Featured Artist March/April 2008: Chancellorpink

He’s written over 1,000 songs. He’s written legal briefs. By day, he’s Pittsburgh, PA attorney Ray McLaughlin. But by night, he’s mysterious indie/alternative rock musician, Chancellorpink, the Twirl Radio Artist of the Month for March/April 2008! I interviewed him live on Twirl Radio on his birthday, Saturday, March 22nd, 2008.

Heartbreak, loneliness, loss, breakups. These are the deep waters the Chancellor plies. Some writers celebrate only the upside of love. Let’s face it–Mick Jagger spent lots of time chasing the girls; Paul McCartney always got the girl and lived happily ever after. The girls catch Chris Isaak, but somehow always break up with that handsome dude (I still don’t get how that happens). Ray writes and sings about what happens on the downside. He innately understands that most of us guys (and gals) spend a lot of time in this less than happy world of chasing, but not catching, unrequited love. To put it another way, Art Garfunkel may be your bridge over troubled waters, but Ray, as Chancellorpink, is your guide through the troubled waters!

Ray started out the same way a lot of us music fans raised in the 1970’s did–listening to 45’s–those seven inch circles of pure pop bliss, in which a complete, independent work had to fit in about three minutes. As a writer and musician, you had to get it right, in order to put out a single. That was a huge influence on him. In our interview, Ray remembers loving the Beatles, but finding himself attuned to some of the strange stuff that artists put out on those singles. Helen Reddy’s Angie Baby, probably her only deviation from nice, mainstream songs, comes to mind. He then started writing songs and poems–lots of them. He continues to be a prolific writer to this day.

Then came the 1980’s, and Ray’s popular Pittsburgh band Six Gun Jury. They played the local clubs and showcases, and released several singles and tapes. They garnered significant airplay on the college and alternative airwaves in western Pennsylvania. And their songs earned brisk sales at the local music shops. In fact, Ray showed me a weekly top hits chart from one of those stores, in which the Jury outsold 10,000 Maniacs, and shared the charts with the Pixies. Heady stuff indeed.

In a seminal moment, Ray wrote a song called Chancellor Pink. This was an idealistic song, penned at the age of 20, about painting the whole world with spiritual love and faith. But the band never quite had the sound right.

Fast forward about 20 years, a law career, and some heartbreaks later. Ray dusted off Chancellor Pink, bought some studio equipment, and turned it into something of a masterpiece. He named himself and his first album after the song. A defining moment. Ray pressed on. He put out Darkrazor in 2007, and his most recent effort, Valentine Parade, released on February 14 of this year. An album a year, until he gets boring, so he says. Slim chance of that. These three intense gems are a tantalizing peek at the dark side of life and love.

Valentine Parade is a dark album, full of yearning and desperation. The Chancellor stuffs it full of raw emotion, then lets you pick at it, one visceral track at a time. He’s honed his sound the way he wants it–playing all instruments–electric and acoustic guitars, bass, drums, and the occasional creepy vibraphone, and layering his Bowie-like voice on top of it. He recorded and engineered it, to boot. You’re supposed to feel this one, not just listen to it.

And that’s just what happens. Standout tracks include the poppy Unfinished Valentine, the mostly-acoustic Opposites Attract, and the sad and eloquent Mrs. Kowalski. The Red Sea, in all of its alternative rock glory, sounds like something that eclectic industrial/alternative supergroup Golden Palominos might have recorded in the late 1980’s. I’m a sucker for those soaring guitar flange effects. There’s also the chunky, driving She Came In Dreams. And finally, a couple more eminently listenable songs which caught my ear immediately: the relaxed Baby’s Gone To Bible, and the driving I Tear Window Down, perhaps my personal favorite. Elvis Costello could have written this one when he was single and angry. All in all, the Chancellor’s most unified and listenable album to date. All of these aforementioned tracks would sound great on alternative radio, and are (or will soon be) in rotation on Twirl Radio. Valentine Parade careens between longing and urgency.

Fiercely independent, the Chancellor used to hold forth on the closed-circuit social networking website MySpace, with poetry, rants, diatribes, and sensitive, well-placed comments. Some made me cringe, some made me laugh. That’s exactly the point–he wants you to think and feel, and sometimes you need to be shaken a little in order to do just that. He’s no longer on MySpace, but if you’re lucky enough to get on his mailing list, you can still subscribe to these blasts from Pittsburgh.

It was a kick to talk to Ray on my show, and learn a little more about what makes this great artist tick. I’m thrilled to have him as the Twirl Artist of the Month for March/April, 2008!

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