Though several members of Chinese School have been playing in bands together since 2010, the group didn’t really start to take shape until drummer Stamati Arakas joined the fold in January 2013.
“A couple months after landing him I realized I can now play a lot heavier, and we can really lock in,” said bassist Alex Randall, 25, over coffee in a mid-April interview. “I didn’t realize [anything was lacking] until I saw what he could offer.”
Together the two musicians form an imposing rhythm section, anchoring even more exploratory songs like the slow-burning “Residue” with a noticeable, hip-shaking swagger. Though the pair clearly has a symbiotic musical relationship, seeing the two seated next to one another in a Downtown coffee shop it’s difficult to picture them having anything in common.
Arakas, 25, is clean-cut and disarmingly confident (he described learning the drums as “easy,” saying, “I was like, ‘I don’t know why everyone can’t do this’”), while the soft-spoken Randall sports a long mop of curly hair (think Blake on Comedy Central’s “Workaholics”) and a comparatively low-key demeanor. “I don’t really do any [lyric writing],” he said at one point in the conversation, “Because I’m not as good with words.”
These differences merely highlight a point both musicians make individually over the course of the interview: Chinese School’s power is not based in the individual personalities of the four band members, but rather in their collective wattage.
“Usually the singer is the frontman,” Arakas said. “But everyone in this band has an identity onstage.”
Randall puts it even more succinctly: “We operate as a unit.”
It’s a power honed during hours-long rehearsals in a concrete, bunker-like basement in Westgate, where the bandmates have gradually developed their sound, shifting from ’90s college rock covers (Third Eye Blind, Dave Mathews Band) to heavier, more guitar-oriented originals that flirt with everything from The Mars Volta to Trail of Dead at its most perfunctory.
“There’s a lot to be said for playing with a group of people for three hours a night. You get really tight, and you start to really develop chemistry,” Randall said. “We’re still searching for that style, so for now we take whatever sounds good and really try to make it our own.”
Photo by Meghan Ralston