Local Spotlight: Chess at Breakfast is a self-made rock powerhouse

Brody Coronelli

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(Left to right) Singer/guitarist Caleb McFadden, Drummer Mike Davis, and bassist Justin Daggett. Photo by Wellspring 5280 Media, courtesy of Chess at Breakfast.

Chess at Breakfast is an accomplished band striving to be the best they can be, but they are also working towards a future bigger than themselves.

This Fort Collins-based trio consisting of singer/guitarist Caleb McFadden, bassist Justin Daggett and drummer Mike Davis has been making noise in the local rock scene since their formation in early 2016.

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The band, who’s name was inspired by a game of chess played with condiments while out for breakfast, chases after the sounds of gritty, experimental rock bands like Queens of The Stone Age, Pink Floyd and Arctic Monkeys, finding a unique niche within an eclectic set of influences. Pink Floyd serves as a lighthouse for the band’s sound, a common thread for a group of musicians with diverse and varying musical backgrounds. McFadden, Dagget and Davis each share an early infatuation with classic rock, but each bring a unique and invigorating sonic element.

McFadden and Daggett have been playing music together since high school, getting their start in the ska band Subarctic Panther Machine. They both moved to Fort Collins around the same time with the intent to turn their backs on their ska roots and start something new. Drummer/producer Mike Davis was the final piece in this puzzle. Initially recruited as their producer, it wasn’t long before Davis stepped behind the kit and completed the trio.

“I think I bring a really heavy element, along with some technicality to the band,” Davis said. “I try to make things complex, so that we’re challenging ourselves constantly and always getting better. I wanna move forward with every practice, every show and every song.”

“Before we got Mike, we called ourselves lounge rock; we can’t really say that anymore,” Daggett added.

Davis had a significant effect on the band’s trajectory, bringing darker, more aggressive shades of rock to their sound, as well as an increased desire to constantly push the envelope.

The band debuted with their EP “The Gutshalls” earlier this year. As a debut, it showcases a surprising amount of diversity and conviction for a new band. From start to finish, the EP constantly finds new ways to dazzle and invigorate. The EP was entirely self-produced with the band relying on clever DIY tropes to create a record that retains the necessary dirt of garage rock, aiming to capture the raw noise of the tracks rather than their polished edges.

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Chess at Breakfast kicks off their summer tour at Globe Hall in Denver on May 28th. Photo by Vero Vidano.

“Most of the guitar and bass were recorded in Mike’s bedroom, and all the vocals were recorded in his closest,” Daggett said. “We hung blankets from the ceiling in his basement to make a drum booth.”

From Davis’ dynamic, spiraling drums to Daggett’s surreal, loose accompaniments on bass, “The Gutshalls” is a portrait of a band with three unique forces that successfully work together and find a spark. A standout, however, is frontman McFadden’s simple yet effective guitar playing and colorful, literary-minded lyricism.

“My guitar playing is more simplistic,” McFadden said. “More than anything, what I bring is my lyrics. I like writing surreal, conversational lyrics, almost like you’re talking directly to a person, which comes from my time spent writing poetry. Often, they’re influenced by poets I like.”

Despite McFadden’s lyrics and guitar-playing rising to the forefront of the songs, the band considers themselves a creative unit where they each play an equal role in arranging their songs in a collaborative, often spontaneous way.

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“Caleb writes the lyrics and chord progressions, the skeletons of the songs,” Daggett said. “Then, I’ll come in and add the flesh and blood, and Mike adds the soul.”

Chess at Breakfast is simultaneously focused on the present and the future. As far as the present is concerned, they’re currently gearing up for a short summer tour that kicks off at Globe Hall in Denver on May 28, moves through New Mexico and Arizona and finishes in Los Angeles on June 7.

Regarding the future, however, the band has something bigger in mind. They’re currently laying down the groundwork to establish Koncept Jewel: their own Fort Collins-based record label.

“We’re working on building a melting pot of musicians,” McFadden said.

With a sizable, distinct group of bands committed to the project, some of which include the hip/hop duo Karataka, the electronic outfit Deep Dream and southern-rocker Dillion Kishner-Lopez, the band sees the label as a way to further establish Fort Collins’ music scene by unifying a diverse group of musicians that all share the common drive to experiment creatively.

“(We’re) trying to put Fort Collins on the map and in the forefront of experimental music, but (we’re) down to work with other less experimental artists as well,” Davis said. “I see (the label) as being a kind of art collective.”

In a town that’s already been seeing distinct musical development, Koncept Jewel records could play an important role in Fort Collins’ gradual transition into a musical capital.

“There’s enough energy going in this direction, so this town’s going to explode,” Daggett said. “All kinds of bands started making it out of Portland, and I feel like that’s gonna happen here, and hopefully we’ll be one of them. At the rate of acceleration we’re experiencing, especially if it keeps up, we’ll be exactly where we want to be.”

Considering the band’s current velocity, this isn’t a far out statement. In only a year, they’ve already self-produced and released an EP, played dozens of shows throughout Colorado and laid the groundwork for a national tour without the help of a booking agent or a publicist. The band is also sitting on a new album’s worth of material that they plan to put further work into once their tour wraps up.

This time around, they plan to turn their backs on their makeshift home studio and enter a professional recording studio. They intend on getting the record engineered there, but they still plan on mixing and mastering it themselves.

“You would have to take (the album) from our cold, dead bodies,” Daggett said. “I would never say no to new ideas, but (we’d) also never want to hand it over to someone else.”

This drive to make things happen on their own is one of the things that makes Chess at Breakfast a force to be reckoned with in the local scene. When their ambitious sense of direction joins forces with their skill, passion and desire to be involved in every step of the process, they’re headed exactly where they want to be at a pace high above the speed limit.

“We have a vision, and we have the technology and drive to make it a reality,” Davis said.

At this rate, that reality isn’t too far ahead.

You can reach Chess at Breakfast at their website, and you can stream their new EP “The Gutshells” on Spotify, Apple Music and Soundcloud.

You can catch them playing a session for KCSU on May 4 and at their show at Globe Hall in Denver on May 28.

Brody Coronelli can be reached at entertainment@collegian.com or on Twitter @brodycoronelli.