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ISSUE 118 VOL 13 PUBLISHED 3/11/2005

Chariots on fire

By Ian Anderson
Variety Editor

Friday, March 11, 2005

Travis Bos is back with a brand new invention. With his new band, Chariots, the ex-Song of Zarathustra front man has picked up right where he left off, this time sporting a slightly more user-friendly sound. Chariots’ debut album, Congratulations, is worthy of its title, and will no doubt be earning the group plenty of kudos in the coming year.

Chariots is a band on a mission, a group dead-set on filling the quality hard rock void in the Twin Cities Bos’ black and gold feathered locks are more than a passing trend – this fashion mullet is in it for the long haul. Bos’ distorted shrieking vocals push Chariots toward semi-hardcore musical terrain, but their upbeat pop awareness and strong “dance fever” sensibility stretch their appeal beyond the Minor Threat loving set.

The band is strongly guitar- driven, but is never dominated. Guitarist, Eric Odness, of So Fox fame knows his place in the band: his Refused-like riffs push the theme, but never overwhelm it, creating a strong synergy between his playing and Bos’ drowning vocals. Bos’ manic vocals hover just above the surface of the din, his gift of gab acting like another instrument in the mix rather than a message-oriented center of attention.

“I write lyrics how I want to hear the words placed in each song,” Bos said. “I place them like sound within the music – like another instrument. I usually try to write and form lyrics around how the song works, which is why [the lyrics] usually end up so vague. I like it cause it doesn’t put out a message that our band stands for just this.”

Bos’ vocals are supplemented by his own ghostly synthesizer parts, which bear a strong resemblance to the late Murder City Devils in their spookiness. His vocals and synth parts compete for dominance throughout the album – interweaving various threads of melody and counter melody, while Matt Kepler’s drums and Arthur Gandy’s surprisingly versatile bass lines – with a tone similar to that on Dillinger Four’s Situationist Comedy – keep everything in order.

The best track on the record is also the best titled: “Twister Party Fails to Get Dirty.” “Twister Party” is the most radio-friendly tune on the record, and will most likely give the band some much-deserved attention by college radio stations. The song begins with Bos’ vocals running through a rotary filter, accompanied by frantic guitar riffs. Bos screams, “That city is losing its mind!” in a Big Black sort of way, while playing his spooky synth with an eerie demeanor. Then a story unfolds about “a bunch of characters with a very interesting outcome at the end of the night, forcing one person to move out of the city,” according to Bos.

“I’m never really too revealing with my lyrics,” Bos said. “I write vaguely because it’s where I feel most comfortable. There’s often much to interpret.”

Chariots formed in the spring of 2003, immediately after Song of Zarathrustra’s break-up. The group’s original incarnation featured two bassists, one guitarist and a drummer. The band eventually lost a bass player, gained another guitarist and cycled through a handful of drummers before finally solidifying their current line-up.

“We had tried out about seven or eight drummers,” Bos said. “For a while it was a two-bass-and-one-guitar band, but the five piece thing wasn’t working out, so we had to deal with things like how you tell [the fifth] person [to leave] and how to work as a four-piece without knowing each other – members all playing together for the first time and with different ideas as to how things should sound.”

Out of all this adversity a sturdy band with an unexpectedly close bond has emerged.

“I was happy that it all happened at the beginning,” Bos said of the group’s early tribulations. “So we’ve had an upward battle, sort of like training wheels – this usually happens at the end of a band’s life.”

As soon as everything was sorted out, things fell together relatively quickly.

“This was a fresh start,” Bos said. “It was fun to be able to do that, start over. Something with more rock, like something we would listen to. As you get older, you gradually start writing towards the styles you like. You get more comfortable. I can’t stick with one style because I like too much different music. Eventually, all of our personalities found a middle ground.”

Chariots went on tour for the first time late last fall, eventually making their way to New York City for the prestigious College Music Journal Festival, an internationally recognized independent record industry showcase. At the Festival they hooked up with reputed indie-label Trouble Man Unlimited (the same label that supported Song of Zarathrustra). Trouble Man will be releasing Congratulations nationwide.

“With Trouble Man and publicists backing our tour, we’re just waiting to see what happens,” Bos said. “We’re not looking to get signed or make money really. The aspiration is just to be able to stay together and avoid a lot of the [stuff] that most bands end up dealing with.”

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