Photo by Jess Garten
Much has changed since the last time I spoke with Chasms. Last October, I met the duo of Jess Labrador and Shannon Sky Madden in a San Francisco taqueria next door to the venue hosting their album release show for On the Legs of Love Purified. Now, I dial their LA number from the shelter of my Columbus bedroom. In the year since their debut album dropped and we chatted amidst warm clouds of tortillas, the band has, along with moving to Los Angeles, experienced deep periods of grief and loss.
These days, Labrador tells me, their debut album feels like a dream. The songs on On the Legs of Love Purified “just feel like songs from a different era,” she says. “I feel like they’ve taken on different meanings. Some of the themes that get explored in those songs, especially death, manifested themselves in real life.”
On December 3rd, Chasms will be back in the Bay Area to play at the Swedish American Hall, as part of Felte’s Everything is Going According to Plan label tour. Chasms will be joined onstage by Odonis Odonis and Houses of Heaven, both of which are also signed to Felte. Along with signifying the label’s 5th anniversary, the tour will be an opportunity for Chasms and the accompanying musicians to showcase new music; many of the songs that Chasms has developed in the past year have never been played on tour.
Coming one year after the Ghost Ship fire, which devastated an Oakland DIY venue, the December 3 show will also be a chance for Chasms to reflect on the ways that fire irrevocably changed the lives of many in the Bay Area music scene, including themselves.
After losing both Madden’s brother, Griffin, and their close collaborator Cash Askew to the fire, Chasms buried themselves in work, playing shows even the week of the tragedy. But they are both still figuring out how to talk publicly about that time. “I honestly don’t know if I’ve figured out what my own boundaries are with that,” says Labrador. “Because it’s just this massive event that’s altered our lives…it’s hard to process that while living it. What was important to help me figure out was really connecting with others that were effective, and showing up for each other.”
Madden agrees that support from the community was invaluable in the months following the Ghost Ship fire, saying that she couldn’t have imagined her community’s response before it happened. “One of the positive things to come out of the fire is that it has been an invaluable experience being on the receiving end of so many people that helped to carry Chasms through a nightmare, and helped us to keep going,” she tells me.
Back when they were still writing the debut album, Madden says that she was “really obsessed with sharing ancient texts that have to do with preparing yourself and others for death to make it less scary.” The connection between that interest and her personal losses has not gone unnoticed. “I’ve been feeling more and more that time is non-linear,” she says. “It’s so strange looking back at how obsessed I was with the Tibetan book of the dead.”
Labrador, too, has sometimes felt that their work on On the Legs of Love Purified foreshadowed trauma to come. “When I wrote