“We’re burning off evil spirits,” said frontman Paul Remund.
He was only half-joking. When it comes to performing, the four guys in Chairs Missing—guitarist-singer Remund, guitarist Riain Hagar, bassist Brandon Cardwell and drummer Dave Mead—are extremely sensitive to their surroundings.
At a recent outdoor festival at UCSD, an event that Remund referred to dismissively as “some kind of contemporary summer suburban concert series,” they walked away feeling deeply bummed. They were recently offered a well-paying gig at a Karl Strauss beer festival, but they turned it down.
“I’m trying to not do any kind of sponsored shows,” Remund says in an interview at The Station burger joint in South Park.
“We want to create the environment rather than be a part of it.”
This week, they’ll take that point to its logical conclusion. For a video shoot at The Park Gallery for “To the Hills,” a single they plan to release on a forthcoming EP, the band will play host to a circus featuring contortionists, face painters, a balloon sculptor and a caricature artist, among other performers and creatives. Audience members can attend if they show up in costume.
It’s an ambitious bit of theater that Remund, who also plays drums and keys in Tape Deck Mountain, hopes to keep up in future shows. But while bands like Salem and Nobunny are known as much for their onstage antics as their music, Chairs Missing remain a musician’s band. They’re not trying to wow anyone or hit on a specific sound. At their practice, they were just four guys rocking out.
Asked if he keeps up with the buzz around the band, Remund seems blissfully ignorant.
“I don’t even know really what our status is or what people necessarily think of us,” he says. “We honestly are just trying to play—and not in a cheesy way at all—but just trying to play, like, exactly what we feel like doing.”
Remund, a thin 28-year-old whose messy hair and bigframed glasses make him come across like a mad hipster scientist, first started writing songs for Chairs Missing two years ago. At the time, he played guitar and keys and sang in Ladybeard, an experience he recalls with disdain.
“I was kind of trying to sound like something that wasn’t from me,” he says. “It wasn’t my own pure thoughts. It was like me trying to sound like a ’60s psychedelic band. Like, really trying. So it was all fake, you know? It was bullshit.”
His girlfriend at the time, Kelsey Breunig, co-owner of Tin Can Ale House, encouraged him to play the songs he was writing in his bedroom. After doing a handful of solo shows, he started playing with violinist Julia Kim (she’s since moved to San Francisco but is still an honorary member). Chairs Missing’s current lineup came together about six months ago. In September, they posted their debut, the When, Now EP, for download on Bandcamp.
A dynamic piece of ’60s-tinged folk-rock, When, Now sounds like the soundtrack to a graveyard game of hide-andseek. “Untied” hinges on a stunning guitar figure that recalls Wish You Were Here-era Pink Floyd. “So You Know” climaxes with one of Hagar’s ingeniously catchy licks—but the ghostly, reverb-drenched vocals and rumbling drums also evoke a hint of dread.
Like all new bands, Chairs Missing are an uneven live act. To be sure, they’re all great musicians—Hagar plays deceptively complex guitar parts, and Mead (who also plays drums in Cuckoo Chaos) uses a floor tom and a cymbal better than some drummers work a full set. But of the six times I’ve seen them perform, half the time they’ve sounded merely good. Not bad, but not remarkable.
I blame the conditions more than the band. When the conditions are perfect—the sound system is decent, the venue intimate—Chairs Missing are absolutely irresistible. The rhythm pulsates. The guitars shimmer. The whole band bobs with energy. You can practically feel the boost in the room’s collective heart rate.
At their practice on Monday, they were struggling. The room was suitably tranquil, but the conditions were all off: They hadn’t rehearsed in three weeks, the settings on Remund’s amp were all switched around, and bassist Cardwell was using different equipment.
Still, they didn’t seem worried. It was standard pre-show procedure, Remund said: In the first rehearsal, they rumble through a clunky practice. In the second, they tighten things up. In the third, they lock into place. At The Park Gallery, with the band refreshed and a circus going, the atmosphere and conditions might be ideal.
“I think it’s gonna be really wacky,” Remund says.
Chairs Missing will perform and shoot the video for “To the Hills” at The Park Gallery on Friday, April 8. Bring a costume. chairsmissingband.bandcamp.com