Music

How Chaos Chaos’ Feminist Synthpop Ended Up On ‘Rick And Morty’

Chaos Chaos doesn’t have a career arc that you can trace from album to album. For one, the synth-pop sister act hasn’t yet released a full LP under this band name — that won’t happen until early next year. For another, their major turning points have been marked not by stylistic shifts, but by animated TV shows. “We can’t keep them away, what’s up with these cartoons?” wonders Asy Saavedra, the band’s singer and keyboardist, on the phone from Los Angeles, where she and her sister Chloe now reside. “We’re like the least likely band to be involved, that’s probably why. I think a bunch of Rick And Morty fans are confused.”

The Adult Swim cult series has done wonders for raising the band’s profile. Rick and Morty first featured Chaos Chaos’ song “Do You Feel It?” in the 2015 episode “Auto Erotic Assimilation,” and the band recently collaborated with the show’s co-creator Justin Roiland on an absurd track called “Terryfold,” which appeared in the August episode “Rest And Ricklaxation.” The song, with such erudite lyrics as “grab my Terryfold flaps” and “gonna eat those toldy folds” and album artwork that vaguely resembles a sentient scrotum, managed to debut at No. 33 on Billboard’s Hot Rock Songs.

But it was South Park that impacted Chaos Chaos first. Asy and Chloe had performed under the name Smoosh since the early 2000s. Nurtured by the Seattle music scene, the then-preteens found themselves compared to Tori Amos, making appearances on Jimmy Kimmel Live! and at Lollapalooza, and opening for such acts as Death Cab for Cutie, Pearl Jam, and Sleater-Kinney. Then South Park’s 2010 caricature of Jersey Shore’s Snooki gave the term “smoosh” an entirely new, disgusting meaning. That was an association the band couldn’t abide.

Then again, the Saavedra sisters were no longer girls, and perhaps a new identity would already have been in the works.

“We kind of accepted it,” says Asy. “We chose the new name. We kind of wanted to switch things up a bit. It was a little weird, because it’s still just us in the band. But I feel like we change up our music all the time anyways, and Chloe and I aren’t afraid to try new things.”

Musically, Chaos Chaos is light years from Smoosh. The duo took on a bigger, edgier, more electronic sound that began to reveal itself on their 2012 EP S but became fully formed by the release of their second EP, 2014’s Committed To The Crime. Asy’s voice has matured with age, nicely balancing the delicate and the powerful; in some ways, she brings to mind a more soprano version of Lorde. And if the band’s recent singles are any indication, their forthcoming album (out early 2018) will carry them even farther from their piano-pop roots and into the realm of analog synth-driven, percussive music.

The greatest evolution in Chaos Chaos, however, is the natural byproduct of growing up: The Saavedra sisters know who they are and what they believe in a way that they couldn’t possibly have done as Smoosh. In particular, they’ve come into a powerful feminist consciousness that has an impact on everything they do.

“We were just indifferent,” Chloe says of her 10-year-old self. She recalls an interview she gave in Smoosh’s heyday:

“There was somebody asking me, ‘So, are you a feminist?’ And I didn’t know what that meant at all… obviously, the way we’ve guided our lives and the agency we’ve had with our careers is by definition feminist, but we just didn’t know what that meant. So I remember just responding by saying, ‘I’m just a drummer.’”

“There’s kind of a power in that naiveté,” Asy chimes in. “I guess understanding feminism requires a recognition of sexism and understanding how that ties to you, and we didn’t even feel that at that point. We were so unaware that we had power.”

Aware or not, the Saavedra sisters have maintained an astounding degree of creative control over their career. “There were quite a few weird situations that came about where we turned down these offers from people who were like, ‘We’re gonna make you stars!’” Chloe says. “We were always just homeschooled and we never had a sense of what the mainstream was doing anyway. So we didn’t have that same infatuation that a lot of kids had with that type of thing.”

And while becoming a rock-ier version of Hannah Montana or a female Naked Brothers Band might’ve granted Smoosh a steadier dosage of fame or netted them a wider distribution deal — they’ve been self-releasing music since 2010 — Asy and Chloe find fulfillment and strength in independence and wish there were more female artists charting that path.

“I feel like there’s a weird gendered thing, where if you’re a female musician, people feel like there needs to be some entity backing you, that in order to be fully established you need to have some entity behind you,” Chloe remarks. “Whereas there are men who have been unsigned and people look at that as this position of power.”

The most recent challenge to Chaos Chaos’ feminist identity has sprung indirectly from the band’s partnership with Justin Roiland and Rick And Morty. Roiland has been a fan of their music for years and reached out several years ago.

“The email got lost in our inbox,” says Asy. “And I thought it was me who found it and replied, and I’m like holy shit, if I hadn’t found that email and replied, none of this would’ve happened. But I just went back and found the email and saw that it was Chloe who responded.”

“I did?!” Chloe responds.

“That’s not typically how it happens.”

Roiland and Asy began emailing back and forth, geeking out about specific instrumentation and the like, and then suddenly “Do You Feel It?” was playing over arguably the darkest ending of any Rick And Morty episode to date. The show’s rabid fan base, struck directly in the feels, quickly discovered that Chaos Chaos had written the song — a heartrending ballad with huge drums, reverb-laden piano, and mournful lyrics about escapist romantic desire — and flocked to the internet to listen on repeat. “Do You Feel It” has accrued more than 12 million plays on Spotify, outstripping Chaos Chaos’ other tracks by orders of magnitude, and by the looks of YouTube comments, the vast majority of those listens have come from Rick And Morty aficionados.

Now, almost two years later, the band’s association with the show has only increased. “Terryfold” is the high water mark to date, a song the Saavedra sisters love because it fits their “weird sense of humor” that isn’t expressed in their other music, and they’ve recorded more music that’s set to appear in coming episodes.

Obviously, this exposure is great for Chaos Chaos. But it’s come with the caveat that many of their newfound fans don’t necessarily share their value system. A significant portion of Rick And Morty viewership comes from Gamergate-type, misogynistic trolls who see themselves as possessing the exclusive intellect necessary to comprehend the series. They most recently made news when co-creator Dan Harmon blasted them for doxxing Rick And Morty’s female writers. And now Chaos Chaos has to deal with the fact that these folks enjoy listening to “Do You Feel It?” and “Terryfold” and, perhaps, other songs they’ve created.

“When you open yourself up to people that haven’t come to you directly, that your music has been placed in shows and stuff, you’re opening yourself up to anybody who bonds with the music, and if they’re a Trump supporter, that’s what we have to deal with,” says Asy.

“We have experienced that sometimes we do post things on social media, and whenever we do use terms — or even if we say something as simple as being a feminist — we immediately have a lot of backlash,” Chloe adds. “It’s really fucked up.”

“Not that they all suck,” Asy clarifies. “I think it’s great to have a diverse fan base with people who have different beliefs. But I wanna find ways to unite those fans and make them feel safe. But on the other hand, I also feel like I don’t owe anything to the shitty sexist guy fans who make women feel…it’s hard! You’re like, who should I feel dedicated to? Our fans or our message?”

One consequence of that struggle is that you won’t find much explicit feminism in Chaos Chaos’ music. They’re more concerned with emotive storytelling and tone. For instance, Asy was able to program a variety of icy, sharp synthesizer sounds that characterize the singles Chaos Chaos have released thus far from their upcoming album. “I’ve always really wanted to be like crazy guitar solo person,” she says, “But I’ve always only played keyboard. I was shooting to get all my emotions out using the sounds I could make through the analog synth. I guess I was pretty angry.”

But the ultimate goal, Asy contends, is to “trick people to being on board with your message.”

“We kind of take in these broader topics that people might not always realize they put up a wall against,” she said. “And when you kind of frame them into a thing that everybody can understand, you’re talking about love or moving and missing places you’ve lived in, things that people can accept, it somehow just feels more natural to have these other things, the feminist things.”

It remains to be seen whether Chaos Chaos will be able to have it both ways — to parlay their Rick And Morty-related fame into a hit album while simultaneously ensuring that their message is received by all their fans. But at the very least, they’ll have a platform unlike anything they’ve experienced since their Smoosh days. And this time, animated television is a catalyst for their music, not for a name change.

Around The Web

×