Magic men

The Werks celebrate Werksgiving at Oddbody’s

The Werks (l-r) Dan Shaw, Chris Houser, Jake Goldberg, Rob Chafin. Photo: Brian Feruson

By Gary Spencer

Dayton quartet The Werks have been somewhat quietly making a name for themselves in the jam band community, not just in Ohio, but throughout the United States since the band’s inception in 2005. However, perhaps part of their success is due to the fact that The Werks seem to eschew the noodly, hippie, musically self indulgent and stoned out of their gourds stereotype that plagues the Jam band genre and instead presents well structured and thought out songs as opposed to jams with wanky solos that seemingly never end that many listeners need to be on drugs to actually find enjoyable. With that said, The Werks’ ability to expound upon their compositions in the live setting in a way that never sounds the same twice is also a trait of their success. With their website and Bandcamp sites littered with a slew of live recordings from both close to home and afar attests, it’s clear that their fans enjoy hearing and comparing performances from one show to another much like Grateful Dead diehards do, so the jam band comparison still thoroughly applies.

But before all the success and notoriety, the guys who made up The Werks came together somewhat intentionally, but also by fate on the University of Dayton campus.

“There happened to be a battle of the bands competition that night that I and bassist Chuckie Love were excited to attend,” says The Werks’ guitarist and vocalist, Chris Houser. “The band that won had Rob Chafin on drums, Dave Bartoletti on keys and a guitar player and bassist who were about to be leaving the band. After meeting that night at UD, Chafin, Love, Bartoletti, and myself decided to form a band, but what would we call it? One late night after a couple UD house parties, we found ourselves at Steak and Shake where Rob ordered a steak burger with ‘the works” and history was made!”

While the band’s nom de plume originally was just a funny story, The Werks decided that the moniker made a lot of sense based on the band members’ myriad musical interests.

“What we found interesting is that we all like to dabble in all genres—this made the name “The Works” fit that much better,” Houser says. “I always leaned toward Phish and The Grateful Dead, where Rob always leaned a little more toward the electronic, synthier, beat-driven tunes and always has his finger on the pulse of what’s hot in the newer music scene. (Bassist) Jake Goldberg is a Claypool fanatic. (Keys player) Dan (Shaw’s) favorite keyboardist is John Medeski. Overall, we’ve been compared to classic rock greats such as Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin as well as newer groups like STS9, Lotus, and Umphrey’s McGee. We are influenced by these bands but when the notes come out of our brains into our hands you have The Werks—we changed the spelling to stand out a bit more.”

Indeed. As previously alluded to, The Werks have a little of everything for listeners to sink their teeth into. Upon listening to their newest album “Magic” that features the current lineup of Houser, Chafin, Jake Goldberg on bass and Dan Shaw on keys, the band tackles everything from classic rock to reggae to funk to prog rock to folk to calypso to psych rock complete with vintage organ sounds, often on the drop of a dime within the same song. And while this melding of styles might be a trait of other jam bands, Houser prefers not to tag The Werks in such a manner and instead believes that what they do just comes instinctively.

“I prefer to call us a rock band,” he says. “We do jam and improv at every live show and it is often the focus of the evening for some. The difference is that we really like to rock! We write primarily to please our own ears. We have always been a band that people have had trouble placing in a certain genre—we’ve played around with about 20 different genres that define the sound you hear at a Werks show. None of them, no matter how specific or broad, has come close to describing what we do besides the word ‘rock.’ Who likes stereotyping anyway?”

While The Werks are proud of the songs they write and craft for their records, the band is clearly aware of their reputation for their adventurous live show where the group enjoys taking their finely curated songs into new directions, with the aid of visual aesthetics, on the spot that have captured the imaginations of their fans.

“It ought to surprise our audience in a good way,” says keyboardist Dan Shaw. “Part of the joys of improvising and creating live music is to go somewhere spontaneously and creatively. Our live experience includes a light show and larger productions for our festival dates. It usually varies from the record by length and jam sections which could spring up at any time.”

“The Werks is all about experimentation—the writing is an experiment on whether what sounds good to me will sound equally good to our listeners,” Houser explains. “In the live setting it’s more about pushing improv sections to new heights and finding out what we are made of, as far as how far we can push the boundaries. We have been constantly evolving.”

The Werks’ evolution over the years has seen the groups popularity soar to the point where they’ve started their very own festivals and events bearing their own name, and there’s more yet to come.

“Our annual festival, The Werk Out Music and Arts Festival, is always a yearly highlight, as well as our two-day winter indoor festival The Winter Werk Out at The Bluestone Feb. 2 and 3 with our old Ohio friends Papadosio,” Shaw says.  “We are looking forward to sharing our creative fruits—the sky is the limit!”

And no matter how far away The Werks’ many gigs, festivals, and travels may take them, like Dorothy would say in The Wizard of Oz, “there’s no place like home” to kick off the holiday season.

“The band started in Dayton and will always have a special place in our hearts,” Shaw says.  “We like to celebrate the holidays with a feeling of family and unity that we hope to imbue in our own produced events and every show across the country. Come be a part of the experience and grace us with holiday cheer.”

“Werksgiving” with The Werks takes place next Wed., November 22 at Oddbody’s Music Room, 5418 Burkhardt Road in Dayton at 8:30pm. Tickets are $10 in advance, $15 day of show. For more information, please visit www.oddbodys.com.

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Gary Spencer
Gary Spencer is a graduate of Miami University and works in the performing arts, and believes that music is the best. Contact him at GarySpencer@DaytonCityPaper.com

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