QUATRO: Square Peg
by Sandé LollisJuly 2023
Produced by Quatro; recorded at Subcat Studios in Syracuse, New York; and engineered by Ron Keck, Square Peg has a vintage, early ’70s feel yet manages to arrive at a pleasing level of sophistication with 12 songs and just over 48 minutes. The four players adeptly fill out the sound; in whatever they do, they are always enough, just right. They are Chuck Schiele on guitar and lead and backing vocals, Heather Kubacki on cello and lead and backing vocals, John Dancks on double bass, and George Newton on pedal steel and backing vocals. Schiele and Kubacki share equally in singing leads and harmonies; the group has made the right choices on those assignments. I especially appreciate the expansive use of cello for both support and for solos. It creates, what I call, the sound of the soul, and the arrangements allow for Kubacki’s counterbalance of edginess and fluidity.
What follows here does not go in production order; prominence is indicative of how they struck me.
Written by Schiele and Kubacki, “Big Stuff” opens fresh as the first day of summer vacation. Guitar and pedal steel leave space for the cello to fill until Kubacki starts singing in short bursts of melody lines, and the bass becomes more prominent. At the chorus, the cello is back, and Schiele comes in on harmony, blending beautifully. And rightly so, as this is a song about togetherness, about working and dreaming together, and creating something special. At 2:06, cello begins a short solo, followed by a few lines of plucky pedal steel. The mood changes as the bridge flows like water, with longer notes and harmonies and half-step changes. It pulls like toffee, twisting and billowing up until it trips back into the last verses that build in intensity until, at 3:37, Kubacki slows to gently sing: “I dream all day, I dream all night, I dream about the way you kiss me goodbye.”
In name, this is the longest song on the album at 5:49, but it seems to end at 3:50 and then spring back up again in an instrumental outro that could easily be billed as another song. It was this two-minute portion that initially caught my attention and sat me down to really listen to the project. Beginning with guitar strumming, long notes on the cello, and light and lovely pedal steel, it feels like desire and it steadily grows. Cello and steel switch off taking the lead, bass joins in and they swell together until 4:52, when they break over the falls so sweetly that it furrows my brow and makes me cry. Yet it keeps going, and I am overwhelmed with bittersweet yet tender emotion until, finally, it settles and delicately leaves me to dream my own dreams.
“Astronaut” feels like an album cut played on FM radio back in the day; it begins dark, with finger picking on guitar, backed by pedal steel. Schiele sings: “Mother made me feel the earth, many times I kissed the dirt. Father taught me how to fly, to this day I’m spinning in the sky.” Cello comes in deep and droning for the plaintive chorus, “Love me not, fear me not. I’m just an astronaut. My brother, please do not reject my soul.” After two more verses, the bridge at 2:33 is a prolonged blend of voices mournfully singing only ohs and ahs until, at 3:00, the guitar bursts into jagged and dissonant strumming. Pedal steel is an undercurrent of one long note, a sonic wave that carries the astronaut haphazardly; it is joined by cello, thrumming and tense. At 3:49 all voices join together, shouting and repeatedly singing in exclamation, “I recommend you do not judge my soul.” At 4:13, the pedal steel solo breaks through with spontaneous and fluid strokes against a backdrop of spirited yelping. The solo spins around the voices, raising them up until a final vocal outcry abruptly ends the song. I like the differentness and contrast of this song to the others on the album.
Gospel voices sing the first line of “Yummy” in a cappella: “It’s time I make you mine,” followed by driving rhythm guitar accented with cello. Schiele asserts: “You must’ve been standing at the front of the line the day they was passing out pretty and fine.” Kubacki joins him in harmony for the chorus: “I’m going crazy, I’m going out of my mind.” Indeed, the momentum at :36 is manic. Guitar picking runs neck and neck with fiddle-like cello moves, pedal steel runs playfully over the top, cello brings us back to another quick verse and chorus, then solos at 1:42. Pedal steel takes the lead at 1:56, then welcomes back the cello at 2:08. The chorus starts up again at 2:33, and pedal steel swirls around behind the full vocals. Soon, they are starting every line with “It’s time I make you mine,” just like they began the song. But then, finally at 3:14, Schiele sings: “You’re so yummy, girl, and I think I see a sign,” and there it is, the name of the song.
The very nature of “One Wish” is childlike in its desire to make known the honest-to-goodness many things there are to wish for. A short intro of sweetly picking guitar and a swoosh of pedal steel start, then bass and lead vocals begin together in an open and simple arrangement, as Schiele sings alone: “If I had one wish, baby, I would think about it for a while. Slide into a daydream, and just let it sink in till I smile.” Kubacki joins him at the second verse on harmonies and, from that point, she doesn’t stop. At 1:16 the bridge sounds strikingly different from the verses; it swings seriously with deep cello accents—there is no more wishing, only solid declaration: “I can feel the rays of light, I can feel the heat. I can feel his mighty footsteps in my feet. And in a heartbeat, I can feel what truth and blood reveal.” The heaviness lifts at 1:41 as the vocal pair, backed by pedal steel, hums in a vintage style harmony, bringing to mind the year 1967 and Frank and Nancy, or Gene and Debbie. After another two verses, they come back to humming for the outro. I gotta say, I just love that.
Other songs include the opener “Get Down,” “One Thing to Say,” and “Señorita.” Kubacki shines wildly expressive in the vocal lead on the raucous and gritty “Dig,” which starts out big and only gets bigger. There is a great pedal steel solo at 1:43, and somewhere the line: “You’re a girl doing everything she can, but the problem is you’re still pissed off ‘cause Jesus was a man.” Well-worth-a-listen covers include “Something Stupid,” by C. Carlson Parks, and a hit single by Frank and Nancy; “Somebody Groovy” by John Phillips; “Crazy Train” by Bob Daisley, Randy Rhoads, and Ozzie Osbourne; and “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” by Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart, in which Kubacki takes a hefty vocal solo—listen to it, you’ll know what I mean. In fact, listen to the whole Square Peg. The more I did, the more I couldn’t stop.
CHUCK SCHIELE LOVE LETTERS
By Frank Kocher, March 2021, San Diego Troubadour
Chuck Schiele is a name familiar in the San Diego music scene, playing since the ’90s in several well-received bands that have included the award-winning Grams, Bad Science Fiction, the Skinny Dippers, and others. He is a bicoastal artist, also playing and recording with Chuck Schiele’s Quatro as well as the Salt City Chill in Syracuse, New York. In addition to playing music, his efforts have included writing about it on both coasts for music magazines, coordinating music festivals, and has been art director and a creative consultant for the San Diego Troubadour for years.
Schiele has produced for various artists and has performed music that spans genres, singing and playing guitar on both original and covers. His latest is Love Letters, a four-track EP of original alternative rock tunes available as a digital download. In addition to Schiele, the players are Simeon Flick on electric guitar, Byron Cage on drums, Edgar Pagan on bass, and Heather Kubacki on vocals. The Covid pandemic dictated that much of the music was recorded in different studios by each player, then combined by producer Schiele. There is a prevailing theme on the project: socially conscious statements about how the world needs fixing.
“Climb” is a mid-tempo tune about striving for a better life, with characters who transcend beyond their limitations to excel—a man and woman who take the opportunity to become something better, “No permission required/ He’s gonna rise like fire.” Like most of the songs, the musical mix is punched up by the interplay of Schiele’s acoustic and Flick’s electric guitars. Next in the program, “Rise Up!’ covers much of the same territory, this time about Schiele’s personal situation. Inspired by Martin Luther King, it is a driving anthem of layered guitars and vocal choruses that build toward some rewarding moments by Flick. Shiele decries a modern society, making Martin Luther roll in his grave while admitting he has “nothing left to save except my soul.”
More social commentary is heard on “Justice,” a drum-powered protest song about the violence and dross on TV and how we are in the process of destroying this world for the children we brought into it. The song has aggressive vocals that push the envelope toward rap, and Flick’s fiery guitar is again ear-catching. “The Big Idea” spends five minutes telling the listener to spend five minutes of their own coming up with ideas that will improve society and again touching on the fate of our children.
Love Letters is a collection of music with a message, packaged as lively rockers by Chuck Schiele, songs to think about while enjoying the listen.
Chuck Schiele’s “Love Letters” to Us
Misse Thomas Interview with Chuck Schiele for CNY Alive
Original interview appears, here.
MT: Chuck, you put together a little collection, Love Letters, dubbed “songs for now.”
CS: These are songs written—sort of as letters—to “us” as a planet of people regarding the social condition we face today. I regard these as [part of] my contribution to the necessary uncomfortable conversations we need to begin having as a society of humans. It’s intended to be a universal message applicable to all, without belonging exclusively to anything. Anthems for all people regardless of affiliations.
These love letters are more along the lines of tough yet encouraging “yes we can” love. This is not Kumbaya. So the lyrics are visceral, matter-of-fact, and at times confrontational. I see them as realistic in our collective upset—but, divided by the hope and enthusiasm of us pulling together to evolve to a better reality than this. I want this evolution.
MT: I love this message. Who is in the band and involved in the project?
CS: Truly marvelous people: I’ll start with bassist Edgar Pagán because this project is partly the result of many discussions we’ve shared on the state of the world, the state of the arts, the state of social wellness and spirit… Working with Edgar led to me wanting the project to be catchy-funky-rock with an edge. So, at his suggestion, I called Byron [Cage] to play the drums. When he’s on the mix he plays like a tank that can fly. And that feels good. Simeon Flick is on lead guitar. Simeon is a musical partner of mine for many years in San Diego, California. Heather Kubacki from the Quatro is helping us out in the vocal department. We recorded the drums and bass at Subcat with Ron Keck. Simeon recorded lead guitar in his Blue Chair Studio. I compiled all of that and recorded and mixed the rest at my studio.
As far as the videos go, we have quite a crew to thank. Heather Kubacki, Paula Pickreign, Juan Junco, Sandy Roe, and myself have been largely responsible for the production of four videos – one to accompany each tune. Everybody’s been so great to work with—even with the hassles of Covid limitations as an actual prohibitive element of the process. I owe much gratitude to Bill & Maureen Kaljeskie, Kenny Labenski, John Thomas, Allison Flick, Will Kaljeskie, Chuck Handley, Randy Tennant, Wayne Wager, Jr., Even Tennant, Jean Lostumbo, Andrew Houghtailing, the nice neighbors across the hall… and of course, you, Misse, for your cool cameo video appearance; and for your help in general.
MT: You’ve got quite the army behind this project. Give us some insight into the message behind each song.
CS: Ever watch the news and find yourself in disbelief that “this” is what it is? …that this is where we’re at? …that this who we are? “Climb” is about wanting to evolve to something bigger, better than this. It’s a chin-up, don’t give up kind of song. There comes a point when people have had enough and just draw a line and change their deal. They accept their freedom. I think our society is doing that now.
“Rise Up!” is a song I wrote after reading a bit by Martin Luther King, Jr., where he stated that, “a man can’t ride your back unless it’s bent.” That bit changed things in me from that moment on. So, I wrote the song as a song of strength for all people climbing through our evolution as a species. A “power of love” song. A song of respect for all, and for respect of self.
“Justice” is a song about things that truly piss me off. Like… If we keep showing violence and taking advantage of others on TV, so-to-speak, then this is what we are teaching to each other and to our children. Duh. I don’t want to censor anything, but is this really the best stuff we can think of showing and watching? I LOVE that we can have the freedom to show things. It bothers me a lot that this is what my species wants from TV and stuff. Personally speaking, the issue is a matter of balance and it shows in the way we value things. We still have hate. We still have violence. We are ill with desensitization. We are lost with no return in a society that we’ve so skillfully and intelligently complicated.
Seems to me that if we all spent more time dancing together in music we wouldn’t have nearly as much time for fighting, let alone be in the mood for it. Call me naive, but this is the best plan I’ve ever heard. Music is the answer for world peace since it is the only thing we can truly share without limitations. And we can share it joyously. We should start there-with this idea-and build.
“The Big Idea” is basically… how we get it done. MLK had a dream. I share that dream. I also have an idea. Here’s my idea (the song is the “how-to” manual). As a collective planet of people we take the exact same 5 minutes together, look up to the sky, and just stop everything so that we can just exist peacefully as people for 5 minutes. In these five minutes we can all take a break from being men or women, Republicans or Muslims, Mets fans or teenagers, supervisors, or students….. we drop all the titles and just be a buncha people sharing life. Each other is the most valuable thing we have. With all the money and compound intelligence and power in the world, I think we’re a bunch of idiots for not having figured out how to do this yet. I hope this song helps.
MT: It seems like it should be more simple, doesn’t it? What else out there influences you?
CS: What influences me? I think the idea of power is fucked-up and stupid. That’s what. I read a quote a little while back that asked: “Isn’t it awkward to want a power that summons others to bow to you…?” and I thought, “Wow, exactly!” I personally don’t seek that kind of power and it seems silly to me when people do.— when they take pride in their assets instead of each other. The kind of power that does make sense and does good things is power in the form of self-control. Exercising self-control is true power. Exercising control over others is simply narcissism. Again, my world is ill with these sorts of narcissisms. I just want to do my part in trying to make things better. To evolve. I want to talk about it. I have ideas to bring to the table. And the way to make anything happen is to start. So, I guess this represents my effort toward the evolution I hope for.
MT: I can get behind this effort. What do you hope listeners take away?
CS: The power to live peacefully and happily. That with love and music —WE are the solution. Get out of your chair, quit bitching and do something good. It works.
MT: Do something good. That can truly cure so much. Help others and you help yourself. I’ve always believed art and music are the best therapy. How did the pandemic affect this album?
CS: I’m the person who looks at this sort of chaos and somehow settles into a comfort for knowing what to do. We don’t gig so much these days, right? It gave me time to write and record. I’ve been in the studio ever since the Covid hit. I have several projects going at the moment and to say I got busy is an understatement. The situation of Covid against the concept of the album being made in a “collective” manner offered a process that fostered a slightly new way of doing an album for me. We recorded Byron Cage and Edgar Pagán on drums and bass at Subcat. I recorded my guitar and vocals at my studio, while Simeon Flick recorded his parts on the west coast in his studio. I compiled the tracks in my studio and mixed the album here. I sent it back to Ron Keck at Subcat for mastering.
From the video production perspective, the pandemic has railroaded a few of our plans and ideas,—requiring a lot of patience, but, this is the gig. I’m managing over 20 people on the project remotely. We just press on. I’ve always preferred to be the tortoise over the hare, so-to-speak, anyway. This whole thing has been an act of making lemonade.
The official release of Love Letters and the “Climb” video is December 27.
Chuck Schiele of The Grams
Winners of the 2006 & 2007 San Diego Music Awards
Reviewed by Dr. Yobb
This is one guy who makes me proud to be living in San Diego. Chuck Schiele’s music reminds me of how good music used to sound, greats like Dire Straits would be big fans of Chuck Schiele. His music is textural and atmospheric while still being catchy and enjoyable. The use of violins and slow melodies brings an air of relaxation, while still rocking out. His accomplishments throughout his career are a real inspiration and sign of the many possibilities available to those who work hard in San Diego.
Hailing from Ocean Beach, Chuck has been a huge part in bring local music into the spotlight. With Beach Music Mafia, Chuck’s own promotion and event organization group, he has helped to bring into focus the wealth of talent within San Diego. Chuck also opened his own full service recording studio in 2005, Studiob-92107 and continues to be a leader and inspiration to musicians and fans alike. His now defunct band The Grams were winners of the 2006 & 2007 San Diego Music Awards. Their sound is a mix of genre bending blues, soul, funk, flamenco and rock that really just makes me want to dance! They are a group of great musicians, with signs of their talent pouring through the sounds. I’m really glad I found their music and am looking forward to hearing more things from Chuck Schiele. If you’re in town be sure to look him up and be sure to see him live!
GUITAR 9 Review
Excellent Guitar Work Supports Rock/Pop Release
Chuck Schiele has gotten plenty of critical praise for his songwriting, his lyrics and his message. But you probably wouldn’t be reading about his CD, Chuck Schiele & The Mysterious Ways, here unless there was something happening instrumentally, specifically with his guitar. Schiele, out of San Diego, is also a talented six stringer, as his previous contribution to the instrumental project compilation “Enough Talk” demonstrated. Flowing fingerpicking, rhythmically inviting acoustic work and luscious electric guitar lines support his introspective songwriting, and the man has the mettle to include four wonderful instrumental tracks on what is essentially a pop/rock offering - how rare is that? Guitar fans will check out the instrumentals “The Great Big Ballad Of Tommy Leggett”, “Celestial”, “Dorothy” and “Three Kings” before perusing the profound messages found in songs such as “Dig” and “Poor Little Rich Girl”. A plateau breaking album.
Chuck’s career began with a group called The And, a four piece “kill ‘em and eat ‘em” guitar rock band. As he puts it, “I’m most comfortable in guitar bands.” They had a nice run for about seven years playing San Diego and Los Angeles venues. After that group, Chuck started Modern Peasants, which went on to receive solid critical acclaim, regionally. They enjoyed the better part of four years playing San Diego and Los Angeles venues. This group took the guitar band idea and added classical violin and afro-percussion into the mix. Both experiences brought successes for airplay, endless gigging, sharing bills with national touring acts, recording and favorable review. The Mysterious Ways began when Chuck began writing the “mysterious” project at the turn of 2000. By October of the same year they began recording at PHPromusic, under the encouragement of the Melissa Hague Talent Agency.
Currently, Schiele is promoting his latest CD, while undertaking a new project referred to as the “Gandhi Method”, a modern sounding three part vocal and acoustic guitar project with the much revered San Diego producer/artist Sven-Erik Seaholm, and Scott Wilson, another extremely talented singer-songwriter.
A banner day for OB musician Chuck Schiele
Bart Mendoza | San Diego Community News Group | March 4, 2009
While musicians are often the first to contribute whenever a community or individual needs help — from fundraisers and benefit concerts to education — it’s rare for them to receive recognition for their contributions.
This year, a one-time program in the Peninsula area will place the spotlight firmly on the area’s music makers.
Beginning in late May, a series of 48 banners, featuring the likeness of deserving musicians from the Peninsula area, will go up along Rosecrans Boulevard in the Point Loma Village.
Sponsored by the Point Loma Association (PLA), the event will tie-in to the annual San Diego County Fair, opening June 12, which this year features a motif of “Music Mania.”
“Each year the fair has a theme, such as last year’s, which was athletes. We like to use the occasion to celebrate local residents who have risen to prominence in their field,” said PLA chair Bill Klees.
The banners feature portraits that are shot specifically for the musician, so a sitting is required. While the lineup was still being confirmed at press time, at least one Ocean Beach artist has already been named — Chuck Schiele.
Best known as a frontman for the group, the Grams, and a multiple San Diego Music Awards winner, Schiele has also produced numerous local performers at his StudiOB recording studio, including John Miller and Podunk Nowhere.
Perhaps more importantly, Schiele is also heavily involved in the community, helping with everything from fund raisers to the annual Ocean Beach Christmas Parade.
Denny Knox, executive director of the Ocean Beach MainStreet Association (OBMA), nominated Schiele for banner recognition. Knox said Schiele was a unanimous choice among board members.
“His was the first name that came up and everyone was in instant agreement,” Knox said. “He’s given so much of his time and done so much for the community that there was no dissension at all.
“(Schiele) is such a good musician; we’re all really excited that this honor is going to him,” she said.
Schiele jokingly considers the accolade to be well-timed.
“I’m glad I got it when I was too old to be egotistical,” he said.
He admits to being surprised when informed of the honor, but he said he’s thrilled.
“It’s wonderful to know that somebody notices the good you do,” Schiele said. “When you sit down and write a song, you might think, ‘Maybe someday, I’ll be on the cover of Rolling Stone or might get to do a cool show.’
“But something like this is beyond all that. To have your community give you a nod, let alone put your face on a banner as a representation of good things in the community, makes me appreciate where I live even more,” he said.
The Grams dish up fresh CD with "˜Love Factory'
Bart Mendoza | San Diego Community News Group | April 24, 2008
There is likely no harder-working musician in Ocean Beach than Chuck Schiele. A tireless music supporter, he wears multiple hats, including those of producer, promoter, songwriter and graphics designer. However, his first love is his work as a producer, and it's here where he truly shines.
While he's played in numerous combos and variations over the years, it's with Americana-based trio The Grams that he's made the biggest splash. This month, the group releases its second album, "Love Factory," with an update on their twin guitars and violin sound. The group will be promoting the CD with a series of shows, including an appearance at ArtWalk on Saturday, April 26.
Though the group has been tagged as Americana, Schiele doesn't feel restrained by genre labels.
"Americana's cool. We proudly contain elements of Americana, acoustic rock and world music, but I just do it and let be what it is," he said. "I never let someone else's tag define what I'm doing, let alone restrain it. If anything, we're satisfied that people are taking notice, trying to figure out what exactly we are."
The Grams took home trophies from the San Diego Music Awards in 2006 and 2007 for Best Americana Group, but Schiele doesn't feel any pressure for the new album.
"Although we are delighted with the accolades, we're just playing music," he said. "The point is the music, not the prize."
"Love Factory" also has eye-catching stylized graphics, all part of a theme devised by Schiele.
"The whole thing is in regard to the concept of "˜Love.' Big word for four letters," Schiele said. "There are a lot of kinds of love, and we address this in the CD. [Love] is simple, it is complicated. It is safe and it can be dangerous. It can be intoxicating, it can be sobering. It can be both a commodity as well as a currency. We just did everything according to the inspiration of our concept."
Unlike their debut CD, "Love Factory" was recorded at Schiele's own StudiOB facilities.
"We had the luxury of doing whatever we wanted with no outside influence or distractions," Schiele said. "Our only rule was to record only at the moment of having fun and being really into it. We didn't have to hurry so much because of appointments and budget concerns."
Schiele also cites the band's natural progression as a big difference in the sound between their two discs.
"Our first CD was pretty much a documentation of what we knew at the time, pulling songs together so we could start a band and get going. Like a fancy demo," Schiele said. "Now that we are comfortable with our bit, we wanted to write toward an artistic mission, as opposed to simply documenting what we had so far."
Schiele acknowledges that having a violin as a lead instrument presents challenges when it comes to the public's perception of the group.
But he said he also likes going against the grain when it comes to musical expectations.
"We like the challenge of doing something irreverent because we're not really interested in going with the musical flow," Schiele said. "I've been arranging and mixing violins into my music for about 14 years now on a regular basis, so I'm very comfortable there. Stylistically, there is sometimes the challenge of making it sound more like violin than a fiddle, but we've got that trick down pretty good now, too."
Though "Love Factory" has barely hit the airwaves, plans are already well under way for its follow up.
"This next one is designed to have a little fun breaking our very own paradigm. We're known for "˜this' but very confident about trying a little bit of "˜that,'" he said.
The Grams perform at ArtWalk in Downtown's Little Italy, Date Street and India Street, on Saturday, April 26 at 4 p.m. The show is open to all ages. For more information, visit www.myspace.com/chuckschiele.