While she may not be a household name in the Canadian heavy music industry, if you have ever attended a show at Toronto’s beloved and eclectic Sneaky Dee’s, then you have probably heard her voice or seen her in the sound booth. Chantelle is a sound tech whose reputation precedes her. I became acquainted with her work when I first began to notice how much better Sneaky Dee’s sound was, especially for heavier bands, even compared to much bigger spaces with ostensibly better sound systems. Many bands I have spoken with have pointed her out as one of their favourite sound technicians to work with. Her shows sound full and lush no matter the volume and complexity, and she has a particularly keen ear for the interplay between heavy vocals (whether they be harsh growls or clean singing) and the rhythm section, making sure neither overwhelms the other and each has their own aural space and integrity. She has also devoted her time and energy to providing excellent sound for Girls Rock Camp Toronto. It was great to talk to her for Girls Don’t Like Metal and gain more insight int what goes into making a heavy show sound fantastic.
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Do you have a heavy metal love story? How did you first come to love and appreciate heavy music?
I grew up in a small town 45 minutes from the Windsor/Detroit border. From the time any of us could drive, we would head to Detroit a few times a week and just go to random shows. I spent a lot of time at St. Andrews Hall and The Shelter, and saw all kinds of live music there. I was in love with going to shows.
At what point did you know that you wanted to make music your career?
When I started getting paid for it.
What made you choose to go into the more technical aspect of sound, especially for live performances?
I actually started as a promoter. I was putting on punk rock shows at a small legion hall when I was 15. There was an incident with the sound guy one show. I believe drugs were involved. Anyhow, I ended up figuring out things fast. It was a vocal PA so it was a kick-drum-and-vocals kind of mix. After that show, I went to the library and checked out a book called The Live Sound Reinforcement Handbook.
Where and how did you receive training for your position? How does one become an awesome sound tech?
I learned as I went along. Started working with production crews and mini tours to Montreal and back. I met loads of people who told me my ears were good and would give me tips. One night I met this man named Scott. I was mixing a band and he approached me and we chatted and I ended up working with him for 6 years. I joined IATSE (International Alliance of Theatrical and Stage Employees) in Windsor and started working at the (then) Chrysler Theatre and the Capitol Theatre. On off nights he would take me to his club gigs. At the time he was the tech for a KISS cover band. I learned a lot from him. That, and I made a shit ton of mistakes…
What is your favourite style or genre of music to work with?
I work a lot of rock and roll, punk rock and metal shows. Standard drums, bass, guitars and vocals. I love doing that, but I really love mixing more challenging set ups, and bigger band sets ups in addition to drums, bass, guitars. I like feeling like an octopus when I mix and love the feeling satisfaction of knowing I have a good mix.
What do you think makes the live music experience so special, especially in regards to heavy music?
Having great fans at the shows. If the energy is awesome in the room everyone has fun. All the memorable shows I’ve worked or been to had a great fucking crowd.
What do you believe that you bring to a live performance? What are your strengths?
I try to stay professional. It’s not about me when the band gets there. If I can gain the band’s confidence in me and my abilities before sound check (if there is one) then it’s a stress-free night.
What is your best/craziest/most demanding band story?
I was hired by a band to do sound at a festival they were playing. When it was time for them to play, the house tech was MIA and only the subs were working. Their manager and I were freaking out a bit, trying to salvage the show. We had the band crank their amps and we turned monitors around. After the show, people were coming up and high five-ing me and congratulating me on great sound. It was then that I realized that if the crowd is drunk enough, it doesn’t matter. I was so demoralized I had to leave the venue.
Have you ever come across anyone who has surprised that they would be working with a woman? Has your gender ever made your job or the pursuit of your interests more challenging?
Yes. When I started doing this job, there was only one other women that I was aware of that was working also. It is much, much easier now than it was 15+ years ago. I still occasionally end up working with guys who think women do not belong in this industry.
What advice would you give anyone, and especially a young woman, who wanted to pursue a similar career path?
For young women, I would tell them that casually dating musicians is a bad idea. You need respect from them and that is the easiest way to lose it. Love is love but if it’s lust, buy a vibrator.
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Chantelle Japp has been doing live sound since 1990. She moved to Toronto in 2003 to pursue it as a full-time career.