Southern California musician Chanta has carved out a name for himself with the instrumental band inthebackground, blending soothing melodies and technical excellence with a strong emotional center. Today, he steps out on his own for the first time with the premiere of his new single “Saint St.” I got the opportunity to catch up with Chanta to ask him about the song, and hear about his artistic process.
“Saint St.” is your first release as a solo artist outside of your band inthebackground. How did your approach differ in writing and recording this track in contrast to your material with ITBG?
I approach most of my writing in almost the same way I would inthebackground – watch a movie, enjoy some time out of town with friends and/or family, as well as experiment with different tunings and capo placements/capo types. As much as I wanted to have Saint St. be an inthebackground song, my drummer and Matt Rubic – my roommate who helped me record the single – believed it would be best that the song would work better solo. Out of the material I’ve ever written up to this point, this song in particular was definitely one of the most difficult ones to get around. Mainly because I’m doing “everything”. Both the fingerpicking AND the percussive beats on the guitar. Some of my friends frequently laugh in awe at the idea of a musician performing so much on a single instrument – like that of Jon Gomm, Andy McKee, Antoine Dufour, T-cophony, Kotaro Oshio… They often say,
“Chanta, are you ever going to write a song you can’t play?!”
This song was almost one of them.
Was there any specific life experience or piece of art that served as inspiration for the song?
With the names listed above (in question one), I had always wanted to experiment with a more complex percussion pattern. When I first began writing Saint St. three summers ago I quickly became frustrated with myself, thinking that I wouldn’t be able to pull this off. My 2014 self would definitely be proud of how far this song has come. A few weeks passed and I caught news of St. Vincent (the movie). I watched it and I was touched by its story. ITBG (inthebackground shortened) began putting together a concept for our next record, which was traveling. Saint St. was supposed to be one of those songs. Over time, there were unfortunate lineup changes as well as personal changes in many of our lives. We scrapped the concept and started to decline in activity. As we fast forward to this year, two people in my life were taken in motorcycle accidents: John Barcellano and Khong San. John was a great friend of mine, back when I played keyboards for a band called Light The Pilot. We played many shows together and had a wonderful friendship. Khong was my oldest brother, he passed at the end of August. Before I found out, I hadn’t spoken to him in a year and to hear that he passed demolished my soul. Although there are no words to Saint St., the idea of the song is to pay homage to those who have stuck by us in our most difficult times, to those who provided comfort and safety, to those who provided a beacon of light when all hope was lost. Time and time again, these individuals show up in our lives and we don’t know at that moment how much they’ve done for us by a single acount. Even though this idea is minuscule, it is my hope that whoever listens to this song will give thanks to these individuals in their lives.
Tell me about the single’s artwork. Who designed it, and how does it tie into the themes of the song?
The artwork is designed by a great friend of mine, hailing from Texas – Samuel Vasquez! We’ve been friends for more than a year and I’ve always enjoyed his work. It was only appropriate to have him be a part of this release. Samuel’s connection to the piece is through a story his pastor once told him. The pastor was sent to bless a newborn that wasn’t going to make it. Upon his arrival, the baby had its arms out as if it were being crucified. To Sam, that part of the story represented the burdens we have in our lives. Even the ones that saints have – by definition or not. We are first and mostly responsible for ourselves, and oddly in the end – for others as well. Sam’s artistic contribution to Saint St. serves a purpose that I was not expecting. Like I said, it was appropriate to have him be a part of this.
When can we expect to hear more solo material from Chanta?
I’m still trying to figure out what material I want to choose as “solo work”, which is quite a task. While I do pride myself in solely writing instrumental tunes, I am often discouraged by how many people are not familiar with its nature – always saying,
“Hey, have you thought about seeking a vocalist?”
I try not to be drowned in doubt though. I have a couple of songs that I have written lyrics to and have actually sang on. Perhaps they’ll come to light one day. But for now, I’ll be focusing on instrumental tunes. I definitely just want to try to write, record, and perform everything I have “as it is”. If there needs to be a little change, I’m always up for the challenge.