Music — i at the center of Manchester's rock scene

'i' website

The band i has barely been around a year but they’re already fanning the flames of the Manchester hard-rock scene.

The band got together after guitarist Rich Chamberland, originally of Worcester, Mass., returned to New England almost two years ago after a ramen-fed sojourn out West, where he graduated with honors from Guitar Institute of Technology.

Not long after arriving in New Hampshire he saw a band fronted by enigmatic and thoroughly frightening Rob Halford-like singer-songwriter J. Staples, introduced himself and before long, stepped in, made himself right at home and the band changed their name to “I,” or rather, “i,” to instill, as Chamberland says, their sense of humility.

“We wanted to call it ‘i’, we came up with the name ‘i’ because everybody on the planet’s an ‘I’: ‘I went to the store,’ ‘I did this,’ ‘I did that,’” said an incredibly intense, energetic Chamberland by phone. Note: if you plan on having a conversation with Rich Chamberland, get your thinking cap on, put anything else you’re doing or even thinking, for that matter, to the side, and pay attention, because the man talks as if he is on fire and about to explode.

“Then what we did is we threw it into the lowercase to be humble,” Chamerland said. “Because we almost were ‘if.’ But I said “‘If’ is a question—‘if’ we make it.” No.”

Chamberland says their first gig together was a showcase for a major record label; not bad for a new band. According to Chamberland, Dave Draiman of Disturbed heard their demo through connections and called and asked the new band to come to Boston to play as part of their Music as a Weapon II tour along with Taproot.

“We’d never played live for anybody,” Chamberland said. “We went, we played at Tsongas Arena, and had like 1,500 hits [on the i web site] the next day,” Chamberland said.

Chamberland said Disturbed expressed some interest in signing them—as did other labels—to their label, but the timing wasn’t right.

“We’ve been asked at least five or six times to sign with labels,” Chamberland said. “So, what happened was, we came out of nowhere, and we scared…most of the bands that were here for five or more years. They hated us.”

The band won a couple competitions and landed a spot at the last Sky Show, which turned out about 20,000 people.

“Here’s the bottom line: we work very hard,” Chamberland said. “And we appreciate everything. Seriously. You listen to i and it doesn’t sound like anybody else.”

The band hooked up with producer Anthony J. Resta, who’s worked with Duran Duran, Full Metal Jacket and Elton John, among others, and recorded and independently released Off The Hook.

“Off the Hook was communication: communication on the human level,” Chamberland said.

To say Chamberland is confident about i is an understatement.

“I’ll take the Pepsi challenge against anything,” Chamberland said. “And I’ll tell you what: I don’t have anything against locals, ‘cause we don’t shoot for that. We shoot for signed: we open for signed…because I’ll tell you what man: I been from here to California and back, I don’t play games, I don’t have time.”

Chamberland suggests i hasn’t signed because he doesn’t want to sign anything that shortchanges the band’s potential.

“My bottom line is: I’d rather sign with an independent [label] that believes in us and will push us,” Chamberland says. “I really believe in this band. The guys I got are hitters. You stick J. Staples, the front man in this band, with 100 people in a room, turn your back and you’ll know J. when you hear him. That’s it, kid.”

i’s sound could be characterized as either hard rock or heavy metal, but Chamberland has his own language to describe it.

“We sell it 10 to 20 feet off the stage, you ready?” Chamberland said. “We got stank you can take to the bank, you ready for this? If I look up and I see somebody that ain’t feelin’ the shit, then it ain’t working and I’m gonna write another song, you know what I’m saying? If you can’t feel it, and we ain’t sellin’ it 10 feet off the stage, then it ain’t no good for us and I’ll throw it away. That’s what we do.”

According to Chamberland, “A ‘stank’ is a 7-flat-9 chord with a drop beat. It’s like [scat sings funky guitar beat]. Everybody in the front row bobs their head,” Chamberland said. “When we’re talking to you and we’re preaching to you and J. comes up front and I’m throwin’ that flat 7 behind it, you’re gonna feel it 10 feet off the stage, and if I ain’t doin’ it it ain’t worth it to me.”

Chamberland also prides himself on the fact that, while Staples is the primary lyricist and singer, all four members of the band sing.

“Can you tell me another band right now that has four vocalists?” Chamberland asked.

“We’re doing a two-against-two harmony on this one new song, where I’m doing a harmony with Mikey, going against J. and Keenan,” Chamberland explained. “But we’re doing it where we’re weaving in and out of each other.”

According to Chamberland, he writes the licks and Staples, originally from Maine, writes the lyrics.

“He’s brilliant,” Chamberland said of Staples. “He’s introspective, brilliant, f—ing self-destructive, hating himself but at the same time looks around the corner just to carry himself to tomorrow.”

Chamberland feels obliged to back up Staples’ distressed lyrics with “phat, stanky” chords.

“When I walk in a room with J. Staples from i, if I got nothing to give him, coming from Maine, do you think he’s gonna drive down to Haverhill, Mass.?” Chamberland said. “I mean, this kid here, he’s out of his mind. I sit with him and this kid is like Disturbed on steroids. The kid suffers, and he came down for three or four weeks, with no money, and recorded Off The Hook, for nothing. I have a lot of respect for him.”

While Staples writes signature lyrics, Chamberland thinks their appeal is universal.

“I’ll tell you what music’s about right now,” Chamberland said. “Everybody’s lost. There’s nothing up there—God and all that—it’s all phony and bullshit.”

—Bernard Vaughan

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