Cincinnati’s the Chocolate Horse celebrates release of Beasts
By Kyle Melton
When starting new construction, it’s typically wise to start simple. Select a single element, refine it, then begin the process of addition until finally arriving at a fully-realized artistic statement. For Cincinnati sextet the Chocolate Horse, this process took nearly a decade. This weekend the band will celebrate the release of their latest creation, Beasts, with a show at South Park Tavern.
From the ashes of Cincinnati outfit Readymaid, guitarist/vocalist Jason Snell hatched the plan to strip his songs down to their most basic elements for his next project, The Chocolate Horse (TCH). Initially restraining himself to acoustic guitar or banjo and vocals, he set to work recording demos on a four-track tape machine with only two functioning tracks.
“It started as a break from the big orchestrated sound,” Snell recalled. “It started as really simple, folky, broken tunes. I felt as horns/beats/bass were added, the tunes started to evolve into a bigger sound. It took time. It’s been close to 10 years of crafting and working that now these TCH songs have the proper orchestration, and that’s a testament to the players and the talent in the band. Allowing for space and not over-doing it.”
Over the past decade, Snell brought in additional contributors Andrew Higley (keyboards, horns, bowed saw, vibraphone), Paul Brumm (bass, vocals), Johnny Ruzsa (alto flute, ocarina, percussion), Dave Cahill (drums) and Sharon Udoh (keys, vocals) to help fill out the sound of TCH. The results of their efforts can be heard on the two albums released on the band’s own Stable Records imprint: 2007’s Patience Works! and 2009’s We Don’t Stand on Ceremony. Following the departure of Udoh after the latter’s release, drummer Joe Suer joined the fold and the band began the tedious process of sifting through myriad ideas, which would become the fodder for their new album.
“All of the practices are multi-tracked, bounced down and shared with everyone a few days later,” explained Suer. “Obviously, this is very helpful for remembering those happy accidents. At first, I wasn’t really sure what was going on at practice most of the time. Drums are my natural instrument and I was concentrating on learning how to play the vibes without being too overbearing. Since the other fellas had been playing together already for so long, their spontaneous jams sounded almost as complete as the new songs that were being worked on. So I was often asking whether what I had just heard was something I needed to concentrate on. I didn’t realize until a little later that we were actually writing the new record and all of it had potential.”
“Beasts came out of a whirlwind summer for me,” Snell said. “It’s pretty apparent to hear in the lyrics, and possibly the music, the up and downs of that time. The TCH had a ton of sketches, and I’d dropped some 300 ideas from the past year to them – the songs we all enjoyed to play kept rising to the top and thus we took those into the studio and completed them very quickly. That was the big difference between Beasts and the other two TCH records, this was recorded/mixed/mastered in six months – we had a quick, self-inflicted deadline, and we stuck to it.”
Within this self-imposed crucible, TCH arrived at their newest album, Beasts. From the opening march of “Escape All Responsibility” to the upbeat angularity of “Lasso Lasso” and the pastoral tones of “Make It Up Tonight,” the album harnesses vastly disparate elements into a singular voice. Being from the Midwest, however, the band realizes that even with such an excellently crafted album it is a struggle to make an impact in an oversaturated musical landscape.
“It makes me work hard because I know I don’t have the opportunities that most bands have on the coasts,” admitted Snell. “We don’t have the big labels and executives with suits and money hanging out at clubs or sending out their interns to check out the next big thing – people in power really don’t care about the Midwest music scene and you really have to pay to play before anyone will recognize you outside your state. I get that, and you have to play the game. But in doing so, it really makes you work harder, you have to or you will not be around for very long.”
The Chocolate Horse will celebrate the release of ‘Beasts’ with a show on Friday, August 26 at South Park Tavern, 1301 Wayne Ave. Also on the bill are Ape the Ghost [ex-Sleepybird]. Doors at 9 p.m. Admission is $5 for all ages. For more information, visit thechocolatehorse.com.
Reach DCP music editor Kyle Melton at MusicEditor@DaytonCityPaper.com.