Interview: Mike LeDonne of punk band Chaser

Photo: Chelsea Garwacki

LOS ANGELES, May 12, 2014 —  Chaser is a punk band from Orange County, California. The band formed in 2000 while the members were still in high school in the year 2000. The band’s first release, In Control, came in 2003. In 2005, Chaser was signed to Felony Records. Chaser has a total of three full-length records. While the band broke up in 2012, Chaser released their recordings from the early days of the band, called Garage Years, in 2013. At the end of April, Chaser played a secret show in Long Beach, California, which sparked rumors of a Chaser reunion. Wells On Music spoke with Chaser singer Mike LeDonne regarding punk rock finding him, the rise and fall of Chaser, as well as the future of the band, including more shows and possibly a new record.

Scroll below video to read the interview.

Kevin Wells: What bands first got you into punk music?

Mike LeDonne: I was turned on to punk when I was handed a copy of Punk-O-Rama 3 and Nitro’s Go Ahead Punk, Make My Day. Funny enough, it was actually given to me by a guy named Tyler Farr, who crazy enough you know. That kind of blew my mind how we know the same people. Small world.

KW: Yeah, small world indeed.

ML: So, this was back in, I would say, probably seventh grade. Those CDs just totally changed my life. You know, the bands on Nitro at the time [were] old school AFI, Vandals, all the bands on Epitaph, Jughead’s Revenge, and bands like that just totally blew me away. It was like nothing I had ever heard at that time. I was hooked. I just followed the Epitaph bands roster, the Fat Wreck Chords roster, and life just changed from that point on. Punk music became a huge staple in my life.

READ ALSO: Interview: Bill Stevenson of Descendents, All and Only Crime

KW: Did you play any instruments as a kid?

ML: I played piano when I was younger. Piano’s a cool instrument because it’s kind of like the foundation of all instruments. You can kind of translate the basic stuff from piano to a multitude of other instruments. I wasn’t too involved in piano. I took lessons when I was younger. Once I started listening to punk rock music, I desperately wanted to learn how to play those songs. That’s when I started to pick up the guitar and taught myself, played by ear, learned a few power chords. Punk rock’s not the hardest music to learn how to play, so I picked it up pretty easily. That’s kind of where it started. I think I was a sophomore in high school when I got my first guitar and just went from there.

KW: How did Chaser form?

ML: So, Chaser started around the very same time because, like I said, punk music just became such a huge part of my life. I wanted to create that type of music myself. I started by playing a bunch of cover songs, you know, learn how to play the songs that were my favorite songs to listen to. At that point, I got talking to a guy named Josh Millican, who was one of my best friends. I’ve known him since kindergarten. He happened to be in the marching band. He played the bass drum in the marching band at Laguna Hills High School. It turned out he just got a drum kit of his own. We just got to talking. Hey, man, you wanna get together some time? I got a guitar. I heard you got a new drum kit. We were both brand new to our instruments, so it didn’t sound amazing. We just started playing cover songs. We played Offspring songs, Green Day and NoFX songs. We did a bunch of covers and from there, we were able to gradually write our own music. The infancy of Chaser was just getting together in our drummer’s garage and playing cover songs and eventually writing our own.

KW: How long did it take you to play your first show after getting together?

ML: Pretty quick, actually. I think we had three original songs, and then we played two covers. We played an old AFI song, He Who Laughs Last, and we played You Are the Government by Bad Religion. It was rad. It was in The Pit, well, it’s called the pit at our high school. It’s like the quad area, basically. I’d say it was probably about three months after we officially formed. I’ve seen video of the show recently and pictures of that performance, it’s pretty hilarious, but it’s cool, man. That’s punk rock. That’s where it all started.

READ ALSO: Interview: Russ Rankin of Good Riddance and Only Crime

KW: What was your favorite show or tour?

ML: I’d say my favorite would probably have to be our European tour we did with Good Riddance in 2006 because Good Riddance is one of my top five favorite bands. I’ve been listening to them since I started listening to punk rock. They’re just a huge influence on my personal writing style and Chaser, in general. To be able to get the opportunity to tour with them in Europe, travel on the same bus with them and party with them every night, that was my favorite tour. Those experiences are lifelong memories I will always have.

KW: Why did Chaser break up?

ML: We started in the year 2000 and we were pretty much active the whole way through. The whole 12 years of our life span we were a really active band. We really put all our eggs in one basket to make the band work. We put jobs on the side. We put starting families and being mature adults on the side, you know, just life in general. We kind of put that all by the wayside to make the band work. For good number of years, especially ’06 to 2011, we were touring pretty steadily and we were really busy with the band. It was just our main focus in life at the time.

It just got to the point where towards the end, it became really hard to do. We’re all getting older. We’re in our late 20s, pushing 30. We all came to an agreement that it’s probably time to focus on other aspects, other avenues of our lives that we had to put on hold to make the band work. It was just an organic, natural feeling and natural thing because things were slowing down. Show attendance was getting less and less. Record sales online were getting less. It was just an overall feeling that it was time to throw in the towel and give it a rest.

At the time, it was an official breakup. We had a great run. We loved it. I’d like to say we loved every minute of it, but you know how that goes. The business side of it kind of takes over sometimes and that part’s no fun. We did everything we could to make it work and it was just an organic, natural end to it all.

READ ALSO: Interview: SoCal punk band Strike Twelve

KW: Was there a creative void in your life left by Chaser?

ML: Yeah, I loved performing. That was my favorite thing, being on stage with my best friends, playing music, seeing our fans and friends in the crowd and seeing them rock out and sing our lyrics, just the energy from being on stage. That was my favorite thing. That, I definitely missed. Writing music, as well, because that was such a huge part of my life, being the main songwriter. It’s hard to just put that all away, but, like I said, life kind of took over at that point.

We all became busy in other areas and aspects of our life. It kind of, I guess, took the focus away from missing the band. In the last year, we all kind of expressed that we missed it altogether. That’s how we started talking about maybe trying to get things back together, you know, slowly get the ball rolling again and possibly start playing again. [If nothing else] have some practices and have some beers with each other and have fun. So, that’s how it all came together, us missing playing music together.

KW: Chaser played a secret show at the end of April. Are there more shows planned yet?

ML: That show was kind of just a way for us to test the water to see if we could even physically make it happen, to see if we had the same chemistry, to see if we still knew how to play our instruments, if the crowd would still engage with us. We wanted to keep that show a secret. We didn’t announce it or promote it because we know how it would end up turning out. We didn’t know if we still had fan base or if we could still pull it off on stage. It’s been over two years since we last played, but from that [secret] show, we had such a blast. The chemistry was there. The energy was just through the roof even though it was a small show. We just had so much fun with it and we all realized how much we missed playing that now, yeah, we are starting to talk about doing an official reunion show and [possibly] doing a full comeback.

KW: Are you working on any new music, perhaps an EP?

ML: Yeah, like you were saying about filling the void, when the band was broken up, I still wrote, not knowing if it was ever going to see the light of day because I didn’t know if the band would ever get back together. I still have probably six to eight songs I have written, just in case we ever did get back together. So, yeah, there is the potential for new material. I’ve been talking to Felony Ron [McIntyre] of Felony Records for a little bit and hopefully we can get something going in the future as far as a new Chaser project. Definitely.

READ ALSO: Interview: Felony Records founder Ron McIntyre

KW: Did you ever contemplate doing the solo acoustic thing?

ML: I did think about it. I went out and got myself a new acoustic electric. That’s how much I missed playing live music. I was like, if we’re not going to get together as a band, maybe I can do it myself and do what every other front man of every other punk band does and do a solo act. I was just about to book some shows and play some acoustic shows. That was the same time when I got together with several members of Chaser and we said, let’s try to make it happen. Let’s start with that little secret gig that we did and we’ll go from there. I still may in the future. Depending on how many shows we play with Chaser and how active we are, I still might end up doing some solo stuff, but the full band live, I think, is the most fun you can have on stage.

KW: Is there anything else you would like people to know about you or the band?

ML: I’d like everybody to keep following us on Facebook. Look for our posts. Facebook is kind of rough these days because with the pages, they limit the amount of posts that are seen or the reach of them. It’s kind of hard to post things now because it only reaches a limited amount of people. So, just check our page because there is a good chance we will be doing some reunion shows. We’re not gonna be as active as we once were because we all have other things going on in life now, but the goal is to play every three months, if not every other month, to kind of spread ourselves out a little bit. That way we’re not wearing out our fans and have them come to shows every weekend, you know, like how it used to be, and make each show really special and really big, as big as possible.

Go to local shows. Support all local bands out there. There are a handful of really good bands, if I can name a few; Lowbrow, DC Fallout, Strike Twelve, bands like that that really deserve a lot more attention and credit than they get. Support the local scene.

Kevin J. Wells is the Sports Editor for Communities Digital News. He also writes about Major League Baseball, punk rock music and food. Kevin plays guitar in the Los Angeles punk band Emmer Effer. Follow him on Twitter @WellsOnBaseball

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