So I’ve been wanting to share this with you guys for a while. I spoke with Chela Rhea Harper back in July, but I agreed not to run it till she was back from vacation, ‘cause I’m a cool guy like that. She had just finished getting a six-hour very unique tattoo, and we talked about that, and how hard it must have been for her to sit still. If any of you have been fortunate enough to see her rockin’ out with Coal Chamber, then you KNOW she doesn’t stay still for a minute; it’s a photographer’s nightmare, which we had a good laugh about. But the thing about this is that it really was unlike any interview I had done up to that point, or have done since. Chela is such a cool person, and the conversation just flowed. We also spoke about VII, her project with Joe Waller, and if you haven’t heard their first single “Entropy”, get on over to YouTube and listen to it posthaste!
Chela: It’s great not having to answer to anyone and put the stuff out when we feel it’s right. It’s just Joe (Waller, Adora Vivos) and I writing songs together and doing what we love. The only thing we have to deal with is just us being picky about our sound. We went through the mix on “Entropy” about three times from the bottom up, so poor Roman (Arsafes, Kartikeya), he finished the mix and we were like, “Yeah, we’re gonna have to start again”. It’s not that it was bad, we just had a specific vision, and when you’re like that you tend to become the most annoying person in the world ( laughs)!!
Amps: Had you worked with Roman before?
Chela: Oh yeah, he’s great! He actually contacted me about a year ago asking if I’d be interested in collaborating musically with him. I have a pretty specific style, I’m more into dark, doomy, and anything that’s ethnic, I really have certain vibes that I’m closest to. I listened to his band Kartikeya, and interestingly enough I’d had a solo project called Sarasvati, which is a Hindu goddess, and Kartikeya is a Hindu god, so I was like , “Hmmm, let’s listen!”, and it’s actually amazing and they’re one of my favorite metal bands now. We’ve written a few things, but never really finished anything. I’ve played on a few tracks with him, and other than that we’ve been talking about this project for a while because he KNEW it was something I wanted to do.
I’m just really lucky that he believed in it enough to want to be involved. It’s great when everyone sees it as a creative, happy outlet, rather than a business. That’s really important to me. Roman and I have very similar tastes in a lot of ways. Same with Joe, obviously. Roman and I connect on that ethnic side of things, and Joe and I connect on the doom side of things. Not a lot of people that I know have that strong connection to doom metal. I have this crazy emotional attachment to it, so to find someone that ultimately shares that took about four years.
Amps: I’m actually pretty new to doom metal myself, but I’m slowly getting into some of the bands. I know what you mean.
Chela: It’s really beautiful music. (Laughs) I’m sure beautiful isn’t always the most popular way to describe metal, but I think that’s what attracts me to it. It’s metal, which I love, but there’s this other aspect of it that’s just raw, earthy emotion. When I hear doom metal, it’s just so organic and moody, manipulating feelings. You can be in any kind of mood, then you listen to it, and you’re like, “Mannn, I feel this song!”
Amps: What made you start playing guitar?
Chela: I started playing guitar for the sake of writing music that I could sing on. That’s pretty recent, because I’ve been playing bass a long time, since I was 16. When I started Sarasvati I was determined to make the music I wanted to make without having to over explain and lose something in translation trying to get someone to emulate my thoughts, so I was like, “Ok. I’m gonna learn guitar”. It’s a different animal than bass. When I was first learning to play chords I felt like I couldn’t get my fingers to do anything!
Amps: When did you take up the 5-string bass?
Chela: Well, I started bass at 16, and I took up the 5-string at age 23, but I didn’t actually own one till about three years ago.
Amps: That’s one thing I noticed at the show in April, the thick as molasses sound you have. It almost made Meegs’ (Rascon) one guitar sound like two.
Chela: I thought about it, and I wasn’t sure if I was gonna work with Coal Chamber, but I really like overdriven bass tones. We kind of tweaked it in a way to where it was just enough and added more body to the overall sound, but still an entity all its own. I wasn’t sure if they were gonna like at it first, but they thought it was heavy and cool. The guys were like, “Just do your thing” from day one, just really cool like that.
Amps: What do you play on and through?
Chela: I use ESP basses and Ashdown Amps. They lent me some stuff when we went to Australia, and I hadn’t used them before. But a friend at ESP suggested them, and I’m totally down for trying something new, and I was blown away at how great it sounded, so I ended up contacting them when I got back and told them I would love to continue using their stuff exclusively. It’s really meaty, I like it a lot.
Amps: I know you were hoping to have a single out earlier, and it’s due out ANY MINUTE . What are you feeling now that things with VII are really starting to take shape?
Chela: First of all, I hope people will like it. Second of all, when I wrote this song called “The Ghost of Jupiter”, which you will hear eventually, that’s a little more earthy than “Entropy”, but it’s got some great parts. And it was the first song that I wrote where I was really like, “Now THIS is the kind of music I wanna write”, and ever since then I’ve had it in my mind to put this together, and for some reason VII just kept popping into my mind. I was actually talking to Joe for a while before I asked him to be involved. I had admired his work from afar, but was scared to bring somebody into this private emotional realm of mine and also someone who could connect with me on a level where we could write together, come up with and develop ideas together, write lyrics together, agree on subject matter, and sing about it emotionally together. It’s actually harder than it sounds. So I was really lucky that I found someone that it was so easy to do that with. Plus, we were laughing at all these little ways that seven popped up, like we started talking in July (seventh month), we were both in car accidents that resulted in pelvic fractures (me two + him five= seven), and we just laughed about all this little stuff.
Amps: What can we expect from VII?
Chela: I think every song will be a little different. I do rather prefer to sing airy and low because that’s where the emotion is at. I don’t write melodies according to what I think sounds good, I kind of just write them according to how it feels, is it sitting in the right place. And I know that sounds super-abstract but, that’s just how I do it. You’ll see…
Amps: What’s in your CD player/iPod right now?
Chela: Lately I’ve been listening to a lot of Stolen Babies. When we toured with them I became really intrigued by their sound and their style. And I absolutely ADORE Dominique’s voice!! She’s got the greatest tone.
Amps: Who are some of your favorite bands?
Chela: Opeth!! Damnation is my favorite album, not only by them, but one of my favorite albums by any band. Mikael Åkerfeldt (vocals, guitars) is also my favorite vocalist. It’s that emotional manipulation we talked about earlier. The ability to express the depths of your emotion with a few notes. That is, to me, the essence of a good song, regardless of structure, regardless of production. If the emotion and the vibe is right it works, you know? I also love Katatonia, I’m a HUGE Devin Townsend fan, Tool, and a bunch of others. The guitarist who does most of the clean singing in Daylight Dies, his voice is so beautiful. And Kartikeya, obviously!!
(As I write this Kartikeya has recently announced that Chela will be their second guitarist and backing vocalist, and they couldn’t be more excited about it.)
I’m glad that this is happening for her. Spending an hour talking to Chela Rhea Harper gave me a whole new way of looking at things, not just musically, but in other ways, too. She’s really one of a kind, and I’m so glad I got to spend this time with her. I look forward to what she will bring to Kartikeya (thanks for turning me onto them, Chela!), and I can’t WAIT to hear more from VII!