Now near-legendary in indie-rock circles, Chavez managed to fly well under the radar during their all-too-brief existence.
Formed in NYC in 1993, Chavez’s oddball appeal has perhaps been best captured by, of all things, a YouTube comment:
Chavez are quite possibly the only band to reside at the intersection of Van Halen and Slint.
Yes, underneath all the dissonance and meandering structures lie bona-fide, straight-up-classic rock songs.
Taken from their 1995 debut album Gone Glimmering, Wakeman’s Air is a less obvious choice than, say, Break Up Your Band (which earned a coveted appearance on Beavis & Butthead); but it’s the more interesting of the two to play and better highlights their gift for intricacy and dynamics.
Chavez themselves ultimately broke up in the late 90s, with each member pursuing successful careers in and out of music (Clay Tarver provides a second Mike Judge link by going on to show-run and write for the HBO series Silicon Valley). They reconvened briefly in 2017 to release an EP, Cockfighters.
Like all the best guitar bands, one of the keys to Chavez’s sound lies in having two distinct guitar parts weaving around each other. But solo bedroom guitarists needn’t worry; you can get the job done with just the C-tuned guitar.
That’s right: the other key to Chavez is having a wildly de-tuned 6th string. In this case while one guitar is tuned to E standard, the other is standard except for the low E, which is tuned down to C.
Tuning aside, the sounds are pretty much in classic Gibson and Marshall territory. Tarver favoured a gold-top Les Paul with P90 “soap bar” pickups, into what looks like a Marshall JCM. I’ve seen the other guy, Matt Sweeney, using Les Pauls, SGs, and 335s into what I assume is an original, Russian-made Sovtek MIG 50. Some sources report him using an MXR Distortion+ with Chavez, and he’s recently on record extolling the virtues of flat-wound strings and fingerpicking.
If you’re playing this solo, the C-tuned guitar on the top stave is where you want to focus your attention:
There’s a big dynamic shift as we head into the verse. Turn off the distortion and gently pick this pattern:
Then an interlude, which for performing with one guitar is possible with hybrid picking
And then back to a slight variant of the first section. If playing on your own, you might want to switch to the bottom stave.
The right-side guitar hammers an A♭at the 8th fret of the C string, while the left side keeps up the verse pattern. This is where those playing solo may want to get more creative. You can just about transpose that arpeggiated C chord up the neck, and combine it with the pedal tone on the down-tuned guitar. Alternatively, just hit that A♭.
And finally we get to deploy all that lovely extra low-end from the open C.
Now to build up the tension for another chorus. You might find the rhythms on these octaves tricky to nail — playing this section to a metronome helped me “get” where they should sit.
One last, big, dynamic change, this time to clashing variants of our arpeggiated C chords.
If you enjoyed this, the band’s two guitarists, Clay and Matt, gave a Chavez video guitar tutorial last year to promote Gone Glimmering‘s 25th anniversary. It’s a little slow, but good fun and a great insight into how Chavez’s guitar parts were composed and played.