After spending two years in Amsterdam to record their latest project, Until We're There, Chasing Rainbows is ripe and ready to push their new tunes across the pond.
While attending a Dutch art school out in Amsterdam at the age of 25, guitarist/vocalist Lawrence Rengert met fellow bandmate Henk Jonkers who had his own studio at the time. Shortly after Henk invited Lawrence to jam at his space, the two started recorded together as Chasing Rainbows. Over a span over several weeks, a variety of friends and other musicians came to the studio to add to the mix. A demo tape surfaced soon later, yet Lawrence had to move back to New York since his studies had also ended.
A year later, Lawrence made the move to fly back to Amsterdam to record their first full length album, With Henk Jonkers, which was picked up by a notable European label called Excelsior Records. This release was followed up by a run of shows throughout Europe and the US. After touring, Lawrence moved back to America to care for his kids and didn't return to Amsterdam until about a year later.
Going back to the original studio where their demo tape was created, Chasing Rainbows spent some time to record their latest album which they released on their own indie label, Drink Me. The group had their eyes set to promote their new release with a string of shows across the West Coast as well as parts of Europe, but the rise of Covid-19 stifled their initial game plan.
I had the opportunity to catch up with Lawrence while he's sheltering out in Ventura, California.
Here's what he had to say:
Q: Do you ever consider how people will listen to your music while you’re recording it?
A: Absolutely, I always think about that. Pretty much every day at the end of the recording process, which is usually 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning, I email myself the mp3s. Once I email it to myself, I’ll drop it into ITunes or something and burn a CD. Then the next day, the first thing I’ll do is get in my car to get coffee and play the CD and listen to it like that. Then, I’ll listen to it on my computer.
So for the last two records we did, we pressed vinyl for both of those, but it’s really hard to know what it sounds like because we have it remastered for vinyl. Until you have the actual vinyl record, you’re still listening to a file over a computer. I do think about those things though.
In our studio, we have one of those old portable cassette boomboxes and you can take a quarter inch cable and put it from our setup into that. You can literally play the files from your computer out through the speakers on that little boombox, so you can also hear what it would sound like in a really crappy situation which I think is kinda the most important way since most people have crappy gear, like either one of their speakers is blown in their car or their stereo isn’t that great. Most likely, it’s not the really great stuff.
Q: While recording, do you like to do it live to capture that sound or do you prefer tracking?
A: So for the first record we did which came out on this European indie label in Amsterdam called Excelsior Recordings, that was like my first full length record I put out with my own songs. My dream had always been to make something that sounded as good as it possibly could sound in an audiofile sense, so that whole album was done track by track.
Ya know, we started out with the drummer and me playing guitar and we recorded that just to make sure everything was in time. Then we threw away my guitar part and re-recorded it to where it sounded better. So after that, we did it piece by piece and were able to have more control over the levels and everything. We tried a bunch of stuff, so we’d be like, “oh yea, violin doesn’t work on this song, we’ll just take it out and throw it away because it’s like an isolated recording on a different track, done on a different day”. I really liked that, quality-wise. After we did that record and listened to it alot, I was like, “this isn’t what we really sound like” because it’s done in such an artificial way.
Even though we played it from our hearts and it was authentically done, it wasn’t really like going to our concert so I wanted our next record to be done live. I wanted “Until We’re There” to have the energy of a live performance and I wanted it to reflect that we were all in the same room. So when we went in to record that, it was all very intentional from the beginning. We wanted it to be the opposite from our first record without sacrificing the quality.
I know My Morning Jacket has this one album, Tennessee Fire where they recorded it in their practice space with like one microphone in the center of the room. You can hear how the vocals are all really intense because the singer had to deliver his vocal really loud to compete with the rest of the band. On the tracks that are really ambient and quiet, you’re able to hear him normally. I didn't want to go that lofi though, you know. I still wanted it to be a real professional sounding recording, something that someone might play on the radio.
Q: For your latest album, did you have any inspirations or energy behind that sound?
A: Yeah you know it’s funny whenever I record something, I always go in with some idea of what it’s going to be. Usually the first stuff I start recording, I never really use in the end. During the first couple days of recording, that stuff gets thrown out and then you have to figure out what the record’s going to be. So for “Until We’re There”, I had a lot of ideas for what songs were going to be on the record and what they were going to sound like based on what I was listening to and being influenced by at the time.
Because I recorded that record over two years in little chunks, I recorded for like ten days and then I didn’t record again for like six months. I went to Amsterdam everytime to record. It was three trips and then a fourth trip for mixing and mastering. For the first record, we did like five trips because it was track by track and we spent more than twice the amount of time on it. So for that second record, we intended it to not take forever. We wanted to record it live and mix it well, but not take the magic out of it by overproducing.
I’m trying to think of what we were listening to at that time, I mean for sure we were listening to early Lou Reed solo records like Coney Island Baby. I was also listening to a bunch of Paul McCartney’s solo stuff, even up to his stuff from like five years ago. I was listening to all that stuff and going to Burger Records a lot out in Fullerton. I was talking with those guys at that time and dropping off records, so that stuff was definitely in my ear.
Q: While writing the lyrics to that album, did you intend to speak to the audience? A lot of the songs seem to be a call toward the crowd.
A: Yea, I do think I write like that. It’s funny because this is kinda where our conversation began, but for a lot of my music, the creation and the editing and writing the lyrics happens in the car. So if you go back to where one of my songs begins, I’m usually driving somewhere in my car, you know those long boring rides. Some idea will come into my head and I’ll literally take out a voice recorder app or something and sing it acapella. I’ll just fill in some words or even like a bah-da-da-dum to whatever I’m thinking. If I’m really inspired, I’ll even pull the car over on that same trip and maybe try to refine it a bit more or re-record it so that by the time I actually sit down with a guitar and put chords to it, I’m just listening to my voice to come up with the chords.
I’ve done performance for a long time and have a background in visual arts. I went to art school and I did a lot of performative types of things, so I’ve always had that in my mind. I’ve come to enjoy the recording process the most out of any aspect of being a musician, but that wasn’t true in the beginning. In the beginning, it was always the live show.
The more I’ve done that style of recording my voice, the more my lyrics are reflective of what you’re saying, it’s like I’m talking to the audience. What’s funny about that is that happens when we perform since I’m up on stage talking to them, but when I’m recording or writing there isn’t anyone there but there is someone there in a way. Ya know, I’m envisioning that there will be someone there one day.
Q: Was your latest album only released through your label Drink Me?
A: It was, yeah. So we signed this record deal in 2013 with Excelsior and that was really great because I’d been doing so much over the years promoting myself and always bringing my own equipment. You know how it is, it’s the DIY life where you do everything. So this was the first time where I had a publicist and people in an office at a record label and I could go there and they’d be like, “oh, let’s work on your social media stuff. Oh let’s put one of the songs from your record as a single on ITunes.”
That was all really great and I’d always wanted to have an album where you can go into any record store and find the new record from that label. This label that I signed to was really huge and they had their records all over Europe, like Poland, Spain, England, and that was such a dream come true because I’d always wanted to go into some random store and see my own record sitting there. It’s just such a cool “like, wow I’ve done something.” (laughs)
Q: So when did you get involved with Drink Me?
A: So when we went to do our second record, you know we were like, “do we really wanna do another record with a label or do we wanna go out and try something on our own” because the other side to that is you’re splitting any profit with all these different people like the distributor, the record label, and everybody in the band and it’s like there’s no money left. Somehow it all disappears after everything's paid for. So I was like maybe the second time around we should just all go in as a band, similarly to how Wilco is able to just post their new album on their website since they already have such a big following.
We decided to go for it and we figured that we had several albums that we still wanted to make, so this wasn’t going to be our last album or anything. We thought, “well now would be a good time because we’re motivated to do it and start this label of our own.” The first album we did was done out in Europe and that label wasn’t really able to promote it much in the US, so I thought “well I’m living out here in Ventura so for the second album we should try doing something here and see what happens” and that’s where Drink Me came from.
I think the two biggest challenges are, one streaming because it feels like the dominant way to hear music and that’s really bad for musicians unless you’re huge because then you’re not really relying on album sales to pay your bills or whatever. For the smaller bands, selling merch is like the only way that you’re making money. If you’re lucky, you play somewhere and make enough money for everybody to get a couple beers, some tacos, some gas money and now it’s gone. There’s nothing else, ya know.
The negative thing is that vinyl records are still one of my favorite things in the world, but they’ve gotten more expensive to make. You have to sell so many just to break even with the price you’re paying to make each one. Certain scenes and crowds that come to your shows will be like, “oh rad a 7-in single, I’ll buy that”, but other people are going, “wow I really like that band, I’m just going to look them up right now on Spotify or Apple Music and bookmark them so I’ll already have it and I didn’t have to pay anything.” I think that’s really challenging for musicians because I love anyone who appreciates my music enough to listen to it, but it’s going to be more difficult to make it if it’s just given away for free.
My standards are really high, so I went to like three different factories all over and went to meet up with the people who were making the vinyl records there and saw the process of how each company made them. I was looking at the quality and what the packaging and labels looked like, all that kind of stuff. Ya know when you find that one where it’s like, “wow they’re for the artist and the quality is so great”, well that one’s normally like three times as expensive compared to the company that’s just throwing them together. It’s not any fault of their own because they’re not doing it themselves, but people don’t know the amount of time and detective work that goes into choosing a place to create something like a record.
There’s people out there, like Mac DeMarco, who are really good at doing it cheap. You know, he has his own equipment and his first album had a really crappy quality but he had the time to edit it. It kinda has a certain lofi feel anyways, so it all works really good for what he’s playing. It’s weird because if that’s what you wanna do, you’re in a really good position because you can do it virtually for free once you have the setup. It’s really only costing you time, but if you do something like going into Electric Ladyland studios in NYC and record as a 24-year old musician who works at Trader Joe’s, that’s going to take years to save up the money just to pay for the studio time.
When I was in one of my first bands, I was playing a lot of shows with Ariel Pink because I was living in Silver Lake at that time. The guitar player who was playing in that band whose name’s Paul was Ariel’s guitar player as well. We played a bunch of alternative art gallery type spaces in Echo Park and Silver Lake around that time. This was like ten years ago, you know and we’d open up for him or get invited to play other things. His whole thing is like a freaky version of Mac DeMarco or something, but in a way they’re very similar.
You know what I mean, not exactly what they’re doing, but maybe not what it actually sounds like or their personalities but their creative process is very isolated where they’re doing everything themselves. I think that works really well for Ariel’s music because he can hide a lot of the lack of technical equipment in the way he’s creating what he’s creating. He’s not creating something where you can hear his voice crystal clear and there’s no effects. The kind of contemporary home studio way of making music really works to the benefit of someone like that.
Q: The rest of the year’s pretty uncertain right now, but did you all have plans to play shows in California?
A: We did. We were probably going to play in Europe first. That was originally the plan and then as this whole thing started unfolding we had to come up with a next best gameplan. About a year ago, we put out a vinyl 45 with the first single from our latest record to sort of pass those around and play shows where we were going to sell them. I actually made like 300 45s and I put them all together with folding posters in the trunk of my car.
I drove all the way to Oregon and hit every record store I could find, so like 35 record stores or something like that and people were just like, “what are you doing, wow this must have been what people had to do back in the day. Like you’re actually driving to these stores and walking in cold.” That was the first Drink Me release and I really wanted that to make contact and meet people. The people were really amazing. A lot of them were just like, “here I’ll buy three records, I wanna support you. I’ll put them in my store” while other places wanted to do consignment. I feel like a lot of the store owners were also musicians, so they wanted to support people that are trying to get something off the ground.
I was basically going to do that over again during this springtime. Now that we’re in April, that didn’t happen. I was going to put the LPs in my car and play about 15 shows up the coast, basically up to Oregon and back. It would’ve been like the first wave of shows, but I was going to do that with just one other band member as a kind of initial offering. Then we’d do these full band concerts in Europe and hopefully get the rest of the guys over here to do more shows all over, not just California.