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Chamberlain - Interview with David Moore

  by Benjamin Howarth

published: 15 / 5 / 2003

Chamberlain - Interview with David Moore


Chamberlain were a massive influence on both the hardcore and the emo movement. In one of his first interviews since leaving music, former frontman David Moore talks to Ben Howarth about the group's history

Chamberlain are not a hugely famous name in British indie circles. They are a reasonably famous name in hardcore circles, although their music only for the briefest time even resembled hardcore. To some, however, the music of Chamberlain means more than any other band. To me, Chamberlain are as important as the Smiths, Bob Dylan and even the Beatles. I had not even encountered their music when they broke up, and when they embarked on their one and only UK tour in 1996, I had never even been to a rock concert. Chamberlain began life in 1996; previously they had been the hardcore band Split Lip. They released two albums in their lifetime, 'Fate’s Got A Driver' – a pummelling rock record dripping with sensitivity that might loosely be called ‘emo’ – and the flawless, diverse 'The Moon My Saddle', which-one of the greatest albums ever released-stretches far beyond simple genre classifications. Since their break up in 2000, there has been an excellent collection of later material,'“Exit 263' and a rarities/live album, 'Five Year Diary'. All four are more than worthy additions to any half-serious record collection( despite some of David Moore's remarks made about the 'Exit 263 'record later on in this piece!) It was a pleasure to have the opportunity to quiz Chamberlain’s vocalist, David Moore, on the history of his group. He is, in my opinion, a unique and highly talented individual who has contributed an awful lot, through his lyrics, to the way I have thought about my life. It is important, of course, not to forget that David was a superb singer and that two great bands supported him. Adam Rubenstein was his songwriting partner and is an electrifying lead guitarist. Curtis Mead (Bass) and Clay Snyder (Rhythm Guitar) were members until 1998. Charles Walker produced some of the most sublime drum work I have ever heard until 1999, when Wade Parish replaced him. Seth Greathouse was the replacement bassist, and also wrote one song on 'Exit 263'. I’m going to devote the rest of this article to David’s recollections of “that amazing experience”. This was the first time he had really thought about what the Chamberlain years meant to him since the break up, and his responses make for fascinating and engaging reading. PB : Going back to the time that you decided to change the band’s name from Split Lip to Chamberlain, were you intending always to shift the band’s musical direction sideways or was that something that only happened after the 'Fate’s Got A Driver' period? Did the name change reflect any dissatisfaction with either the music or the emo/hardcore scene that you were part of as Split Lip? DM: Premeditated or overtly intentional shifts in musical direction were never an agenda of Chamberlain. Certainly, we were always striving to be progressive and articulate in what we were creating, always wanting to be kinetic and avoid being static, but we never collectively sat down and made a definitive move in any one aesthetic direction. We were all far too different and divergent in our individual personalities to come to a strong consensus on musical style. With that said, however, I would have to admit that the name change at that time was certainly meant to be pivotal, it was supposed to serve as a demarcation between old and new, past and present and, yes, I certainly think the decision was born out of a genuine desire to distance ourselves to a relative degree from what we felt was a rather stagnant musical scene at that time. In hindsight, it may have been a bit of a mistake, and I say that for this reason: I think we presupposed too much from people. The stark contrast between 'Fate’s' and 'The Moon' was significant. I think we realize that now (whereas we must not have fully realized that back then). I think we alienated some people, which, to some degree is what we subconsciously intended to do all along I suppose. So, in the end, I guess we got exactly what we asked for. PB : Listening to the 'Fate’s Got A Driver' album, it is a diverse mix of music and far from straightforward punk/hardcore. What sort of music inspired the group at the period, and how would you classify the style of music produced on the record? DM : In truth, it’s hard for me to remember what inspired 'Fate’s Got A Driver' musically. It was such a long time ago and I can’t really recall what we were listening to at the time. Our individual tastes varied significantly from person to person. I do know, speaking for myself, that I felt a real sense of empowerment as a writer at that time, a feeling of expansive development, a honing of skills and an excitement that stemmed from a real faith in my own ability lyrically. I was starting, I think, to find something of my own voice – to come into my own (as the saying goes) – rather than spitting out derivative dribble. I remember a feeling of invincibility, a realization that what we were doing was cohesive and at least beginning to be somewhat original…something about how the musical element of the songs worked well with the lyrical content. The sound of the songs started to further the meaning, to enhance the emotive aspects of the lyrics. Everything started to get exciting and there was real momentum. It was a good time in our lives, a very creative time, and that record did a lot for us. PB : 'The Moon My Saddle' is, for me, one of the most special albums ever made. How hard did you have to work as a group to achieve the cohesiveness of the record, yet with variety of musical styles? The demos of the songs, which appeared on 'Five Year Diary', are often markedly different. Did you feel at the time that you were making a definitive statement? Do you see it as the band’s greatest achievement? DM: 'The Moon My Saddle' was a great record – a real record – and one that I am still significantly proud of to this day. We worked so hard on those songs, on the craft of taking more traditional song structures, more conventional formulas and working within those confines to create something new (new for us anyway). Again, I remember the sense of momentum when we were writing and recording those songs down in Bloomington and Nashville, a real feeling that something was happening that was beyond all of us. We learned a lot at that time about the formulaic side of songwriting…the craft. We were very involved and determined and for that entire year those songs were at the very centre of our individual lives, I think. I remember having breakfast in this dive in Bloomington on Sunday mornings and just sitting there mulling over every one of those songs…every line…every chorus…every bridge, aiming for complete cohesiveness and focus. I also seem to remember that we had a real “us against the world” vibe at that time, as if we had something to prove to ourselves and everyone else. But to answer your question definitively…yes, I do think that 'The Moon' is our highest achievement. PB : I was thinking a lot about the song, 'Last To Know', from that record and was wondering how you viewed it as a song. It’s rare, I suppose, for rock music to deal with faith. Did you envisage this song as entirely personal, or were you aiming to create a song that anybody who had concerns about faith could relate to? I find the lines “With words inscribed over the door, I’m Right; and when you left the whole place came down” especially magnificent. I’ve got my own idea about what they mean ,but I was hoping you might explain what they mean to you. Also, I was wondering if it has ever crossed your mind to write more explicitly religious songs? DM : I wrote that song during a time of conversion…a time of renewal and awakening. The Lord was imploring of me, “why do you kick against the pricks? Why don’t you just let me in…listen, I stand at the door knocking…open the door, my child.” That’s the kind of atmosphere out of which that particular song was born. I’ve always thought of it as a prayer-in-song, so to speak – an outpouring and a surrender…the kind of surrender that demands a relinquishing of self, a letting go of ego, putting down the illusion of self and allowing God to work his way in. It’s a difficult thing to do. The verse in question regarding the “temple inside”, etc. is exactly that – the “temple” of self…the vacant and ridiculous belief that your “self” is really yours…that you can navigate through life on your own accord, with your own eyes…no, it only amounts to groping around in the proverbial dark…a lack of being…a complete illusion that we all sell ourselves on daily. I only wish I could maintain that level of devotion and surrender that I momentarily achieved at the time the song was written. It’s fleeting. We’re fickle creatures you know, God must breath a perpetual sigh. I have rebuilt that temple innumerable times…it seems I rebuild it daily. And, it seems each time it goes up, its bigger and bigger, more extravagant and more and more vacant…empty. He’ll tear it down again, though…after all, He’s the Landlord and the Master of the house amd knows every one in every room, right? At some point, we all have to relinquish, we have to come to terms with the fact that, of course, we will always be the last ones to know because the Master has His plan, His knowledge precludes our every move, His will comes first. He is the ship’s captain and we’re all deckhands. Anyway, that’s the way I see it. And so, where He leads, I try to go. PB : The album, 'The Moon My Saddle', seems to really focus on despair and heartbreak – though not in a selfish, obsessive way, which I think means that it can be rather universal in appeal. Would you say that you reflected all of your emotions from that period of your life, or did you choose to concentrate on the bleaker ideas? Can you still relate to the person that made those words? DM: Well, 'The Moon' never struck me as a particularly bleak album. I think many of the landscapes in those songs are coloured with celebratory, even joyous experiences and emotions. The album is certainly bittersweet, but I don’t think there is any overt or explicit emphasis put on resignation and/or heartbreak. It has been my experience that deep emotional wounds (not when they are initially felt, but when one has had time to process them and live with the pain) are often times characterized by a certain kind of sadness that goes so far out that it almost becomes happiness again…that is, they are just as life affirming as pleasant, revelatory experiences. Any emotion, manifested in any form, is a reminder of how deep and meaningful our everydays can be…that’s the way I have always approached my own life. And so I was determined to confront every emotion and trap it. Be it pain, joy, jealousy, envy, loss, contentedness, redemption, etc. – I wanted to explore all of it and to thereby transcend it, to get beyond the pain by staring it straight in the face and confronting it, to use it for a creative end and overcome it. And as a songwriter, I would mine those cisterns of emotions, those quarries of experience to create a lyrical amalgam that worked for a particular song and that evoked an emotional response through the manipulation of imagery and words. The paradox is that the very exercise of writing keeps you at a perpetual arm’s length from life. It is a strange and peculiar practice when you get right down to it. When you are deeply involved in writing you never allow yourself to truly live in the immediate present (at least I never did). Every experience, every emotion becomes existential fodder for a song, a poem, a journal. I always found myself reliving moments as they were happening…if that makes any sense. And, at times, it certainly tends to be a very vain exercise – a kind of self-adoration…it can be, anyway. I don’t really know how to explain it, but it’s definitely strings. I really don’t write much anymore. Once a child comes exploding into your life – as my son did last May – the immediate present is all there is. Reflection is just not an option anymore. It’s all about the moment, the here and now. That’s refreshing to me, especially after spending so much of my time in a state of perpetual reflection…turning my eyes inward all the time to study every little move I made, it can be maddening. And now that I have a beautiful baby boy to watch out for, suddenly I’m not so interesting! PB : Did you feel any fear of alienating people with the change in musical direction in 1998? Is your general impression that people have come to accept the newer direction or did you feel that some people’s devotion to the group died or lessened after the move away from ‘emo’. Did you expect to take your old audience with you in 1998, or were you prepared to have to win over a different crowd? DM : There was no fear on any of our parts that we would alienate people with the release of 'The Moon' in 1998 – but we certainly did. I remember going out on tour for the first time in years after most of the material for 'The Moon' had been written. We were trying out all those songs and playing very little older material at the time. There were several nights when we were booed incessantly. People were heckling. I remember playing 'Last to Know' for the first time in front of an audience somewhere out east…it was the first night of the tour…and people were yelling throughout the song. And, as the song ended, a young guy right up front looked straight up at my face and yelled "Are all your songs f***ing slow now?” But there were always people at the shows that were supportive of us, though they were oftentimes in the minority. But again, that was when those songs had first been written. And, like I said, I stubbornly refused to play most of the older material…that was a terribly stupid and adolescent thing for me to do. I was thumbing my nose at everyone. I was trying to prove something…what I don’t know. It was silly and vain. But eventually, I think the record seeped into people’s hearts, though I don’t think it ever reached the level of acclaim that we received with 'Fate’s'. But, yes…we did want to take our old audience with us through those changes and shifts in style that we were going through in 1998. We figured some would come along and some would not…but the ones that wouldn’t, we didn’t want anyway, quite frankly. But, I would have to admit in hindsight that we made it pretty difficult for everyone by not only undergoing such a dramatic shift of focus but also refusing for a while to play older material. To those of you who stayed right there with us, I extend a warm and heartfelt thank you. PB : As the band began what became 'Exit 263', with a new line up, did you imagine that it was the beginning of the end? For you personally, was it as inspiring as it had been in the earlier times? DM: You have to understand that as far as 'Exit 263' is concerned, we never envisioned releasing a record at that point in time. That record is a compilation of all that we had left when the smoke cleared after the break-up. We were not really involved in its release; we didn’t name the record; we didn’t have a hand in its art direction; we didn’t have a say in the song order. All that was done by our management team after we had all run for the exits (no pun intended). So that is not our record in the way the other previous releases were. Yes, they are our songs – or the flimsy blueprints of our songs – but that is not our record. We were again experimenting with a varied range of musical styles at the time. We were more experimental than we had ever been, I think. And, to be quite honest, we were a bit confused and lost artistically. Our minds were not in the right place, and our collective artistic output was often at times forced. It was all becoming too deliberate, too calculated. It was a mess. Taking nothing away from those songs because some of them are, I think, the best songs we had ever written, but some are the products of a very dark time. So, if you sensed a certain lack of inspiration in some of the songs, your perception is certainly accurate. As for many of those songs, they were never really supposed to see the light of day – at least not in that form. We were probably another year away from another record. Towards the end of our relationship as a band, though, we started to hit on something again…with songs like 'Masterpiece' and '“With You Always' (which was never recorded), we started to get back to what made us work in the first place. If we had ever gotten the chance to release another record, I think it would have been a distillation of new and old…somewhere between 'Moon' and 'Fate’s'…we were on our way back to fill in the gap, so to speak. We had come to terms with our past and we weren’t running from ourselves anymore. It would have been an amazing record. When 'Masterpiece' was written, we realized we still had something special and genuine to offer. That song gave us a renewed sense of hope and purpose…short-lived though it was. It wasn’t long after it was written that we disbanded. PB : What are your feelings about the recent Chamberlain releases, the video 'Ride' and the compilation '“Five Year Diary'? Are you glad that fans now have a fuller picture of the band’s history and do you perhaps see these as a way of extending the band’s fanbase further? DM : Again, we did not have a hand in these releases…they were all done posthumously and without much of our input. However, if they are of interest to those people who have followed the band throughout its history, and if they help to broaden and enhance the musical and artistic lineage of Chamberlain, then I’m certainly glad those releases are out there. PB : With the band having broken up, do you feel any regret about the history of Chamberlain? Are you satisfied that the band reached a devoted cult audience only, rather than mainstream rock fans? Is there anything you would have changed? DM : That’s a tough question. Being a part of Chamberlain was such an influential part of my life, twelve incredible years, and there are so many memories, so many beautiful stories - of people I met, places I travelled, etc. There is just so much to look back on. I am proud of what we were able to do, especially in the early years, before it became work and business, and all those other elements that snuck in and sapped the spontaneity, creativity, and invincibility. I am proud of how far we went and how good we became at writing songs. We were a good band. We loved what we did. Eventually, like I said, we began to lose sight of why we were ever drawn to music in the first place. Some of us were ready to sell our souls for the big payoff. Some of us had no problem compromising what matters most. Some of us listened to the wrong people, began to believe the wrong things…and worst of all, we began to doubt our abilities and ourselves. We began to create on other people’s terms, to fulfil other people’s agendas and, eventually, it split us in half. We became divided, and soon we couldn’t even recognize one another anymore. That is my only regret, that during those last few months together, I couldn’t recognize certain individuals that I had known for twelve years. When finally I decided it was over, I was motivated by a desire to salvage what was left of our friendships. It was time to stop before more regrets began to pile up. We said our good-byes and the next day I went to the pawnshop and sold my guitar, some microphones and a couple of amps…and, I haven’t thought much about it until now. I’ve tried to let it go. PB : In a reverse of the previous question, do you feel any satisfaction that Chamberlain’s music probably turned a lot of emo/hardcore fans on to other types of music, and also onto some of the writers you have mentioned in the past? DM : Whatever we have done for those people who cared to listen to our songs, whatever emotions we have provoked, whatever chord we have struck with our listeners, we did it out of a genuine desire to translate and convey deep meaning and purpose through song. However we have touched people, we are certainly proud to give something of ourselves. The music was forged by a naïve but sincere faith that people would respond to what we were creating. To those of you who did respond, we could never say thank you enough. PB : I hear that you have begun playing again with a new band? Will this music continue the themes and styles of Chamberlain or be a change in direction. Have you heard the music from the other Chamberlain members, the Adam Dove and New End Original stuff? David: I don’t play music too much anymore, except around the house. I do have a project going on right now called Chevy Downs, but it’s nothing like Chamberlain. It’s a six-piece country/bluegrass/blue-eye soul band. We do it for fun only. The minute it becomes more than that, we’ve all agreed to hang it up. It’s light-hearted and refreshing. No agendas, no practice, no attitudes, no pressure…just music for music’s sake! Considering we all live in different states (Indiana, California, Tennessee, Illinois) we could never take it too seriously. Whenever we’re all in town, usually around the holidays, we all get together and rehearse for half an hour before the show, get up on stage and play. No fuss. Regarding the second part of your question, I have heard the “Adam Dove” material, but that is the only post-Chamberlain material I’ve had a chance the hear…(he’ll always be Rubenstein to me!) PB : Finally, take us through a typical day for David Moore, now that Chamberlain has disbanded. How do you occupy your time? DM : Well, like I said, I have a child now…a beautiful baby boy. He’s about to turn a year old this month...so, I don’t really occupy my time anymore, he occupies my time for me! When I’m not at work, I spend a good deal of my leisure time painting…it tends to be a bit therapeutic and cathartic. It does the same thing for me that music does, allows me to escape time…momentarily anyway. Fatherhood changes everything. I don’t watch myself incessantly any more, don’t dote over my own emotions, thought, etc. I’m more objective…more complete. He changed me for good. He’s my muse now and nothing compares to him. One day when he’s older I’m sure we’ll sit down together and pop in a Chamberlain record, let him know what daddy did when he was young and invincible. Like I said, he keeps me in the moment, the perpetual present. My life has the kind of immediacy and purpose I always wanted to achieve, the kind of meaning I always wrote about and strove for but never really touched…until Luke came along. He’s got the eyes of a poet, and now I get to watch him explode into life. The biggest difference now is that I don’t have to try and convince myself that life is sweet and the days are filled with purpose…they just are…with or without my commentary. PB : Thank you

Picture Gallery:-
Chamberlain - Interview with David Moore

Chamberlain - Interview with David Moore

Chamberlain - Interview with David Moore

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favourite album

The Moon My Saddle (2002)
Chamberlain - The Moon My Saddle
I haven’t been listening to Chamberlain all that long to be honest, so perhaps this choice will prove flawed in years to come. But right now it is my favourite album. There are other contenders but I won’t list them because that might just make the final


Exix 263 (2002)
Recently rereleased final country rock offering from the always eclectic Chamberlain, who broke up last year

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