Chappaqua Wrestling aren’t happy. “The Government try to make out we’re in Singapore-on-Thames, but what the fuck are they actually doing?,” says songwriter Charlie Woods, as he describes how economically-forward London is positioned, while its inhabitants are left behind without the benefits.
“Everything’s got to such an extremely bad level,” affirms bandmate and fellow songwriter Jake Mac. This bitterness towards the Government’s wrongdoings isn’t just idle pub chat between the pair and NME; its representative of the Brighton four-piece’s current era as they prepare to drop their grunge-flecked debut album, ‘Plus Ultra’ (released April 14).
For Chappaqua Wrestling, this politicised voice has been a long time coming. Woods and Mac started writing music together at age 14 after bonding over ‘00s indie acts such as Foals and The Maccabees, but it wasn’t until their late teens when they formed Chappaqua Wrestling. And at that time, they were deeply obsessed with shoegaze pioneers My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive. “We’d test out guitar pedals, smash the shit out of the drums and make all the racket in the world,” Mac explains of their early songwriting process.
Woods and Mac make it clear they’re not here to be grouped within a scene, but the recent, if quiet resurgence of shoegaze is unmistakable. The indie kids that grew up with the likes of DIIV and Beach Fossils have gone on to create similar soundscapes, from Drug Store Romeos space-pop to Cruush’s fuzzy melodies. But what sets Chappaqua Wrestling apart is their seamless crossover between their conversational lyrics – which are largely inspired by The Clash – and their raw, pared-back arrangements.
Every time either Woods or Mac brings up The Clash, an apology ensues for mentioning their influence again. Despite Mac thinking the legendary band were pro-war as a child – blame Joe Strummer’s RAF t-shirt in the part-fiction, part-rock documentary film Rude Boy, he says – The Clash’s use of music as a vehicle of political conversation is a key influence across ‘Plus Ultra’.
“The Clash’s music makes you feel really good, but underneath there’s big problems being spoken about,” Woods says. “With our lyrics, we did think about whether we should do [something similar] because it’s the right thing to do.”
‘Plus Ultra’ is a clear expression of political frustration. ‘Kulture’ cuts into tokenism (“They only want your culture when they need you”) with unforgiving guitar attacks, while the omnipresence of social media is a theme that gradually realises itself throughout ‘Wide Asleep’. ‘Opaque’, meanwhile, might open with the line “I need a solution”, but both Woods and Mac are quick to stress that they’re not here with the answers. Instead, they’re about getting the conversation started. “We’re two privileged white males who are standing with a voice, but it’s better than standing with no voice,” Mac says. “Art is a place to share [these] stories.”
He continues: “Music that covers uncomfortable areas and brings it into conversation is only a good thing. I’d rather do that than pretend everything’s hunky dory and write about some random love song.”
Woods and Mac both describe ‘Plus Ultra’ as a “mirror” of where they’re at in their lives. They’re angry with the political dissonance that surrounds them; they’re fed-up with having to work “mundane” jobs. But, they’re also both in their 20s – they want to have fun. “The best music is truthful music,” says Mac. “There had to be a bit of love amongst the grunge and attitude. It’s not always sad!”
Yet the band’s journey hasn’t been without interruption. ‘Plus Ultra’ is Chappaqua Wrestling’s first non-single release since 2017’s ‘EP1’, and has been ready for over 18 months a hold-up at their label interfered, but the band are nothing but thankful for the time it’s taken to get here. The recent additions of Coco Varda on keys and John-Paul Townsend on drums fleshed out their sound to a level they hadn’t previously achieved. As Woods puts it: “We’re definitely at our best and most firm iteration right now.”
Chappaqua Wrestling are a live band at heart, and needed the album to reflect their onstage energy and create the feeling of togetherness. “We kept it simple. We’re not boys with toys,” they agree, brows raised. With just 10 days in the studio and then another week spent mixing, there was no time to fuss over synth delays or wacky recording techniques – the furthest they ventured was when Woods did vocal takes for ‘Need You No More’ in the toilet to take advantage of the “natural reverb”.
With the new tracks intended to mirror their live set, Chappaqua Wrestling rounded off 2022 with their first UK headline tour. Initially uncertain over attendance due to rising living costs, they needn’t have worried: every date sold out, and saw fans singing unreleased material back to them. As well as road testing ‘Plus Ultra’, the band took up a last minute opportunity to bring the album to bigger stages with two last-minute support slots for Blossoms. “[Those shows] were massive, but we’ve got to do it ourselves to be really proud,” Mac adds.
‘Plus Ultra’ may have been a long time coming, but it’s Chappaqua Wrestling’s fierce sense of ambition that’s kept them going. “Being together [through music] makes life so beautiful and we have a duty to create that feeling and connection for other people,” says Woods. “It’s a drug we’re trying to chase.”
Chappaqua Wrestling’s debut album ‘Plus Ultra’ will be released on April 14 via EMI