As an Irish quartet composed of three men and a woman, Chimera has had to endure occasional comparisons to that other similarly constituted band, the Cranberries. Otherwise, though, according to the group's bassist Steven Emerson, their recent tour of the United States has been entirely enjoyable.
“One of our reviews actually said, 'If the Cranberries knew how to do it, they'd be Chimera,'" Emerson laughs, "but we put that comparison down to lazy journalism. We think people can be more creative than that. Besides, I don't really think we sound like them."
They don't. Take, for instance, "Liquid Star," the first song on Chimera's latest Grass Records release, Earth Loop. Beginning with a guitar-and-drum rumble that eventually erupts into a roar, the song goes on to dip and soar along the contours of Eileen Henry's enchantingly lovely voice. From time to time, Henry disappears, allowing Ted Laverty's distorted guitar to re-emerge, and from time to time Laverty returns the favor. By the time it runs its course, the song has established the tone of what's to follow.
Among the thirteen songs that do, the drum-machine-powered "Catch Me" has caught on as the track of choice among the radio stations that have put Chimera into their rotations. That many have done so, Emerson explains, accounts in part for why the group has enjoyed its U.S. tour so much.
"We have a pretty good radio team here. They know which stations are playing us. A lot of the time, when we go into a city, we go to the radio station and perform a couple of songs and do an interview. Generally, we have been targeting the cities that have been playing us so that people, having heard one or two of the songs, come down to the gigs. It's worked out very well."
The Belfast natives have also benefited from good promotion in general. The powerhouse label BMG, Grass's distributor, has not only gotten Earth Loop into mainstream record stores and kept it there, but they've also set the group up with in-store appearances at some very heavily trafficked points of purchase.
"BMG has been great for us," Emerson recalls. "In August, when we were touring on the West Coast, we went into the Virgin Megastore on Sunset Boulevard, and there was a huge Chimera display near the listening post. We played in-stores in Virgin stores all the way up the West Coast. And I have a habit of, no matter where I am, going to the local record shop to see if our album is in there. Very few times have I not been able to find us."
Apparently, even people who aren't members of Chimera are finding Earth Loop, too. In addition to footing the bills for the group's recent U.S. tour, the album and tour receipts have been sufficient to keep Emerson and his band mates from having to hold down day jobs back home. As a result, they intend to turn their winter vacation into something of a busman's holiday, writing new material and sharpening their stage act for their return to America in March.
One area of confusion that could hamper Chimera's transformation into a dormroom, if not a household, word is the pronunciation of their name. Dictionary toters on both sides of the Atlantic have long pronounced the word--which originated as the name of a polymorphic, fire-breathing monster in Greek mythology--“ki-mir-uh." The Belfast Four, however, pronounce it "shimmer-uh" because, says Emerson, "it sounded softer."
"It actually came from the old Bill Nelson record, Chimera. We thought, 'Oh, that's a nice word.' We were fully aware of the proper pronunciation. We all got our Oxford Dictionaries and got the phonetic spelling. But we said, 'No, we prefer our way.'"
Another thing they prefer is their hometown, a hometown often perceived by foreigners to be the U.K. equivalent of Beirut and Bosnia--i.e., one of the world's most volatile hotbeds of terrorism and political violence. Perceptions, however, can be deceiving, and, according to Emerson, in Belfast's case, they definitely are.
"Would you believe I've never heard a gunshot in my life?" he laughs. "Like every city, it has its bad areas, but it really is normal, almost to the point of being boring. We have McDonalds. We have Virgin record stores. I'm very happy to live there."
One stereotype that Earth Loop does confirm is that those who dwell in the land of Yeats, Joyce, and Van Morrison (whose "Sweet Thing" emerges as a hidden track minutes after the disc officially ends), possess a more heightened spirituality than those of us benumbed by life in the materialistic West.
"I think there's probably less decadence and more emotional intensity among the Irish," Emerson muses. "I know that we didn't go into this way of life lightly. We definitely put our hearts and souls into what we do."
Catchy and gorgeous but never merely so, Chimera's music evokes depths well worth exploring. Somehow, wishing them good luck seems unnecessary.
The last Virgin Megastore passed away in 2009.