Despite the pandemic waging its war on large gatherings and concerts, there’s a band in town bringing a fresh, alternative sound to Blacksburg: Chimpanzees and Cigarettes.
All students at Virginia Tech, Chimpanzees and Cigarettes formed after six friends put all of their talents together, consisting of Luke Rutigliano; lead vocalist, Neel Kaloji; drums, Daniel Majikes; bassist and Drew Robinson, Nick Richards and Grant Mayo on guitar. Though the band has known each other for almost two years, it took a while before they realized their collective musical potential.
“We were looking for a singer for the longest time,” Robinson said. “Grant's roommate, Luke, was a singer the whole time and we never even knew. So that’s how it all came together. Everyone kind of realized that we have all these talents and we never even knew it.”
Upon deciding a name, band members recount going through over thousands of ideas before making a decision. Robinson recalls the moment they found the perfect name on a late night Zoom call earlier this year with Mayo and Majikes.
“Daniel hopped on the Zoom call with a chimpanzee smoking a cigarette background and we were in that delirious mood where we thought everything was funny,” Robinson said. “They’re crazy, loud and dramatic, and the cigarettes … we thought it was a good clash between two ideas and it kind of fits the music taste so we went with that.”
Drawing inspiration from bands like The Strokes, Phish and Red Hot Chili Peppers, Chimpanzees and Cigarettes consider themselves a neo-alternative jam band with a touch of blues. But, with a range of musical inspirations, they wouldn’t limit themselves to one particular sound, and, to be honest, they’re still figuring it out.
“All six of us listen to music a good amount, so when we come together we’re kind of bringing in all of these different things we’ve employed as our inspiration,” Kaloji said. “We definitely have our own sound.”
Though the band enjoys covering recent classics like Cage the Elephant’s “Cigarette Daydreams” and The Strokes’ “Someday,” they’ve enjoyed doing their own songwriting as well. Their latest single, “Low Ceilings,” features an upbeat melody with an unforgettable hook that leaves you wanting more, similar to The Strokes’ recent single “Bad Decisions.”
During their songwriting and recording process, Richards contributes to the lyricism, cadence and melodies. Once everything else is in place, they go to Kaloji’s house to record while he works on the production and mixing. As newcomers to songwriting and recording, band members noted how the process is more difficult than it looks. Kaloji said that the process can be painstaking and tedious.
“There’s a lot of detail that goes into making a final product,” Kaloji said. “It’s kind of like writing an essay for school. You come up with it, you outline it, you make it and then there’s the proofreading part where you have to fix little mistakes everywhere. It’s quite a long process but it’s worth it.”
Since Chimpanzees and Cigarettes fully established themselves as a band soon after the COVID-19 pandemic began, their opportunities to play live have looked a little different than under normal circumstances.
“With our sound, we lend ourselves to playing live, so COVID makes it a little difficult,” Majikes said. “It’s really hard to be influenced by Phish and not be live.”
Despite the strain of COVID-19, the band has still been able to play live while adhering to social distancing and COVID-friendly policies. Mayo said that they were grateful to play two live shows last month, one hosted by the Virginia Tech Union at the Duck Pond and another at Rising Silo Brewery. Robinson said that they had never played in front of other people before their show at the Duck Pond, so their first performance gave them the assurance that they’ll be able to play larger shows in the future.
“I’ve been really happy with our performance so far,” Mayo said.
Support from friends and social media engagement has also helped Chimpanzees and Cigarettes get their name out to the public. Kaloji said that they emphasize posting content on Instagram which has facilitated their engagement and reach.
Members of the band see a bright future for themselves and their music. They spoke eagerly about their upcoming single and even discussed future EPs, albums or even a record deal.
“I think a good goal to set for ourselves in the next five year is to have a record label,” said Rutigliano. “I think that’s an achievable goal in 5 years. Everything we’ve already been able to create with COVID going on shows that when it’s over, we’ll just be even more productive.”
Other members emphasized wanting to take things day by day to see where they may end up.
Overall, Chimpanzees and Cigarettes looks forward to continuing growing as a band and reaching audiences as best they can.
“I want to be able to reach out to as many people as possible,” Robinson said. “I want more gigs. I just hope that this COVID thing dies down because I want to be able to unite people with our music and hopefully then the outreach will come. The best way to do what we want to do is to get our name out there.”