garbage on the
side of the
super highway
since July 2002

North Coast News
Contact Us




It’s OK to Evolve

An Interview with Chas Smith of ESO

By Bob Ignizio


Left to right: Chas Smith, John Petkovic, Lonesome Cowboy Dave (not pictured are drummer Bob Mozik, percussionist Raven Noir, and guitar player Frank Bazzanno)

With the carefully controlled playlists of today, most bands can only dream of being heard on the radio.   Einstein’s Secret Orchestra, on the other hand, were being broadcast on Cleveland’s airwaves before they even played a gig.  Vocalist/bass player Chas Smith told me, “The band began on FM 89.3 WCSB.  We started bringing equipment up and playing music on the air.  That was about 1993 or 1994 and that evolved into a live act eventually.  We did that for a few months in a row, where we would meet every Tuesday night in the studio and just turn the equipment on and record everything that happened.” The band’s sound at this time was a sort of free form psychedelia, well represented on their first CD ‘Witch Disco’ (1999).  Although Chas still hosts a show on WCSB (Thursday nights at 11pm), the days when the band would perform in the studio are long gone.  “I think it just played itself out to a degree.  I needed a break form it.”

As the group moved from the studio to the stage, they began to write more structured material.  They also started doing an eclectic assortment of cover tunes, ranging from Johnny Cash to The Velvet Underground.  During this phase, Chas played keyboards and Theremin in addition to singing, and the group also included an electric violin player.  Songs from this period can be heard on discs included with Cle Magazine issues 4 and 5, and on another full length ESO album called ‘Sex in Another Dimension’.  It was this line-up that won the Free Times Readers poll for “Best Electronic Band” two years in a row.  While their inclusion in that category is debatable (“Nobody can ever peg us into just one genre.  That’s a very purposeful thing,” says Chas), the band was certainly deserving of some kind of award. 

Dave and FrankOn the night I spoke with Chas, the band was near the beginning of yet another phase of evolution.  The 'O' in ESO now stands for Outlaws, and the band now consists of Chas (bass, vocals),  Lonesome Cowboy Dave (guitar, vocals),  Bob Mozik (drums),  guitarists John Petkovich and  Frank Bazzanno (both from Cobra Verde, a band Chas also plays with), percussionist Raven Noir and occasionally Dr. K'taden Legume sits in on harmonica.  “This is just what we’re doing this summer, doing the Outlaw thing, having some fun with that.  Who knows what will come out next year.  It goes in cycles,” Chas explained.  He continued, “Because we’re a festival band, all winter long is geared towards those summer gigs (Ed. – ESO plays at the huge pagan fest Starwood, among others), which we just finished up.  So right now we’re in a very laid back mode.  All the big gigs for the year have happened now.  So now we’ve peaked at one end of our cycle, and we’ll rebuild and see what comes up next year.”

Aside from their festival shows, the most likely place to find ESO performing is at a Church of the Subgenius[1] devival.   Chas told me how that association came about. “One time when I was on the air, and we were doing our thing, [Reverend Ivan] Stang happened to be in Cleveland for a devival or something and he heard us on the air.   That was about ’94 or ‘95, somewhere in there.  So “Bob” sort of found ESO and became a part of ESO.  ESO became a part of the Church of the Subgenius in a way.  Even though we’re very separate entities, we do get associated very closely together.” 

When Chas isn’t playing rock music, he’s teaching about it at Cleveland State University. “It’s a roots of rock n roll course,” he says.  “I’ve been teaching down there for 10 years, since I got my masters.  I started teaching classical, Beethoven, Bach, Mozart.  But then I went to the department and found out they had a rock n roll course listed but weren’t offering it.  I said, “I can do this”, so they pretty much gave me carte blanche to create whatever course I wanted.  They gave me the title, though: ‘Roots of rock and soul’.  We start about turn of the century, Civil war era, looking at the music of America then, and we progress right into blues and R and B, and then rock ‘n’ roll.  The course ends at Woodstock.”Chas, Raven Noir, Dave, and Frank                 

As far as the state of rock ‘n’ roll today, Chas had this to offer.  “It’s certainly controlled by all the powers that be.  Marketing is in control right now.  Personally I thought the punks were cool, but then I came into it with the punks.  Punk was sort of a thing about, “I don’t care about you, fuck you”.   But then grunge happened, and grunge seemed more about “I don’t care about me, fuck me.”  I think music turned inward emotionally in a destructive way instead of a productive way.   Some people say, “I’m just reflecting my society, I’m just a mirror.”   Well, that’s one side of the coin.  The other side is that you create your own reality.  So if you sing about love, you will love.  Sing about hate, you will hate.  You plant the seeds yourself.  Language is a virus. 

In conclusion, he added, “I think musicians need to look at the roots, look at the blues, look at hillbilly and gospel, and learn from that, There are people who do that, you just have to seek them out.  Explore, if you’re a musician.  Keep things fresh.  Don’t lock yourself into any genre.  There’s an amazing world of music that was created here in America.  If you have to hit the road and go dig your fingers in the mud of the Mississippi delta and explore America as well, that’s what you need to do.  Whether you’re a musician, or just any person, and you haven’t done that then do it.  Get off your ass, get in the car and go see what’s out there.  If you just take what the man shoves down your throat then you never find out anything."

More ESO on Utter Trash:

Pictures - Subgenius devival at the Lime Spider 8-11-02

Concert review and pictures- ESO, The Rogers Sisters, and Coffinberry at the Lime Spider 12-16-02

[1] Space prohibits a detailed explanation of the Church, but those interested can find out more at www.subgenius.com.  I will mention, however, that they are the only religious cult to offer eternal salvation or triple your money back.