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Ex-Nirvana Drummer Chad Channing Steps Out as Songwriter on Before Cars' "Walk Back"

April 28, 2009 12:37 PM ET

In the mid-1990s, Chad Channing was in the studio at Soundhouse Recording in Seattle with Jack Endino, who was mastering a record for Channing's band the Methodists. "We were taking a break, walking to a store, and Jack told me he'd always thought the stuff I'd written was really cool," Channing said. "From then on, he was always telling me to do my own stuff." Some 15 years later, a record full of Channing's "own stuff" — Walk Back, by his new band Before Cars — will be released by Flotation Records at the Rendezvous on June 12th. The date was timed to coincide with a significant anniversary for the Seattle scene, as June 15, 2009 will mark the 20th anniversary of another debut, also recorded by Endino: Bleach by Nirvana, featuring Channing on drums.

"It's somewhat of an anthology, in a weird way," Channing says of Walk Back. "It's an accumulation of songs I wrote before Nirvana, during Nirvana and after Nirvana, up until now." Though he typically writes on guitar, he serves as bassist and lead vocalist in Before Cars, a group that features guitarist Paul Burback and drummer Andy Miller. Justin Jeanotte adds color on violin, Endino sings backup on two tracks, and Derek Burns lends lead guitar twice.

"I hate to use the term, but having been a 'grunge' drummer back in the day, this is totally different," Channing says of his new record. Endino agrees. "It is very low-key and innocent rock," Endino said. "Chad has this thin little high-pitched voice. It's nothing like Nirvana." Indeed, though it has its own quirky personality, Walk Back belongs in a tradition of melodic rock that predated punk and grunge. Channing said he was mostly influenced by the 1970s radio he listened to incessantly while growing up. "My dad being a DJ, I heard all the hits, no matter what," he said. "My mom always had on the radio because my dad was on it."

But with the Bleach anniversary looming, comparisons to Nirvana seem inevitable. "In terms of songwriting, there may be similarities people might see with Nirvana — there is almost bound to be," Channing says. "Maybe that's why Kurt thought some of my songs might fit in the first place. But that never transpired," he adds, referring to his split with the band in 1990, which he says stemmed from a disagreement over songwriting. Channing says, "After Bleach, Kurt told me he wouldn't mind having some help with the songwriting. I said, 'Yay!' That's just what I wanted to do. Then I slowly realized that was not going to happen. It sort of killed my aspirations."

Even a quick chat with Channing demonstrates his genuine, kid-like enthusiasm for rock & roll — though he's now the married father of a seven-year-old. When he speaks of making music, he refers to "goofing off" and having "tons of fun." It's a far cry from Nirvana's dark demise, and by titling his record after the song "Walk Back," Channing shows he is wise to this connection. "Walk Back" sounds like a retrospective on the madness of Nirvana, but Channing actually wrote the song in his early days with the band — it's a meditation on fame by a guy in a band who was not yet famous and had no expectation that the band ever would be.

"I wrote that in 1987 or '88 when we weren't famous at all," Channing explains. "We were just scrapping around, goofing off, having fun. One of the last lines in the song is 'What's the use of fame if you can't walk to the store?' It's good to be comfortable with who you are and what you do. You should never worry too much about achieving your goals, because in the long run you might not find yourself too happy when you get there."

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