SOUTH BURLINGTON — On a cold Tuesday evening in South Burlington, the five members of the band Chamberlin — several of them Addison County natives — huddle together in a dimly lit room to warm up. They begin their ritual singing in a low voice, “Call… me… Neil…,” and then raise their voices higher, “Call… me… Neil….” At the top of their ranges, “Call… me… Neil…,” the door bursts open and everyone looks up.
It’s Scott Tournet, the guitar player for Vermont super group Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, rushing into their backstage green room at Higher Ground with a scented candle labeled “Yankee Pot Roast.”
“It’s on boys!” he yells while lighting the foul-smelling flame, and the room erupts into a laughter of horror and delight.
It’s minutes before the opening night of Grace Potter and the Nocturnals’ (GPN) month-long journey across the United States and Canada, and Chamberlin is the opening band on the tour’s ticket. Many of those in the audience — still buzzing from GPN’s recent appearance on “The David Letterman Show” — have been vying for a good position to see the sold-out performance since the doors opened, and the venue is bubbling with eager anticipation for the all-Vermont show.
It was only last winter that Middlebury natives Mark Daly and Ethan West were sitting in West’s family cabin in Goshen, deciding they were tired of their acoustic act as the “Goshen Ramblers.” It was time for them to take their music in a new direction — they were going to form a new band.
“We always had Eric (Maier) in the back of our minds for a keyboard player because he’s really talented, and was someone who we knew and liked,” said Daly of his friend and bandmate. Maier, who also grew up in Middlebury, has played music with Daly and West since high school. All of them excelled in the Middlebury Union High School concert and jazz bands and in their own extra-curricular music groups.
By May of 2010, Chamberlin had also recruited two regulars of the Burlington music scene and UVM graduates — bass player Chuck Whistler and drummer Jamie Heintz.
“We really got started through the songs,” Daly said. “Our music has its roots in folk and rock and roll, but we’re not using the traditional structures of this music. We’re trying change things up to make our sound more interesting and unique.”
But while Chamberlin’s musical concepts and style may be new, their innovation and discipline, says MUHS music teacher Anne Severy of her former students, has remained consistent.
“Mark, Ethan and Eric were a trio in a group of students from their time in high school who truly loved the concept of creating music,” she said. “They were never afraid to experiment and go into uncharted waters musically to push themselves to the next level. And the entire time they were genuine, engaging and grounded.”
Although the band’s rapidly growing list of achievements might suggest otherwise, patience has been, by all accounts, a key attribute to their recent successes.
“We practiced for over three months before we played our first show. It was torture at the time because we all just wanted to get out there and play, but I think it was probably good for us in the long run,” Daly said.
With only three performances under their belt, Chamberlin acquired both a booking agent and publicist, and were signed onto the recording label Roll Call Records with the help of their long-time friend from Middlebury, and now band manager, Spencer Kelley.
After gaining the support of Roll Call Records, it was time for the group to consider recording an album.
“We thought that it would be cool if Scott Tournet produced it,” said Kelley, who later asked Rob Abelow, president of San Diego-based Roll Call Records, to make some phone calls for the band.
Tournet was in his hotel room in Los Angeles when his manager sent him an email with a few of Chamberlin’s songs attached to it.
“I didn’t think much of it at first — you know, a small Vermont band. But then, I opened up the songs and listened to them and I was completely blown away,” Tournet said.
The band and Tournet began communicating with each other about going into the recording studio. In late July, Tournet had 10 days off from touring with GPN, in which he decided to spend every single one, for 12 hours a day, in a Burlington recording studio with Chamberlin.
“I loved doing it. I had so much fun with those guys,” he said.
After than 10-day effort, though, the album, “Bitter Blood,” was only half finished. So the band decided to continue working on it while Tournet went back out on the road with GPN. Chamberlin would send him a track, and he would return suggestions about how they might make improvements.
Eventually, Tournet began asking his bandmates on the tour for their input, and everyone added their two cents about how Chamberlin’s songs should sound.
“They all loved it,” Tournet said, “and everyone in the band just ended up becoming a Chamberlin fan.”
When it came time to make arrangements for the upcoming GPN tour, the decision to ask Chamberlin to follow as the opening act was a natural one.
“I’m connected with these guys, and so it was a cool choice for us,” Tournet said. “Beyond that, everyone just liked the music, including our booking agent. These guys just keep passing the test.”
For the members of Chamberlin, who were previously planning a small tour of their own, the call to join GPN was a huge surprise. Instead of playing four or five shows in the Northeast, they will now be playing 20 events across the country (including one in Vancouver, British Columbia) in 30 days. GPN and Chamberlin will soon be leaving Vermont for their first show on the road in Covington, Ky., which is scheduled for Jan. 13. Their last show of the tour will be Feb. 12 in Kansas City, Mo.
“To have them feel confident enough to have us out on the tour with them is just incredible,” said Daly, remarking on their future opportunity. “We’re really just incredibly grateful.”