Chairman Dances: ‘The strength of your arm’

Like most bands, The Chairman Dances had its plans disrupted by the pandemic. But the group now is back to making music and performing. Image | Brooke Marsh

Philadelphia alternative rock band The Chairman Dances is dropping a new album, “The strength of your arm,” July 23. And while the band has Philly roots, the album began to take shape on the west coast. 

“The strength of your arm ” was written by Eric Krewson while he served as an artist in residence in Washington, in the remote Cascade mountains, during the fall of 2019. Three such artists, Krewson (the lone musician), a painter and a writer, lodged together and shared the occasional meal. The remainder of their time, they worked alone, Krewson in a cramped, six-by-six foot shack that contained only a desk and a small, failing space heater.

Perhaps surprisingly, the lyrics Krewson penned during this time of seclusion overflow with the warmth and tenderness of human connection. 

“While I don’t believe the songs share characters, I do imagine all of the individual narrators assuming a similar posture or tone of voice to tell their stories,” he said. “That shared stance or way of speaking is, for me, the crux of the record. It directs what is said or observed; it attends every action, every forbearance.”

The Chairman Dances’ past recordings, including “Child of My Sorrow” (2018) and “Time Without Measure” (2016), earned the group a spot on CMJ’s Top 200 chart and introduced them to alternative press and radio, including PopMatters, Magnet, the BBC6’s Tom Robinson, who called The Chairman Dances his “new favorite band,” and Various Small Flames, who declared the group “writes some of the most interesting and thoughtful songs we’ve had the pleasure of reviewing.” The band’s music has been included in year-end “best of” lists, including those curated by WXPN, KZSU (Stanford), CHIRP (Chicago Independent Radio Project), We Are Mirrors, and Various Small Flames. Over the years, The Chairman Dances has performed alongside Ten Fé, Rhett Miller (Old 97s), Work Drugs, Kopecky, Derek Webb, and Hey Marseilles.

In addition to their more traditional performances and albums, the group has worked in other mediums. They’ve contributed music for a short film, “Jacob’s Ladder” (directed by Jonathan R. Brown), and put on a show with avant-garde visual artist Bobby Pharaoh. Following “Child of My Sorrow, they released a number of art film-like music videos, directed by Bob Sweeney (*NSYNC, Screaming Females, Peach Pit). The video for their “Acme Parking Garage” depicts songwriter Krewson having an anxiety attack in a grocery store and its attached parking facility. Most recently, in July 2020, a short story by Krewson appeared in the journal “Earth & Altar.”

The Chairman Dances includes Dan Comly (keys), Dan Finn (keys), Krewson (vocals, guitar), Will Schwarz (bass), and Kevin Walker (drums). PW recently caught up with Krewson to talk about the band and the new album.

Let’s go back to the beginning. How did The Chairman Dances get together, and how did you come up with the band’s name? How has the band and its music evolved over the years?

The band is named after the composition “The Chairman Dances” (by John Adams), which is a companion piece to the opera “Nixon in China.” I love that opera, both Adams’ music and Alice Goodman’s words. My band, The Chairman Dances, started in earnest in late 2010. I can’t say enough good things about my bandmates. They are incredible musicians and great people. We found each other via the Philly arts community. 

In terms of our music, how it’s changed over the years: for me, each album or EP is its own world with its own narratives, its own concerns. In more concrete terms, we play our instruments differently than we used to. Our musical interests – what we’re excited about – guide us down different paths.

Philly alt rockers The Chairman Dances will drop a new album July 23, ‘The strength of your arm.’ Image | Heather Swenson

Your new album, “The strength of your arm,” drops in July. Talk a little about how it came together, both in terms of the inspiration for the songs and the production process itself. 

Lyrically speaking, I wanted to write about selflessness and goodness. There are many times in our lives when people act in grand, munificent ways toward us, and for seemingly no good reason. The act does not redound to the doers glory; the kindness isn’t particularly deserved. I wrote the songs in Philly and in Washington state, where I was fortunate enough to do an artist residency. My bandmates and I spent months arranging the songs. I can say with confidence that this album is our most focused. Figuring out everything beforehand, we recorded quickly, which is the norm for us. We tracked the majority of the record live in two days. 

How will people be able to get the album?

Starting July 23, you can buy it via Bandcamp. I use that site to purchase music. Additionally, the album will be available on streaming platforms.

The Chairman Dances has been a part of the Philly music scene for more than a decade. Can you talk a little about the city’s music community? How has it changed over the years? Are there any local artists you’d like to appear or collaborate with?

So many great musicians call Philly home. It seems like every show I play or attend, I’m introduced to at least one artist I didn’t know and whose work interests me. In terms of dream collaborations: I would love to sing with Miriam from Queen of Jeans. Miriam has one of the best voices I’ve ever heard; I don’t think she gets enough credit or attention here. Regarding the city’s local music community and industry: it’s in a state of constant (and, at times, erratic) flux. 

How did the pandemic impact the band’s plans? Any cancelled shows? What do things look like for The Chairman Dances now that pandemic restrictions are easing?

The pandemic changed the lives of my bandmates in dramatic ways. Their jobs and home lives look a lot different now. Band-wise, our recording plans were delayed by four months, all of our shows were canceled. Fifteen months later, we are healthy, back to releasing music; we’ve been performing, mostly outdoors, at a fairly quick clip. 

What are the best ways for your fans to stay current with what you’re doing?

People can follow us on Instagram, Twitter, Bandcamp, songkick, etc. Additionally, our website is a good resource:

    • Eugene Zenyatta was raised on old-time Memphis 'rasslin' and strongly prefers the company of dogs to people. His greatest heartbreak came in the 2010 Breeders' Cup Classic.

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