Daemon Chili – it’s an unrecognizable name with a more-than familiar taste. While it’s a new menu item on the bill that makes up the New England music scene, a simple rearrangement of its letters reveals that it’s a dish Upstate fans have sampled before. Michael Dion has escaped the Zoo and has created himself anew. He’s rising up out of the pit and bringing the heat with him. Seasoned with attitude, aggression, electrics, and salty Pigpen-era blues, Dion’s got his latest musical concoction boiling in the cauldron. He’s hand-picked and sourced his ingredients locally, and wafting from the steam is a fresh, sophisticated, yet uncooked sound which spices up Dion’s sensible songwriting. With a new album set to release this month, this Massachusetts-based seven piece is breaking the winter dormancy. Daemon Chili is bubbling at the scene, offering up a saucy new sound Upstate fans will soon come to crave – even after the hottest of days.
There are no special orders with Daemon Chili – what you hear is what you get. And what you get stems from the true core of Dion’s songwriting. After making a difficult, yet self-respecting decision to part ways with his Hot Day at the Zoo brethren in August of 2013, Daemon Chili became Dion’s premier musical outlet. Yet it’s been stewing for some time now – originally formed as a solo-side project in March of 2012, Dion created Daemon Chili to feed his hunger for more diverse musical tastes. The burly, hoot-n-holler edge Dion brought to the Upstate roots/Americana scene was beginning to fade from Hot Day’s signature sound, and if Dion wished to stay true to himself as an artist, he needed to blaze new trails. “When I left the band [HDATZ], I was ready to turn the page and start the next chapter of my musical career,” notes Dion. “I knew that I would be going for a bigger, more aggressive sound, and as far as I’m concerned, this is the way my music was always meant to sound.”
Drawing on a select group of highly acclaimed and talented musicians, Dion unearthed his roots to get the full flavor profile he was seeking in the creation of Daemon Chili. “I went back to my college days at U-Mass Lowell where I was first exposed to great live music played by guys who had a lot of experience over me,” reflects Dion. “These guys were ripping up the Lowell music scene, and so, naturally, they became my mentors.” Specifically, there were two bands that had a profound impact on Dion in those days – the aggressive sound of rock n roll legends, Cotton Mouth and an instrumental jazz/funk quintet with, as Dion puts it, “a rhythm section straight from Hell” known as The Freelance Bishops. Together, members from these two groups make for the complex flavor that is Daemon Chili.
Cotton Mouth guitarists Jason Moretti (lead) and Tim Kochanski (rhythm) offer a taste of wild, unrestrained, nitty-gritty blues to what’s stewing in the pot, and balanced with that is the sophisticated, superior musicianship of The Freelance Bishops: Steve Benson (pedal steel/electric mandolin)/back-up bass), Jay Breen (drums), and Jeremy Parker (keys). According to Dion, the process of forming Daemon Chili happened quite naturally, yet securing a bass player proved to be a bit tricky.
The band’s latest recording showcases New Hampshire Seacoast legend Keith Foley holding it down on the low-end, but due to a recent band relocation, Matt Giannaros (Ryan Montbleau Band) has been recruited as Daemon Chili’s binding agent, effortlessly holding the band together as they compliment Dion’s songwriting in a new, murderous light. “I’m just happy to be in there somewhere, hanging on by a thread sometimes to keep up with these monsters,” attests Dion. “I am a blue collar, working-class musician who just learned how to play as I went. I hold no illusions that I would have any business on the same stage as any of these guys if I could not write music.”
And while the talent of these monsters certainly add spice, heat, and texture to the band’s sound, the heartiness is in Dion’s songwriting – old familiar tunes coupled with new tales of inspiration are the meat and taters absorbing it all. With Daemon Chili, the mixture’s just right, and it’s clear that Dion’s hit a sweet spot. In the short-time since the band’s inception, not only have they been nominated for “New Act of the Year” at the 2014 New England Music Awards, but their debut full-length album, Rise Up is set to release Saturday, March 22nd at Johnny D’s in Boston, MA with an online pre-release date of March 17th.
Only the 10-track EP is a Jackyl and Hyde of sorts. As Dion notes, “the collective band name of Daemon Chili plays on the binary opposites of good and evil, fully embracing them both” and the same can certainly be said of the tracks on Rise Up. The first five songs are Dion originals that feature members of Hot Day at the Zoo. Recorded at Wonka Studios in Lowell, MA, the tracks were originally intended to be released on South of the Storm, a HDATZ album that never saw the light of day. “Regardless of how people feel, what we [HDATZ] created during that time is something I still believe in,” expresses Dion – a sentiment that played a large role in the decision to include: “Boom Boom Boom,” “Lay Your Burden Down,” “Madman on the Loose,” “Country Girl,” and “My Song to You” on Rise Up’s final cut.
The album switches gears with the last five tunes, moving away from ironed collars and finely- tuned acoustics to electrics, aggression, and dirty-rotten blues. Recorded live at the Stone Church in Newmarket, NH on New Year’s Eve, these tracks feature the current Daemon Chili lineup (Giannaros excluded) and showcase new arrangements of old-favorites, “Gypsy Moon“ (Long Way Home) and “Boston Blues” (Zoograss), alongside fresh material. And despite the shift, if there is one thing to be said about Dion, it’s that he’s a poet. His English credentials aside, the lyrical content of his work offers a subtlety to his unapologetic nature – a spirit that is clearly emulated in the musical artistry of Daemon Chili.
“Take Sounding,” Rise Up’s single and subsequently the latest tune Dion has written, is a prime example of this sentiment. Written as a gift to the godfather of his daughter and best friend (a sailor), “Take Sounding“ is splashing with oceanic terms and imagery; nautical and mythological elements move in waves throughout, and it sails along at a relaxed pace – yet the no-bullshit tone of the rest of the album is not washed away completely. Not only is it a track that reflects Dion’s passion for songwriting, but the freshness of the material has allowed the guys of Daemon Chili to take ownership of it as well.
Another note-worthy track, “Blood Burning Moon,” is a metaphor for the shit in life – for the heaviness that brings you down, yet it offers a way to push through and traverse. While listening, one can’t help but wonder if, in the third verse, Dion’s singing about the Hot Day fellas when he sings “I’ve come into the dark at the edge of the wood… and here and now must choose… between turning my back on my brothers for good… or leave the cross-roads singing the blues.”
The creation of Daemon Chili and the release of Rise Up certainly offers a resolution to the above mentioned dilemma. Had Dion decided to retire from music completely post-Hot Day, perhaps he would have been “Another Goodman Gone” before his time; yet he’s held his course and cast away all worries and pride. “Understand, I never got into music for the money, the fame, or the thrill of the rock star lifestyle,” expresses Dion. “I write and play music because it’s what keeps blood pumping through my veins. It’s what gives me purpose and keeps me focused and driven and sane. It is quite simply what defines me.” Michael Dion is Daemon Chili. Take it or leave it Upstate; with just one taste, plenty of folks will be left licking empty bowls.
For more information on Daemon Chili, including information on how to purchase Rise Up, please visit www.daemonchili.com
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