Chief brings its bicoastal harmonies back to Los Angeles


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This year’s Sunset Junction is a bit of a return to its roots in local music – The Fold is curating a stage that synopsizes much of the recent moments in Silver Lake guitar rock.

But one of its marquee performers – the woozy, harmony-heavy quartet Chief – has been sleeping around a bit, at least geographically.


The band met while attending New York University and makes its home in Santa Monica, which kind of befits their take on the dappled jangle of the Byrds and Wilsonian vocal pyrotechnics. But for those wondering how Chief skated to a high-profile deal with Domino for its debut without yet making a huge fuss on the local circuit, they swear they paid their dues back East.

“We were a band for three years before moving back to California,” said front man Evan Koga. “We had a lot of our early grind back East. I guess we’re as much of a New York band as we are an L.A. one at this point.”

To be certain, Chief has led a particularly charmed existence as a band – only a week off the release of their debut “Modern Rituals,” and Koga is already kicking it with Cindy Sherman, David Byrne and CBS head Les Moonves (his son, Mike Moonves, is Chief’s bassist) at experimental art spaces.

But a pass through “Rituals” suggests it’s all pretty warranted. “Nothing’s Wrong” lives up to its title with an incessant chiming guitar and ephemeral washes of reverbs and echoes. The intricate, high-neck riffing of “Breaking Walls” perfectly bolsters Koga’s stoned tenor. But the kicker is in those voices – giant gang harmonies have become the Auto-Tune of indie rock in the last few years, but Chief deploys them with grace and nuance; they’re done atmospherically, rather than as a flaunted centerpiece.
“We do have some a capella moments in the set, but the harmonies aren’t really all that planned out,” Koga said. “We just kind of jump in and find our place. We’re just really lucky that everyone in the band can sing well.”

Much of the record’s clarity comes from producer Emery Dobyns, whose adeptness with voices and ambiance is also quite evident on the Antony and the Johnsons records he produced. But as the band begins to re-stake its claim in Los Angeles, they’re becoming a new voice we’re glad to have back on this coast.
“It’s weird; we’re from here but we haven’t felt like an L.A. band yet,” Koga said. “We’re really excited to put some roots down here again.”

-- August Brown

Chief plays the Bootleg Theater Friday at 11 p.m., and Sunset Junction on Saturday at 7:25 p.m.