Expert architects of transcending boundaries, Chalk is a Belfast-based band that shot onto the post-punk scene in 2022. The trio consisting of Ross Cullen, Benedict Goddard and Luke Niblock met while studying film in college, and their cinematic, trashy and raw sound manifested.
Their first-ever gig was an impressive support slot for London heavyweights PVA in Dublin. Since then, they have embarked on a UK and Ireland tour, played The Great Escape, Electric Picnic, and are currently gearing up for their headline gig in Whelan's Dublin on the 13th of December. Releasing their first single, 'Them,' in 2022, Chalk has since unleashed a deluge of music on the world, including their latest single, 'The Gate', their first since signing to UK label Nice Swan Records (Sprints, English Teacher, Kynsy).
We caught up with Ross and Ben ahead of the release of 'The Gate', while they were playing at the renowned Other Voices' Cardigan' in Wales to talk about their beginning, inspirations, new music, and what the future has in store for them.
Meeting in 2019 while in college, Ross said they "were throwing around ideas but not taking it too seriously till 2020. We've been together for ages, but we only really existed as Chalk since the debut track came out last year."
The band met while studying film, for Ben: "The music was always an underlying thing for us in college. Then, we just continued to work together and find our sound. Covid hit, and we had all this time. This was when we decided we should give it a proper go."
Chalk has released two music videos so far, one for 'Them' and the other for 'Asking'. One stand-out feature of the band is their music videos' extremely high production and quality. The two videos released so far are black and white and feature gritty imagery that perfectly compliments the subject matter of their music.
They said on their videos, "We might have another black and white video, but we have some new music coming out in the future, and we might change things up. It sounds a bit different to what we have done before. The visuals will match and go hand in hand. They need to work in sympatico. Some songs will be more colourful, and some will be more stark and revert to the black and white theme."
The Irish post-punk scene has been thriving for the past few years, with bands hailing from Dublin becoming a colossal export. For Chalk, they often found themselves looking at the Dublin scene for inspiration. When asked about their influences, Ross said, "Starting out, obviously Gilla Band, every band can sort of quote them, and we're not shying away from the fact if they didn't exist, we probably wouldn't."
A few bands in Northern Ireland were mentioned, too, such as Autumns and the now-disbanded Girls Names. However, the electronic scene in Belfast is enormous with clubs such as the Telegraph Building at the epicentre of nightlife. Ben says, "The biggest music scene in Belfast would be the electronic music scene. It would be the scene we were more used to. We would look to Dublin to see the bands."
When dissecting Chalk's music, you can hear the obvious electronic influences from heavyweights such as Death Grips and The Prodigy. Speaking on the electronic music scene, Ross states, "With techno, we were looking at Boiler Rooms and stuff and mixes, and you get an hour mix and then getting ideas off that. There was an I Hate Models song, which was pretty cool, Cyanure Dance. It has that sort of darkwave, industrial thing going on. Then acts like Nine In Nails with that industrial vibe going on, blending them together to try to make dance music with it. That's where that industrial techno vibe and darkwave from the '80s comes in."
When Chalk released their first single in 2022, the post-punk community met it with open arms. They then continued to release consistently outstanding works. Their attention to detail when it comes to songwriting is exceptional. Take, for example, their single 'Conditions'. The title track of their EP reuses lyrics heard in earlier track 'Them'.
This adds poignancy to the lyrics and drives the message home. Ross said, "It just felt like with this EP and "Conditions" being the title track, it would sum it all up. Even though it's an EP, it's a mini album. It was to get the message across, and it felt right. New Material is pretty close, though. There will be more heavy stuff and more dance stuff. Now, we're more of a live-playing band. The new material has been made for sets."
Chalk has built up an impressive artistic output, gaining them multiple awards, including, most recently, the Joe Cassidy Chrysalis Award and the Live Act of the Year Award at the NI Music Prize Awards. Chalk's live shows genuinely are spectacular, and even though they are relatively new to the live side, they have total command over the stage.
Ben says, "We were never a gigging band because of Covid. We never learned on stage. We learned in rehearsal rooms for two or three years, so we never learned our craft that way when the first song came out. We didn't get much of a learning period. Six or Seven shows in, we were playing to big enough crowds, and they were important gigs. Now we're in our stride and gotten into a good groove. We're enjoying it now, but it was initially terrifying."
The band have been touring for the past few months and has hit the ground running with tremendous performances already under their belt. Speaking on their live set-up, Ross says, "We're a three-piece, but it doesn't limit us when we write; we write with as big a sound as possible in mind, it's the job of what five should be doing on stage, we have made it work with three.
"Ben has his sampler, and he has plenty of sounds on his guitar, Luke his drums, and I've got my vocal pedals. We're happy with how it sounds for now, but for our headline sets, we want it more like a DJ set where we don't want any breaks, no silence. Any textures or interludes are planned and written specifically for a set."
Speaking on their upcoming headliner in Whelan's, they say, "Our Dublin show, which we're going to be playing in December, we're writing new music for that, and a whole new show flipped on its side cause we have been playing more or less the same set for the last eight months."
Limited tickets for their Dublin headline on the 13th of December in Whelan's with support from YARD are available here