SUBLIMATED: Chasse’s performances became a healthy outlet for his personal frustrations.
During the first half of 2004, Jeff Chasse would often go to the Midway near his home in Jamaica Plain to drink alone. He was having problems with his girlfriend, with whom he’s since patched things up. But he had other scars: a divorce not three years old, a child two hours away in Northampton. “I was in a dark place,” says the 27-year-old singer-songwriter across the table from me at Thornton’s in the Fenway. One night he got to talking to an older man he later discovered to be Rick Berlin. “He’ll admit now that he was trying to pick me up,” says Chasse. The two became fast friends, and that very night Berlin booked him at the Midway. The show itself turned out to be a disaster — Chasse, an acoustic performer with a fondness for metaphor, found himself on a bill with some oi punk bands. But it would prove to be a new beginning for him.
Chasse got the itch to write songs in high school. Growing up in New York, he would collaborate with a friend who owned a guitar. (“I think we played a few battle-of-the-bands.”) Eventually he bought a guitar and began writing songs on his own. (“There were a lot of angsty girls-don’t-like-me songs.”) The summer after his senior year he made the first of his recordings on a four-track in his bedroom.
That was also the summer when his girlfriend became pregnant. Life for the 18-year-old changed dramatically. He shipped off to Northeastern University, as had been the plan. But while everybody else was struggling to find a balance between classes and a social life, he was dealing with getting married and raising a daughter.
Aside from the occasional gig in college, music took a back seat. And with the divorce in 2001 and his ex-wife’s subsequent move to Northampton with their child, he lost his motivation to perform. But that changed after the meeting with Berlin and the gig that followed. Chasse realized he needed to play out more often, if only to work out some of the frustrations he was dealing with in private. And Berlin did more than help him secure gigs. “He’s tried to teach me a lot about performing. Like, get in to the mic more. I don’t know how much of that I’ve absorbed.” Then this past May, the local legend took his friend along with him on gigs in Philly, New York, and Boston.
Through it all, Chasse’s songwriting itch had never abated. At Northeastern, he’d recorded a tape a year, the contents of which are described as “rassum frassum 4 track stuff” on his MySpace page. Then came three CDs — Inside Horses (2003), Sunset Rummy (2004), and A Palooka (2004). Like his tapes, the CDs feature simple strumming, skewed, insightful lyrics sometimes obscured by the singer’s loose drawl, and a general sense of stylistic timelessness. They include “McDonuts” — about eating too many doughnuts, throwing up, and then visiting the doctor, who for reasons that are unclear resembles a cop. On the twangy “Western Mass,” he fantasizes about moving to Northampton to be with his daughter: “I’ll miss the public transportation but not the gentrification.”