Asy and Chloe Saavedra enjoyed cutting the hair off their dolls as girls, cropping it short to match their idols: the feminist icons of Sleater-Kinney. Back then, the sisters were exploring jamming out on the upright piano in their parent’s Seattle home. It was their natural curiosity that led them to the drum section of a local music store, where they met Jason McGerr, the drummer for Death Cab for Cutie. He became their music teacher and mentor, listening to their arrangements at the beginning of each class and encouraging the best ideas.
It was a moment of serendipity that led to the founding of Smoosh. They grew up on the road, touring with the likes of Pearl Jam, Cat Power, and even Sleater-Kinney themselves. Their music was covered on NPR’s All Songs Considered, they were interviewed on The Today Show, and were eventually named “Band of the Year” by SPIN in 2005.
Now living in Eagle Rock, up near the hills surrounding Los Angeles, the Saavedra sisters have a new(ish) band name, a new look, and a sound that matches their dry sense of humor. They adopted the name Chaos Chaos in 2012, the scientific classification for a species of amoeba that can alter its shape. They draw a parallel between their band and the organism: “simple but always changing.” Even in the early years of Smoosh, the sisters would often sneak scientific words in to songs; they blame their scientist Dad and the jargon being thrown around the house on a regular basis. In those early days, the girls banged out songs organically, sometimes repeating the same melody or phrase again and again, until a song formed.
“We started mixing it up a lot more recently. Who starts songs, who starts lyrics, how we collaborate,” Asy says. “So we kind of do it all right now. All these different methods. In the past, we used to just kind of jam out; start playing, that’s how we wrote everything.” Nowadays, the sisters often work on songs separately, bringing the other in to fill out the sound or edit the thought into a more coherent vision. Chloe is cited as acting producer on much of their newer music, taking a song Asy’s written, plucking out the main storyline or concept, and streamlining it. They are equally comfortable tag teaming the interview, moving smoothly from one thought to the next; pausing a thought if a sister interrupts, easily shifting back to the previous line of conversation that was skipped over.
“Many Roads,” their newest single, feels delightfully familiar on a first listen, a Wilson Phillips or Mazzy Star vibe in its pleasant fragility. Asy wrote the song as a birthday gift to an ex-boyfriend. She had struggled to write it, confused at why the lyrics kept turning up sad, melancholy in nature. In the end, she gifted the song, but like a tarot card once flipped, the relationship followed the tune she had written: they broke up. When the time came to refine the song, Chloe was quick to grill her sister on what her emotions where when she wrote it. “She’ll be telling me the details about this relationship. It’s this weird sister telepathy. I can feel her experience,” Chloe said, adding that once she feels she has a grasp of Asy’s narrative, she makes sure to add in her own personal details and touches, making each song a combination of truths.
The final line was one they worked on together: “Many roads that you could take / but they never seem to lead my way.” Originally, the chorus of the song told a story of uncertainty, questioning whether the couple’s paths would ultimately intertwine; in the re-writing, the verses became symbolic of the relationship falling apart. The final line changed from “Something’s gonna change” to “Nothing’s gonna change if we don’t try” – a subtle variation on a theme, but an important distinction: the relationship would only work if both people worked on it. No fate, just work.
“For a while, we were thinking the more challenging or hard things that you can do are more valuable,” Chloe said, speaking about a song Asy wrote last year utilizing the Moog Mother. They both agree that songwriting now is an exercise in drawing from their past work in Smoosh; their goal is to simplify, to cut back, to allow themselves the space to jam again.”You use as little as possible, ” Asy explained. “Every sound you use can be really unique and cool and fill the space. I know if you give me synths and just have me keep layering tracks and record I can come up with a million melodies. But at a certain point, it’s too much.”
While they are keen on simplifying Chaos Chaos, their professional lives are as busy as ever. Recently, Asy scored the music for the video game Trover Saves The Universe; they’ve traveled the world promoting their most recent self-titled album. They are also hard at work on a video project involving claymation due out next year. 2020 sees the sisters releasing music in spurts, as they expressed the desire to fully realize each piece all at once, single and video.
Sitting outside, squinting into the sun, Chloe and Asy seemed relaxed, yet focused. Ideas were easily rattled off, passion projects chewed on with candor. When they admitted to playing with their dolls past the age of acceptability, they smiled to themselves. The idea of play was not a distant memory.