You can say what you want about the five friendly guys in Chamberlin, just as long as you spell their name right.
"Sometimes we'll see a marquee with an [extra] 'A' in it, and it just puts us in a really bad mood," says guitarist Ethan West. Never mind the fact that the band is named after Civil War hero Joshua Chamberlain, whose name is most definitely spelled with two A's. It all fits in with the band's droll sense of humor, as evidenced by the website pitch for their debut album, Bitter Blood:
"This spring we'll be playing these songs all over the country on a tour, partially funded by the sale of alcohol to high school kids out of our van and trailer. If the aforementioned offends you in any way, purchase our record so that we won't have to. Every dollar spent on Bitter Blood goes towards helping to prevent underage drinking."
Although Chamberlin has toured on its own and with fellow Vermonter Grace Potter, the band is virtually unknown in its own state. Since starting the group five year ago, the five New Englanders have kept themselves cooped up in their isolated mountain cabin, penning songs and playing for one another.
"We only played in Burlington four or five times before going out with Grace Potter," says West. "We do our best work with no one else around but owls."
As any Goshen, Vermont owl will confirm, Chamberlin creates a sound that weaves the rich harmonies of folk and country stylings into modern alternative rock, inviting comparisons to bands like Dawes, Deer Tick and Dr. Dog. The group's songwriting duo, guitarists Ethan West and Mark Daly, played around Burlington as a two-man outfit before going on to establish the band with Eric Maier on keyboards, Jamie Heintz on drums and vocals, and Charlie Whistler on bass. Scott Tournet, guitarist for Grace Potter & the Nocturnals, heard an acoustic demo of the band and quickly offered to help them record their first album.
"He just fell in love with a few of the songs, and his band even set aside some time so Scott could come work with us," explains West, whose band will also be playing with Potter's at this year's Wakarusa Festival. "For the two weeks he had off, he did nothing but show up at the studio with us."
After the band finished recording Bitter Blood, Tournet invited Chamberlin to open for the Nocturnals for a string of shows. Without much touring experience or the necessary gear, the band hopped on the road for their first tour opening for a big time live act. "We hadn't done a tour at that point, so we had to get our act together and get a van and a trailer to play at some of these bigger venues."
Not unlike their alt-country and indie-rock contemporaries, Chamberlin's songs emerge from the darker sides of life.
"We're all jokers, and there's some disconnect between our personalities and the darker material that we write about," says West. "Happy songs don't really appeal to us, especially to me as a lyricist. We're trying to convey the things that move people, and a lot of times those are breakups and death."