Chevelle Under The Hood

Chevelle drummer Sam Loeffler talks to Pollstar about the band’s new album, the upcoming tour and how he and his bandmates puzzle out the evening’s setlist. “It varies according to what we played in or near that city before” Loeffler said.

Chevelle’s eighth studio album, The North Corridor, arrives on Epic Records July 8 and is available for preorder via this link

The adventure launching in Memphis July 10 has Chevelle playing headlining shows and festival gigs as well as a few co-headlining dates with Bush.

The three-piece band features Loeffler, brother Pete on guitar/vocals and brother-in-law Dean Bernardini on bass.

And what was the band doing just before the Fourth of July weekend?  While the band rehearsed in Chicago, Sam was in Nashville building the tour’s drum kit – a task which led right into our first question.

Photo: Christian Lantry
(l-r) Dean Bernardini, Pete Loeffler and Sam Loeffler.

In timeline photos of long-lived rock bands, such as Led Zeppelin, The Who and Metallica, you can see the drum kits grow through the years.  When building a drum kit for an upcoming tour, how much of the assembly is needed for the music and how much is added for the visual dynamic?

On my drum kit, I use everything, but you don’t use everything for every song.  As you make more records, you implement new things for new sounds and your drum kit starts to grow.  All of a sudden it’s like, “Oh, this song I use a cowbell, and on this song I use a tiny little crasher and this little cymbal.  On this song I’m using this other kind of crash cymbal.  On this song I need a hi-hat but I need to put a double-bass on it so that goes over our X-hat.” Things just start to build.  A big part of that is knowing when it starts getting ridiculous and being able to pull back.  I’ve been with Pearl Drums for … 13 years and they like me to showcase their new stuff when on tour.  So that’s part of the building process when putting new gear on the stage. 

Without a doubt, drum kits grow.  On this record, actually, one of the things we did was change the drum kit.  Every single song we’d add drums and take drums away to give us a different idea of what to play or what not to play.  I think it helps with the drums, with the bridges and with the big fills in songs.

I prefer a smaller drum kit. I feel like when you get this huge drum kit, you’re completely hidden behind it.  I feel that’s kind of less interesting.  I watched Mudvayne years ago.  I really wanted to see [Matthew McDonough] play.  I couldn’t see him at all.  I could barely see his head bobbing around [behind] that drum kit.  It was a little bit of a letdown.

In contrast, like Clutch, [Jean-Paul Gaster] is so great to watch play.  His kit is like a little four-piece and you can see him perfectly.  It’s really cool to see that.

What’s different about The North Corridor compared to past Chevelle albums?

I think we sort of concentrated on it being, I don’t want to say “metal” but a … harder sound.  In the past we’d be recording something and Pete would change the guitar amps … every single song.  This one, they tried to get a good tone and sort of let it go little bit more. … tried to connect the similar tones throughout the record … add more metal to our sound.  It’s the music we like playing.  It’s heavy, hard rock.  That’s what still inspires us to this day. 

Does Chevelle prefer to record live or does the band aim for a more layered approach?

Both.  It depends on the song.  We record everything live and then we usually go back and re-record stuff just because it ends up being sonically separated [and] sounds better. 

Did you record to tape for The North Corridor go straight to digital?

We went straight to digital.  It’s the first time in a long time because we went to tape for the last three records.  But we wanted to mix up the studios.  We did the last two records in Joe Barresi’s studio and we wanted to go into a new studio and they didn’t have tape machines, which was fine.

Do you ever feel kind of overwhelmed from all the changes that have transpired within the industry since Chevelle began?

All the time.  I can’t even keep up. We have a live monitor system so we can hear ourselves play on stage.  It’s a small system. We keep it with us.  It’s wireless so we can just plug in our little packs.  We have in-ear monitors and it’s great.  It keeps a consistent sound.  We never have any problems no matter where we’re playing.

Now, our monitor system is not only wireless, but there are no nobs, no faders. It just pops up on an iPad. … That’s kind of crazy to me.

Photo: Scott Legato /
The Fillmore, Detroit, Mich.

Once Chevelle completes a new album, how do you and your bandmates decide which songs will be in the live set?

It’s pretty difficult.  Part of it has to do with the songs you’re excited about and some of it has to do with how much you’ve played it or where it fits in the set. … That’s a big part of it, too.  You can’t go out and play your whole new record. The people won’t be very happy. They want to hear all the other songs, too. So we usually do only three new songs from a new record. … And we pull from the other records.

The problem is if we just play the singles … from each album, it’s the whole set.  So we’re having to cut singles out so we can [include] some of our favorite tracks and fan-favorite tracks.  With eight records, you just can’t fit it all in there.  When we did a show last year a guy wrote on Pete’s Twitter [account], “I’m never coming to another show again because you only played one song from my favorite record, Vena Sera.” And I’m like, “What band does all its songs? I dunno what to tell you.  We’re trying.  We don’t always play only one song from that record.”  We keep our setlists so we can reference what we played in that city so we can play something different the next time we come through.  It was sad that it happened but I often know how he feels. … We’re just doing the best we can to keep everybody happy.

Plus, as a band’s catalog grows through the years, a headlining set isn’t long enough to include everything.

Absolutely true. And I’m like, “I don’t want to play this song, I want to play that song.” Again, we kind of have to [play the hits].  Every band has it.  It’s not like The Rolling Stones go out there and [are] like, “I’m so excited to play this song again.”

But they also know that there are people in the audience that have never seen the band perform live and they can’t send them home without playing “Satisfaction.”

That’s without saying. But I would go to the wall and bet a huge amount of money that Mick Jagger doesn’t ever need to sing “Satisfaction” again in his entire life in order to feel fulfilled. (laughs)

Does the setlist vary night after night?

It varies according to what we played in or near that city before.  Right now we have … 30-something, 35 songs, we could play right now on stage. We play about 18 [per night] and we swap those in and out.  As the tour goes we’ll start playing other songs. … But we don’t rehearse all 90-something songs all the time. It’s not just realistic.

Recently, we played a song from Point #1 that I hadn’t played in probably eight to 10 years.  I was like, “Wow!  I don’t remember how I played that.”  I had to go back and figure out the sticking, what the pattern was.

Photo: Scott Legato /
The Fillmore, Detroit, Mich.

Have you ever heard one of your songs played on the radio or on somebody’s stereo where you don’t remember it’s one of yours if only for a brief moment?


Were you impressed with the playing?

I don’t think that is my reaction. … I usually start to pick it apart.

Are you your own worst critic?

For sure.  Although my brother is a close second.

So you gotta be on your toes if you wanna play in Chevelle?

You definitely do, but we all get along really well.  We have a great system and a good work ethic.  It’s good to be here.

You’re based in Chicago and the company that manages Chevelle, In De Groot Entertainment/McGathy Promotions, is headquartered in New York.  Is it a long-distance business relationship?

We see them fairly regularly as well, but it’s definitely mostly phone and email.  We’ve been with them for 17 years.

There’s good and bad days. … Some days it’s really good that you’re 1,000 miles apart from each other. (laughs) I know that Bill [McGathy] would say that sometimes:  “I’m so glad you’re in Chicago right now because I’d really like to ring your neck.”

Bill’s great.  He’s so understanding about how things really work. … Other people … would not understand the dynamic but he gets it right away. We’ve been with Bill for 17 years and we’ve been with Tony Couch for almost as long.  He’s our day-to-day manager. 

We have a really good relationship with them.  If we tell them, “No. We don’t want to do this,” and they think we should, then they give us their reasoning.  If, at the end of the day, we say, “I just don’t see that.  It doesn’t work for me.”  Then they’re like, “OK.  It’s your band. It’s your career.  I don’t agree with you.  I think you’re shooting yourself in the foot but this is your choice.”

From your perspective, what kind of role does the manager play in the new millennium?

I think it’s almost a bigger role than they’ve had before.  It’s so difficult in the industry right now that I would say it’s virtually impossible to go it on your own.  So you really need somebody to direct you.  I don’t know how you have a career in this business if you’re new.  How do you compete with every piece of music that’s ever been written, recorded, since the beginning of time?

Are there other bands that you see as competitors for fans’ dollars when it comes down to selling tickets, albums and merch?

The pie is getting smaller and it’s getting cut up again into many, many more slices.  That is the reality of it.  But I will say on a very positive note, rock music is connecting again. I don’t think there was ever a time that it didn’t connect, but it’s connecting more right now. … That there’s always going to be some kid in his bedroom writing music on a guitar and being influenced and being the next guy who puts together four different chords that make a song we haven’t heard before.

Who did you listen to while in your teens?

When I first got interested in music … I was listening to Black Flag and Dead Kennedys … Minutemen.  Back then I was [discovering] things through the skate videos.  That’s where we’d hear new music that we’d like.  Later … I became a really big fan of Soundgarden, and still am. [Also] Alice In Chains.  Later on, my music is a little bit more random than that.  I don’t like to know where the music is going to go.  Clutch is one of my favorite bands.  I still listen to them.  I still listen to Soundgarden.  I still listen to the Minutemen. Double Nickels On The Dime – I listen to that record every other week. That has always stuck with me.

Having been in the limelight for almost 20 years, do you still turn into a total fan boy when meeting a favorite band?

It absolutely still happens.  We did a bunch of shows with Alice In Chains the year before last.  It was great to meet them.  They were good dudes. … It was cool to listen to that music from that perspective, again. … It was one of those times you met the people who made the music that helped form you and your sound.  It was really cool.

I met Chris Cornell, for the first time, [in Paris] many years ago.  We were out with Audioslave, we did, like six shows with those guys.  Tom Morello is also from Chicago.  They were such gracious people. All the Rage Against The Machine guys were such nice, gracious people who were absolutely giving. It was stunning to walk into that and see these people who made a living and a life of something they love, and have them still take the time to walk across the stage, shake your hand and say, “Glad you’re here.”  That was really cool. 

And Chris was like that, too.  He was super nice.  It means a lot.  I think I learned from early on that it makes a big difference. You have to show that you’re grateful and then you really do feel grateful.

Do you think staying in your hometown of Chicago has helped keep Chevelle grounded and helped prevent band members from going Hollywood?

Me and Pete … we don’t feel celebrity. … There’s nothing good that comes from celebrity.

About nine years ago someone stole Chevelle’s trailer filled with equipment.  Are you still recovering equipment lost in that theft, perhaps something shows up at a swap meet or online?

No.  I think for about a year afterward we got a couple of pieces back. … that was cool to get it back.  If it happened again, it would be very much different than it was back then.  I probably lost a year off of my life when that happened.  But now I know that it’s not the end of the world.  You just pick up, start over and it’s fine.  We had people saying, “I’m so sorry. Is there anything I can do?” Then we had people saying, “You’re a bunch of babies.  Stick a crowbar in your fat wallet and buy some new gear.” So everyone has a different perspective.

Do you and your bandmates approach festival gigs differently than headlining shows?

We do. We usually end up playing more singles because a lot of people there don’t necessarily know who we are or haven’t heard us before and they want to be like, “Oh, I know this band.”

The other thing that influences you … [if] we do a show where Avenged Sevenfold is headlining, and you have all these metal bands, we’ll usually do some of our harder songs.  If it’s a lighter band, we don’t really change anything.  If it’s a heavier band, we do.

When performing at festivals where the lineup is all metal, is there a temptation to try to outdo the bands that played before you?

I don’t think so.  I don’t feel competitive whatsoever.  We want to do our show and have it be the best we can play it, have it be fun.  That’s all I’m thinking about.  I certainly have no aspirations of winning the golden cup that day.  The people who tend to win that are people who talk a lot from the stage.  We don’t really talk a lot from the stage.

Is there anything different about the stage you’ve put together for the upcoming tour?

We have done this whole really cool backdrop and lighting rig that sort of moves with us. We are working on it right now. I’m building the drum kit here and they are working on the lighting rig right now. … It’s still in a state of metamorphosis.  I think it’s going to be a really cool looking show.

Is this the best job anyone could ever have?

It would be hard to find a better one.

What advice would you give a teenage drummer who is thinking about a career playing music?

Play the music you love. … Find a couple of other people who like the same music that you do, and make music, whether you’re good at it or not.  You can still do it.  Sometimes people would say, “My advice is to have a backup plan.” Music is always still going, no matter what level you do it at.  Generally, that’s how art is – painting, dancing, music, or whatever.  Just stick with it.

Photo: Christian Lantry

Upcoming Chevelle shows:

July 10 – Memphis, Tenn., New Daisy Theatre
July 12 – Springfield, Mo., Gillioz Theatre
July 13 – Tulsa, Okla., Brady Theater (Z104.5 The Edge Birthday Bash)
July 15 – Bridgeview, Ill.,  Toyota Park (Chicago Open Air)
July 16 – Oshkosh, Wis., Ford Festival Park (Rock USA)
July 18 – Kansas City, Mo., Uptown Theater
July 19 – Omaha, Neb.,  Sokol Auditorium / Underground
July 21 – Walker, Minn., Moondance Events (Moondance Jam)
July 23 – Cincinnati, Ohio, PNC Pavilion At Riverbend
July 24 – Sterling Heights, Mich., Freedom Hill Amphitheatre
July 26 – Indianapolis, Ind., Farm Bureau Insurance Lawn At White River State Park
July 27 – Columbus, Ohio, Express Live!
July 29 – Pittsburgh, Pa., Stage AE
July 30 – Lorain, Ohio, Black River Landing (Rover Fest)
July 31 – Richmond, Va., The National
Aug. 2 – Huntington, N.Y., The Paramount
Aug. 3 – Boston, Mass., Blue Hills Bank Pavilion
Aug. 5 – Asbury Park, N.J., Stone Pony Summer Stage
Aug. 7 – Niagara Falls, N.Y., Rapids Theatre
Aug. 9 – Charlotte, N.C., Charlotte Metro Credit Union Amphitheatre
Aug. 10 – Greensboro, N.C.,  Cone Denim Entertainment Center
Aug. 11 – Bethlehem, Pa., PNC Plaza At Steelstacks (Bethlehem Musikfest)
Aug. 13 – Portland, Maine, Maine State Pier
Aug. 14 – Baltimore, Md., Pier Six Pavilion
Sept. 8 – Saint Paul, Minn., Myth
Sept. 10 – Englewood, Colo., Fiddler’s Green Amphitheatre (High Elevation Rock Festival)
Sept. 11 – Wichita, Kan., The Cotillion
Sept. 13 – Louisville, Ky., Mercury Ballroom
Sept. 14 – Asheville, N.C., The Orange Peel
Sept. 16 – Norfolk, Va., The NorVa
Sept. 17 – Mashantucket, Conn., Foxwoods Resort Casino (Revolution Rock Festival)
Sept. 18 – Chester, Pa., Talen Energy Stadium (Rock Allegiance Festival)
Sept. 21 – Birmingham, Ala., Iron City
Sept. 22 – Nashville, Tenn., War Memorial Auditorium
Sept. 24 – Fort Worth, Texas, Texas Motor Speedway (Texas Mutiny)
Sept. 25 – Houston, Texas, NRG Park
Oct. 2 – Fort Wayne, Ind., Piere’s Entertainment Center
Oct. 23 – Sacramento, Calif., Discovery Park (Monster Energy Aftershock Festival) 

Co-headlining with Bush July 23-29, Aug. 3, 5, 9 & Aug. 13-14.

For more information, please visit Chevelle’s website, Facebook page, Twitter account, InstaGram HQ and YouTube channel.