This time last year, Chris Chuzles (second from left) was preparing to say goodbye to Disguised As Birds, the decade-old Milwaukee rock band he fronted. Not longer after the release of the band’s outstanding swan song EP We Buy Gold was released in January of this year, the newly-bandless singer found himself in another blistering, balls-out rock ‘n’ roll outfit. Now more than six months into his Hot Coffin tenure (and before the band’s show at Cactus Club Saturday), Milwaukee Record asked Chuzles about the response to early shows, songwriting progress, and what it’s like to sing for his “favorite band.”
Milwaukee Record: You told us in April that you guys had three songs and the writing process was “unbelievably fast.” How does the writing process and band dynamic differ from Disguised As Birds?
Chris Chuzles: The writing process in Hot Coffin is really no different from Disguised as Birds. All about riffs. Then jams. Then vocal parts. Vocals have been the last element in every band I’ve ever played in. At the risk of sounding extremely lazy, I usually sit out on a new song the first couple of weeks that it’s coming together. I guess I’d rather be the glue that holds everything together in the end.
MR: How many songs have you written since?
CC: Well, I know I said last time that our writing process was a fairly quick one. But, goddamn, this has been a pretty tremendous year, personally, for all of us. Jon [Kraft] and Joe [Kanack] have both gotten married in the last month-and-a-half. Houses have been bought. Jobs have been promoted. Expectations have been raised. These are not excuses, by any means. These are major goddamn milestones. Major life events. So to answer your question, three. And we’ll be playing two of those for the first time this Saturday at Cactus Club.
MR: Have you guys completely phased out material from the previous regime? Or are there a few songs you kept and put your own spin on?
CC: For the most part, yes. We were doing “Fire Child” and “Hold On” at the last few shows. “Rolling Bones” was the first song that I attempted to sing at my very first practice with Hot Coffin. I disappointed myself in my own performance, and we haven’t tried it since. I may have said this before, but before I joined Hot Coffin, they were my favorite band in town. As a vocalist, what drew me in the most to the band were Sean [Williamson]’s vocals. They just got their claws into me on every song. I was at their album release show in Appleton, where I got their first album. I literally had it in my car stereo for the next four months without taking it out. I learned all the words. I sang along in the car on my work commute every day. Later on, when they were without a singer and looking for a new one, it was impossible for me to say no. My favorite band? Come on! Who gets that offer? But, I knew up front that a few things would have to change vocally. “Hold On” is still in our set list for this Saturday. It’s too good of a closer to drop.
MR: When we last spoke to you, you had yet to play a show with Hot Coffin. In the handful of gigs you’d played in the six months or so since, how has the new material gone over live?
CC: I feel that it’s gone over great. And, we’ve been really fortunate to land some really great shows. My first show was opening for Tilts, one of my favorite bands in the country right now. It’s always kind of hard to gauge what people really think, as most of what is verbal seems to be coming from friends and acquaintances and they’re always going to say everything is great.
MR: At my very first show with Hot Coffin at Cactus Club, a very dear and honest friend approached me, saying the show was great and started describing a song that we had played that he clearly liked way more than the rest. He hummed a few bars to me, and I recognized it as one of the two “older” songs we played in our set. That’s fine. It’s a great song. We wouldn’t have played it if it wasn’t. Maybe, secretly, I would have hoped he had latched onto something new that I had written, personally. A slice of humble pie will do just fine. They are all good songs.
CC: However, when I stepped off the stage at that same show, I was approached by a man from Madison requesting me to sign a poster from that night’s show. He said he saw “great things in our future.” Mind you, that show poster featured a giant penis wearing a suit. That’s a win.
MR: What does 2015—your first full year fronting Hot Coffin—hold for the band? A record? Touring?
CC: 2015 is going to be great for us. We’re currently looking at recording with Shane Olivo in January. We started with him last spring and recorded three songs. We’re banking those three, and bundling them with some brand new ones for a full-length. We’re close. Only have a couple more songs to complete and we’re there. Touring? We’re just planning a string of out-of-town and out-of-state extended weekends right now. That’s kind of my favorite thing in this world.