Music is a circular conversation. As much as we tell ourselves what is in the past is done and there is only looking forward, music that makes moves within popular and underground music is made to instigate the youth at its essence.
As we grow, those records that made our imaginations erupt remain calcified within us and are bound to inspire those with the curiosity to dig further into the crates. So chances are, you might come downstairs one night to find mom and dad rolling on the couch, rolling numbers, rock and rolling, with your IDLES records out. Rest assured, they’re alright. They just seem a little weird. And that’s only a good thing.
Launching this week, the brand new label We Are Time from legendary musician Chandra Oppenheim and Toronto-based writer and musician Jesse Locke understands this conversation. The label sees collaborations between young and old artists as something that should be encouraged as there is as much to gain from the past as there is from younger generations blazing ahead.
The daughter of famed conceptual artist Dennis Oppenheim, Chandra dove headfirst into the Lower East Side art-punk and no wave scene of the early ‘80s fronting her own band Chandra at just 10-years-old with members of Model Citizens (later known as The Dance) as her backing band. The band had two self-releases known as the Transportation EPs that were recently released as a deluxe reissue by Telephone Explosion in 2018 to great excitement and admiration by both collectors and new fans alike. People could finally own the original recordings of the lost Chandra tune “Subways” that was sampled on the Avalanches comeback record, Wildflower.
Developing from a new sense of creative rebirth, Oppenheim eventually linked up with Locke through a mutual friend to work on releasing more music with a new Chandra band with Toronto-based musicians. With Locke on drums, the group toured all over with bookings at some of the biggest festivals and even recorded a live 7” at Third Man Records. It looked like things were only looking up for the band up until the rug was pulled out from under the world.
“For me, I felt like we were on a real roll at the end of 2019,” Locke explained in a Zoom call. “Things were starting to happen and we were getting all of these offers for gigs. We were supposed to tour the southern U.S. with Pylon in 2020, which would have been a totally amazing experience but COVID put a stop to all of that.”
“Chandra has had her own label for a while now, Rain Boots Records. We tossed around the idea of me doing an imprint of that label or us starting a new label together. Those talks started a little bit before COVID, but we got the wheels moving with all of this time on our hands,” said Locke.
To mark the launch of the label, We Are Time will be releasing a limited edition eight-song cassette sampler aptly titled Chandra Mixtape Vol. 1 this week as a part of the wildly successful Bandcamp Fridays. Included on this new mixtape will be tracks from various projects by members of the Chandra band including the infectious dance music of New Chance; the bright and shimmering power-pop of Motorists; the dripping bravado of Blonde Elvis; the odd-ball duo Body Break; and the debut of Chandra’s new project with electronic producer Nyles Miszczyk, GNDN. The new track “You’re Over There” is a transfixing debut that shapeshifts from a slow dub-infused intro to synth propelled post-punk.
This new side-project between Oppenheim and Miszczyk started as many side-projects do: with conversations over long hours touring together in a van. Oppenheim spent the majority of last year homeschooling her then 12-year-old daughter and made a promise to take her on a long globe-trotting trip. Their last stop was Toronto to work on some music with Miszczyk in his recording studio.
“The original idea was that they were going to be her songs and that he was going to produce a couple of songs that she wrote,” Oppenheim explained. “But when we got there she was feeling a little skittish about doing that so then I brought in some old lyrics from the ‘80s and sat in the studio with Nyles for a couple of days. So we have few songs in the work from that and then I went back a few times to continue that process. The goal eventually, will be to have an album.”
As the two started devising a plan for We Are Time, they landed on a focus that would guide them through their first releases. They wanted to release, as Locke, who also plays drums in Motorists puts it, “contemporary music made by people of different generations.” But to Oppenheim, this focus for these early releases is only the first splash. There’s no telling how far the ripples will stretch.
“I think we realized that was part of it but just because that was inherent within the Chandra band, the project that Jesse and I already have had for a few years,” said Oppenheim from her home in Portland, Maine. “So it makes sense that that would follow through into the label in terms of the intergenerational aspect. But also it was simply there is music out there that we know love and we want to support it being out there in the world. It’s an intuitive approach and it’s serendipity, too. When the timing is right and the project is right, we know it and what we want to lift it up and get it out there. It’s starting out, which makes sense, where it’s all in the family within the band. But after our first year of releases we want to expand the circle.”
Also included on the mixtape are two remixes from Down 2 Earth and All Energy Must Continue Upwards, the electronic producing alias of the prolific Saturday Looks Good to Me songwriter Fred Thomas. The Detroit hero has been a fan of Oppenheim for some time, remixing the Chandra band “Shut In / Shut Out” in 2020 and even name checking her in his own 2018 song “House Show, Late December.”
“Clusters of cables on card tables, IPod DJ standing in the corner,” he sings describing the ideal DIY playlist, “playing the best tracks. Chandra, The Make Up and Silk Flowers.”
For Oppenheim and Locke, the admiration goes both ways and they view Detroit as the band’s sister city.
“We loved having Fred doing the remixes,” said Oppenheim. “Even though I haven’t spent much time with Fred, I feel like we have a musical connection. A kindred spirit kind of thing, which I told him about one night. I feel that way, and I think he would feel that way which would explain why we keep collaborating on things. I have songs that are in the ‘notebook stage’ that are either influenced by him or referencing him in some way.”
The name of the label, We Are Time, comes from a song title by the Pop Group’s 1979 magnum opus, Y. The song is a call to action against aging with the immortal call to arms: “We’ll break the speed of change. We’ll tame eternity.” Although Oppenheim and Locke did not speak with the band’s vocalist Mark Stewart directly, their request to use the title for their name was passed along through management until they received their blessing. But with that song and the ethos of the label strongly rooted in breaking the shackles of age, are there any plans to work with Stewart or the Pop Group for a release?
“That would be a dream,” said Locke. “They are one of my all-time favorite bands. The album Y, since I was in my early 20s, has been one of my favorite albums.”
As for the foreseeable future of We Are Time, Locke and Oppenheim say there are currently three different full-length albums in the works from artists within the Chandra sphere in 2021. Then in 2022, the label will release four full-length LPs to coincide with each season.
As the way we consume music seems to be changing at an alarming and terrifying rate, Locke assures that We Are Time will be putting intense care into each release.
“There has been a lot of discussion about NFTs and digital releases,” said Locke. “I think we are trying to counter that with We Are Time. We want all of these to be physical releases that are beautifully made with extensive liner notes. Because, I really love artifacts. I have a record collection and when I pull these records off of my shelf, I remember when I bought them and where I bought them. There’s a lot of memories embedded in that makes the experience of listening very important to me. I don’t think you can get that with a digital file or a JPEG or whatever. Our promise is that all tokens will be fungible.”
Listen to an exclusive premiere of New Chance’s song, “Annie Likes Drumrolls,” down below.