Dean Chittenden is a young, local musician that has been active in the Grand Rapids music scene for the past three years. He plays the piano, writes his own music and accompanying lyrics, and is studying music at Grand Rapids Community College.
In the past he has worked on his own, creating music and playing in downtown Grand Rapids, but recently he has started working with another local musician, Nick Warren. They have completed work together on a song, potentially beginning an engaging and productive musical relationship.
I got the chance to talk with Dean about his collaboration with Nick, about his own music, and a little about the music scene in Grand Rapids and West Michigan at large.
Adam Jones: We were talking about your collaborative efforts, so let’s talk about your project with Nick Warren, what’s that process been like?
Dean Chittenden: It’s my first time working in a studio in general. It’s been a lot different than I expected. It’s a lot more technical, because you’re always working with live music, but you don’t have many live instruments. You have a piano, and drums and that’s it.
A: Is that kind of disorienting?
D: No, I actually like it. You can tell it’s real sounding, but it’s still a little too studio-sounding for me.
A: So you want to go more for that authentic sound?
D: Yeah, like something that you could play live and it would sound better, because the studio doesn’t always do it justice.
A: Where are you guys recording?
D: Literally in his garage (laughs).
A: Are there any challenges with recording?
D: Being really technical, because, like, when you play by yourself there’s no metronome. We used metronomes, and that’s definitely challenging, because it makes you realize how much you slow down or rush. Also, when you hit that recording button you start messing up more than you were playing by yourself.
A: Is your primary focus to work with Nick, or are you working on your own music?
D: Half and half. I’m pursuing my music, but Nick is helping me.
A: We talked about his before we started recording. Nick’s music has a more 1980s sensibility, how would you describe your music?
D: It’s got a more modern sound, I go for different pieces of other music from like the mid-2000s. I don’t mind having techy sounds, but I like going for a more live sound.
A: So more of a raw sound?
D: Yeah, more like Cage the Elephant or the Strokes, like what they bring to the table. I want to mix influences, but still have my own signature sound.
A: Would you say you focus more on lyrics or the music?
D: Both. I want to have good for both, because a lot of bands have one or the other. Some bands have both, but you usually get only one or the other. I would like to have both, because no one ever does it.
A: Let’s talk about performing. Are you playing live shows right now?
D: No, I am not.
A: Have you played live shows in the past?
D: I’ve played downtown by myself and played some covers and some stuff I’ve written. Just set up by Rosa Parks Circle on a busy Friday or Saturday night.
A: Do people seem receptive?
D: Sometimes. Some people sit down and ask about it. “Do I have a page?” or things like that. Some days people don’t give a second glance because they’re on a mission.
A: When you play at a bar or a venue you have a captive audience, but outside you don’t. Does it help give you a thicker skin?
D: Yeah, you can’t take it personally, they’re not there to see you, they’re there to do whatever they’re doing. At a bar they might listen to you and clap for you at least.
A: There have got to be some challenges playing outside just on a technical level.
D:(Laughs) Yeah I didn’t have an amp at first, so I relied on my keyboard speaker. It worked out, because I played in a small area and the sound wasn’t going off anywhere. I got the most audience when I played in the small area with the crappy speaker on the piano. It was decent, it just wasn’t very loud.
A: With ArtPrize coming up do you think it’ll give you a good opportunity to get out there?
D: Yeah if I can get the time off.
A: So you’re not a full time musician, what are some of the challenges with that?
D: Scheduling is the biggest challenge, because Friday and Saturday are the best times to be out if you wanna play music downtown or at any venue, but I can’t do it because I’m always working…And I’m still going to school.
A: Is going to school at least helping to keep you motivated?
D: It definitely keeps me motivated, because I’m taking a few piano classes. More piano techniques help you in that aspect.
A: Does being at a college help you network?
D: Oh yeah that definitely does. If you make friends they ask what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. So I get to a point where I can say I’m working on music with a friend and I’m playing downtown.
A: We talked about Spotify before the interview, and how that helps new musicians. Could you talk about that?
D: Spotify is probably the best way to get you out there musically. Because if you’re playing shows consistently, and you open for a band with a decent amount of views, then people will look you up. Like, people like me will see an opener and look them up later on Spotify, and I see them later as headliners.
A: Do you think it’s easier to break out on the internet than in real life?
D: It’s easier to be known on the internet now, and there are some artists and bands that got famous just because of the internet. It still helps to be active though, and word of mouth is still powerful, but the internet can be just as good as word of mouth if you’re savvy enough.
A: Now, what types of music are getting popular in Grand Rapids or West Michigan?
D: It’s either punk, a lot of people like punk, or it’s New Wave funk. It’s either funk, punk, or some generic type of rock.
A: Do you think that folk has gone by the wayside?
D: Oh absolutely. I can tell you about two bands that are sort of folky, but even then they wouldn’t consider themselves folk at all.
A: As a final point, two part question, what do you think the future looks like for you? And what do you think the future of the local music scene looks like?
D: For myself I’ll keep going to school, still work on music with Nick, and hope that we’ll produce some really good music. A bunch of songs. More of a focus of getting on Spotify, gaining a following, and being more active in the community. Hopefully Michigan will get more open minded for music like Nashville.
A: One follow up question, do you see yourself and Nick becoming a permanent collaborative effort?
D: Yeah I can see that, but I don’t think Nick sees that. He’s trying to find these other projects, but these projects aren’t working out because people aren’t dedicated. And he knews we’re a good pair, and we worked together and it sounded good. I didn’t mind, because I wanted to show him there was someone right there that’s good. Maybe he’ll give it some thought, if not then no hard feelings obviously, and I’ll keep working on my own music.