20:20 — 20 Questions, 20 Answers
In part 34 of our continuing 20:20 Q&A series,
CHILLEMI —LA-based singer-songwriter and guitarist—
joins us to talk about his single “Neon Bride” from his new album With Woman, seeing Weird Al in concert, the chaos of the music industry, and more.
CHILLEMI’s timeless new album With Woman is a cinematic drive through a neo noir landscape of stark sensuality and dream-fueled imagery. Enigmatic and enticing, this album takes hold of you and doesn’t let go. The enthralling lyrics and entrancing sound inspire and create an atmosphere of mysterious locales and secret deeds, of whispers and longing. It’s an album worthy of its own film. Spend some time with With Woman and see if you don’t fall in love with it as we have.
Welcome, CHILLEMI, and thank you for joining us.
~Bambi Grinder, NoteWorthy Music
20:20 with CHILLEMI
NWM 1: Please introduce yourself briefly, as a musician and human of Earth.
CHILLEMI: My name is Brian Chillemi, and I play under the moniker ‘CHILLEMI.’ I just released my debut album With Woman and couldn’t be more excited to share.
NWM 2: What was your first concert as a fan?
CHILLEMI: Funny enough I think my first concert was Weird Al! It was 1997 or so, and he just came out with his Star Wars themed record. … He played at the Beacon in NYC, which I love. I was impressed by the diversity of [Al’s] audience and the joy it brought to all ages and walks of life. He dressed up the stage and the band with stuff from each video for every song. It was an impressive feat for two hours that seemed exhausting, but he did it with a smile in true showmanship fashion.
NWM 3: Name three things that make you smile.
CHILLEMI: Two-part close vocal harmonies, deep reverb’d surf guitar, and a good sound system.
I was impressed by the diversity of [Al’s] audience and the joy it brought to all ages and walks of life.
NWM 4: What is a favorite of your songs? Please tell us a little bit about it.
CHILLEMI: Off my debut album, I can say I really do like ‘Neon Bride’ a lot. … It’s the most fast paced, which I am more naturally inclined to enjoy. It was probably written the easiest and quickest of the songs on the album.
NWM 5: Your voice, lyrics, and sound combine perfectly in your alluring single ‘Neon Bride.’ Hypnotic and cryptic, the song feels like a haunting warning.
Please tell us about your conception of and inspiration behind ‘Neon Bride.’
CHILLEMI: ‘Neon Bride’ came out of me mishearing a Lee Hazlewood line. … When I realized he was not actually saying neon bride I figured that sounded like a good starting point for a song. Who doesn’t like neon? I got home and wrote the song in about 20 minutes straight through. It doesn’t always happen like that, but when it does it feels like a gift so I always try to stay open to receive. I enjoy universal, timeless themes that resonate with the most people ’cause they will never go off trend.
I enjoy universal, timeless themes that resonate with the most people ’cause they will never go off trend.
NWM 6: The atmospheric video for ‘Neon Bride’ was directed by award-winning experimental filmmaker Ryan Rosewall and stars Giselle DaMier of Twin Peaks. The filming effortlessly captures the beguiling moodiness of your song.
Tell us about working with Ryan and Giselle, creating this video, and pairing the visuals with your sound.
CHILLEMI: Working with Ryan and Giselle was amazing and effortless. Ryan handled all the locations and got Giselle on board. I had never met Ryan or Giselle ’til the day we drove to Vegas to shoot, and it took nine hours of traffic to get there from LA! It is normally four hours, but it helped us get to know each other and everyone was in high spirits that weekend despite the heat and crowds. Ryan shot the video with her iPhone so no crew was required, and I love her edit so much. Giselle was such a pleasure to work with and her comfort with Ryan really made them a dynamic team. I couldn’t have asked for more honestly!
NWM 7: For the past ten years you have toured the US and Europe. Please share about that time in your career and the direction you are going now.
CHILLEMI: I love seeing new places. … Touring is really how I have gotten to see the world since there’s not much time or money left for vacations as a musician! Right now with the pandemic it is not really an option, but I hope to go to Europe next year.
NWM 8: What song/album could you play on repeat?
CHILLEMI: My latest obsession is Bobby Charles’ solo record from 1972. Great swamp rock album with melodies that just make me wanna sing.
NWM 9: Please share a unique childhood experience that you feel helped contribute to who you and your music are today.
CHILLEMI: My mother was really into Celtic and traditional Irish music when I was growing up. I can’t help but think hearing those melodies, stories, and rhythms informed my style today.
All my songs come from real experiences in one way or another.
NWM 10: If you could see anyone from throughout history perform who would it be?
CHILLEMI: That is tough, there are so many! For the sake of choosing let’s say Elvis on his first tour with the original band. But I would also like to have the mindset of the time and experience seeing rock and roll for the first time, but I think that goes outside of this question.
NWM 11: ‘Neon Bride’ is from your remarkable new debut album With Woman. Sultry and raw, With Woman paints a soundtrack of mystery, longing, and desire. Your lyrics are masterfully delivered, the songs at once subtle and powerful.
Tell us about your vision of this album and how it came to be recorded in producer Kyle Avallone’s bedroom and your apartment in Brooklyn.
CHILLEMI: This album came out of a bad band breakup and my inner drive to push forward. I was friends with Kyle who produces his own music and knows the songwriting craft. He lent his ear, patience, and musical abilities to the record in a way that I have not experienced before playing in bands.
This album came out of a bad band breakup and my inner drive to push forward.
We recorded the album over eight months or so in our apartments in Brooklyn. We did two songs at a time, as I wrote them, so we could really focus on making sure each song was fully realized. Without the restraints of having to record live drums, the other instruments needed to create the dynamics, which I think really set the tone of the record.
NWM 12: What message, if any, is integral to your work?
CHILLEMI: All my songs come from real experiences in one way or another. I always try and speak truthfully from whatever perspective is taken in any song I write. I want to paint a vivid picture of an emotion or circumstance and have it feel real and relatable.
NWM 13: What is something that has surprised you in your life or career? Tell us a bit about it.
CHILLEMI: There is no road map for the music industry. You can read books about artist careers, and every one of them is different. It makes sense, though, ’cause if there was a formula for success everyone would just do it. I have seen success where I didn’t think possible and failure from a sure thing. … I think the chaos of the music industry really surprised me as I came to understand how things worked.
NWM 14: How do you keep yourself centered or able to cope with stress during these trying times?
CHILLEMI: I go to the beach and parks a lot here in LA. Things are surely much better now than last year by a long shot, so I am feeling hopeful!
NWM 15: What is a core tenet by which you live your life or approach your music?
CHILLEMI: No regrets and trust yourself.
NWM 16: Please tell us about a particularly memorable or rewarding experience of your career so far.
CHILLEMI: I had residency in New York City that David Johansen agreed to headline on the final night a few summers ago. It was a small club, and I adored the New York Dolls in my formative years. Talk about obsessions. … My younger self would have flipped his lid!
I really cherish my instruments. … A lot of players buy and sell regularly, but I am kind of a guitar-monogamist that way!
NWM 17: What is a unique trait or quality that sets you apart from the crowd?
CHILLEMI: I have a clear vision and know my strengths. I am a straight talker and direct person.
NWM 18: What are your special interests beyond music?
CHILLEMI: I went to film school and have made several films since then. … I really love the movies. I also started a podcast with a labelmate at the beginning of the year. The show is called Sonic Artifacts, and we report on the best deals in affordable music in LA and NYC, as well interview guitar builders, engineers, musicians, etc.
NWM 19: What is one thing you would want our readers to know about you which we might not know to ask?
CHILLEMI: I really cherish my instruments. … I have a few old guitars, amps, and a Wurlitzer that I could never part with. A lot of players buy and sell regularly and have had tons of gear, but I am kind of a guitar-monogamist that way!
NWM 20: What’s next for CHILLEMI?
CHILLEMI: First up is definitely playing shows here in LA and touring with my band. Sonically, I look forward to integrating synths and live drums into the experience. I have a few musical projects from CHILLEMI that are in various stages right now so there will be plenty more music in the future!
Off my debut album, I can say I really do like ‘Neon Bride’ a lot. … It’s the most fast paced, which I am more naturally inclined to enjoy.
Singing with an enigmatic allure, CHILLEMI’s style paints with broad strokes of cinematic themes. His sonic palette is filled with hypnotic pulses of love, lust, and dust all wrapped up in a fever dream. The solo project of Brian Chillemi (Rose Cologne) has evolved from touring the US and Europe over the past 10 years. After moving to Los Angeles from his native home of New York City just months before the pandemic, CHILLEMI has set his sights on a more refined sound, pulling from influences such as Lee Hazlewood and Nick Cave.
You may enjoy our previous 20:20 with Dan Friese
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