Hans Chew :: The Aquarium Drunkard Interview

Late last year, Hans Chew quietly released his fourth album, Open Sea. He's known for his work with Endless Boogie, Jack Rose, Steve Gunn, Hiss Golden Messenger, and others, and the record caught our ears in a big way at Aquarium Drunkard. "While digging into Open Sea, Hans Chew’s latest/greatest LP, your imagination may conjure up some dream rock combos," Tyler Wilcox wrote in his review of the  record. "Leon Russell hiring Television to be his backing band in ’77? Joe Boyd producing the Allmans? JJ Cale jamming with Crazy Horse?"

It's a record that feels lived in, by a guy who's lived an awful lot. Backed by the Rhyton rhythm section, Chew provides boogying piano and guitar along with lead guitarist Dave Cavallo, bearing his heart over a set of deep grooves. "Who am I/to forget it?" he pleads at the start of "Who Am Your Love," singing like a man with a lot on his mind, summarizing, "The one who cares will not be spared/from the tender."

That sense of tenderness and care was evident as we called Chew up in New York to discuss the record and the long road he took getting to it. The conversation's been edited and condensed for clarity.

Hans Chew :: Give Up The Ghost

Aquarium Drunkard: There's always a big question when it comes to music that engages rootsy textures like yours about "authenticity." Open Sea blends and mutates a lot of styles, but what ultimately makes it yours? What does authenticity mean in the context of your music?

Hans Chew: A big part of my entire life has been sorting out and kind of finding my way in the world, growing and maturing…I really don't feel like I got my act together until I was in my late 20s. I was probably about 28. I went down a dark road for a while…I guess what I'm trying to say is it's always been a question for me of, you know, when people say "just be yourself." It seemed like such a simple statement and I got what it meant. I understood the gist of it, but for the life of me, that was–that's always been the question, I mean still, to this day, to a large extent, I still ask myself, "What does that mean to 'just be yourself?'"

I mean, there's all these other people out there. I would love to be like that person and that person. [You ask] what kind of singing voice should I try to have? What kind of style should I try to do? And then I guess I got to a point where I realized, I could try to scream into a pillow every night and try to get a voice like Tom Waits, or I could try to do some kind of Nick Cave/David Yow/Iggy Pop impersonation, you know, swallow the microphone, but then I was like, you know the limitless well of inspiration that I have is my own uniqueness of a human being. I know we're all humans, and we're all 99.9% the same. But everybody is also unique. There's nobody else who's had my exact existence, as far as I know. Maybe the anti-matter Hans or something in some parallel universe.

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