We Are Time is All Hands on Deck

CHANDRA and New Chance catch up about the label.

Victoria Cheong, aka New Chance, is an electronic music producer and vocalist, and a member of the CHANDRA band; Chandra Oppenheim is the frontperson of CHANDRA, and the founder of the label We Are Time, which releases New Chance’s music. We Are Time is hosting a showcase December 1 and 2 at The Baby G in Toronto, so to celebrate, the two caught up about working together for the label. 
— Annie Fell, Editor-in-chief, Talkhouse Music

Victoria Cheong: Hello, Chandra. I’m so happy to be getting together for this little conversation.

Chandra Oppenheim: Yeah, same here, a little a little break from it all to talk about music.

Victoria: Maybe we should introduce ourselves, how we know each other or something… 

Chandra: Well, I was thinking back to when we met, and I believe it was at Double Double Land when I came up. Julie [Reich] and Jesse [Locke] had just helped with a repress of the 2009 Cantor Records reissue of Transportation, and Julie said, “My band, Bile Sister, is playing a show at Double Double Land, and we’re gonna cover some CHANDRA songs.” And I said, “Wait a minute, I wanna come.” So we did two or three CHANDRA songs as part of the Bile Sister set. I met you there, and you were doing the installation in the space for the show.

Victoria: Yeah. I was there from early times, because Julie and I were interested in the record. We liked the music. We got a little bit obsessed with it, actually, for a moment. Little did we know it was gonna be a part of our lives for so long.

Chandra: It had been over 35 years since I had performed these songs. I remember being quite nervous about getting all that material together, and how the register just was really high for my voice, and we hadn’t done any of the key changes yet. We were preparing to go on tour, and I felt like I hadn’t really relearned all the lyrics yet. It was kind of like that bad dream, that I’m gonna get up there nothing’s gonna come out, I’m not gonna remember anything.

Victoria: Well, I think it’s quite unusual to have this recording that’s from your childhood, and then to revisit it as an adult, and embody those songs again, and perform them in a completely different phase of your life. But, I assume you’re tapping into your child self, or your inner child, or your memories…

Chandra: Yeah, well, luckily I can remember the feelings that I had. Those feelings are still in me, and very clear, the feelings I had that motivated me and inspired me to write these songs. So that makes that part easy. But I’m thinking about how when we first started playing together with the new band. I was able to really zero in on those initial feelings, but now we’ve been playing for over a decade. So now I feel like I almost have to find another route into the songs as I get older and older.

Victoria: Yeah, like I’m just reflecting on all these years, and I think at first it was almost this novelty, like, Oh, there’s this kind of interesting backstory, and it’s this music from the past, with this person who you know from the past, but an adult now. Because what Julie and I are doing is singing. We’re mostly doubling you. We’re mostly actually just doing what you do in the songs as well, and kind of amplifying and supporting.

Chandra: Exactly, a wall of “bratty vocals.”

Victoria: Yeah. for me as a backup singer, it’s always actually so fascinating to embody somebody else’s words and attitude and ideas. You know, the kind of world of a song. To embody somebody else’s whole record is, for me, really a trip, and it’s been such an interesting experience for the songs that we’re embodying to be the voice in the voice of a little girl. Julie and I have talked about this before — there’s this aspect to it of getting in touch with that part of yourself. It just opens this gateway to access it in this certain way. There’s been an aspect to it that’s been kind of therapeutic. I think it’s kind of like encountering and embodying the inner child in a certain way, but as an adult with more agency and more autonomy, with the ability to reflect, to have a different perspective.

Chandra: Yeah.

Victoria: Yeah, it’s been an interesting process for us, and I can’t even imagine what it is for you on that level, because it’s your actual life. Where for us, we’re able to kind of project ourselves into some kind of character or something. 

Chandra: Yeah, it is interesting that the character is actually still me. But there is an element of it that does definitely feel like a character. And recently, in rehearsals, when we were going back and listening to the original recordings, I was thinking, Oh, yeah, I really did have this

high pitched intensity — this yelling quality — and my delivery has become more subdued over time that I thought, Well, I wanna bring this back, some of this energy. And I really feel it, flanked by you guys, too, that we’re taking a moment to allow ourselves to express ourselves in this way that we only did probably when we were kids.

Victoria: Yeah, if even, ’cause I know some of the back story of the songs — over the years, you’ve talked about where some of the songs have come from, or what they’re referencing, or your life as a child in New York City. But you do have a real performer side of yourself where it’s not just about laying out all your feelings raw for everyone to see. There’s also this kind of character — I guess there is this kind of ability to step into some kind of version of yourself that’s a little bit different than how you conduct yourself everyday. All the subject matter of the songs finds a way to be punk in a child’s terms. I’s like, what are the things that children come up against? It’s like your parents or your teachers or whatever, or the rules. It’s all filtered in this child world. But it’s also very universal. All the angst is universal is basically what I’m trying to say.

Chandra: Well, it’s good. I definitely have fun with you guys. And I would only do it with you two there with me. I mean, it needs that power of our three voices. On my own I can’t recreate that angst and that punk and that power.

Victoria: Yeah, I don’t necessarily think of you as very rebellious… Well, it’s funny, because I mean, I think you are an alternative kind of person. Like you are an artist, you live your life by your own rules in many ways. but I don’t think of you as like an angsty rebel, necessarily. But there is that part of you—

Chandra: Yeah, it’s speaking out against authority when you know authority is wrong, basically.

Victoria: Yeah.

Chandra: And when you’re a kid, you don’t have that power. It’s really hard to get people to listen to you.

Victoria: Yeah, well, even as an adult, it’s hard to get people to listen. 

Chandra: Yeah, that’s true. But I guess when I wrote those songs, that’s what it felt like to me. I guess I had this idea that it’s because I’m a kid.

Victoria: Yeah, anticipating becoming an adult and being able to speak out and have more power. You’re like an unassuming rebel kind of. But, I think maybe that’s true of a lot of us, you know? It’s even true of a lot of women; maybe it expresses a little bit differently or something, or it’s unexpected sometimes. 

Chandra: Yeah, and I guess that speaks to art, right? And art forms and feeling safe and having an avenue to voice things through that, that you simply cannot in your day to day life.

Victoria: Yeah, I mean, I definitely take advantage of artistic mediums to express parts of myself, or at least express them in ways that I don’t necessarily have the opportunity to do in my regular day to day life, for sure. 

Chandra: Yeah, yeah. I mean, the medium of music, for example — you know how it can transform things. For me in my life, I experience that transformation listening to music, performing music, much more so than I do with other forms of communication. Actually, for me, it’s just something about simply the sound vibrations and it reaches… It’s communication in a different realm. And that’s where I feel most comfortable communicating, personally.

Victoria: Yeah, me, too. I think when I first started making music and performing it, I noticed that all of a sudden I had this voice that I had never had and people were listening to me. And then, yeah, also what you’re saying about kind of being able through music to channel certain very pure emotions or expressions. And you can kind of exaggerate them, too, and actually people like it when you exaggerate them. You can just tap into something, and it doesn’t have to be everything that you’re all about. You don’t have to be like, “This is me. I’m just this. I’m just angst.” Like, no one is just angst. And usually artists — even artists that make really aggressive music — when you actually hear them speak, they’re like these, shy, unassuming… That’s not how they are all day, every day. It’s just a part of them, like a frequency that they can tune into or something. 

Chandra: Yeah, that’s definitely the way it was for me when I was a kid. My relatives would see me on stage and would say I was like a completely different person. People just couldn’t reconcile that.

Victoria: It’s kind of amazing that you experienced that so young because it’s like you got to define something about yourself that was different than what your family expected early on. It takes most of us so long to be able to differentiate ourselves. So that’s really cool. 

Chandra: ‘Cause we’re talking about kind of the transformational quality of music, one of the things that comes immediately to my mind is “Peaceful Mind,” which you performed when the CHANDRA band, Motorists, and New Chance played our first show after COVID. You came on, and I just remember standing there stopped in my tracks, basically. It was a full body experience, and the whole space became still and everyone was transfixed. To be there and be part of that and experience it, that was a gift. 

Victoria: [Laughs.] Yeah, that was the first time that I had performed that — I attempted it one other time, and it was not the same experience, because the context was kind of wrong, and I learned a lot from that experience. So I’ve actually only performed that once, really. 

Chandra: Oh, wow! But of course you have the new release which is so exciting. And I so wish I could be there for it.

Victoria: Yeah, so I performed it once as a kind of a solo thing, and then I recorded a shorter version of it for this release on Personal Records. So that’s just a limited edition.

Chandra: I know. And it’s so cool because each one is different. You sang it 40 times?

Victoria: Yeah, I sang it 40 times for the 40 copies. That’s just one of the many eccentric things about this release, actually. We recorded it live straight to vinyl. So, there’s the record version — which is again just me — but then for the kind of release show for the record, I’m doing a performance with three other singers, and so that will be more of an event for sure. I’m really looking forward to it. I’m curious how it’s gonna feel and how it’s gonna go and how people are gonna respond. But it’s such a wild time to be talking about peace, or, addressing “Peaceful Mind.” It’s always in style to me, but certainly in this particular moment, there’s just heightened conflict around us. So it’ll be an interesting experience, I think.

Chandra: Yeah, it will be interesting. And so now you’ll be creating a wall of vocal sound, with you in the lead position.

Victoria: It’s true. I’ve definitely sort of initiated our gathering to work on the singing together. But in the actual performance, we will be equal voices. We’re sort of aiming to be kind of one voice in a way — not even that we’re in unison, but more just that we’re very much listening to each other and contributing to a whole shape of sound.

Chandra: Will it be somewhat improvised?

Victoria: Yeah, it’ll be somewhat improvised. It’s been a really interesting process, because we’ve been looking at how much creative freedom to take within it. Basically, you don’t wanna think too much. And if you start getting too creative you start sort of thinking too much, and it also takes you away from being able to listen to what’s happening with everyone else.

I do want to turn our focus to talk a little bit about We Are Time as a label, because it’s a relatively new label, and not everybody knows all about it, and I don’t think that you’ve had that much chance to really talk about it before. 

Chandra: Yeah, a little bit here and there, but it is still new. It’s just finishing up its third year. So, Jesse and I started it during COVID when the CHANDRA band couldn’t tour. He and I had been talking about creating a label together for a while, but there just wasn’t an opening ’cause we were busy. He was in many bands, and we had CHANDRA band, and so with COVID — when we had the tour with Pylon Reenactment Society booked for spring of 2020, and obviously it all needed to be canceled — after we caught our breath a little bit, Jesse and I thought, “Well, we can’t go out, let’s turn our focus to doing this label we’ve been talking about for so long.”

Victoria: Yeah. And I think all the artists on the label are so glad that you did do that. 

Chandra: Oh, my gosh, thanks! And it’s one of those things, you have it on your list for a long time, and you think, Someday, someday, and then that day comes and you actually do it. And now, three years later, we have something like 11 releases. So we’re doing it. It’s happening. And it’s continuing. 

Victoria: It’s a big project. I mean, it makes sense that it was on your list for a while, but it’s not something you can just jump into so lightly, because it’s a lot of work. 

Chandra: Yeah, more than I could have predicted. But that’s OK, because it feels really good to get all of this music that I love out there, so it’s very gratifying. 

Victoria: Yeah, something that I appreciate as an artist that has worked with you as a label is the amount of attention and care that you’re able to give when you’re not doing a million releases. I can certainly say that when we were doing my record that I felt like things were quite thoroughly addressed and taken care of between me and you and Jesse. It was very collaborative in terms of just the kind of labors of promoting it, or making our connections, or whatever label stuff we were doing. I think that the groundwork that you’ve laid so far, from my perspective, is very artist centered.

Chandra: Yes, that’s right. And that is pretty much at the top of the list of our mission. 

Victoria: Yeah, it’s supportive to the artists who are lucky enough to be working with you, who are so far largely comprised of the CHANDRA band members. 

Chandra: That’s right. Well, in fact, the first release was the first CHANDRA band mixtape — that was all of your projects, the CHANDRA band members’ own projects. And we invited a couple of friends outside of the band to be on the tape too, and that was the jumping off point. Then the idea was we’d start with the CHANDRA band and then work out from there, kind of in concentric circles. And another idea was that we would basically do one release per season, with a few other little things sprinkled in here and there.

Victoria: Yeah, the compilations are sprinkled in.

Chandra: Yeah, and your remix release — which is digital only, which is rare for us. Mostly we’re focused on special edition vinyl, basically. And then the mixtapes, which are on cassette, because that’s fun. And then here and there we have things like remixes, which will usually be digital only.

Victoria: Yeah, it makes sense. I guess those things like remix projects or the mixtape compilations are part of what allows the label to branch out a little bit, and bring more artists into the fold. I’ve noticed a lot of the time it’ll be artists that we’ve met on tour, or we’ve toured with or people that we’ve met in other cities that were kind of like-minded, and we ended up in the same place at the same time, and then they get invited to be part of the label.

Chandra: I mean, Jesse is the one who so beautifully curated all of the mix tapes. I was involved, but he’s the one who said, “I think we should invite this artist or that artist.” So, he really put these together.

Victoria: Yeah. Well, maybe we should mention the fact that Jesse is not working with the label anymore. 

Chandra: That’s right. Over the past year or so, that has been a change. Now Jesse is focusing on other things, a lot of freelance writing, and he’s mentioned possibly going back to school. So I am working with Ryan [Dyck], who Jesse recommended to help out with the label. Ryan is also a friend of Jarrett [Samson] of Tough Age, which is now on the label, as well. So it’s all in the family. Ryan came to the label through these channels and he and I are now running the label together, and it’s going very well.

Victoria: Well, in fact, many of us lend a hand in the label. I mean, I wasn’t gonna mention this, but I have done also layout for a bunch of the releases.

Chandra: It’s true, it’s all hands on deck.

Victoria: Yeah, and Jesse has been such an important connector in terms of the network of the We Are Time family — and so has everybody else in the band actually, in terms of working with people in all the various ways that you end up needing to work with people. 

Chandra: I lean on you guys a lot actually. Like, “I need a video, I need art for a record.” I need all these things, emailing everybody in the band and the artists on the label asking, “Who do you know who can do this and that?”

Victoria: I mean from my perspective it’s nice. I like being in that position. It makes me feel like I have a small part to play in running the label, too, and contributing to it. And then it also, in turn, has supported my releases, and it just makes me feel more connected and that there are real relationships there. Obviously, I mean, we’re related in so many ways.

Chandra: Yeah. Another thing, too, of course is your release, Real Time that we put out. That was your artwork from photos your grandfather took. And you also produced many videos for that record and collaborated with Seth [Scriver] on the animated video for “To the Edge.”

Victoria: Yeah, Seth Scriver. I do like to have a lot of control over all the different ways that my music is presented and working with We Are Time has allowed me to do that. You’ve always been so supportive and inclusive of my ideas, or my collaborators. It’s a lot of work for me, but I kind of need that, to be able to have a say in those things.

So, we have this showcase coming up in Toronto. It’s pretty exciting.

Chandra: Yeah. Since the label started during COVID, we couldn’t actually have release shows for our first few releases — I was sending people bouquets to just mark the moment, ’cause we couldn’t even be together — so for some of the artists, this serves as their long-awaited release show. Other artists released their records after things opened up, and they’ll be joining too. Basically, every artist that is on the label will be playing the show. So that’s kind of cool, because probably, I’m gonna guess, it’s the only time that will ever be the case. As we go on and have more releases, there would be too many artists to fit into one showcase, but because it’s somewhat compact now, we can fit all eight of the bands into one weekend.

Victoria: So, was your inspiration to do the showcase to celebrate the label after a long period of time of not being able to be together?

Chandra: Yeah, and have everyone all together playing. I mean, actually, we didn’t know if it was gonna be possible to do something like that, ’cause it is a lot for us, being a small label and everything. But it seemed to kind of unfold, and we saw that, “Wow, yeah, we actually can get everyone there.”

Victoria: Yeah, it’s pretty wild, even just schedule-wise. Or people are traveling to to be in Toronto 

Chandra: So, Tough Age is now in Vancouver and Empanadas Ilegales is also coming from Vancouver. 

Victoria: Yeah, I think it’s really nice. Well, again, it just kind of speaks to the artist-centered ethos of the label, and also just the wish for a kind of a sense of community, and being able to feel some sense of coming together. There are people on the label that I don’t really know very well, or even at all. 

Chandra: Yeah and that’s one of the things I’m so excited for, is for all of the artists on We Are Time to meet, and see one another perform. So that’s another benefit.

Victoria: It’s encouraging more of the community aspect of a label, and the cross-pollination of artists. It’s not so much about the business or any of the other stuff about the music industry that artists actually do not enjoy. I think it’s refreshing to have a label that is in its own small way asserting that priority, that artists coming together is inspiring and important and helps to kind of fertilize the art form, you know?

Chandra: Yeah. This is making me think of, too — ’cause we’re talking about cross-pollination — the MISZCZYK record, which on its own is a little microcosm of what we’re talking about. He is expanding beyond. He has pulled people from all over with all of the different connections he has developed as a producer and a musician over the years. You’re on it, and Julie’s on it, and I’m on it, and Kristina [Koski], who plays keyboards in CHANDRA, is on it, and many, many other incredible artists are on it.

Victoria: Yes.

Chandra: Part of why I mention this is that MISZCZYK kicks off the weekend. I’ll be joining him on stage for one song, as will some of the other featured artists on his record. I’m also going to sing a duet with Bile Sister.

Victoria: Yeah, it’s gonna be fun. It’s big. It’s kind of like your party.

Chandra: Yeah, no wonder I’m so excited and exhausted.

Victoria: Yeah, you’re hosting a party, that’s what happening.

Chandra: Well, yes, with Ryan and you guys helping out behind the scenes. Because this is not a one person situation. It’s all hands on deck.

(Photo Credit: Kate Young)

New Chance is an electronic music producer and vocalist from Toronto. Her recent projects include a collaboration with reggae legend Willi Williams and the musical duo, Nice Hands, with poet Aisha Sasha John. She sings backup with Chandra and with Jennifer Castle’s Angels of Death.

(Photo Credit: Yuula Benivolski)