The release of Chappaqua Wrestling’s latest single The Rift couldn’t have come at a more fitting, turbulent time.
Taking inspiration from Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Masque of Anarchy, a poem written about the Peterloo massacre in 1800s Manchester, The Rift grasps the theme of conflict, turbulence in society, and the empowerment it brings within the human psyche.
Written pre-lockdown, the result is one of the most powerful tracks they’ve written, says co-songwriter Charlie Woods, who along with best mate Jake Mac founded Chappaqua Wrestling in Manchester in 2017 before making the move to south east London via their hometown of Brighton.
Charlie said about The Rift: “The world is a bit of a darker place and it was easier to get out those heavier emotions.”
“It’s divine intervention! Someone has said ‘The Rift will be next!’”, says Jake when discussing the single’s release. “It’s about conflict but it’s really happening at the moment.”
Chappaqua Wrestling have earned a host of admirers thanks to their skilful ability to throw themselves into different styles and sounds. Tracks like Early, Football, and Is She Happy Turning On Her Side touch upon melodic indie pop, swirling Americana, and dreamy 60s rock ’n’ roll.
The Rift, however, shows they love coming out of their comfort zones. It’s is a hard-hitting slice of gritty arena-filling rock; grabbing you by the lapels as soon as the scuzzy guitar riff kicks in before immersing you in its mesmerising dynamics that combines Charlie’s enchanting, echoed vocals over immersive grunge hooks.
Their early promise has impressed the likes of BBC Radio 1, BBC 6 Music and Huw Stephens, who invited the quintet for a session at the historic Abbey Road Studios.
It was a fitting development for Charlie, whose great-uncle Stan played the trumpet on The Beatles’ classic All You Need Is Love, recorded at the same venue decades earlier. “It was full circle, in a way”, he says.
Unwaveringly open with their creative output, Chappaqua Wrestling are an enthralling proposition and one you need firmly on your radar.
Daily Star Online’s Rory McKeown chatted to Charlie and Jake about their releases so far, The Rift, their influences, growing up in Brighton and the Manchester music scene, and their future hopes.
Hi guys, how have the last few months treated you?
Charlie Woods: “We were luckily able to record these two tracks (Football and The Rift) just as lockdown was happening. The hardest thing was trying to work out how to get visuals done.
“The stars aligned and lockdown measures meant we could do the video for The Rift.
“Not playing as a band hit us hard. Jake (Mac) and I started the band and it took us a while to get live musicians that were right. We started up in Manchester and moved back (to Brighton). We needed some musicians who really wanted to be in it. We found those, it was working so well.
“We did a Maida Vale session earlier this year and we all get on. It was great new beginnings and the start of us having a consolidated group.
“But lockdown happened but we lost a bit of that work. That was just sad for every band.”
Jake Mac: “Me and Charlie were living together, as we have done since we were 21-22. Just before lockdown we were trying to make our move to London. We were based in Brighton via Manchester for university.
“Lockdown happened and that week leading up to it we were in the studio and managed to get all the mixing done just in time. At the time we had no idea what was about to come. It was perfect timing.
“As writers it was good for us. We write a lot in solitary but we also then work a lot sending each other stuff. We are a band that love playing live but we very much write in our bedrooms and on our own before writing together.
“Coming out now we’ve had these songs perfectly teed up. Now we’ve moved to London, living around Peckham. Lockdown’s not been too destructive for us as a band.”
You’ve released the heavy, scuzzy rock single The Rift, which is a departure in style compared to your previous output. Did you always want to go down that route in terms of a variation?
Charlie: “I don’t know if it’s a conscious decision to ever go in that direction. What we’ve always thought that would be the case in that the band would be quite chilled and they’d do chilled stuff. Now it’s like there’s no affiliation to certain types of music anymore. If you’re into guitar music then you get a bit heavy, and go quite soft.
“We kind of naturally just write heavier stuff as well. They sonically don’t sound too different. That’s not to say we just did it. There’s definitely a vibe. We had a bit of a tough year last year. The world is a bit of a darker place and it was easier to get out those heavier emotions.”
Jake: “We got heavier as a band. We were playing more last year. We set up the band in Manchester and we didn’t really know what we were doing. We got thrown in the deep end and got booked to do a load of shows. We didn’t have a good team around us. We were here nor there. It created tension in our songwriting.
“The conflict in the world is massively inspired lyrically. It’s become a harder band because of that. People think of Is She Happy? which is very Americana because we were inspired by the Beach Boys and Steely Dan. When were were young, we were in a shoe gaze band. Me, Charlie and Jude. We were heavier than we are now. You kind of go full circle. Any kid with a guitar is going to get loud.
“We don’t want to completely write off our softer past. We like to think of it as two sides of the coin. At the moment we just got heavier, which is fun.
“It would feel wrong to release a softer song the way we’re playing at the moment.”
Charlie: “It’s fitting for what’s going on, big time.”
Lyrically, are you inspired or influenced by what’s going on?
Charlie: “It gets changed up. The Rift has a specific inspiration that was surprisingly relevant.
“There’s a poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley. Have you heard of the Peterloo massacre in the 1800s in Manchester? It’s this crazy, power to the people event. It was this protest about democracy. We had this song, The Rift, and I was thinking it’s about conflict.
“It was my mum who told me about the poem. She was like ‘you should read this poem – it’s lovely!’ It’s used as a mantra for conflict and empowerment of people, protesting. It’s beautifully written.
“I read it when we were doing the lyrics before lockdown. It weirdly resonates with what’s going on, and that was pre-lockdown, which shows just general turbulence in society. It was so surprisingly relevant for how old it is. It’s called the Masque of Anarchy.”
Jake: “With that song specifically you brought that poem to the table. We didn’t have a refrain. We were trying to have this idea of two things coming together. It takes two to rift.
“We’ve lyrically grown up over time, as anyone who writes lyrics or poetry will do. Sometimes lyrics come first and it changes the way you write melody. We always have an idea, a lyric in our head, and we help each other get it over the line. It generally works quite well.
“The world inspires us but we can tend to get abstract with lyrics. Those lyrics can sometimes be a mirror of your own emotion coming out. Sometimes we need to read our lyrics back more. What are we actually trying to talk about?”
You must have been watching everything unfold over the past six months or so, thinking this is really relevant. Were you thinking we need to get this out now?
Charlie: “Yes, definitely. It was this feeling of ‘oh my god, this song has even greater layers’. We were always going to release this song at this stage.”
Jake: “It’s divine intervention! Someone has said ‘The Rift will be next!’. Until you asked that question I don’t think we have processed how fitting the song was. It’s about conflict but it’s really happening at the moment. It was due to come out two months ago but we thought we should delay it.
“It was going to come out in the middle of Black Lives Matter. We didn’t want to share music and make any voice about ourselves or our music at such an important time on the world’s stage. The delay was right and now it’s even more fitting.”
Charlie: “There’s been so much going on in so many different angles. We weren’t trying to have some kind of messiah song. To put it broadly, there’s just so much division everywhere.
“We had this huge song that had so much power and this is probably the most powerful we’ve been to tackle something that’s obviously there for everybody and went for that concept. It’s turned into a really good song to release it. We’re lucky.”
Would you say that from your evolution to your output now, are you where you wanted to be with your newer collection? Is this what you envisioned?
Jake: “We don’t look too much into the future with what our sound would be. Where we’ve been writing for so long, we do full circles.
“Early, for example, was written nearly five years ago. As the old saying goes, a good song is timeless. It means we can bring things back and revisit and reimagine new ideas.
“Football and The Rift are examples of us going full circle without realising. Going through Americana stage and swinging the whole way back to when we were teenagers rocking out hard with distortion pedals.”
Charlie: “Going forward, our sound now is how we imagined it. It’s what we were doing when we first fell in love with music. Then we went to this Steely Dan-type vibe. We’re going to go back there because, as Jake said, when you get an old idea and go back to it, you go back to it with a fresh take. There’s no way the tracks we’ve done now we could have done when we were younger. We’ve learned so much.”
Jake: “Even in this period of our music developing, getting heavier and grungier, there’s so much abstract stuff which we write that doesn’t fit the bill for this release. In a year’s time, hopefully that stuff will be on the album. It’s nice not knowing how it’s going to unfold.
“We got told a year or two ago that they imagine us an album band. Now we’re thinking of the EP and releases rather than singles and it’s really nice to think of us progressing that we’re a band that can nail an album. I believe that’s where we’ll find our feet. We write songs as sets and in periods of time Whatever that album will be I think it will work as a whole story rather than a set of singles.”
Charlie: “That’s why our live shows work so well. We love playing live but we go through so many different moods. Maybe that’s what the album will do as well, which would be great.”
Was it a creative decision to move to London from Brighton?
Charlie: “I think it was a creative decision. Brighton’s great but it’s home. Home is good for a short space of time if you’re writing feeling like you’re trapped there or if you’ve not been home in ages. It’s a small town and it was a stepping stone to get back there after uni, really.
“London’s London. There’s so much going on and all our creative friends from Manchester and Brighton are here. We’ve got loads of mates in bands doing well here. It’s a no brainer. The possibilities of what you can create are so much more vibrant.
“We know Brighton so well at this point. It wasn’t giving us much.”
Did Brighton mould the sound of Chappaqua Wrestling at all?
Charlie: “If anything I would say no but Manchester did. I would hammer that point home forever. We went to Manchester because of the music.
“When we were 14 we connected over New Order, Happy Mondays, like so many kids getting into music. Everything took us to Manchester.
“Even to the point of going to university. People would say ‘don’t go to university because of your mates’ but Jake and I said ‘we’re going to Manchester’. It was so good. We started a band there and without a doubt that’s what our sound has been influenced by.
“Brighton’s made us who we are as people. We love that place and will always love it. It’s home. But musically Manchester is the biggest thing, without a doubt. It’s our identity growing up as musicians in the UK, at least.”
Who are your main inspirations musically, creatively, personally. Are there a few you look towards in terms of your sound?
Charlie: “There’s so much. I would be interested to hear what other artists say when you ask that question. People listen to so much music now. There are my favourites but it’s so hard to pinpoint what it is. There are so many different levels.
“On one side we love Santana, The Beach Boys, Steely Dan, 70s American driving music. Organs, big studio bands, solos, crazy session musicians. That side of music is so fun from a nerd’s point of view. It’s also lush – the imagery of it, the sound.
“On the other side, what we love is New Order, big time. Early Oasis, who doesn’t? That’s been such a huge influence for us. They’re so huge for Jake and I. We’d be driving to football every Saturday listening to Oasis. It’s such football music when you’re a kid.
“We marry Brit pop with real west coast American stuff. Some of the heavier stuff comes out as well. It’s difficult to give a concise answer to that. I love Danish punk music like Iceage. They’re f***** awesome, crazy.”
You’re from families with musical backgrounds. What is that like growing up?
Charlie: “It’s amazing. From my perspective, when I was three I was listening to The Beach Boys’ back catalogue with my dad and grandpa. My granddad had his own jazz big band that he led since the 60s. He played at Ronnie Scott’s and played all over. When I was three I was singing all these Beach Boys lyrics with them.
“Coming from a background like that I felt like that was the only thing I could do. I love music and maybe it’s because I got on with it so well. It was a given. It’s a really positive thing. It comes with a bit of pressure when things are going a bit badly. Things are a struggle every now and then.
“We were going to do a load of dates later this year which have been cancelled but when it’s so deep rooted you want to do something it really hurts on another level. You almost have an identity crisis.
“Jake’s uncle was a huge opera director in France and his dad loves playing guitars.
“It comes from a love for music but this emotional tie to it that is deep rooted. That’s not to say someone who hasn’t had that doesn’t love it as much. It’s that when things go well you feel it. When things go bad, it hurts because you’re so attached to it from a young age.
“It gives us confidence but we have humility about it as well.”
What about the partnership between you and Jake, was it an instant fusion for a love for music?
Charlie: “It was. I grew up in America. I moved there when I was eight and came back when I was 12-13. Those five years were pretty formative years.
“I moved back from New York to where I lived in Sussex. I went to school with Jake and I found it hard to get back into English society. It seemed so raucous but such a different world.
“I met Jake and he was the only other kid playing music. At first we were so different. We didn’t really get on as mates. Because we both had that shared interest, it felt so good from the get go. We were 14. We became friends at 16 but we played together from the get go and it sounded so good. We always played gigs and we loved it, but we weren’t friends for a while! (laughs)
“Now we’re best friends. We merged in the middle.
“We both have older sisters and older sisters are an absolute mecca for good music. We were in German class and he got told to sit next to me because he was being naughty. We didn’t want to sit next to each other.
“He then turned to me and said ‘have you heard of the band Foals?’, and then we started talking about it like it was this cool thing, which it was. It was the Antidotes era. In that environment it seems so rock ’n’ roll. It seems so ridiculous now. If you asked someone ‘Have you heard of Foals?’, you’d feel like a complete d***.”
You recorded some tracks with Huw Stephens at Abbey Road studios. What was that like as a moment for the band?
Charlie: “It was indescribable. I couldn’t believe the opportunity existed for bands at our level. I got the email and thought it was a joke because it came over so casually. ‘Hi guys, just to let you know we’re going to take you to Abbey Road for Huw Stephens. Are you free on this date?’ We were like ‘what?’.
“What was interesting was we’d recorded everything up until that point in the bedroom. We went from that to the complete opposite end of the spectrum. It was such a different and new experience, which made it even more of a holiday. It made it so fun being in a studio.
“It was super emotional. The experience of it was so good. We recorded a version of Football that we didn’t release.
“We got to see the old gear. What was cool was my grandad’s brother, uncle Stan, he played trumpet on All You Need Is Love on the intro. He recorded it at Abbey Road. That was cool. It was full circle in a way.
“What’s so funny about it is there are all these photos around. Everyone there is super chilled and good at their job, the best. But all the signs on the walls are saying ‘no pictures of the walls’ because there are these archived photos of funny moments. In the canteen there’s a photo of Paul McCartney eating a baked potato looking really guilty.
“There are loads of archived photos The Beatles and famous bands being human and silly. That gives it a warm feeling. When you’re there you feel really at home with these big names. They don’t make you feel intimidated. It like ‘look at them being normal!’”
What are the next steps for the Chappaqua Wrestling?
Charlie: “Like every band we want to get on the road and play gigs. This year has been so good. Under the surface we’ve been around for a couple of years but we’ve got this band locked in now. It’s such a good band. Everyone is super dedicated, talented. It was cooking so well but lockdown’s happened.
“It’s a bit of a knock but what’s good is we wrote so much good stuff together. It’s working so well.
“If we can’t play live, it’s stupid to chase that dream if it’s not going to happen. But what we can do is get into the room and play loads more as this group and expand our sound and keep releasing.
“What we’re doing now is just releasing. We’re not going to stop. We’ve got so many tracks, so many different directions. It’s getting this EP out and getting an album out next year would be the ideal plan.
“We want to keep growing and see where we go, and hope the reaction of these tracks go down well.”
The Rift and Football by Chappaqua Wrestling are out now via Good Flavours Records