words: Pete Mella
pics: Chris Saunders
Sinister leaders of a bizarre arm-waving surf cult, CHUCK are about to unleash the madness on an unsuspecting country.
Across Sheffield, in some of the more imaginative indie clubs, the music will suddenly go quiet, and all you'll hear is some bloke going 'aaaaaaaaaah' . This leads to a burst of madcap surf-tinged guitar-work, some cod-Spanish shouting, and results in a room full of kids holding their arms aloft. Then normal service resumes and they'll play the Libertines or something.
This is the crazy work of Chuck, a bunch of fellas old enough to know better, who make some of the best music in the city and are about to hit the road and convert the rest of the country into arm-waving worshippers.
"It was great going to Fuzz Club and Offbeat and seeing the whole room with their arms in the air," muses bassist Peter.
"It's great seeing all those people dancing and thinking 'That's me shouting there!'," laughs guitarist and singer Rob.
"At first I thought dancing to your own song would be really lame," says singer Darren, "but then I thought bollocks to that. Somebody told me that all that Freddie Mercury used to listen to in his car was Queen albums, and somebody went, 'what an arrogant bastard', but I don't agree."
"Tom Jones used to only listen to Tom Jones records," says Rob, "and I thought what an arrogant bastard, but now I understand!"
The follow up to 'No Not Ah' is the double a-side 'Squeezed (Into Their Machines)' / 'Um Na A Gay', which will be released on Thee Sheffield Phonographic Corporation very shortly. Well hopefully…
"We decided that we wanted it turned round incredibly quickly," says Darren, "which is why it's still not done. We're waiting on Mitch doing the artwork but he got Halo 2…"
The single is the result of a recording session with 2Fly's Alan Smyth, which the band are immensely happy with. "He's done a really cracking job," says Darren. "He is god," agrees Peter.
"We worked him dead hard," says Darren, "we went through about five songs in one day, we went through loads of ideas about what we were going to put out and argued…"
"We're still not quite decided on what colour vinyl it's going to be…," says Peter (solid blue seems a favoured choice).
The session yielded five tracks, and the band are keen to get into the studio again and write more songs.
"One was a ukulele version of our single, hopefully we're going back in with Alan and doing a pile more stuff, and do an album. That's the idea after this single. The actual recording process never takes that long, it's the arguing about it afterwards!
"It's not exactly arguing, it's indecision," says Rob.
"Ages ago we went, we couldn't have 'Um Na' as a single," says Darren, "because it follows a track called No Not Ah, and it's stupid, and makes us look even more ridiculous, but then we thought it's really good. When we play it live people really enjoy it."
"As opposed to the other ones people really hate…?," interjects drummer Mitch (who somehow between bouts of Halo also manages to drum in Texas Pete and the Motherfuckers).
There are various new songs in the process of writing, that the band are eager to get recorded too.
"There's one that's kind of like Half Man Half Biscuit or Beachbuggy. It's got this guitar solo that I'm trying to work out if it's nicked from Animal Magic. We've got another song that sounds a bit like Knightrider. And when I was a kid, well a teenager, I always wanted to do a really, really serious Mary Chain, Velvet Underground type song, and it just never seemed right to do it."
"Chuck in serious song shocker," deadpans Mitch.
"It does sound really nice and quite sweet and it's more tuneful in its vocal and it's not just me shouting. So that'll be really good."
The band's sound has evolved somewhat since they formed after Darren recorded some sample-based dance music four years ago.
"I did home recordings," he says, "basically sampler based, influenced by Norman Cook type things, but I brought in my influences of 60s garage and 50s rock n roll, kind of had this weird mishmash, which the others heard."
"We listened to it," says Peter, "and thought it was really cool, let's form a band. So we did. Then we sucked for a bit."
But they far from suck now, their music being a blend of surf, garage, 50's, 60's, indiepop, and seemingly any genre they ever feel like turning their hand to. For example new single 'Um Na A Gay' is distinctly influenced by Russian folk music, and if there's any new dance craze attached to it, it will be a crazy Cossack dance, or something like Zorba The Greek. Well we can but hope that'd catch on at Fuzz Club…
Although good musicians, you could hardly call Chuck musos, by their own admission they rehearse very little, and like to keep things simple.
"I wish we could spend more time being musical," says Darren, "but we spend a lot of time contriving to make the songs as simple to play as possible, which makes me think we could probably franchise Chuck, because we've got a formula."
"You'd have to have an angle wouldn't you?," says Rob. "The female Chuck."
"The Chinese Chuck," suggests Darren. "The Nazi Chuck. Or the midget Chuck."
Despite this simplicity, or perhaps even because of it, Chuck are one of the favourite bands on the Sheffield scene. Yet they've played suprisingly few gigs in the four years they've been together.
"It's been such a slow thing," says Darren. "I've actually counted up how many gigs we've done, and we've going four years and done 30 gigs. That's bugger all! That really is nothing. Rumpus do that in a week…"
And also unbelievably their gig at Leeds' Go Johnny Go Go Go Go last month was their first ever gig outside Sheffield. This seems like it will be the first of many forays outside the city limits, as they've got potential gigs lined up across the country, in places including London, Manchester, Hull and Wigan.
"We're getting the right kinds of offers now," says Darren, "it's very easy for bands to go and play London to nobody, or to a load of people who came to see the band that sound like Oasis. It's a waste of bloody time. We're getting offers for the right audience."
Pete sums up one of the reasons for this Sheffield-centric gigging so far. "Rob's the only one who can drive," he says, "and he's only got a mini."
But for a band hardly known outside their own city they've got accolades that some ridiculously hard-grafting bands would kill for, including interviews on Raw Talent, a glowing review in the Sunday Times, and spins on Radio One.
"That's [adopts plummy voice] Radio 1," says Rob with glee, "none of this Radio 6 malarkey. National. Radio. One. The proper one!"
"It's nice to do things that if you weren't in a band you'd never get chance to do," says Darren.
"We sit around all day," interjects Mitch, "listening to our own records and wanking on about how we were on Radio One!"
Review-wise the band have had almost universal praise for 'No Not Ah' (The Sunday Times one was from comedian Stuart Lee, who became aware of the band because the single's title is a Fist of Fun reference). Their contribution to Thee SPC's 'Box of Odd' compilation, which also featured GG Action, Motherfuckers, Texas Pete and Beachbuggy, also went down well, with a few exceptions.
"It's had mixed reviews, mostly pretty good. It's been weird, some have said we're the best band on it, others have said we're the worst. One said 'some daft bastard hollering over music that makes the Ramones looks like a Chekov play'. One said we had the distinction of being rock's first fake Argies, because they thought 'Kill 'Em All' [which is actually about bug-killing shoot 'em up film Starship Troopers] was about the Falklands."
But you can't win them all, and a room full of arm waving indie kids can't be wrong. Will the new single be a similar indie disco favourite to 'No Not Ah'?
"It's impossible to tell," says Darren. "I didn't think No Not Ah would go down so well. I wouldn't say it's particularly good for a disco, or an indie night."
"'No Not Ah' isn't because there's big sections where there isn't drums or rhythm or anything," says Rob.
"Whether or not it gets played at local discos are wherever has little bearing on how many we sell," says Darren, "I think we've reached saturation point in Sheffield, with the sales of that, people at gigs have all got them, which is why we're trying to get gigs outside Sheffield. That's one thing we learnt from [SPC labelmates] the Long Blondes, playing outside Sheffield really helps."
"When we play in Sheffield we know there's going to be people who like us who've seen us play before, so it's daunting that people might think we're dreadful. But we've never really had a frosty reception. It'll just be fun."
So look out for Rob's Mini tearing up the motorway to introduce Chuck's brand of lunacy on another unsuspecting town. And very soon the whole country will be arm-waving, Cossack dancing and generally grinning like idiots.