From panoramic vistas from the peaks of stately Yorkshire ridges to drug-running ranches in the deserts of Texas, The Chevin are a band steeped in natural grandeur. They’re a band who grew up relishing the magnificent swathes of moorland stretching from York to Leeds visible from atop the hill overlooking their home town of Otley – the geological marvel after which they’re named – and instinctively destined to recreate the wonder of it in music.
“Otley sits in a valley in Wharfdale and the hill on one side of the valley is The Chevin,” singer and songwriter Coyle Girelli explains. “I like the romance of naming ourselves after something so local and personal, and at the same time it creates an image of being stood on the edge of a ridge or a cliff looking out. If you go up into the hills, you can see all the way to York on one side and as far as the eye can see on the other. When you write without being contrived you’re directly influenced by your surroundings and growing up in a place with such a wide landscape we naturally go towards that sort of feeling.”
As a teenager, roaming the tiny market town of Otley in The Chevin’s shadow with a head full of Nirvana, Oasis and The Beatles, Coyle had a soundtrack to his life spooling constantly through his head. “I was constantly singing music to myself when I was playing, everything always had a soundtrack attached. I guess it was a natural place I was heading, I was constantly writing melody and words for as long as I can remember, without realising. Nirvana was the first thing that made me want to be in a band. The first album I got was ’In Utero’ and I remember listening to it all the way through, and Nirvana strike a chord with a lot of teenagers but it really spoke to me personally. I’d loved other music but that was the first time that something had hit deep. After that I bought ‘Nevermind’ and I was hooked. The idea of being in a band was something that was formed from really getting deep into the songs, really starting to analyse the songs and the words.”
Surprisingly, Otley proved to be a hotbed for 90s-inspired rock hopefuls, and Coyle and his guitarist schoolmate Mat Steele began writing and playing in a variety of musical incarnations from the age of 12, eventually graduating to the lively live scene of Leeds, playing in local bands. It wasn’t until the start of 2010, though, that Coyle, Mat and their regular bassist Jon Langford chanced upon fellow Otley drummer Mal Taylor and Coyle felt the band was right to record the album’s worth of songs he’d been hoarding for his big push. Enormous rock songs with the clout and sizzle of early U2, The Killers and the voice of Roy Orbison, but also with the cultish edge of Band Of Horses and Arcade Fire. Uplifting desert air punchers like ‘Champion’ and ‘Blue Eyes’, piano-led paeans to nature’s wonders like ‘Beautiful World’, rousing rock wreckages like ‘Drive’ (in which a mourning Coyle fantasises about crashes, both physical and emotional), synth disco stomps like ‘Colours’ and tangled relationship elegies such as ‘Dirty Little Secret’ and ‘Love Is Just A Game’ that hinted at messy affairs and youthful promiscuity. Songs that retained their style and stature while swerving between the defiant and the devastated, a reflection of Coyle’s mindset at the time.
“The last few years has been a time of break-ups and I’ve had some close friends pass away as well as family,” says Coyle. “Throughout writing the album, it was a time of loss. ‘So Long Summer’ is a good closer because it sums it up more than any other. It’s an uplifting song but the lyrics are about losing someone close. That sums the album up lyrically – melodically it’s quite uplifting, but the undertone is constantly sad. These songs, personally for me, were very therapeutic, and I hope for other people they are too.”
Demoing the entire album on Coyle’s home studio (recordings The Chevin were so pleased with that they kept many of the original keyboard tracks for the finished album) and using them to lure in a manager, the band concentrated on perfecting their songs in rehearsal rather than playing live and opted for the increasingly fashionable approach of self-financing their debut album and approached LA producer Noah Shain early in 2011 to find them a studio as dramatic and dislocated as their music and origins required.
“I wanted to find somewhere in a forest or somewhere where we’d be split off from any distraction or outside influence for three and a half weeks,” says Coyle. “He found this place out in the desert of El Paso in South Texas. The story of the ranch is pretty crazy, it’s right on the Mexican border and there’s a history of arms running and drug running but the ranch is now a pecan farm so he makes his money from that and puts it into buying insane vintage gear. It was this old ranch building they’d turned into a studio and anything you ever want is there, vintage guitars, mandolins, baby pianos, everything was there. We were able to go there and completely lose ourselves in the middle of the desert for almost a month. The experience was pretty mind-altering in a lot of ways, it maybe even widened the sound a little more. You opened the door and all you could see was desert. It was completely insane. When we had a bit of time off the owner of the ranch came down and made us fire guns into the desert to make us feel Texan.”
Between taking pot-shots at cacti, The Chevin recorded thirteen songs, working relentlessly on getting the perfect Peter Gabriel drum sound for ‘Dirty Little Secret’ and luring in local members of the El Paso Philharmonic Orchestra to add strings to the ever-expanding pop monster that was ‘Champion’, the song that would become the lead track on their debut EP that October. They emerged with a “very rich, ambitious album” that may well kick-start a revival in properly produced rock. “It’s quite rich sonically,” Coyle explains, “and that’s something that’s coming back more and more over the last year, which is good. Maybe it’s a reaction to how easy it’s got to make music on a computer in your bedroom. It’s nice to hear so much music recently where you can tell it’s recorded in a studio and the takes are live and there’s some thought that’s gone into the sound, it’s not just a plug-in.”
The album certainly turned ears. Fierce Panda heard it and offered them a record contract, starting with the ravenously received ‘Champion EP’; US contacts heard it at Stateside showcase gigs and built an American team around them; The Airborne Toxic Event heard it and took them on the road around the UK for a month; The Pigeon Detectives heard it and offered them a 16-date tour of Europe at the start of 2012, sharing their tourbus. And White Lies heard it, came down to catch them on their UK headline club tour towards the end of 2011 and invited The Chevin to support them on their winter arena tour, culminating at Wembley Arena: “an amazing experience. It was weird, once we were onstage and the place was pretty much full, it’s one of my favourite gigs ever. It’s great as a support band but as a headliner I’m sure it’s better. It’s something to tick off on the list.”
So even before their show-stopping performances at SXSW 2012, The Chevin were being given glimpses of the big time. All that remained was to put the finishing touches to their immense debut album – the shimmering, propulsive, organ-drenched centrepiece and title track ‘Borderland’, an Arcade Fire-esque epic recorded at Shain’s LA studio early in 2012 but inspired by the El Paso recording stint that brought out Coyle’s inner Springsteen/Morricone.
“Where the studio is situated, it sits right on the Mexican/American border,” he says. “You can literally walk for five minutes and hit the big black fence that Cheney put up a few years ago. The song can be taken a couple of ways. When I wrote it it was a little bit about the border war, the almost moral war that goes on at that and many other borders around the world, but subconsciously it was about coming through a period and being re-awoken.”
And with next single ‘Drive’ hitting the gas on May 14 and ‘Borderland’ causing its deep impact in August, The Chevin are about to break another border; the one between local heroes and global superstars. The Chevin: mountainous.