Andy Pastalaniec’s ‘Chime School’ rises from pandemic ashes

‘The thing about pop music is, it can be an escape. But there’s also melancholy in chime-y harmonies’

For years, San Francisco-based drummer Andy Pastalaniec was happy to keep time behind the scenes for several alt-rock outfits, including Seablite, Cruel Summer and Pink Films, now known as Odd Hope. But like many semi-anonymous artists who harbor spotlight dreams, what he really wanted to do was direct. It wasn’t until the pandemic that Pastalaniec stepped out of the shadows into the Rickenbacker-cascading, one-man band project he calls Chime School. His eponymous debut album for chic local indie Slumberland Records arrives Nov. 5. It’s been well worth the wait.

Like most practiced percussionists, Pastalaniec, 37, can create a perfect beat behind a multitude of musical styles, which guaranteed him regular band gigs. The two musical eras he’s long preferred are the Byrds-jangly ’60s and the more propulsive, post-punk ’80s, and he dreamed of one day of merging the sounds. He never raised the topic with his various bandmates, but he didn’t exactly remain silent either.

“In those earlier groups I was in, when it was time to record, I would always say, ‘Hey, we should mix it like this!’ I was pretty collaborative when it came to how stuff was mixed or sequenced on an album,” he says. “Jokes about drummers aside, we kind of have a big impact on the way that things sound.”

Ironically, time after time, just as his production talents were acknowledged and he gained confidence, his band would break up, leaving Pastalaniec to face a cold, hard fact: “You can’t really do a recording if you’re only playing drums.” Frustrated, he wanted to seize control of his musical destiny, but was unsure how. He talked about it so openly at home that his girlfriend bought him a four-track Portastudio for Christmas in 2017. He had no more excuses — he had to start from scratch and actually learn how to compose a song.

It took Pastalaniec a while — and countless fumbling attempts — to craft the 10 carillon-ringing, paisley-pop anthems on “Chime School,” and even longer to learn how to properly record them. At first, he was obsessed with the studio techniques used on some of his favorite vintage albums, but in attempting to research them he hit another roadblock. “Because what you quickly find out is that the technology now is so different that what worked then doesn’t really work now,” says the newly-minted multi-instrumentalist, who wanted to focus on a Roger McGuinn/Tom Petty-styled 12-string Rickenbacker. “But now, you can do things that you couldn’t do back then, like the way you can layer multiple guitars to get a certain sound.”

Once the auteur figured out the sonic identity he wanted, he set about trying to achieve it, utilizing studio tips from former bandmates and initially tracking everything — including his own live drumming — to warm analog tape. Then his approach changed course. He couldn’t resist the allure of computer recording, and eventually transferred his sessions to digital as well as most of his percussion parts.

“There are only two songs on the record that have actual drums — the rest is all drum machines,” he says. “And there was just something about programming drums as a drummer that felt really organic, because I’ll program a fake, sampled drum machine as if I was actually playing it, and it comes out sounding like it’s a live drummer.”

Pastalaniec’s originals, warbled in a dreamy reverb-miked wheeze — like “Dead Saturdays,” “Radical Leisure,” “Wait Your Turn” and “Calling in Sick” — seem to focus on time, or the relative brevity of it, but he swears almost all of the numbers were all penned pre-pandemic. Like most San Franciscans, he can’t forget the moment in 2020 when forest fire ashes turned local daytime skies a bleak “Total Recall” red.

“There was a lot of collective trauma last year, and it all seemed to culminate for me and a lot of people on that one day, where I was just like, ‘How much worse can things get?’ But there’s one song that I finished writing lyrics for during the pandemic — ‘Gone Too Fast,’ and it’s about that summer where everything was on fire.”

When lockdown kicked in, the Chime School project took off in earnest, during down time from Pastalaniec’s day job at The City’s Department of Elections. He prescribes it as the perfect pandemic panacea.

“The thing about pop music is, it can be an escape,” he says. “But there’s also some melancholy in those chime-y harmonies, too. And all the classic pop music that I like — whether it’s classic Byrds or bands like The Pastels — has that happy/melancholy combination, too.”

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