my own songs, though. As I progressed through high school, guitar became a vehicle for expression that I really needed—and probably still need.
I was inspired by some of the first couple of shows that I had gone to. Music is such a unifying and emotional experience. Seeing these rooms explode and ebb and flow as these musicians performed was inspiring. I saw them and thought, “I want to do that.”
Q: That’s so great that live music had such a positive affect on you. How would you describe your music? To me, this latest release of yours is pretty avant-garde in parts with other elements of pop, rock, and alternative.
A: While each musician’s creations are unique and belong to them, it can be interesting how we try to define them through their similarities. It can be challenging for me because while I’m not trying to employ any sort of big-brained genre-fusion, I am trying to create something that’s meaningful, interesting, and entertaining for myself and others. I think this room-for-experimentation can be off-putting to people’s expectations sometimes.
There’s also the disadvantage of the Ness Lake sound changing so much from release to release. The one thing that they all have in common is that they, by and large, come from my head.
When I am forced to pigeon-hole myself, I will typically/sheepishly say something like “bedroom emo” or ask them if they’ve ever heard of Radiohead and say, “Oh yeah, it’s kinda like that.” I’ve heard Ness Lake labeled “digicore” before, which I kind of like.
Q: Digicore does have a nice ring to it. With such a unique sound of your own, who would you said are some of your influences?
A: This is a great question. I think they have changed as I’ve grown, but when I first started writing and recording, I found a lot of inspiration in artists like Sam Ray, Matthew Lee Cothran, and Alex G. Their experimentation and embrace of lo-fi recording was inspiring. Kind of the ethos of “creating for the sake of creating with what you have at the time.”
Q: Follow up: Is there a collection of albums from other artists that could help define your own style?
A: Right now, I’d say my top three defining albums are:
Remembering the Rockets by Strange Ranger
Hypnic Jerks by Spirit of the Beehive
Natural Part by Horse Jumper of Love
I’ve been working on a “full band,” more-conventional album for the better part of the last four years, and as I’ve been cultivating the equipment, deciding tones, and writing parts, I find myself asking, "What would these artists choose to do?"
Q: That’s a really great way of looking at your music and arrangements. Your lyrics are also very deep and reflective of what I assume are personal stories you're sharing. Would you say that's accurate? Is there a certain theme or message you are looking for the audience to receive?
A: That’s very kind of you. Yeah, I think there’s power in storytelling and relation. Usually, the songs are a way to tease out whatever themes are unraveling in my own life. I try to maintain a little privacy—or at least probable deniability—through use of abstraction or figurative language or whatever, but every now and then people compare my lyrics to diary entries, which is evidence that I might not be doing a good job at that.
My favorite songs are ones I can emotionally engage with and relate to, so I try to be honest and vulnerable in how I experience suffering, celebration, and the feelings between.
Q: Do you remember the first show you saw? How did it influence your current style and writing both musically and lyrically?
A: When I look back on it, my first show was pretty sweet. I got to see Gin Blossoms and Vertical Horizon with my family when I was like 10 years old at DTE Energy Music Theater. I think they got free tickets or something. It was 2005. My dad was always playing music in the house and in the car, and I think he was excited to share the world of live music with me because for my 11th birthday, my folks got us tickets to see my favorite band at the time, Goo Goo Dolls, open for Counting Crows at DTE.
This was a time in my life where I perpetually had the chorus of “The Middle” by Jimmy Eat World stuck in my head—despite not knowing the name of the song, or the band that sang it, or probably even the right words. I also toted around a discarded Walkman, always playing my only CD: my aunt’s copy of Astro Lounge by Smashmouth.
Those '90s and early 2000s bands could write a hook. I think that’s the biggest thing for me. Songs have to have something memorable I can latch onto, sing along with. Something that will get stuck in my head. I try to take that with me in my own work.
Q: A good hook is always a good element to a song. Is there anything been listening to and enjoying lately? What do you enjoy most about it?
A: I just picked up this new S/T album by Greg Mendez that’s really scratching an itch. It’s vulnerable, honest, and thoughtful. It has a lot that I could stand to learn from. I’ve also been listening to the Dune audiobook by Frank Herbert whenever my girlfriend and I are on a long car ride. We’re preparing for the second movie. One of my favorite bands, Strange Ranger, has a couple singles out preceding their album that drops later this month. I’ve been listening to those while I get out of the shower and get dressed. I’m really excited about the album and the sound they’ve been going for.
Q: It looks like you released two singles off this album a month prior with another album having been released in 2022. How did those previous works prepare you for this one?
A: The 2022 album I named Yard Sale. It was a collection of songs that I had made over the course of the year that weren’t really going anywhere. For whatever reason, I decided that they were as developed as they were ever going to be and I needed to work with a clean slate. I’m a big proponent of sharing and posting. I hate having stuff rotting in my Google Drive that will never be heard. These songs have some merit, so I decided that I could put them out, like a yard sale, and maybe someone somewhere will find value in it, even if it’s not my most refined product. I’ve done this a few other times.
It’s an impulse I have felt the need to keep in check, though. I don’t post everything that I work on. There’s even some songs that are released that I feel some embarrassment or whatever about, but I just rationalize it as part of the journey: documentation of growth.
The singles ["bl0ss0m" and "I Lean in to Hear You Sing"] Blowere kind of meant to draw attention to the release. Marco Aziel, my friend, bandmate and muse, not only mixed and helped produce the whole album, but also created a music video to accompany the single “I Lean in to Hear You Sing.” We were really excited to share that.
Q: How does it feel to have the album out?
A: It feels good. It’s freeing to finally get a release out after spending a lot of time working on the songs themselves, then going to great lengths to develop the album roll-out in terms of art, press, dates, music videos, and uploading it. I am proud of it and thankful that it has been received the way it has. Now I’m excited to be able to focus on the next release.
Q: What’s your favorite track off the new record and what do you hope people take away from it?
A: Oh, definitely the title track, “I Lean in to Hear You Sing.” The song has become kind of a mantra for me. So much of life and our actions are guided by fears, anxiety, and what-ifs. The song is about the opposite of that. Leaning in and trusting life, trusting your relationships, trusting that you will be loved and looked after. This faith has given me a lot of hope over the last year.
Q: What’s coming up next for you personally and musically through the end of this year and into 2024?
A: I have a lot underway! We took a break from playing live shows this summer to focus on two things: our full band album and our live set. The full band iteration of Ness Lake has been working on a full band album for quite some time. We are doing all of the recording and tracking ourselves. It has been a labor of love, but immensely rewarding.
For our live set, we’re working on tightening up, expanding our sound, and adding a new member. In all of this, I’m tremendously grateful to be moving forward alongside such talented musicians that I look up to: Jack Gaskill, Marco Aziel, and Tanner J. Ellis. I’m thankful to be where I am today with the people that I love.
Sean Miller is a Michigan singer-songwriter and freelance arts and entertainment writer.