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Who Are The Laughing Chimes? An Interview With Evan Seurkamp

17 December 2023

Photo courtesy of Force Field PR

Formed by brothers Evan (guitar/vocals) and Quinn Seurkamp (drums), The Laughing Chimes hail from the college town of Athens, Ohio. The band draws inspiration from American and British jangle pop from the 80s and 90s, and create timeless songs that could just as easily have originated in Athens, GA or Dunedin, NZ as southeastern Ohio. The Seurkamps bring a fresh, youthful enthusiasm and the unique outlook of their southeastern Ohio rust belt upbringing to sounds that would fit right in on labels like Flying Nun, Creation and Sarah Records.
The Laughing Chimes have, over the course of one album and several singles, breathed new life into classic jangle and paisley pop. The Zoo Avenue EP (Slumberland Records, 2022) is a terrifically assured follow-up to their 2020 debut album In This Town (Pretty Olivia Records, 2021), one that sharpens their sound and broadens their musical palette while retaining all of the considerable charm of their debut.
Gathering up 3 future-classic tunes from their first album and two subsequent singles onto one 7”, Laurel Heights (Slumberland Records_/_Prefect Records, 2023) is a brilliant distillation of the bands’ considerable charm — a superb introduction in a compact “greatest hits” package. The song “Laurel Heights” sounds like a tune by the best Athens, GA band you never heard of, a brilliant slice of pastoral jangle destined for a thousand mixtapes. “Zoo Avenue” is an achingly melodic pop nugget taken from a tape EP of the same name, and “Try To Change My Mind” was one of the stand-outs of their aforementioned debut LP. The songs are strong, assured and enlivened by an infectious immediacy that allows The Laughing Chimes to claim this familiar sound as their own.
Now with the band’s most recent (digital) single, A Promise To Keep, expands on the band’s now familiar jangle-pop sound with blooms and echoes of Southern Gothic rock (think Fables_-era R.E.M. or _Chomp_-era Pylon) as well as the ambitious grandeur of late 70s UK post-punk forebears. _A Promise To Keep blends lyricist Evan Seurkamp’s vision of countless abandoned towns of Appalachia with cavernous vocal poeticism, moth-wing guitars, and the lyrical bass of Avery Bookman into a haunting anthem of decaying houses and moonlit fields.
On the flip side is the band’s version of Ballerina Out of Control, a deep cut from 80s jangle/dream-pop band The Ocean Blue and a formative influence on the Seurkamp brothers. The Laughing Chimes’ version is stunning, evoking a mood of melancholic ache that makes a perfect complement to the dark drive of A Promise To Keep.

Huge thanks to Evan for taking time out for this interview. Anyone following the band can see them honing their chops at the The Union, an excellent local watering hole in Athens, OH!

James Broscheid: I was super-psyched to hear the tracks I heard live (Laurel Heights and Zoo Avenue) at The Union in Athens on vinyl! So let me start by saying congrats on the EP as well as being signed to Slumberland! How did the band get hooked up with Mike (Schulman, owner) and what does it mean to you to be associated with such an iconic underground label?
Evan Seurkamp: I’m trying to think of the first time that we got in contact with Mike over at Slumberland Records, or even when I first discovered the music on the label.  I think I may have discovered Slumberland Records back in mid-2021.  Sometime around when we released the Laurel Heights Court single (late 2021), I was discussing potential releases with Mike. It was always our plan to release our second album with Slumberland (and it still currently is). The main reason we ended up getting connected with Slumberland in the first place though was through having our debut album released on Pretty Olivia Records in Spain. That exposed our music to a new audience and Mike at Slumberland was one of them.
JB: One of the tracks on the single, Try To Change My Mind, was initially released on your debut LP and the other two were released last year on the Zoo Avenue EP (Slumberland). Why did you choose to include these three tracks specifically out of everything you’ve released thus far? Were the songs re-recorded for this release? I would love to see the entire Zoo Avenue EP get a vinyl reissue too!
ES: None of the songs were re-recorded for this release, given the opportunity we probably would only have re-recorded Try to Change My Mind just to get the song to reflect how we perform it live nowadays.  This is honestly a thing with a lot of the material of our first album, we end up having to play them slightly differently live and they generally have a faster pacing.  We chose Laurel Heights, Zoo Avenue, and Try to Change My Mind because we believe they represent some of the best songs we have released thus far.  Originally, Prefect Records pitched the idea that we include Your Paisley Rug but we figured that Try to Change My Mind would be a better fit for the 7-inch.  Honestly, we likely would have included one of our new(er) singles, Arboretum Miles or Estates of Sparkling Haze but they were not yet released when the idea for the Laurel Heights single was originally pitched to us. We would also love a full Zoo Avenue EP on vinyl as well!
JB: You were a trio on stage when I saw you this past summer but I have seen a second guitarist from time to time on social media. Could you introduce the band and give us the backstory on how you got started in music and forming the band? Do you think the band requires a second guitarist?
ES: Since 2020, Laughing Chimes has consisted of myself, Evan, on guitar and vocals and my brother Quinn, who plays drums.  Up until the summer of 2022, the band was simply a recording project as we hadn’t attempted to play any live shows yet. During that stage, we considered finding several people to play bass for us and a lot of people ended up not working out. In the end, we recruited our cousin, Avery, to play bass for us in July of 2022 and he has played with us since. All three of us have agreed in the past that Laughing Chimes does need a second guitarist to fully achieve some of the sounds in our past recordings. However, we’ve found it is hard to find a guitarist in our area who fully understands the style we are trying to achieve.  For now, we’ve settled on trying to write new material that does not rely heavily on having two or more guitars going at once. I have never been good at playing lead guitar and singing at the same time so I am trying to find a way to meet in the middle.

JB: The latest photos posted online show another guitarist added to the band’s line-up. Could you introduce us and is this a permanent addition? Makes me want to travel back to The Union again to see you play and hear how much fuller the sound is! Having come from Ohio myself, how difficult is it to find a fourth member in your area that fits in with the vision of the band?

ES: Yes of course! Her name is Ella and she’s working with us to play guitar and synth. She is awesome. The plan is for her to be a more permanent addition than the last couple guitarists we have had. I knew I wanted someone who really understands the music and Ella definitely does a lot more than other musicians around here. The style of music we play is pretty unique (not that we are doing anything extraordinary, just no one plays jangle pop around here) for the area so it has been very hard to find someone who fits within the band. There’s also the added fact that Quinn, Avery and I are all related.  So we had to find someone who fits personality wise as well. Ella checks those boxes so we’re very excited to have her playing with us!
JB: I was so excited to see the band that I shot every number played and posted to YouTube! The next day back in Okeana, I was listening to tracks with my cousin and noticed she got a little misty-eyed before stating that The Laughing Chimes made her feel young again! Jangle pop and twee have been around a long time so I wanted to ask, what does the band bring to those genres to make them sound so fresh again?
ES: I like to think that we approach jangle pop and twee pop in a slightly different way when we come to songwriting. I’m someone who really loves more ambiguous and abstract lyricism and when I think of a lot of twee pop tunes they don’t really tend to have that so much. Not to diss any of those great songs but I do appreciate it a lot more when song meanings are left more open to audience interpretation. I’ve always wanted my songs to evoke a feeling within the listener rather than just tell them how I am feeling. In terms of instrumentation the band has been experimenting with different sounds lately as well. 
I’m a sucker for guitar that’s just noisy and screechy. But that isn’t really a usual component of jangle pop, I love that genre and it is my favorite style of music but sometimes when you’re making jangle music you lock yourself in this box and it feels like there are only so many routes you can take within the song. So we are incorporating more noisy, shoegazey and goth sounds in our songs. Kind of blending jangly guitar with a dreamy and dark attitude to open more avenues for us to take our music down. We’re hoping that will also lead us to discover more of our own sound. I also love some irony in my songwriting and so a song with more twee pop style lyrics backed by harsh guitars (or the other way around) is something I am very interested in. I love that so far our music has been received so well by people who grew up with that style!

Photo by James Broscheid

JB: There have always been phenomenal bands out of Ohio over the years and some I have been lucky enough to have seen some of them when I lived in the Cleveland area and on my periodic returns to the state (including The Laughing Chimes). From Pere Ubu*/*Rocket From The Tombs, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, The Raspberries, Ohio Players to Guided By Voices, Devo, Dead Boys, The Choir and The Breeders, Cloud Nothings to Slow Glows (see Left At Orion), The Libertines (see Plush Machine) not to mention all the great, obscure soul music. What does the state’s musical legacy mean to you and does it inform your music? What characteristics do you find special about the area you are from? Do regional flavors play a role in the songs you write?
ES: One of the main influences on my songwriting style is GBV, I absolutely love their music and I think that Robert Pollard’s lyrics are really brilliant! As I mentioned before, I appreciate lyrics that are more open so that the listener can derive their own meaning out of them. Another thing that has influenced me is the type of area I live in. Southeast Ohio is the foothills of Appalachia and so there are a lot of old coal towns with abandoned buildings and desolate main streets. It just has this indescribable mood and atmosphere to it. Sometimes there’s a haunting weight of decay that you want to escape but at the same time there is some sort of strange romanticism surrounding ghost towns as well. With more recent songwriting we’ve tried to channel these moods to add more regional flavor into our sound.
JB: Your enthusiasm with what The Laughing Chimes are about and what you’re doing was more than evident during our conversation after that performance at The Union I attended. What is in store for us fans in the near future and how do you see the band’s sound evolving?
ES: It was great to talk with you after our show this summer! We really appreciate you making the trek out to Athens to see us, hope you enjoyed the area as well! Since our 7” we have released a new single through Slumberland called A Promise to Keep.  It has a lot of guitar that is R.E.M.-based but also a lot of late 70s post-punk sounds. Our bassist did some awesome work in that song too. That new single also allowed for a different take on my vocal style and I had to step outside my comfort zone a bit. We all ended up being pretty satisfied with how that song turned out. 
The funny thing is that back in late 2021 I started to work on what was supposed to be the 2nd Laughing Chimes album but I dismissed a lot of the songs because I thought that they sounded too dark. We tried to continue down the same route as our debut album with the Zoo Avenue EP and I was personally a little dissatisfied with how some of the songs turned out. Especially the third track, Cats Go Car Watching. The original demo for that song sounds like an early (The) Cure tune. Now that we realized the directions we want to start branching out in with A Promise to Keep, the second album is well underway. (And Cats Go may even return closer to its demo format).
JB: Very excited to hear what’s next! I really dig the artwork for Laurel Heights – very much a Sarah Records vibe on this beauty! Can you discuss the cover art on your releases thus far and how it interacts with songs you create? Are all of you enrolled at Ohio University and if so, who’s the graphic designer?!
ES: I appreciate the compliment on the 7” artwork and I am glad that people have liked it (I will admit, a lot more than we do ourselves). So far I have designed the artwork for the releases, with my brother Quinn helping to design the art for A Promise to Keep. Currently, myself and Avery are enrolled at OU. Quinn doesn’t plan to go to school here but we are all getting a house next summer that we are hoping to run as a venue to draw in more acts that are similar to ourselves. There are a lot of hardcore and punk house venues around Ohio but we would love to create a space for pop music, alternative, shoegaze, all that good stuff.
JB: Do you consider The Laughing Chimes to be nostalgic? What were some of the first songs/artists you remember hearing that inspired you to start the band in the first place?
ES: That’s an interesting question, I guess I consider the first album to be a little nostalgic for me just because my life has changed some since I wrote it. I don’t think I consider the sounds to be that nostalgic for myself though. Seeing as I wasn’t alive during the 80s and 90s. For me some of the first artists I remember listening to were The Smashing Pumpkins, Oasis and The La’s.  For Quinn it would also be Smashing Pumpkins and The Cure.

JB: Meeting your mother and chatting with her after the show was so great because to see that level of support for what the band is doing goes without measure. How important is it to have your family behind the band?
ES: Having our family support our musical endeavors is very, very important to us and we try not to take it for granted because I know a lot of times parents can view music as a waste of time. Especially when music takes up as much time as it does for us. They love a lot of the same music that we do though so maybe that has something to do with it!
JB: Do you think The Laughing Chimes will eventually play a national tour? We’d love to host you if ever playing Tucson/Phoenix or just coming through town and looking for a place to crash so keep that in mind!
ES: It is on our band bucket list to do a national and hopefully European tour as well. We’re trying to take baby steps right now since we are still in school and working a good bit to pay bills and stuff. This coming summer we are organizing a little Midwest/East Coast tour with another band who is now also on Slumberland (hint – their band name starts with an L as well!).  But we would absolutely love to come out west and play in any cities we are able to out there. The main thing is finding the money to make it happen! We just very well may take you up on that offer!

JB: You mentioned the newest single A Promise To Keep and I wanted to see if you could speak more to it. The difference in sound was immediate to me so I’m wondering about the band’s evolution and how it was incorporated into this latest single. You mentioned abandoned coal towns in your area and channeling the moods you harvest from them (you would LOVE some of the ghost towns in Colorado!). Is this a sign of The Laughing Chimes’ willingness to explore and experiment more? Absolutely love your rendition of The Ocean Blue’s Ballerina Out of Control on the flip as well!

ES: Oh yeah, I love ghost towns and abandoned places. In fact we all do! We’ve sought out and visited many supposedly haunted and abandoned places at night around southeast Ohio. It’s just something that is naturally a part of the culture around here so I wanted to embrace that in my songwriting. It also comes from this great new effect I just discovered called reverb… (sarcastic laugh). But in all seriousness, we have been exploring a lot of goth, dream pop and shoegaze sounds. I have been using this plugin inside Logic called Enverb. It allows me to run my dry jangle sound alongside this dreamy reverse reverb. I like to think of it as mashing a bunch of the Creation Records guitarists together but blend it with the some goth elements and it can sound like the undead version of R.E.M. ringing throughout a decaying church.
Anyways, to answer the question more directly, yes, we are experimenting with more sounds on this second record. There will be some stuff that sounds very different than In This Town at first listen. Hopefully people are receptive to it. The whole goal is to create a mood, to allow the music to conjure up the right emotions to make you feel like you are physically in the world of the music. And because we’ve done some growing since the first album there is just no way we could have this second album sound like the first and still achieve the emotions we want to convey.

For more information on The Laughing Chimes or to purchase any of their back catalog, please visit their Bandcamp page or their label Slumberland Records


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