The first Chelsea Daggers concert I witnessed also happened to be the band's first show. The trio hit the Snug Harbor stage in May with a tight performance fueled by thunderous rock 'n' roll. In the six months since, the band has toured the Southeast, with a few occasional gigs here in its hometown, and slowly built up its fanbase. When the cards finally fell in place for an interview last week, the band dropped a bombshell. Their Dec. 2 concert might be their last as a band.
"A lot of variables have come up, especially around jobs, so this might be it," drummer Jarrett Bury says. "It's nothing personal; it's just that life gets in the way sometimes. Eliza's job might change, which may take her to another city or allow her to explore other opportunities. It's made all of us stop and think about what we're doing. Sometimes when doors like that open, you have to go through them and see where they lead."
The Chelsea Daggers — Bury, guitarist Chris Hendrickson and singer/keyboardist Eliza Grey — was borne out of inspiration during a practice session for the trio's former band, Red All Over, back in February.
Hendrickson was experimenting with his guitar when then-bassist Bury arrived. "I showed up at practice one day, and Chris was working with a guitar tone that wasn't very crisp and shoe-gazy," Bury, who waits tables, says. "It wasn't what Red All Over does at all. We always had a drum set at practice — it's just where I store them. So, I jumped on the kit and we started goofing off and ended up writing three songs that night."
When Grey showed up, the new songs and sound afforded her the opportunity to expand her vocal reach, going away from a clear and flowing style into something more raw and in-the-moment. A background knowledge of piano/keyboards helped her flesh out the band's sound. While Bury moved from bass to drums, Grey took on the keyboard, which fused the music with a low-end using her left hand — eliminating the need for a bassist — and strengthening the rhythm's roots with her right. With the basic song structure covered by Grey, Hendrickson is free to roam freely in his guitar-playing.
As the new style took form, the band worked tirelessly — writing songs and tightening up the sound for four hours a night, four to five nights each week. Bury hoped to name the band after New York's famous Chelsea Hotel, but another group beat him to it. They kept Chelsea and, after trying various combinations, liked the way Daggers sounded with it.
Where Red All Over struggled to find a foothold with its drum-machine-infused brand of electronic rock, the heavy-handed style of psychedelic rock The Chelsea Daggers creates got them booked for five out-of-town gigs the first week they contacted venues.
"Where Red All Over had lights and a smoke machine, we decided to keep everything for this stripped down," Grey says. "We like that it sounds raw. This is a completely different sound, different feel, different attitude. I get to be a feisty, pissed-off girl, which is something I've never done."
Fans like the new sound, too, often asking for autographs at out-of-town gigs and offering extra money when buying merchandise. "We used to sell T-shirts for $2 so we could buy gas to get to the next show, and now people are giving us $20 for a $10 T-shirt because they like what we're doing so much," says Hutchinson, who quit a job with a construction company so he could have time to play music. The band recorded an eight-song album they still hope to release.
Bury and Grey formed Red All Over in 2003 before disbanding two years later. They reconnected at 2007's FemmeFest and decided to give Red All Over another try, finding Hutchinson via an ad on Craigslist. Now, with a solid re-imagining of its sound as The Chelsea Daggers, the trio, each in their 30s, arrives at its biggest crossroads to date.
"We're really close as a band, and if this is it, it's going to be really sad," says Grey, who works for an airline. "I might stay in town, but I also think this is a chance to see what else is out there for me, get some fresh air and find new inspiration. I need to be 100 percent focused, and I have so many things up in the air right now. Once it settles down, we might play some more and come back even stronger. I do know that even if this band doesn't continue, we're all still going to play music in some capacity. It's bittersweet because we have a good thing, but it's exciting that there could be new opportunities for each of us."