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LAist Band Interview: A Lover, Not a Fighter (Sometimes.)

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This column's been way too long in the writing, and now we're paying the price for our procrastination. When nine months ago LAist wandered into the Kibitz Room on a Thursday night and first heard young Paul Chesne's moniker-shifting band, we were rocked sideways by the hysterically funny, dark and occasionally mean southern r'n'r blasting off that tiny, infamous stage. It was like hearing LA's ironic answer to Skynyrd, frosted with borrowed Dylan lyrics in moments of screaming angst, with Chesne himself a fierce new Beck to finally displace the embarrassing Scientologist who's still sniffing around for another Grammy. But therein lies the twist, because it's just come to us that Chesne's undistributed album, "Wet Dog Man," has been somehow sneaked past committee to become Grammy-eligible in six categories.

If the world were perfect, that might not be an earth-shattering turn of events. "Wet Dog Man" is one of the best albums of the year, with great staying power on the CD changer. And not to say Chesne and his band are untested (anything but; each iteration has been blowing away unsuspecting crowds at every loft and odd venue in the city for some time) -- but he's still unsigned, largely unknown, and at least a little unhinged.

The former may change quickly now, and it's easy to see why fame - or at least notoriety - would be well-deserved. Upon inspection, the giddy savage of a young, white blues legend that is Chesne's onstage persona dissolves into a soft-spoken, introspective prankster, who takes very little too seriously -- except for the music. Chesne takes that so seriously, and does it so well, that he's been able to rope in the support of some of the top touring instrumentalists and engineers in the world. The band's become an LA truck stop for road talent, including drummer/producer Mitch Marine of Dwight Yoakam's band, former Gram Parsons and Johnny Cash bassist Dave Roe, and engineer Mark Needham (who mixed the Killers, Fleetwood Mac and Paul Simon.) And that only scratches the surface. Star cameos abound on the album. But it's clear that although the assembly of talent is nothing short of mind-boggling, Chesne's still the madman driving the plane. His off-kilter sense of humor pairs despairing, tongue-in-cheek gems of bitterness, like, "She got nothin' to offer / she make me depressed / everytime I see her I love her less" with over-the-top observations like, "she's mean, she's broke / she's too young / and she smokes too much crystal meth." All of which demands even more an answer to the question, who is Paul Chesne, how'd he pull off such an amazing album, and how the hell did he get Robbie Conal to do his cover art?

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We sat down back in June for a slightly sodden interview with Chesne and Marine, to get a better feel for the project; although we're still not sure we know the answers to any of the above questions.

Paul Chesne: [Laughing] I could do a whole record of train beat.

Mitch Marine: Yeah. We don't have to talk about that.

PC: It's just really easy. [Pounds out a train beat on the table.] I could start doing that and just go on and play thirty songs.

MM: It's an inside joke. Every song, what should we start with. How 'bout a train beat?

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PC: But I'm actually really conscious of that, at shows. I try to bury it.

LAist: Well you're clearly not just going for a straight country or honky tonk sound.

PC: If anything, we're trying to get away from it.

MM: But, it's also one of those things where production on some of those songs - like, "Old and Gray," went purposely right towards being as honky tonk as possible.

PC: And "Gotta Be Rich."

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LAist: That's an interesting one, 'cause it's produced in a country way, but it almost sounds like a punk song. Especially the lyrics.

PC: Yeah, it's three-chord, hold onto your hat.

MM: I could see it being in that direction. It's not traditional at all -- there's nothing traditional about the album. "Old and Gray" would be the closest thing, but I'm sure Nashville would look at it and go, that'd sound great right after Tim McGraw.

LAist: So what plans for the band?

MM: What we're doing right now -- the next step is for Paul to be playing outside of LA, outside of Hollywood.

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LAist: You should go to Pappy and Harriets.

MM: I love that place.

PC: I played there. I did the Gram Parsons tribute last summer. And another band that Mitch produced called Honky Tonk Train was out there -- I just went by myself, and my girlfriend -- I played a solo set out there, and the next night I picked up the guys from Honky Tonk Train and sat outside at the lunch tables. I taught them and we played seven or eight songs, which was great.

LAist: Where'd you guys record the album?

PC: We recorded at this place called Radio Recorders, which is one of the oldest studios in LA. Nat King Cole recorded "Unforgettable," Billie Holliday recorded 99% of everything she did in studio...

MM: Elvis recorded there...

PC: Elvis recorded 125 songs. In the same room that we recorded in.

MM: Really good vibes.

PC: We had two days in there just to spread out. Michael [Dumas] owns that building now, he engineered it.

LAist: So you planning on stealing Dwight Yoakam's whole band?

PC: [Laughs] I'd like to!

MM: I will say this. The project has just been a really cool, fun project, because of all our friends who came onboard. And the best part about it is that everyone's been really happy to be a part of it...sort of like...we did it right, and the end result makes people go, "Wow. I'm really glad I was involved with that."

Paul Chesne and His Love Handles play Saturday, Oct. 22nd at the Unknown Theatre, 1110 Seward Ave. Hollywood. Or catch Paul Chesne and the Crazy Motherfuckers at the Viper Room, Oct. 26th.