Smile Politely

The Chemicals: Champaign chemistry

A bridal shop is the last place you’d look to find a rock band. But poufy, shiny, wedding merchandise is a backdrop for The Chemicals’ practice space in Rantoul. It’s unorthodox, but talk to the guys for a while and you’d find that normality isn’t something they are concerned with. Although, neither is the opposite.

They don’t care much about branding or publicizing their music, and certainly not about creating a “web presence.” They aren’t particularly good at being interviewed either. If it wasn’t for the efforts of Heirship Records owner Isaac Arms, you wouldn’t be reading this article, or maybe you wouldn’t even know the band existed, especially not if you live outside the Champaign-Urbana area.

The Chemicals have been around for over a decade in some form, quietly, releasing a couple albums here and there, and only once being interviewed — by a buzz Magazine reporter, who, due to their (almost signature) lack of internet presence researched the wrong “Chemicals” prior to the interview.

“We met this guy at the coffee shop and he’s like, ‘So, you guys are hardcore punk, what are your influences?’” said drummer Andy Chemical. “He had just Googled our name, and there’s The Chemicals from out west, and we’re like, ‘What? A little bit, maybe…’”

It’s true, some Chemicals tunes err on the punk side. The track “Electronics” on their latest album A New Language has some punk ‘tude to it. Their music hinges on grunge or shoegaze for the most part, and it’s pretty damn good too, but that’s not even important. As Arms accurately refers to them, The Chemicals are a “quintessentially Champaign band.” Not because they sound like Hum or Braid or American Football, but because, in spite of their aversion to publicity, The Chemicals are one of the most well loved groups here.

The lineup of The Chemicals has changed a lot since their first show at Café Paradiso in 2000, but brothers Johnny (guitar) and Andy Chemical have always played together. Years of “Urbana jamming” and “shitty vodka drinking” have led up to the current roster of the two of them, Justin Gee on guitar and vocals, Tim McGee on guitar and Walt Falbo on bass. Sipping Four Loko and Twisted Tea while smoking cigarettes on a Rantoul roof during a warmish spring night, the group has some obvious chemistry, even when they’re not playing.

Unfortunately, Andy plans on quietly leaving the band to move to Montreal with his wife soon, leaving them less one original member, but the band isn’t too concerned. If things end for The Chemicals, they end. If the band finds a new drummer, they don’t. Although they might not move on in the same form, The Chemicals will be forever tied to the place they are from. They represent the non-transient, earthbound side to local music, the existence of which is genuine, unique, and worthy of pride.

The Chemicals play a Record Release show at Mike N Molly’s on Friday.

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