Listeners of our podcast (especially my Dad) have raved about an epic band from Southern California, and their song Bellyfish. The band is Checkpoint Charley, and there’s plenty more where that came from. Kevin Packard is the guitarist and singer from Checkpoint Charley, and he’s agreed to answer some questions for us about his faith and the new Checkpoint Charley album slated for next year. He talks frankly about the state of the world today and the state of LDS music. You’ll find their songs are indeed epic, and as noted in the interview and our podcast, they draw from such diverse and bombastic influences as Weezer, Jellyfish, the Beach Boys, and Queen. Sounds too good to be true? Check them out. Featuring Ian Fowles and Kristin Lawrence.
Checkpoint Charley comes highly recommended from several of our Linescratchers interviewees, particularly Ian Fowles. Is Ian a full member of the band? How did you hook up with him?
A: Checkpoint Charley is really just Jesse Anderegg (basser/singist,) and me (singist/rhythm guitarer). As honored as we would be to have Ian be a “Full Member of the Band” he is way too busy being an actual rock star. Luckily, he continues to record and perform with us when his schedules permit. Ian and I met in the Fullerton 8th Singles Ward in Southern California. When I moved into the ward I meet this guy who looks like a young Mick Jones (the Clash) and can shred like a young Randy Rhodes (Ozzy) and we became instant friends. He and his (then) girlfriend actually introduced me to my wife, and Ian and I play in an ’80s hair metal tribute called Ironheart (when time and location permit). Ian is a genius at hearing a song, knowing exactly what the guitar part should sound like, and being able to create it so it sounds exactly what it sounds like in my head.
Tell us about the beginnings of Checkpoint Charley.
A: Jesse and I met when he was a Senior and I was a Junior at Alta High School in Sandy, UT. Our band played covers at parties, and he and I just seemed to gel musically, so we started writing music together. After we both served missions, we played the SLC scene for a couple of years in a band called The Find, but never really fit the mold. So we moved to LA and tried to make it happen there in a power trio called Penny Racer. After a lot of playing and promoting, we realized that the only way we could really make music that was true to the sound we wanted was to just do it ourselves and recruit musicians to make it come alive. No more bands, no conflicting opinions, just music the way we wanted to write, record, and perform it. That is where the Checkpoint Charley sessions started happening. 2009 marks 20 years that Jesse and I have been writing music together (I really don’t feel that old!) Jesse is my brother, we have this amazing musical connection that I can only describe as a blessing. I can rarely write a song by myself, but I can take an incomplete idea to the writing table and Jesse and I can always find a way to flush it out and make it real.
Your MySpace mentions Weezer, Jellyfish, and Queen as influences. Sounds epic! Aren’t you setting our hopes pretty high?
A: Absolutely! But our goal is to make EPIC music! I think that the reason people still talk about bands like the Beatles and Queen is because they wrote transcendent music! A lot of that is missing from music now, and that is the reason that most of it is so forgettable. I will NEVER forget what I was doing the first time I heard Jellyfish’s first album; it literally changed my life and the way I listened to music. I want to be able to take the way I hear music, combine it with my ideals and testimony, and create something that will do the same for someone else that might just “get” what we are trying to achieve. On the other hand, attempting to create gigantic music can either end up being overblown and inaccessible, or impossible to create to your expectations; so we try to strike a balance between the epic and the two-minute pop tune.
Four years ago, you released an album called “Songs 1-12.” Tell us about “Songs 1-12” and what you’ve been doing since then.
A: We wrote and recorded most of “One Through Twelve” in the apartments we were living in at the time, as well as Ian’s house, and keyboard artist Kristin Lawrence’s house. After my wife and I got married we moved into a Ward in LaHabra, CA, and the Bishop was a songwriter with a full home studio. We completed it there and got demos to producer Stuart Brawley (who has mixed albums for Michael Jackson, Cher, Don Henley, and many others,) to see if he wanted to work with us. He ended up mixing the album as a pet project, and co-producing 3 of the songs. I honestly feel the The Lord wanted this record to happen, for some reason or another, because it is not often that you are blessed enough to be placed in Wards that connect you with such amazing talent and resources. But suddenly, the record was done and we were ready to shop it… and life took over. I landed a job with a drum set company in Tampa, and Jesse and his family moved back to Utah. So, we have been working and starting families. Jesse plays with a country band called Truckstop, and is producing an album for Jon Schmidt’s son, Spencer. I work in the musical instrument industry and have daily contact with pros in our field. In between that, we play maybe one or two shows a year, either in LA or Salt Lake, and have built a strong online following through some stellar reviews in national publications. But I don’t feel our strongest material has been unearthed yet, so we are going to keep writing, recording, producing, and playing this stuff until it stops being fun (and I have a hard time seeing that happening!).
Word is, you have another album slated for 2010 called “Songs 13-24.” What do you have planned for that album? Who will be involved with that project?
A: 13-24, tentatively titled “Pomp, Twaddle, and Bombast”, is pretty much written. Jesse and I both have ProTools rigs in our home studios, so between Church, Family, and professional obligations, we write new material over iChat, create tracks individually, and bounce parts back and forth between ourselves and our new keyboardist Wayne Thompson (who lives in Washington). Jesse has been building up his studio pretty significantly, and tracking started for the new record last month. The new material is still large in scope and instrumentation, but is a little darker in tone and subject matter than the last record, so it is going to take some serious tracking and production, not to mention a few trips for each of us to get the base tracks recorded. Ian Fowles has agreed to do the guitar parts again on this album, so we are going to make it happen whenever it is convenient for him. Drumming duties will be split between Dave Geizelmeyer and myself, and Stuart Brawley has agreed once again to help with mixing and co-production once it is all finished.
How many members of Checkpoint Charley are LDS?
A: The core of the band has always been Jesse and I, who are fiercely Mormon. Wayne is not but respects what our ideals are. We sort of have a revolving cast of players to help us form the Checkpoint, regardless of location. When we play in LA, drummer Christopher Allis (Presbyterian) plays with us, in SLC it is David Geiselmayr (Mormon), in Florida it is Terry Platt (Christian). For guitars it is always Ian and myself, and we usually enlist the help of our friend Mike Spens (Mormon) as an additional guitar man live for our Salt Lake shows. But on the occasion we can get a gig playing in Tampa, Terry’s brother Tommy Platt (Christian) plays guitar. We had a situation last month where we were set to play in front of about 1,500 people opening for Jon Schmidt in Eden, UT and Wayne couldn’t fly in, so Kristin Lawrence (Mormon) re-joined for a show. We are very much a Latter Day Saint band with our head screwed on straight… though our body does tend to change here and there… ;o)
You have mentioned being more outspoken about your beliefs due to recent events. Tell us a little about what that means.
A: It is so interesting to sit back and watch the pageantry of current popular culture, as someone that is trying to know better. Kids are being told they have to be teenagers, teenagers are being told they have to be adults, adults are being told to be kids. There are no boundaries, no accountability, and it’s OK to follow whatever impulse happens to be cool at the moment. Everyone has everything and no one is happy. We’ve been warned over and over again about this but even members of the Church are falling prey to it. When you survey the weakness of the world and feel it move through us in our own weakness, it is such a comfort to know that we have the Gospel to anchor us. Jesse and I are pretty staunch Mormons, but we try to strike an equal balance in the way we present it in our music. The Church is not an exclusionary social club that you get into by paying your 10%, it’s a way of life that brings happiness. Our music, to a small degree, has been a means in showing some of the youth we get to work with that you can live this way and still have fun, and still be around people that may not feel the same way and not be ashamed. You don’t necessarily have to get on top of a car and get all “Samuel the Lamanite” all over everyone, but we also can’t just stand on the sidelines and watch it all happen. Just like we always hear in Conference, we can make a difference in the way we live. Gordon B. Hinckley said we don’t need to be prudes, I fully believe that!
What do you think is the state of the LDS music universe today?
A: Stagnant. I haven’t been paying attention much, but my wife worked at Deseret Book when we lived in Orange County (we live in Northern Indiana now) and it felt like the same stuff that was around when I was a kid, just more of it. When we played in The Find in Utah, we kind of tried to get in with the LDS music crowd a little, but it just wasn’t what we wanted to do. We want to make amazing music that rocks and is accessible to everyone, but that has the message at the center. To be frank, when you try to get people “outside” of the LDS circle into LDS music, they don’t really get it. We played a show opening for LDS artist Jon Schmidt a year ago, and our keyboardist Wayne came in from Washington to do it. He was blown away by the fact that hundreds of people were paying to see this artist play this mellow music, and not only was he not connecting with it, he wondered why he was killing himself playing in bar bands 5 nights a week for 20 people in Portland!
To really understand this, you should check out an album The Osmonds put out in 1973 called “The Plan” (which you can get at Deseret Book, btw). Here was a band that was an international phenomenon, and they put out a concept album about the Plan of Salvation on their own label called Kolob Records (now how punk rock is THAT!). The music sounds like a cross between Zeppelin and Pink Floyd, and yet, if you look deep into the meaning of each song, it is about finding your way toward Eternal Life! Shift gears; through professional association, I became close friends with the guys in the band Switchfoot. Here is a mainstream band that is Christian, and yet their music is not preachy (or considered what the Christian Rock world calls Praise and Worship music). I talked with them about how much I admired that in their music, and they said something to the effect of “…why make music for the converted when you can bring others in from the outside.” There are a lot of great artists in the LDS genre, but all too often they pander to what our community of Saints wants, rather than broadening a little to create something that is more accessible with our faith at the core.
Do you feel like there has ever been conflict with your faith and your music?
A: Nope. I was once told that I could not properly do my job in Artist Relations for a major drum company unless I was willing to party like a rock star with the dudes I was working with. I’ve been told by some pretty major players that I had to “drink it or wear it”, and ended up having alcohol poured all over me. I am not going to back away from my ideals, but more times than not, when I have made my views known because of something I turned down or whatever, there is a sense of respect that arises rather than that of scorn. That is something that comes out a lot in the way I write lyrics. Again, more often than not, the true message of the song is often just underneath the actual lyric. But my hope is that it will be visible enough to those that are looking, and if it isn’t, it will cause someone to look. A fair example is a song like “Bellyfish” from ‘One Through Twelve’ -which is from the point of view of a spirit that is between the womb and Pre-Earth Life. Our new songs are more telling of the conditions we live in now and why we need to be strong; but with as much rubbish as there is in the world, it really is an amazing time to be alive! I love positive, UP music, so I want to make sure we continue to make stuff that might not only serve as a guidepost, but also that might uplift. So to make a short story long, the elements of our testimonies are in the songs, but they are not necessarily of the Janice Kapp Perry variety (not that there is anything wrong with that!).
No doubt your fans have been anxiously waiting for more Checkpoint Charley news. Any shows coming up? Where can interested folks hear Checkpoint Charley songs?
A: We just had our once-yearly show and attempted to play four of the new songs as a band when they had only just been arranged. Neil Finn once said that it is only when a song has been played live as a band that it actually begins to take shape. Following that formula, we debuted the new songs and the response was great! For the next little while it is going to be all about tracking the new record, but there is the possibility of doing some living room shows in the near future to test some of the other new stuff as well.
Songs from ‘1-12’ can be heard on our MySpace site (www.myspace.com/checkpointcharley) or on CD Baby (http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/checkpoint), and the album can be purchased on iTunes and through Notlame.com. I have really high hopes for all this stuff and hope that when people hear it, they will “get it.”