Tue, Mar 25, 2014 at 12:00 AM
The notion that there is nothing new under the sun can be both a blessing and a curse to musicians. On the one hand, it absolves artists from any nagging sense that they have to reinvent the wheel with every new project. On the other, it makes innovation seem like a fool’s errand. Seattle songwriter Chris Cheveyo embraces this blessing, but with his compatriots in Rose Windows, he also defies the curse. The band follows standard Western traditions in their instrumentation, using the basic tools employed in past decades of American and British rock music. Elements of The Band’s folk-infused rock, The Doors organ-driven psychedelia, and Black Sabbath’s blues-based dirges can be heard in Rose Window’s debut album The Sun Dogs. But the septet’s curiosity goes much further than a few well-chosen classic rock records. The band devoured Persian, Indian, and Eastern European music, studying the beautiful and strange paths taken by visionaries and renegades in other corners of the globe, and incorporated the revelations learned in the process into their sound. In doing so, The Sun Dogs challenges the assumption that all creative territories have been mapped out and charted. While Rose Windows aren’t interested in making music of the future, one reviewer was wise enough to note “a sound like this would not be possible in any other time.”
The genesis of Rose Windows started Fall 2010 in a house in Seattle’s Central District, where Cheveyo found himself tiring of the limited palette of his prior heavy post-rock project. Though interested in new sonic possibilities, he was turned off by experimental music’s lazy reliance on “knob-turning.” His explorations became less about possibilities associated with new technology and more about studying various avenues of the past. The project began with a few rough demos done alone at home and slowly began to take shape as the band amassed members. Bandmates were mainly musician friends who wandered through the house. Rabia Shaheen Qazi’s enchanting and exotic voice was the first component added to the fray. Roommate David Davila was asked to play piano and organ. Former bandmates Nils Petersen and Pat Schowe were enlisted for electric guitar and drums. Frequent houseguests Richie Rekow and Veronica Dye were brought on board for bass and flute. Rose Windows began playing out, fluidly sharing the stage with underground art-metal bands one night and popular indie Americana acts the next.
Label-less at the time, Rose Windows began making plans for recording The Sun Dogs in November of 2011. The band sought out local producer Randall Dunn based on his past success in harnessing the electric power of SunnO))) and Boris, the bleak twang of Earth, and the shamanistic acid-trips of Master Musicians of Bukkake. Dunn’s penchant for musical anthropology proved the perfect match for the band, with their mutual curiosity and artistic ambition broadening the scope of the album. Other local musicians were brought on board to add harp, pedal steel, viola, and cello. Dynamics were expanded. Boundaries were pushed.
Musically, The Sun Dogs is an album based on the idea of sifting through the past, extracting bits and pieces, and re-imagining these into new forms. It’s about observing and building upon musical traditions. Thematically, Cheveyo describes The Sun Dogs as being about “the everyday blues that capitalism and its hit man, religion, bring on all of us.” More specifically, he sees The Sun Dogs as an acknowledgment of the circular nature of the rat race, learning to accept the evil in the world, taking joy wherever we can, and ultimately disavowing traditions of exploitation and violence. That search for finding light in the dark is perfectly captured in the album opener “The Sun Dogs I: Spirit Modules,” as the ominous verses uncoil into beautifully lush string arrangements and vocal harmonies. “Native Dreams” displays the band’s affinity for both exotic melodies and bold distorted guitar riffs, all while Qazi describes the encroachment of one culture upon another by singing of “spirit warriors” surrounding a sleeping camp. “Walkin’ With a Woman” conjures the old blues tale of encountering the devil at the crossroads while culling motifs from classic psych and prog records. Songs like “Heavenly Days” and “Season of Serpents” offer a counterpoint to the foreboding moments on The Sun Dogs, with folk-steeped guitars, gentle pedal steel, and graceful choruses painting a picture of those moments of joy and grace in the midst of the world’s evil. These moments of respite make the foreign melodies, menacing mysticism, and blown-out riffs on songs like “This Shroud” all the more disquieting. But ultimately “The Sun Dogs II: Coda” ends the album with a ray of light, with the alternating major and minor chords on acoustic guitar, lilting piano lines, “Kashmir”-esque strings, and full-band vocal harmonies burning off the gloom.
Rose Windows have already toured the West Coast several times, and with the release of The Sun Dogs, the band plans much more. In the meantime, they continue their search—delving into archives of long-lost albums, learning more about their craft from renowned local musicians, and charting their own path in an ancient art.
Rose Windows is:
Chris Cheveyo – lead guitar/composer
Rabia Shaheen Qazi – lead vocalist
Richie Rekow – bass/ 1st male vocalist
Nils Petersen – rhythm guitar/2nd male vocalist
Pat Schowe – drums
David Davila – piano/organ
Veronica Dye – flute
The Sun Dogs was engineered and produced by Randall Dunn at Avast!, March-May 2012, and mastered by Jason Ward at Chicago Mastering Service.