Going, Going, Gunk: The JS Blackchalk Story

Going, Going, Gunk: The JS Blackchalk Story

About the Band

When you think about punk rock, what comes to mind? The music? The fashion? The attitude? All are employed in Carlisle, Pennsylvania’s JS Blackchalk, an upcoming local punk band that checks all the boxes. The band has been releasing music since February, 2023, but their history dates back further. 

When frontman, Shyne Shanaman (JS), was nine years old, he started writing music with his grandfather, drawing initial inspiration from popular bands such as 21 Pilots, Green Day, and My Chemical Romance. His influences as a teenager began to shape what would be JS Blackchalk, causing frequent comparisons to bands Shanaman looked up to like Nirvana, The White Stripes, and The Gories. His trademark, garage rock with catchy melodies could already be found by the time he started his first project, Daisys abashed, with frequent collaborator and friend and later bassist for Blackchalk, Carter Nelson (Nellis). Nellis had a similar start to JS and began writing music at six and a half years-old on a toy acoustic guitar to bond with his father, but put down the guitar until he was in middle school. By the time he reached middle school, he met Shanaman and began to get serious with music, learning how to play by watching Marty Schwartz videos and playing with JS. With the pair finally together, the outline for Blackchalk was being drawn.

  “My whole vision with Daisy’s abashed was kind of like what we do now [in JS Blackchalk] where we have some heavier songs but also have some indie inspired songs,” Nellis states. Years later, the pair met their drummer, Addison Owens, better known by their stage name, Bug. Bug has a musical background going back to when they were very young, finding music as a sort of refuge for their personal problems. “I got this [awful] keyboard when I was five years old and I used to mess with it,” Bug says, “ever since then, I’ve picked up every instrument I can.” Bug’s eclectic musical ability gave them the refined skills to start writing and composing music, sticking mostly to shoegaze (a genre of music categorized by heavy amounts of distortion and dreamlike melodies) and metal music on the side, something they plan on releasing eventually under the alias “TODAY I DID NOTHING”. “I came to school and wanted to play drums,” Bug answered when asked about their musical background, “ [I] got introduced to indoor percussion and marching band where I learned most of what I know from there.” By the time Bug met Nellis and JS, “Public education” was written and set to be released on May 16, 2023. 

The three members of the band are in high school and work jobs outside of school. “I am constantly dying, I have no time to do anything because of in person school taking up all my time. It’s really draining,” says Bug. “I work two part time jobs and go to an online school now. Work is hard, but it’s worth it to acquire resources for gigs. I’m not technically an employee at one of my jobs,” Nellis states. “I don’t go to public school but having a job and being in a band is disheartening. Our generation has realized that [this] level of unrest for our system is not only horrible but vile. Knowing I’m being used by a corporation in a punk band is disheartening,” JS broods. But the band finds time to practice at least once a week and to play multiple gigs in a month.

JS Blackchalk are a band of closely knit friends with a bond over a love of music that blossomed into creating original music. They have an Instagram and a website for more information on show dates, merch, contact information, and more. The band play around Central Pennsylvania and can most likely be seen at a venue in the upcoming months. For high school students, they show high promise as musicians, outplaying many of the adult bands they share a bill with. Gunk is set to be released on October 27, 2023, streaming on all music platforms. “Anyone who sees or reads this, please pick up a paintbrush or the guitar and make art,” JS concludes.

The Politics

Outside of music, JS is vocal about his support for trans rights, showing his support on social media posts. “I have a very personal history with trans-rights,” JS starts, “my ex-boyfriend is trans and I’ve learned a lot from that person. I don’t know fully what it’s like to be trans, but I understand the pressures of [the community] in this country. Especially being in music, there’s a perpetuation of vile bigotry. It’s 2023, we should all just get over it and get along with each other.” “I think that’s another thing that’s another thing that makes us more punk is preaching for what’s right. I myself have had problems with gender in my own self, I want people to be seen as equal and not separate,” says Bug. With the more active political comments on JS’s social media accounts, politics became more of a topic in his life, slowly becoming a part of the music like on the rumored Gunk track, FTP. 

The band started playing live a month before “Public education” was released to the public. However, it’s never been easy for the band playing around central Pennsylvania, battling constant problems of misogyny.

“I’ve gotten comments like, ‘you’re really good for a girl’, and I don’t see why it has to be linked to gender. I deal with (misogyny) now more than I used to since we’re gaining traction,” Bug details.

The underlying problems of misogyny are only amplified by being based in Carlisle, a town mostly known for bluegrass and country music.

“Carlisle hates us,” Nellis put simply, “we got shut down by a Karen once.” The incident Nellis is referring to happened during Blackchalk’s second appearance at Farmer’s On the Square. They played a mostly acoustic set the first time, but closed with an electric song, getting a mostly positive response from the crowd. They were invited again to play an electric set. Blackchalk played like punk bands tend to play; loud and fast, it was only a matter of time before the complaints began to pile up. While Nellis led a set of slower, heavier songs with the time they had left, a woman came over, pushed Nellis aside, and shut off the power supply, nearly damaging all of the amplifiers the band were using. She scolded the band for a minute about the complaints they received and told the band their set was over.

“Carlisle is not receptive to hardcore punk or loud indie music,” JS says. Bug agrees by further adding, “a lot of the shows we play around Carlisle I don’t have fun at because it’s not our audience. There’s just a lot of judgmental people that just don’t give us the energy we need to perform.”

However, as many problems as the band have dealt with, they still love playing live music and have played with various bands at each of their live shows. The bands they loved enough to mention include The Barrelmen, Donimo, and freelapse.

The Music

For fun, Blackchalk were asked about their dream collaborations, the band members each had an interesting response. “I would love to collaborate with some deathcore artists like To The Grave and [also] freelapse cause I love shoegaze and would like to make shoegaze with them someday,” says Bug. “I would say Krist Noveselic and Dave Grohl. Not Kurt Cobain because I feel like he would ruin my tapes,” Nellis says, he also comments a love for Steve Albini’s production, describing it as an inspiration. “I would like to collaborate with Dan Kroha (The Gories) and Elliott Smith,” JS comments. Bug listed as their favorite albums, “Gunk”, “Director’s Cuts” by To The Grave, “Badillac” by Together Pangea, and “Living Dummy” by Together Pangea; Nellis listed” Live Hard Day’s Night” by The Beatles, “Public education”, “Insecticide” by Nirvana, “I Hate Jazz” by Mike Krol, and “Melted” by Ty Segall. JS listed “I Know You’d Be House Rockin” by The Gories, “Elliott Smith” by Elliott Smith, “Nevermind” by Nirvana, “I Hate Jazz” by Mike Krol, and The Muffs self-titled.

“I started writing [Public education] when I was fifteen and finished when I was seventeen… the entire album was inspired by a song written by Mike Krol called ‘Grade School Love’. The song is about him going to a high school reunion and seeing the girl he was in love with since the first grade and he burns down her house because she doesn’t remember him. I thought it was really interesting.” “Public education” was released May 16, 2023 with eight songs totaling thirteen minutes in length, showing how Shanaman’s skill for writing catchy fast garage rock. Seven of the eight songs call back to classic garage and punk rock from an era that’s older than all three of the members combined, blending together pop melodies and hooks with the speed of hardcore punk. “I try to record garage rock and it comes out dirtier or cleaner than I intend,” JS tells the press after being asked about the unique source of his sound. “I started recording music on a karaoke machine and the recordings were so bad but had the charm of someone who didn’t know what they were doing so I thought it was good. The amateur recording techniques and DIY approach make the album “sound less poppy” according to Bug, making pop songs sound like punk songs, sidestepping redundancy in a repetitive genre.  

The album starts with “Playground”, one of the band’s most popular songs taking shape as an energetic minute of melodic garage rock before the longer, Weezer inspired “School Bus”. Afterwards, it goes into a rhythmic, sharp song called “Cafeteria” before the dreamy, “Ice Cream Truck”, bearing striking resemblance to Mac DeMarco’s “2” with its chorus reverb heavy texture. The blazing “Girl troubles” follows, detailing a scenario with romantic struggle before reaching into the drunk stumble of “high school party”, the darkest song on the album about a teenage girl being taken advantage of while being intoxicated at a party. The standout song, “I miss you”, is the last official song on the album, serving as the main showcase for Shanaman’s gift of writing catchy pop songs. Shanaman reflects on the song fondly, saying, “most of the songs on ‘Public education’ I hate playing, but I like ‘I miss you’.” What’s left on the album is a voice memo recorded by his grandfather, delivering a short speech about his grandmother. Shanaman clarifies that he it took from a tangent in a voice message he left one night. The message is a short, beautiful monologue about love and slows the album to a stop. The album is over before the listener can register what they just listened to, prompting another listen by the time it’s over not only because of its length, but also because of its quality.

However good the album is, it’s not without fault. The production throughout is messy and choppy, and some of the solos abruptly enter the mix at awkward angles, making them sound unnatural and disjointed at their worst. The riffs at times feature awkward notes that don’t fit in the key of the songs, but that’s common in this genre of music. The hard panning and reverb feels carelessly used at times, but those problems would only be noticed by people who only care about production, the songs are there. The songs are well written and survive lackluster production, finding a way to add that to its flavor. “I don’t really like my name being tied to that record because it’s really poppy and feels kind of cheap,” JS says five months after its release. This statement is echoed by the rest of the band, growing tired of the album the more they played it live. But that didn’t stop the band from releasing the unplugged (acoustic) single of the album.“A few people asked me to make it unplugged and I was going to do a whole album unplugged with the band but then I was too lazy to do that. I wanted to put something out that month.” The album is essentially a JS solo single with two of the eight songs from “Public education” being tuned down a half step. 

“Cafeteria” and “I miss you” were rerecorded with an alternative cover art for Public education, changing from a profile shot of JS and Bug to JS receiving a middle finger from an offscreen Bug. On this single, “Public education”, and “No Sex”, the album art shows only JS and Bug, but not Nellis. This choice wasn’t an intentional slide towards Nellis, the band use him as a photographer for promotional material, keeping to their self-made image. The other four singles, “Surf seizure”, “No sex”, “OUcH”, and “Walk! Walk! Walk!” differ from the unplugged style, having a much dirtier, louder sound than anything else the band released, paving the way for their latest album, “Gunk”, soon to be released on October 27, 2023. “Gunk was a name I originally had way back, it was supposed to be the name of ‘OUcH’. It was something to describe something graphic, dirty, and vile. But it’s straightforward,” JS comments on his upcoming release. “Gunk” strays heavily from the original idea of “Public education”, a personal DIY garage album, being, in the words of Nellis, “heavier and cleaner with the instruments than before” featuring more political songs and a fan favorite at their live shows, “Anatomy”, the first JS song written. With five songs on the ep, each song plays for roughly three to four minutes making this release the longest entry to the band’s name at fifteen to twenty minutes. “The songs have better pacing and are a lot more traditional than other releases. On ‘Gunk’, all the songs still have good melodies and you can hear indie influences still,” JS states. The ep was recorded in a shed outside of Shanaman’s house and was a much more collaborative process, allowing Nellis and Bug some space to show off their ideas on the record even if, according to the band, they are minute. “Gunk” is also the first release by the band to feature Nellis’ crushing, distorted bass tone and playing he compares favorably to Krist Novoselic and Mike Dirnt. The band plans to continue to release at least one album and a few singles every year.

The Fashion

The band’s DIY attitude extends further from the music and recordings to the merchandise and album artwork, most of which is credited to their drummer, Bug. The artwork used frequently references death with the band’s unofficial mascot, C.C. The Punk Bunny, a bunny drawn on the setlists with crossed out eyes and a smiley face based on a stuffed animal the band collectively own. Blood is frequently utilized on artwork and fliers handed out by the band with dead bodies and skulls making the occasional appearance. Their merchandise is entirely handmade, the clothing being done by Bug while Nellis and JS create the CDs and cassette tapes sold at each show. When asked about switching to company produced products, the band adamantly refused. Nellis simply put, “it’s better for our pockets.” 

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