Chime School’s eponymous debut album is a celebration of the creative impulse that drives San Francisco’s burgeoning DIY music scene. The album places the sound of the electric 12-string guitar front and center, bringing to mind the pop hits of the ’60s and late-’80s. Andy Pastalaniec, the group’s only member, said the music he wrote for the Chime School album wouldn’t exist without the inspiration and support he draws from his fellow musicians. “Every so often, a new scene comes together in San Francisco,” he said. “That’s happening right now. I moved here because there’s a lot of art, music and creativity happening.”
The album opens with “Wait Your Turn,” a ballad that’s introduced by the chiming tones of an electric 12-string guitar, a booming bass line and a mid-tempo backbeat. The luminous melody contrasts nicely with a vocal that describes a stroll down wintery streets, trying to forget a fading relationship. “It’s True” is a jolt of speedy pop-punk that blends the textures of 12-string and 6-string electric guitars as Pastalaniec sings a sly declaration of love.
Acoustic 6-string and electric 12-string set up “Radical Leisure,” a mid-tempo groove that investigates the casual privilege of young, upper-class city dwellers. Pastalaniec’s wordless harmonies accent the song’s ironic lyrics. “It’s a song about being in your 20s and having friends that never seem to work and are always traveling,” Pastalaniec said. “You think you’re doing something wrong, but eventually come to realize they’re just rich. My songs may sound like love songs, but most of them aren’t about personal relationships, they’re about class distinctions. You could say that the tone is anti-capitalist in nature.”
Pastalaniec wrote the songs on Chime School between his gigs playing in other bands, but it was recorded, produced and mixed during the Covid lockdown. “I’d been thinking about writing an album for a long time,” he said. “When my girlfriend gave me a 4-track Tascam portastudio, I thought, ‘I have to use this thing and write some songs.’ At first, I had to force myself to sit down and do it, but it got easier as I worked at it.
“I began layering multiple guitar tracks and drum samples and getting a bigger, fuller sound. I plugged my guitars and bass directly into the computer and used headphones, so I didn’t disturb my neighbors. I have a day job I can do from home so, when the lockdown happened, I started working seriously, making demos and figuring out the sound I was going for. When it came together, it was just a matter of doing the overdubs and finishing the record. I wanted organ and synthesizers to expand the sound, so I got a tiny Yamaha keyboard and figured out how to play the parts I wanted. I’m not good enough to play keys in a band but, plugged into the computer, I was good to go.”
Once the instrumental tracks were done, Pastalaniec recorded his vocals and the multi-layered harmonies he used to add some punch to the choruses. “It’s tricky to get the most out of your voice,” he said. “I found ways of overdubbing and using different mixing techniques to add character to the vocals. I didn’t want a ‘live’ sound. The idea is to create textures that don’t exist in real life by doubling or tripling vocals and running them through an amp. The freedom you have working at a home studio is great. I don’t think I’ll ever go into a ‘real’ studio. At home, you have the time and energy to do whatever you want to do. It’s pretty amazing.”
He was drawn to the drum kit that was set up in the house he shared with roommates. “I learned to play drums by playing along with soul records, Motown and ’60s girl groups and other oldies bands,” he said. “Then I got into post-punk, new wave, free jazz and avant-garde noise music. You don’t have to play notes to be a good drummer. I had a natural affinity for percussion.”
After graduation, he moved to San Francisco, intending to play music. He got a job, met songwriter and guitarist Tim Tinderholt, and joined his band Pink Films. “I didn’t compose music or lyrics, but time is the most fundamental thing in music, so my drumming helped shape the arrangements,” Pastalaniec said. “We went into Tim’s home studio to make an LP, but fizzled out before we finished it. I was in a few other bands and slowly got serious about my guitar playing. When I discovered groups from the ’80s, who were influenced by [the] ’60s, I found sounds that inspired me to write and record my own music.
“You have a lot of time to experiment before you put your first record out. Now that it’s been released, I have to think about how to play the songs live and if I want to get a band together. For now, I’ve been playing live with my guitars and backing tracks. I have a record-release show scheduled for The Knockout Room in San Francisco on Nov. 12. I’m also starting work on the next Chime School album.”