With dirty distortion, hard-hitting drums, and fired-up song titles like “Evil” and “Got Nobody” it’s hard to believe the gritty rock of Chess Wars comes from two of the nicest dudes in town. Best buds Dustin Lothspeich and Jake Najor formed their mini-supergroup just months ago but already recorded an album, Peace, and have a handful of upcoming shows slated. The power in the Chess Wars dynamic stems from a mutual love of making music and a desire to get back to the basics of what drew them to play. The collection of music blends songwriting on common life experiences with an aggressive tempo and style that fits each member’s strong suits. Najor gets to explore something a bit different from his drumming with The Styletones, Lord Howler, Rebecca Jade and The Cold Fact and his various other projects. Read more about Najor here [shameless self promo link].
1. How did Chess Wars get started?
We’ve known each other for a couple years and I just figured I’d never play with Jake ’cause he’s always so busy. Then Al Howard was having his birthday party at Soda Bar and asked if Boy King and Old Tiger would make cameos. And when I’d first met Al he’d told me I should do a cover of Baby Huey’s “Hard Times” and he kept telling me. For a year. He would send me YouTube links cause I had said “I don’t know who that is or what song that is.” I kept brushing it off but Al would just say “you gotta do this song, you gotta do this song.” So when he asked me to play his birthday I thought about doing the song with Boy King or Old Tiger but taking a song and having to learn it between a few people is hard. Jake already knows the song, so I kinda took the easy route and said “I’ll just play with Jake.”
Then Al was putting together the show at the Void and asked if me and Jake would play it. But I didn’t think Jake would wanna keep doing it cause he’s in so many bands already. But I asked him and he seemed really into it and we went to work putting together about 30 minutes of music.
2. How’d you get the name for the band?
There’s not really a whole lot behind the name. We threw a couple around and they were shitty. I thought “Chess Wars” was funny when I thought of it, because I just imagine chess nerds like actually fighting each other, like beating each other senseless over chess. And “chess” obviously has a lot of history – like Chess Records and Wu-Tang does a lot of references to chess. Shit like that. There’s not a lot of mystery.
3. What’s something Jake Najor brings to the table you don’t?
I want to say “talent”… but I’m gonna say “experience.” He’s played with so many different bands and musicians. And he’s so good at every style. It’s pretty much impossible for him to screw up and I’m not used to being the only one that screws up. It’s kind of daunting. It worries me more than it should.
4. What was the recording process like and what was the importance of getting something on a disk?
For us it was super quick. It didn’t feel like we were “recording an album”. For a lot of bands, that’s normally such a long, arduous process – but with us, we had one rehearsal to throw some ideas against a wall and see what stuck – and literally the next time we got together, I brought a 4 track recorder and some microphones and recorded the first half of the album right then and there. The second half was done two days later. A lot of what you hear on our album is completely unrehearsed and spontaneous. Which is cool. And honestly I don’t think it would’ve worked any other way. We knew we had a bunch of shows coming up and we needed to be able to give people something to (hopefully) remember us by. It just happened a lot quicker than either of us had expected.
5. What is the dynamic between you and Jake Najor as bandmates vs friends?
There’s not a whole lot of difference, to be honest. We started this band knowing it’d just be about having a good time. Of course, we put effort and energy into it, but our friendship always takes priority. We hang out. And sometimes when we hang out, we happen to jam. With both of us being in other bands, we don’t stress each other out about stupid shit. We keep it simple: play and have fun. The key is not over-thinking every little thing.
6. Songwriting- what are the challenges? Is it much different for CW vs other projects? Do you look to any songwriters in particular for inspiration?
It is difficult. Chess Wars, for me, kind of straddles the space between my other bands Boy King and Old Tiger. So it’s hard for me not repeat myself musically with what I do in Chess Wars, if that makes sense. That’s one challenge. As for writing lyrics, I’m always raking myself over coals since it’s not one of my strong points. Going through some writers block at the moment – but it’ll pass. Whenever I get into one of these funks, I usually listen to records by artists that sound nothing like what I play. Recently, I’ve been listening a lot to Overgrown by James Blake, Twelve Reasons to Die by Ghostface Killah, and The Nearest Faraway Place by Good Luck Bear.
7. What SD bands do you look forward to playing with? Dream lineup (non local)?
We love a ton of SD bands and of course I’d forget some if I tried to name them all. But we got love for everyone. It’ll actually be interesting to see who we end up on bills with. I think we’d fit with a lot of folks. Dream lineup? I’d have to say Charles Bradley, Jack White & Prince.
8. Why do you have so many damn pedals? Current favorites?
Guitar pedals are cool. I really appreciate the artistry that goes into them. A lot of them can be hand-painted, or assembled by hand. It’s a great marriage of science and art. A lot of the people developing these things are musicians themselves and want to hear something in particular that they’ve imagined or need for their music, so they put their experience and know-how with electronics to work in order to achieve that. I used to have a lot more than I do now. At the moment, my current favorites are the Strymon Timeline, Analogman King of Tone and my Teese Real McCoy Wizard Wah. I’m a total pedal nerd. Don’t get me started.
9. Worst mispronunciation you’ve had of your last name?
Lipshits. Thanks Al.
10. Fave Jake Najor face?
Magnum. He’s been working on it for awhile.
11. Last but not least, the Five S’s of Sounds in San Diego
Sound You Love: A needle dropping onto a record.
Sound You Hate: Al Howard’s singing voice.
Spot in San Diego You Have to See: The ocean. Pick a spot.
San Diego Band You’re a Fan Of: Joy.
Song That Makes You Smile: “Get Ready for This” by 2 Unlimited.
Don’t miss Chess Wars upcoming shows!!:
5/18 at the North Park Festival of the Arts rocking the main stage at 11:50am. Free.
5/24 & 6/7 at Riviera Supper Club. Free.
5/30 at The Belly Up Tavern with The Tilt and Zander Cox. $8.
6/14 at Whistlestop. Free.
and Lothspeich plays with his band Boy King on 5/25 at Bar Pink with River City.