By: Alexa Peters
Sam Chue, a staple of the local music scene, namely as a co-founder of The Vonvettas, is going places. Literally. He just got home from an impromptu cross-country solo tour, and can think of little else besides hitting the road again, this time with the rest of The Vonvettas, a dream that with the release of their new highly anticipated, thirty-track album, “Lucy and Jet Black” will become reality.
But the story of Chue and The Vonventtas starts years before all this buzz.
“I began playing music in the fifth grade, starting with the drum set,” Chue said, “then my dad taught me the guitar.” A native of the Bellingham area, Chue comes from a family and community that’s “very musical, wherever you go in Bellingham there’s always another person who plays guitar better than you, or sings better than you. I love that there’s always room to grow.” And grow he did.
After years of playing on his own, Chue met the other half of The Vonvetta’s songwriting partnership, Thayne Yazzie, in the halls of Sehome High School.
“Thayne and I have this really amazing thing together, something I don’t think I’ll find again, at least not in this lifetime. We have a similar artistic vision, and we both are very committed to our music,” said Chue.
Shortly after meeting, they formed the first incarnation of the band called Olio and began playing and developing a following. Then they were forced to change their name after another California band named Olio bought the rights for the name.
“We had written a song called Vivid Vonvetta, so I suggested to Thayne that we use ‘Vonvettas’ as our name instead,” Chue said.
Thus, after a couple personnel switches in the rhythm section, The Vonvettas were born: Chue on guitar and vocals, Yazzie on lead guitar, Lyman Lipke on bass, and both Eli Savage and Dan Frank on drums.
About the band’s influences, Chue said, “Everyone who knows me, knows I am influenced most by Tom Waits and Ween, a psychedelic alternative band from the nineties. The dynamic duo of Ween–Dean (Mickey Melchiondo) and Gene Ween (Aaron Freeman)–are what Thayne and I model our band off of.”
Amusingly, Chue’s solo tour took him to New Hope, Pennsylvania, the birthplace of Ween. Although he knew that going in, he never expected he’d run into Mickey Melchiondo (Dean Ween) himself.
“I was standing at the bar smoking when I heard, ‘what kind of guitar you got there?’ I turned around and there was Dean Ween. I was totally in awe–he’s a childhood hero!”
Aside from Waits and Ween, Chue says he is influenced by Arlo Guthrie, Leo Kotky and Taj Mahal. “I love the story-telling and melody-sharing aspects of folk and blues, I really relate to it. Plus, I love using the blues pentatonic scale in my playing,” Chue said. This melding of folk Americana, rock, and blues is what creates their identifiable sound.
Currently, the group just completed their first double-disk studio album entitled, “Lucy and Jet Black.” The name is inspired by Chue’s dog, Jet Black, and Yazzie’s dog, Lucy, who died around the same time.
“I’d had Jet since I was three, he lived a full life, but Thayne’s dog Lucy was hit by a state trooper as a puppy,” Chue said, “in light of these stories, we thought we’d have one CD of older, backlogged stuff, and one CD of our newer material.”
The band reached their minimum goal of $2,500 on Kickstarter on November 13th, allowing them to complete the project and according to the words on Kickstarter, to “spread [their] love and passion of music/art to greater audiences worldwide.”
That ‘passion’ is one of originality, authenticity, and integrity. As Chue sums up, “For Thayne and I, it’s the songs that is the most important…we believe that if you write what’s true and important to you, people will recognize your authenticity.”