Chain Whip may find you through an IV drip – an isolation ward hospital bed. Eyes affixed to an episode of Deadly Class as neon in the rain creeps down the Astoria Hotel marquee. Chain Whip may find you in the sound and vision of a red-lit room, with a slam-dance whirl and the tune of “Kids of the Black Hole” by The Adolescents. And looking closer, in the background of the shot, you might notice that the guitarist on screen looks an awful lot like your attending nurse, Joel. The members of Chain Whip seem to have a compulsion for storytelling. An almost journalistic impulse, that if there’s someone to witness, to feel, to hear, and to recount — that purpose can be found. Through this myth-making process, there’s a clear adherence to the maxim, “never let the truth get in the way of a good story”. Huddled together in a diner booth at Zawa on Commercial, Joel finishes his tale of career escapades, the motion of his hands shimmering and obscured through the yellowy-brown translucence of a beer pitcher.
“I saw the light go on for his room, he buzzed, and he had just a still of me on the screen, with eyeliner on and shit.” Joel says, “and then I was a pretty cool nurse for a night.”
“But then after that,” Josh interjects, “the guy died.” Laughter erupts.
Chain whip may find you, as it found me, at Punk the Vote, an event held during the 2019 federal election campaign by Joe Keithley, iconic vocalist of D.O.A. and Burnaby City Councillor for the Green Party. At the time, the band had just released their debut LP 14 Lashes, a heavy, searing take on classic 80’s hardcore, and I remember being wowed by the sheer energy of their performance – an energy the band members seem to be propelled by in their daily lives. In fact, members Joel and Patrick had remained on stage from the previous set, which was with their band Corner Boys.
Brett Thompson (Bass), Joel Butler (Guitar), Josh Nickel (Vocals), and Patrick McEachnie (Drums) recorded Christmas Demo, their first project, during Christmas in 2017, and since that point have released one LP, two EPs, and another demo. Chain Whip started as a Halloween cover band called Haunted Danger House, with another member Braden Decorby.
“I [wore] a varsity jacket, patchy stuff, I looked real dumb” says Brett of his Teen Wolf costume.
Once the band started writing original material, Braden was replaced by Joel and now serves as the recording engineer for the band.
“I watched some videos [of the band] and was like, this really does not suck.” Explains Joel
“And Braden had the opposite opinion… so now we pay Braden to listen to us.” Josh says.
Songwriting duty is shared between Brett, Joel, and Josh.
“One of my favorite parts of being in this band is when Josh brings a song in… He’ll take Joel’s guitar, play it, and give it back to Joel, and Joel just goes ‘I can’t do that’” Patrick says.
“That’s because Josh will be like ‘I want to show you this riff’, and the first thing he’ll do is solo for thirty seconds… he’ll widdly-wah for a solid thirty seconds.” Joel counters.
Josh chimes in “We’re at a point right now where I think we’re gonna drop the Chain Whip name, and it’s gonna be Josh Nickel and the Chain Whip.”
“Okay this is odd.” Says Brett.
Josh looks at his bandmates, as they giggle, and then back to me “Put that on the fucking cover man.”
Joel explains that he is pedal-averse, preferring to employ just a guitar and an amp when performing. For this reason “Code White” the closing track of debut LP 14 Lashes, has only been played live on one occasion.
“It was at our LP release show. There’s a solo part in that song that’s just a vacuum cleaner and some broken glass, and just, a weird effects pedal thing. So live, I’m like, I don’t know what the fuck I’m going to do. No one wants to hear me just make horrible noises with the guitar — although they came to the show, so maybe they don’t mind. So, I didn’t know what to do and I just passed my guitar to Serotonin Steve, who was right there.”
Josh steps in with his own take: “I saw him. He paid Serotonin Steve to play the solo, and then he tried to take the guitar back — and then he got an idea — so he paid him to get into a fake fight.”
“When it was time to come back in for the last part of the song, I didn’t really think about getting the guitar back from him — he wouldn’t give it back. I had to wrastle him a little bit to get it back.”
“We did a fake fight.”
“No, it was real.”
When I first saw Chain Whip and Corner Boys at Punk the Vote, I wrote in my review of the concert that Patrick described Corner Boys’ 2019 song “Waiting for 2020” as being about “watching something you love die.” How sour of a prediction that would turn out to be. Indeed, while Chain Whip is well-humored in conversation, Two Step to Hell has been notably shaped by the events of the past year. Less tongue-in-cheek than prior entries in the band’s discography – angrier, and more confrontational than cynically defiant.
“Seeing chaos and idiocy – seeing that blend, is what influenced this record.” Says Joel.
“The world is shut down to the point where you’re just glued to your social life, which is just these fucking things.” Josh raps his phone on the table, looking in disgust at the shiny black screen. “You’re wrapped up in being force fed all this media that you don’t really want, but you’re exposed to and have to deal with… You felt fucking powerless, you’re sitting there and you’re drinking.”
“Bored as fuck” says Brett
“Can’t go anywhere” adds Patrick.
“You’re just stuck. And you have this outlet, this band, and you’re like let’s just see if it sticks. And with Two Step to Hell, we were firing on all cylinders”
Patrick leans forward “We were tour ready.”
“We were ready to go forward and plow through it, but we couldn’t do it, so we just had to put this energy somewhere else… I remember having a conversation… I wouldn’t have been surprised if there would have been tanks rolling down the street, because no one knew how bad it was going to get… it was a goofy time.”
“I think the record was frustrated because we were frustrated”
Having this opportunity to focus on their art as an outlet, the band has had a highly productive past year, with members working on multiple side projects, and two Chain Whip albums, one of which, the 2020 demo, the band has considered removing from the internet.
“We weren’t really sure if we would ever be able to play again… Like shit man, am I going to live on ichiban noodles for six months, and squirrels…? We recorded this demo and then we didn’t know what to do with it, and we’re about to die, so let’s just put it on the internet… a lot of the guitar stuff I did on that, I’m so mad that it exists as like a finished thing… it was all supposed to be placeholder stuff.” Says Joel.
“I like to jam twice a week… when we don’t jam twice a week, I still go to the jam space and do my own stuff.” Patrick tells me. He’s got a ten song LP from his new solo project, Pack Rat, bound to release on Drunken Sailor records in December. But most exciting is the “fuck band” he’s cooked up together with Josh – Todd Killings and the Contracts. In a feat of studio genius, the pair wrote and recorded a three-song concept 7” in one session.
Patrick explains “The concept is that Josh is — “
“Cancelled.” Josh interrupts.
“Leave it at that.” says Joel.
“Todd Killings is a bad motherfucker man.” Josh elaborates, opting not to leave it at that, and launching into a yarn.
He tells me that Todd Killings (certainly a fiction) grew up in Cranbrook, B.C. in the late sixties, and discovered punk rock in its early days. He also tells me that with bills piled high, Todd Killings decided he was going to be a contract killer.
“Not a lot of work in Cranbrook, B.C. if you’re a contract killer. But there’s work every once in a while… as a private detective. He wasn’t a fan of being a private detective though He’s a bad person.”
“Now you understand what a fuck band is” says Patrick.
“Chain whip is my fuck band” says Brett.
Now an ever-entangled unit, with endless intermingled creative ventures among the Chain Whip crew, there’s a sense of predestiny in this arrangement, as if somehow, between these four, creative collaboration was inevitable.
At a show in Toronto, sometime around 2013, Patrick recalls how Paul Lawton of Lethbridge’s Mammoth Cave Recording Co. handed him a Nervous Talks 7” and offered him 20 dollars if Patrick didn’t like it. Unwittingly, this would be his by-proxy introduction to Joel, who was a guitarist and vocalist for the band.
“I put it on, and within thirty seconds or a minute I was like: fuck, this is really, really good.” Patrick says “I moved to Vancouver, I couldn’t believe no one was really jumping on Nervous Talks, because they were the best band I saw. I went to see as many shows as I could possibly see.”
“Well, we were dicks.” Joel contends.
Joel explains a dream where he was in a battle of the bands with Joe Keithley and had to play classic “plaid jacket, whiskey, highway 1 rock”. The band before them covered Takin’ Care of Business. Joe Keithley was pissed.
Endless threads to pull at, to tip the balance, dangling like golden chains on a chandelier. It’s hard to tell how deliberately each gem has been plucked from the bunch, if there’s an overarching narrative, or rather the clumping of emotionally magnetized vignettes. Perhaps, if the anger and momentum of Two Step to Hell is a document of what was – a conflicted, shut-in world, a room with nails hidden behind padded walls – that these stories, of chaos and discovery and mischief are a sign of what’s possible. That feelings of powerlessness can be channeled into motion for change. In any case, solace can be found with the band’s assurance that I will one day have the opportunity to meet Serotonin Steve, and, if you come out to a Chain Whip show – so may you.