Chancius is a New York-based artist who recently came out with the sci-fi concept album Bando. The album follows an indie rock/dreampop exploration of transhumanism (the use of technology to transform humanity) by telling the story of Bando, a man who is about to die but gets a second chance.
By email, Chancius and I talked about what inspired the album, his experience as a subway busker, and his frustration with the New York music scene and mainstream record labels. Listen to his new album Bando and read his responses below.
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What inspired you to write a sci-fi concept album?
Well, I’ve always been into sci-fi more than any other genre. I was a shy and sickly little boy with a big imagination, so that’s what I gravitated towards for escapism. My parents were never too controlling and supported whatever I was into. I believe that anything is possible. Every time someone says it can never be accomplished or there is a long standing record or that’s not how it’s done, someone else comes along and proves them wrong. We each have within ourselves the ability to do anything if we set our minds to it.
The concept part was a marketing idea. So many people say that listeners only want one or two songs off an album (usually the hits) and I figured I give listeners more of a reason to want to listen to the entire album. This and I wanted to actually see if I could do it.
I believe that anything is possible. We each have within ourselves the ability to do anything if we set our minds to it.
What was the songwriting process like for Bando? And how was it similar/different than other albums?
With this album I really went out of my comfort zone when it came to writing and recording material. Normally I start out writing lyrics off guitar parts I’ve cobbled together (since that’s my main instrument), but I wanted to try a different route with this album. Instead of relying on my guitar as much, I brought my guitar after I had already laid down multiple instrumental parts. That was quite a different approach for me.
The story had a great affect on the song creation process. That was like putting together a completely different puzzle because it can be difficult just writing one individual song, but to create a group of songs that all fit into a theme and making sense can
be challenging. I wanted there to be some kind of continuity which meant looking at the story that I wanted to tell as a whole and then deciding what pieces needed to be fleshed out and in what order they worked best in.
How have you marketed the album/your band? What has the response been?
I hired a company to handle PR and radio who had experience working with other acts at my level and some more well know musicians. Through their radio campaign they got me added to 150 stations across North America and airplay on over 100 where I charted on several of them. I also marketed the album however I could online and offline.
I’ve put up a lot of flyers with pull tabs that were a bit satire/alternative marketing that tied in directly to concepts from the album. I’ve seen a lot of missing tabs and I’ve had some people respond very favorably to it.
I’d say the biggest disappointment so far has been the number of legitimate reviews I’ve acquired for the album. Even with the help of the PR company and sending out well over a hundred press kits myself it’s been a miserable return rate. After talking with other musicians about the subject it seems the majority of others are in the same boat. There are just too many acts and not enough writers/blogs.
How would you describe the New York music community?
I have a pretty bleak opinion of the music scene here. Too many gigs where there was no pay and no attendance no matter what I or the band did. I’ve discovered only very recently that many, many other musicians also feel this way. Playing live used to be THE way to get discovered and build a fan base or even making a living, but there are so many factors complicating that now. I’ve had much more success just busking in subway tunnels which I find ludicrous, but true. This seems to be the consensus of musicians for all major US cities.
How do you think the New York music community can improve itself? What kind of steps can you take to create a welcoming environment for struggling musicians?
It can’t be improved. Trying to figure out how the NY music community (or any music community) can be improved is like trying to figure out how to go back in time. It’s always going to refer to a time period prior to now when it was better for musicians. It’s been a slow progression downward for each generation. I could go into the history of playing gigs, but it would take too long.
All I can say is that the current system is not conducive to creating and fostering big name acts that can tour the country successfully. Most places don’t pay and want the band to do all the work outside of just playing music. There are too many acts and not enough people who wish to venture out because of lack of money, lack of time, and too many sources of other entertainment.
You can’t build a fan base if no one goes out to shows. People only go out to shows that are well known or already have a big fan base. It’s a catch-22. This is why the major labels still hold all the cards and aren’t going away like everyone predicted. They’re the only ones who have the funds and connections to turn musicians into overnight success stories. Unfortunately, a lot of acts burn out this way because they don’t have the experience needed for a long lasting career and we wind up with music created by committee that is marketed to the lowest common denominator.
I used to get spotted fairly often all over the city by people from all walks of life. They’d approach me or yell across the street to me about how much they liked my music.
Do you find busking rewarding?
Even though busking for a living can be difficult, it does have its perks. You’ll always leave with cold, hard, cash in your pockets and that’s always a nice feeling (even when it’s not much). It helps boost your self-esteem when you see people cheer you on or give you a thumbs up. People are also more likely to buy a cd or take a card or even talk to you which can also lead to other things compared to when you’re playing a bar or club. I used to get spotted fairly often all over the city by people from all walks of life. They’d approach me or yell across the street to me about how much they liked my music. I’ve met people busking who I later joined bands with, some I got tons of advice from, and some who even got me on public television. It’s all about taking your music to the masses instead of waiting for the masses to come to you.