New Signal 99 CD mixes personal, political themes
FARMINGTON — Despite earning a bachelor's degree in political science from the University of Arizona, Chuck Haven — guitarist and frontman for the popular Shiprock-based metal band Signal 99 — has never injected politics into his music.
With the impending release of the group's new album "American Monster," Haven is going where he's never gone before. The long-awaited album is the most political — and, at the same time, the most personal — album Signal 99 has released.
"It feels good to get it done," Haven said, recalling the delays associated with the project, which originally was scheduled for a fall 2015 release.
The band will celebrate the CD's release with a show this weekend at Asterix in Shiprock. They will also perform in Gallup on March 11 and at Asterix in Shiprock again on March 26 before going on a lengthy tour in May, June and July.
As its title implies — and as its cover art, an image of a forked-tongue, blood-soaked Uncle Sam with a buzz saw emerging from his stovepipe hat, makes clear — "American Monster" takes a critical look at the current state of things.
"The concept of 'American Monster' is how the world views America," Haven said. "We have a concept of us being a world leader or a world policeman, but, in reality, a huge part of the world does not like America. … And even though a lot us might not be in favor of war, the reality is we're all part of that machine whether we like it or not. We may not support war, but by paying taxes, we're helping pay for it. We're all part of that monster."
The cover image and title track may draw the most initial attention, but "American Monster" is also a reflection of the tragedies Haven has endured in his personal life. Part of the reason the album release was delayed was because Haven was wrestling with the grief of losing his two brothers — Alonzo in 2013 and Hank in 2014.
Much of the material Haven wrote and recorded for the new album was put aside in the wake of those deaths and replaced by songs to honor his late brothers and come to terms with their passing.
"I was trying to decide whether I was even going to pursue a (recording) project and get back on my feet and get back out there," he said. One of my band members recently made the comment that this album is darker than our other albums, and, really, I didn't realize that until I thought about it. But when I stopped and looked back, I saw it was true."
Signal 99 has had a successful career since Haven organized the band in 2006. The group has been wooed by independent record labels, performs each year at South by Southwest Music and Media Conference in Austin, Texas, and performed a show last year at the famed Whiskey a Go Go on Sunset Strip in Hollywood.
Yet, by early 2016, Haven found himself not knowing how to proceed. It wasn't until he started writing songs about what he was feeling that he found a path forward.
"On our first album, we were just having fun, and if it was angry, it was because we were young," he said. "The second album was a lot more upbeat. This time, on my third album, the best way I can explain it is that I was learning how to walk again, to get through the daily struggle of life again. My brothers are no longer there — how do you get past that?"
Haven started to emerge from his funk last fall. He earned his first endorsement deal — a contract with Zemaitis Guitars, a Tokyo company whose instruments have been favored by such artists as Jimi Hendrix, Keith Richards and Metallica's James Hetfield. He also expanded Signal 99 from a trio to a quintet. The band now includes Haven on lead guitar and vocals, Fred Brown on drums and keyboard effects, Mark Cornelison on guitar, Brandon Curley on bass, and Mark Curley on percussion.
Finally, Haven mustered the fortitude to finish the new album. Recording sessions ended earlier this month, with mixing and mastering completed days ago.
The CD features 10 songs, one of which, "Rejected," originally was featured on the band's 2008 debut album. Haven said the new arrangement is more industrial and reflects his willingness to test new waters.
Nowhere on the new album is that spirit more apparent than on the song "Brothers," a tribute to Haven's lost siblings. Haven said while the song conveys a sense of loss, it also is a hopeful tune.
"Even though I lost my blood brothers, I found out after all these hard times who was still there holding me up," he said. "I realized I've gained a lot more brothers in the process."
Mike Easterling is the night editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4610.
If you go
What: CD release party for Signal 99's "American Monster" with Testify01, the Blissins and Bound Within
When: 7 p.m. Saturday
Where: Asterix, 101 Ayani'Neez Blvd. in Shiprock
More information: sig99band.com