Meet Chappaqua Wrestling, the genre-hopping indie band leaping into the unknown
Their debut album was a long time coming, but co-frontmen and lead songwriters Jake Mac & Charlie Woods are ready to take on anything with their hook-filled blend of shoegaze and grunge.
Chappaqua Wrestling’s co-frontmen and lead songwriters Jake Mac & Charlie Woods’ created the band’s approach out of a huge range of influences: a smorgasbord of the best the ‘indie’ umbrella has to offer, from Foals to My Bloody Valentine. After a steady stream of singles, we get to finally hear the results of this fusion in album form: Plus Ultra, the band’s first LP.
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The record is Charlie and Jake’s writing at its most focused – across their time as a band their wide swathe of influences led them to wear many different sonic hats, but never really got as heavy or as angry as we hear them on Plus Ultra. So despite being their first album, it’s the sound of a band maturing – a process fast-tracked by staring down two years of lockdown, and the mess that is the UK at the moment.
Plus Ultra Takes its name from a phrase used on old-world maps, roughly translated to “nothing lies beyond.” It doesn’t waste time before making it clear why it’s called that. It kicks things off with the righteously pissed-off lead track Full Round Table – on it, Mac and Woods state their dissatisfaction as to the bleak outlook the UK has carved out for anyone in their 20s. We chatted to Jake and Charlie about how they arrived at Plus Ultra, the politics the album explores and how they put together their enormous guitar sounds.
How did Plus Ultra come about?
Jake: “We had a little buzz from a few singles, and were building up a bit of momentum – but then lockdown hit, right as we were starting to plan an album. So we had to pause things for a bit, but we had time to properly sit down and write the album and develop our lyrical voice and work out what we actually wanted the project to be. It was quite a transformative time for us – before, we were making quite jangly, surfy, dreamy music. We went back to our roots, the music that we were into when we were like 17, 18, 19, when me and Charlie first became friends and started playing in bands together: more shoegaze, and more grunge.
“Then we started recording it about a year and a half ago. It was recorded in about 10 or 12 days, and mixed in about five days. It was very efficient, a pretty punk attitude. Just going in and getting it done. We weren’t obsessing over, like, the sound of a certain delay pedal or whatever.
“Once it was finished, our manager said: ‘I think it’s too good to self release, maybe send it around to labels to see what happens.’ But once the label got involved, that’s when the big delay started happening: labels, lawyers, all those guys in suits – the back and forth is crazy long.
“When we realised it was gonna take that long to get out, it was quite annoying, but at the same time, we kind of appreciated having the time to really kind of understand what the album was. We recorded it so quickly, so many of the things we wrote the album about hadn’t really set in – when you write, you kind of pour your heart out, and you don’t really analyse what you’ve done. And then when you look back, you’re like, wow, you know, there’s actually more to these lyrics than I first thought, which is great.
“It’s also just made us raring to get going on album two as soon as we can, which would be great. But you know, gotta do this one first!”
“Despite the delay, the topics the record takes on are more relevant than ever…”
Charlie: I think when the songs were written, things were bad. Sadly, it hasn’t gotten better. There’s this feeling that’s gotten so much stronger, that the world needs this kind of music that’s of this feeling so much more. Because it’s just getting kind of worse. British people are good at taking shit, but then they just eventually just reach a point when they can’t take it anymore. And then they rebel. And you get all these protests or these big, massive things that happen over history where people just can’t take it. And it feels like that’s kind of happened. Now. It’s been bubbling up for so long, it’s coming to a head.”
Jake: “It would be absolutely like written in the stars, for there to be mass protests and absolute mayhem and everyone just finally overthrow this government on the release day of our album, But it looks like there’s still a bit of a long way to go. It’s mad because two years ago, when we were putting together the album, the lead single Full Round Table is such a voice of rebellion – a ‘fuck you’ to the older generations that try to decide our futures for us.
It felt so right at the time to get that song out a year ago. We were thinking, ‘yeah, it’s not gonna get worse than this – perfect time to release Full Round Table’. But it’s only got more steamy on this island. And I can’t see where it’s gonna go next.
Given the mix of genres you play, do you feel compelled to talk about these issues?
Jake: I guess bands are kind of expected to say something based on their sound, like a punk band will be expected to be super political – Idles for example – and for a post-punk band you’re expected to talk about something totally random. Like a postbox or something. But I feel like if me and Charlie made drum and bass we’d still be talking about these topics.
Charlie: “A lot of the messages that we say on the album, and the conversations we bring up, whether it’s talking about cultural appropriation or wealth inequality, it’s because these conversations always need to be had. Those are things where it’s like, we want to say this because this is fucking important.
“Equally, we find ourselves writing about things like this because we generally write the music first. We have a melody, a tune, and we create this vibe. And then we think, well, these are the emotions that are being produced – and the only other things that have given me these emotions are these other things going on in our lives, or what we’re seeing going on in the world. From my point of view, it’s not like the genre writes it, but like, the mood of the song means it kind of has to be written about one thing. But there’s no external pressure, it’s not like ‘oh, we’re a grunge band, we’ve got to just be fucking sad.’
Tell us what gear you use to get your sound.
Charlie: “I’ve got this EHX Memory Man which has been on my board for about 10 years. I borrowed it from a friend when I was like 13, and just never gave it back. If you’re a My Bloody Valentine fan it’s an absolute dream: it’s just got so much weird reverse echoing on it, you can save all your presets and it just looks fucking cool.
That’s been with us over all the changes in genres we’ve done. Because when we started, when we were 16 , 17 and based in Brighton, we were playing a lot of rock and shoegaze. And then we went to Manchester, and wanted to do something new. For us at that moment it was more Steely Dan and Beach Boys type stuff.
So when we were doing that, there was a bit more spring reverb and so on – just to make it sound older. But then we kind of departed from that sound as we kind of left Manchester. We got a bit angrier and you know, Brexit happened, we’re struggling for money, the gap between rich and poor is getting bigger and bigger, and people are angry and life’s tough.
So as musicians, we just naturally got a bit heavier, and went back to our original sound. So I got a Big Muff, and Jake got a RAT as that happened.
But we also like to have this very powerful, neat, clean sound to build on – one side of it is just this absolute fucking mayhem, chaos, loads of low-end. And then the other side of it is just trying to be as bright and clean as possible.
Jake: “I think to do that well is quite unique. I went to see Mogwai that day – their dynamic range is amazing. It’s clean telecasters panned left and right, it’s super sparkly, and then they crescendo into this enormous distorted sound. You can hear that in their recordings, but when you see it live, it’s just like… wow. I was thinking, you know, these guys are doing what we are trying on our album and our live set. Because we also love bands like American Football, that super clean, natural guitar sound.
Charlie: “Yeah, we do like a bit of that clean stuff bouncing off each other. But we also love bands like Sonic Youth, with those weird noises just flying off everywhere. I think having those light and shade moments is our biggest stylistic thing that we like to do.”
What about amps?
Jake: “Charlie’s got an old Traynor, I’ve got an old Selmer amp (even though it’s actually a Carlsbro that looks like a Selmer). They’re old valve amps and they just get super loud. So they’re a huge part of our live sound, and they’re also what we recorded 80 per cent of the album on.
Charlie: “Because they’ve got so much headroom, you can put them on full and then turn on our loudest pedal and it’s just suddenly another fuckign level. Jake built me a pedal, too, actually, for my birthday – the Salted Pork.”
Jake: “It’s just one of those ones you buy and build yourself. But it basically sounds like an elephant screaming.”
Charlie: “It got its name because I was at a festival and just covered in mud, sweating, and sunburnt red. So I was basically like this big muddy pig. And for my birthday, I get to never forget that, as it’s now a guitar pedal.”
What about guitars?
Charlie: “Jake plays a Telecaster, and I play a Fender American Strat that I bought when I was 15. 700 quid, fucking awesome. It’s not mega old, I think 1998 – but, it was in pristine condition. And then I fucking dropped it, during some shit rehearsal as well. It was in great nick and then this massive chunk of the paintwork on the back came off. It looks kind of cool, maybe.
“But we’re both pretty big Fender fans.
Do you think there’s truth to all those claims that no young bands play Gibson guitars?
Charlie: “I guess it’s kind of a fashion thing. Gibson’s are seen as like School of Rock, you know, old school. The Guitar Hero kind of thing. But Fender’s – they’re a bit more post-punky, a bit cooler.
To me. And, they’re just super versatile – which is good when you hop around genres a lot!
Plus Ultra is out 14 April.
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