Chimney Choir's Kris Drickey on Guilty Pleasures

Chimney Choir's Kris Drickey on Guilty Pleasures
Erica Rysberg

Multi-instrumentalist Kris Drickey is an eternally creative spirit. Her work in the Denver-based folk/Americana/whatever-the-hell-you-wanna-call-it band Chimney Choir has always had a sense of collaboration and whimsy. The group's latest effort, Dream, is a continuation of these sensibilities while creating a new world, which may be a dream after all. Drickey grew up in the cassette-tape generation, and her love of tapes continues to this day, along with her somewhat guilty love of Mariah Carey.

Kris Drickey: Guilty pleasure...Well, I just got a '95 Honda Civic that has a tape deck in it, and I'm really excited to listen to tapes. I went to Twist & Shout and I found this Mariah Carey tape from, like, 1992 that I used to own as a nine-year-old. I used to know all the words and would sing along to it a lot. That's been my newest guilty pleasure, I guess.

Westword: It sounds like you really wanted to have that tape again. Most people would just go buy a tape adapter and plug in their phone.

Right, which I also have, but there is something romantic about tapes. It's such a unique moment in time generationally, if you have nostalgia for tapes. There is a tiny little window where they were relevant in my childhood. I distinctly remember the switch over to CDs. Before that I made actual, physical mixtapes with a double deck. I just loved it.

So you were loyal to tapes?

Definitely. I had a New Kids on the Block tape! I think it was the New Kids on the Block Christmas album. It must have been awful. The other thing I remember really falling for was Boyz II Men, "Cooleyhighharmony." That always felt a little random that I got into that, but now that I sort of could be called a grownup, I love to sing harmonies. I was so into the singing and the harmonies as a kid, so it kind of makes sense now in context.

When you listen to these tapes, do you feel like a kid again? Or do you have more of an adult perspective now?

I think it's a little bit of both. I still love to sing, obviously. There was a time when Mariah Carey was still respectable, and then something happened. I don't know what happened....

The movie Glitter happened.

Totally! But I feel like Glitter was a symptom of something deeper. [Laughs.] I still have such admiration for the way she tosses her voice around, and her music sensibility in that era was really amazing. It is something that only a few people were doing, like Whitney Houston. Certain female voices just get me, and Mariah Carey was the first one.

Do you think people would be surprised to know that Mariah Carey is such an influence?

It does feel a little guilty and embarrassing because of the poppy-ness of it. It's not cool, you know? It's not the Ramones or whatever. I was just a huge dork for pop music. So maybe that is a little surprising. I've been slowly coming out as a Mariah Carey fan in the last couple of years, where before it was definitely a guilty pleasure.

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Well, now everyone is going to know.

Oh, good! I can't believe this is the topic of the article.

Chimney Choir has developed a fun and spirited live show. Do you think the lightness of these '90s influences has bled into your live performance?

I don't know if I can draw a direct line between my childhood love of Mariah Carey and the stuff that's happening now. I definitely always loved music and felt hungry for it in a way that it kind of owned me. There was a period of time in my early adulthood where I didn't sing and wasn't playing music at all. I remember feeling this thirst for it, this unquenchable need. The way the band came together and the way we have evolved with each other into this weirder and weirder performance-art spectacle — I could have never predicted that. It feels right in line with who I am: one foot in the dream world at all times. Which felt like a hindrance growing up, when you don't quite know who you are, but now, in this situation, it all makes sense.

Your new album is called Dream. Is this a concept record like your previous release, Boomtown?

Boomtown was a full-length ballet. We wrote that for a ballet company, and we learned a lot about ourselves musically in that process. Basically coming up with seamless transitions, and we got really into live looping. We developed the electronic aspect of our music a lot more with sound collaging, synths, soundscapes and stuff like that. After Boomtown, what we wanted to do was just evolve that even further. I guess it's a concept record in that we conceived of it and knew we wanted to go away to a cabin to write something that felt like the next logical step on the path that we have been on for the past six years. It's time-bending, with ideas repeating throughout in different ways, and you can listen to it a lot and things will tickle your ears in new ways.

Sounds like a far cry from "Honey," by Mariah Carey.

[Laughs.] Yeah! We're playing with the immersive-theater angle [for this show], so there will be giant fish puppets. We're gonna have animation and projections. We have a whole army of Neptunians, as we call them, that are gonna help us out with the show and be in different characters. We have a couple dancers playing the sun and the moon. So the whole show is a giant collaboration with some of our favorite artists in all of these different mediums. I think that is just a really good thing for people to know and understand, which I hope piques some interest.

How did this spectacle come to fruition? Was it something you had in mind initially when the group got together?

It wasn't in the ether when we first started as a band, but it really keeps things fresh for us to make things bigger than us. The most interesting and engaged time we have as artists is when we are building a show with other people for a project, whether it's ours or the ballet or anything like that. We have done it a few times in the past. We pretended to build an interplanetary communication device for a show and wheeled out a Dr. Seuss-ical machine and had interactions with ourselves on another planet, a Planet X version of our own band. So we have been tiptoeing in this direction. This Dream show is the biggest and most involved project we have ever done on this level. We've learned from mistakes in the past, and we've been trying to make a timeline that isn't stressful. We have been involving as many people as we can that have inspired us, so it just becomes larger than life. It's gonna be so fun!

Chimney Choir's album-release show for Dream at the Mercury Cafe is on Saturday, November 19. Doors are at 8 p.m.


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