Despite the ups and downs of the hard rock world, the alt-metal act Chevelle has held steady. It helps that the members now have 20 years of experience under their belts. They were just teenagers when the band started in the early '90s in Chicago. When drummer Sam Loeffler describes the early days, it sounds like he and his brother, singer-guitarist Pete Loeffler, knew early on that rock 'n' roll was their true calling.
"The first club we played in Chicago was the Double Door," he recalls in a phone interview from a Texas tour stop. "We were too young to be there because it was a bar. We had a big beer tray and it was awesome. The next time we played there, it was a fruit platter. They must have figured it out. Back then, it was all we knew and we were so naïve and green, we didn't know what would happen with our career. We didn't understand the implications of being in that environment or know that it would grab us so hard. It's like putting a teenager at a drag strip. If you do that, it's probably what they're going to do for the rest of their lives."
Right out of the gate, the group worked with Steve Albini (Nirvana, Cheap Trick, PJ Harvey) on its full-length debut, 1999's Point #1. Albini can be a difficult personality but Loeffler says the experience was a formative one.
"He's one of the smartest people I've ever met," he says. "He was so pro-artist. He really cares about the artist. He is an artist's artist. If you're in a band and you want to try something different and see what your band is about, go work with him and you will see what your band is about."
While the band's popularity soared in 2002 when the Tool-like single "The Red" became a hit, the group has settled into a nice groove with its last two albums, 2011's Hats off to the Bull and this year's La Gargola, releases that push the nu-metal sound with which the band is readily associated. Producer Joe Barresi (Queens of the Stone Age, Coheed and Cambria) takes the band in a more experimental direction.
"Similar to Albini, Barresi is all about the artist and making the record you want to make," says Loeffler. "He's very analog based, though not to the level that Steve is. His gear collection is insane. It's an amazing collection. That benefits our music. We can really spread out and define what we can do. As a producer, he's very much about making the sound the best it can be. You have to have someone you trust who can rewrite melodies and help you get rid of choruses. You have to have someone you can trust because you're too close to it. Every writer has an editor. Joe has such an extensive knowledge of music and how different instruments work that it makes it go by really fast. With Hats Off, we were going for a sound. We got that sound and held onto it. With this album, we tried to change every song. It takes a little longer. We went for specific tones with each song. That was the biggest change as far as recording. As far as the writing, we wanted the songs to work together as one whole."
The press release on the album says it was "inspired by the dark underbelly of American culture." Loeffler says that's an accurate assessment.
"Pete doesn't write songs about high-school love affairs," he says. "He writes songs about things going on around him and things that many people can relate to. A lot of it is adult life. And some is tongue-in-cheek. There's a song about zombies. It's kind of fun. People are really into zombies."
"One Ocean," a tune that commences with some brittle guitars before hushed vocals kick in, is one of the album's standout tracks simply because it has such a creepy vibe to it that it sounds like Korn covering U2.
"That song is completely different," says Loeffler. "It's a song that Pete had written a few years ago. Me and [bassist] Dean [Bernardini] and his wife all convinced him to finish it. Once he finished it, he didn't like the way it was. We had to work with the song to make it into something. It was an interesting endeavor. Strings are on it but we did that electronically."
For the live show, the band's been playing four songs from the new album and mixing in many tunes from the back catalog.
"We have 90 something songs we've published," says Loeffler. "It's difficult to write a set list."
He agrees that the new album is the group's best yet.
"You always want your most current album to be that," he says. "I don't know if I know that. I do feel like it's a strong complete record. Our style and what we do as musicians has developed. Our shows are selling out and a lot of our friends are in their mid-20s, so it's not like they've been listening to us since 1999. That's the good news. There's still a craving for good music."
And the band's forged a friendship that supersedes chart positions and radio airplay.
"We love what we do," Loeffler says. "We get along really well. We go to each other's houses on days off to hang out. We're friends. I think that's the hardest thing for a band. It's an intense environment. The ups and downs are really powerful. It's like a marriage."
Chevelle with Middle Class Rut and Dayshell
6:30 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 10, House of Blues, 308 Euclid Ave., 216-523-2583. Tickets: $28-$38, houseofblues.com.