Rank Your Records: Ian Svenonious Ranks Chain and the Gang Albums
The leader of the world’s only anti-liberty rock ’n’ roll group guides us through the band's back catalogue.
In Rank Your Records, we talk to artists who have amassed substantial discographies over the years and ask them to rate their releases in order of personal preference.
Ian Svenonious has long been the epitome of musical cool. From leading 90s DC punk provocateurs Nation of Ulysses, to the garage soul of the Make Up, to the cosmic Weird War, Svenonious has exuded a dapper, debonair, and deeply intelligent awareness.
As author of two books, Psychic Soviet and Supernatural Strategies for Making a Rock 'n' Roll Group, and host of Soft Focus, the greatest music talk show ever, Svenonious knows his stuff when it comes to music.
His Chain and the Gang have been in operation since 2009 and have released four albums of charged but stripped-down indie pop, funk, garage punk, and lo-fi experimentalism. The band shows no signs of slowing down with three records coming out on In the Red, Svenonious' Radical Elite Records and a live album released on Third Man Records.
We asked him to rank Chain and the Gang records in order of personal preference.
4. In Cool Blood (2012)
Noisey: Why the decision to record this album in mono?
Ian Svenonious: It was recorded very quickly. But that has always been the ethos with Chain & the Gang; instant records, instant party, ideas, and play.
Some consider this album more playful then some of your earlier work
It was fun to make and fast to make and created in a single session. But all the albums are playful.
"Certain Kinds of Trash."
3. Music's Not For Everyone (2011)
I love the album title. Obviously this is a play on that not everyone is going to like your particular music. What about your fans? Did you find some fans liked some of your projects and not others?
Certainly some people are drawn to the books, some the interviews, some the performance, and some the recorded music. Then of the latter group, some like one thing and not another.
It's also a comment though on the fact that a lot of people don't like music in the way that others do. Many are passive listeners with almost no engagement. These are the people responsible for the music landscape as they're the ones who listen to the radio and subscribe to the pop ideology.
On another level, there are movements like modern punk which often serve a different function for their fans than musical, i.e. the medium serves as a platform for people to express some outrage or opinion du jour and the music is secondary and maybe ossified. Country was like this in its decadent 1960s phase; usually a slide guitar and a conservative zinger about hippies. But not much happening musically.
Then there are music blogs which are pure intellectualization of the music and one wonders if the writers like music or if its merely a way to flex their sociopathic sensibilities or have a position of power over the fate of someone's record. There's actually a radio DJ in UK who nicked the name of this record for his radio program.
The album contains two tracks called "Detroit Music." A great city that has produced some amazing music.
I spend time there occasionally; Chain & the Gang just played Third Man in Detroit and saw their new pressing plant. Very exciting. We are actually releasing a live record with Third Man which should be out soon.
It also has three reprises!
The reprises were meant to give some breathing room from all the signing; some dub-style versions.
"Detroit Music" or "Privilege"
2. Minimum Rock and Roll (2014)
Why the change from K records?
I wanted to self-release as doing so is quite trendy and I am quite trendy. A slave to fashion. So I started my own label Radical Elite.
You describe the philosophy behind the album as "why pay more for unneeded words rhymes and riffs?" Was this album more stripped from previous work?
It's an attempt at minimalism yes. There are very few overdubs and simpler themes.
You explore "crime rock." What is crime rock?
Crime Rock is a genre I have been developing, the illegality of our brand of rock n roll is quite evident when you see what is celebrated and what is ignored. If someone with excitement, style, charm and provocation were to appear now—like, say, Little Richard or James Brown—they would be roundly ignored by the critics and the industry. Just as Chain & the Gang are suppressed, shunted, etc. But yet somehow, probably by virtue of our indomitable will, we endure!
1. Down With Liberty... Up With Chains! (2009)
The mock interview style of "Interview the Chain Gang" is a good indication of where you were coming from, but how would you Chain and the Gang differer from earlier bands like Make Up?
Chain & the Gang was always based on the idea of a call and response vocal, with the songs starting with a vocal idea, whereas Make Up for example was more of an organic group with permanent members and songs developing out of playing.
Fourteen people played on the record. Did you assemble this lineup or did it just come to be?
It was a record made around the community at Dub Narcotic Studios in Olympia Washington, run by Calvin Johnson in the K Records basement. There was a group of musicians and friends hanging around who were open to collaboration, and we created this very spontaneous record.
Everybody is always trying to get their head around if this is ironic or non-ironic on non-ironic irony? What's the deal?
I don't really understand all the fuss about satire or humor. People should calm down. Some humor is bad, some is good. It has always been a part of music. The Beatles were funny and satirical. So was Bob Dylan and the Dixie Cups, Nathaniel Mayer, Louis Armstrong, Marine Girls, Pink Floyd, Wagner, etc.
"I See Progress," as it sets up the premise of the group in a sense, although "Deathbed Confession" would be the popular favorite.