Native New Yorker Chuck Schiele initially came to San Diego for college in 1979 but ended up staying for over three decades. By 2008, he had America’s Finest City by the cojones, working from an owned home with a rehearsal/recording studio out back in Ocean Beach, where he was so well connected he was widely considered to be the seaside borough’s unofficial mayor. He was also writing and designing for this publication, working as a professional creative director, and garnering San Diego Music Awards and nominations hand over fist with his band The Grams. Everything was coming up roses until 40-year-old lead guitarist and occasional lead vocalist bandmate Craig Yerkes perished in a car crash just before a scheduled performance later in the afternoon of June 28 at the OB Street Fair. Schiele spiraled into the subsequent bereavement; the band ended (Yerkes’ shoes were too big to fill), his marriage ended, and he languished without music, though even the thought of playing or songwriting was too painful. Eventually, with the loss ceaselessly staring back at him from every familiar face and place, it became evident that a change of scenery was required, and, in 2010, he closed up shop and returned to Syracuse.
It’s really no surprise if you know him, but Schiele reintegrated into his hometown with astounding aplomb, securing high-level, industry-related employment at the nearby-headquartered Making Music magazine and International Musician: The Official Journal of the Musicians Union of the United States and Canada, and hooking up with local musicians to form his own bands and create a mutually supportive network. He found new life in a familiar town, new love in an old friend, fell into rewarding collaborations with new players, and he began to heal from the pain he had only geographically left behind.
But Schiele also had to come to grips with the extent of the tattoo San Diego had etched upon his soul skin, recognized in his incessant longing for things as simple as good Mexican food and beverages, as sublime as temperate sunsets at the beach, as visceral as playing with the other talented musicians he missed from this long-running hotbed of musical activity south of LA. He discovered that San Diego has his heart, even as Syracuse still has his roots.
Schiele, who has steadfastly maintained his local contacts (he’s still currently responsible for a significant portion of this publication’s appearance), began making regular return trips to get a fix of the Southern California drug he misses dearly––usually around the summer solstice––in 2012, fitting in visits with friends and, if it worked out, a show or two with a pick-up band comprised of members from past projects. One resulting outfit was dubbed The Skinnydippers (featuring former Grams violinist/vocalist and Yerkes’ widow “Sweet” Elise Ohki, former Grams and Bad Science Fiction bassist Tony Sandoval, and Bad Science Fiction drummer Don Weisman) and specializes in eclectic rock readings and medleys of classic covers, with Schiele originals from various eras thrown in.
Over the past decade, Schiele has also managed to bring a bit of San Diego to Syracuse, hosting and showcasing touring artists like multiple SDMA nominee Christopher Dale on enjoyable duo shows whenever they swung through town (Dale has reciprocated the same arrangement for several of Schiele’s visits here).
Now, Schiele is poised to do the inverse, as this coming month will see him bring his Syracuse-based ensemble The Quatro out to this beloved border town for a handful of concerts. The Quatro is another rustic affair, consisting of himself on vocals and acoustic guitar, John Dancks on double bass, George Newton on pedal steel, and Heather Kubacki on cello and vocals, bringing a serene, ethereal, yet still groove-laden touch to his exotic repertoire of originals and covers. One such appearance will transpire at the San Diego Troubadour 20th Anniversary Holiday Celebration on Sunday, December 12 at Tango Del Rey. It’s a bit of a whirlwind visit, with a show booked on each night of their stay after their arrival on the 9th, but rest assured, Schiele will find the time to fit in some carnitas and tequila consumption for himself and any other interested parties.
Schiele has grand plans for his future’s house, for which he is presently laying the bricks and mortar. Having jumped ship from Making Music magazine over the summer, he launched his own online mag––Inside Cool music magazine (www.InsideCoolMusicMag.com)––in October. The site is amazingly comprehensive, featuring the gamut of contemporary content (articles, tutorials, video interviews with industry-wide professionals, etc. et al.), and of course, with Schiele involved, everything looks quintessentially world-class.
He will also continue to uphold that same level of craftsmanship in his musical projects and collaborations out of his home studio and elsewhere. Earlier this year, Schiele released a well-recorded four-song EP entitled Love Letters (which features Grammy-nominated drummer Byron Cage and charting jazz bassist Edgar Pagán) as well as poignant videos to accompany and augment the message of each track (“The Big Idea” is essentially one long series of guest appearances by band members, fans, family, and friends, all passing a symbolic light bulb to one another to emphasize the idea of love as a contagious panacea).
He will continue gigging in the New York region with The Quatro in various permutations (the duo shows he’s playing with Kubacki are quickly gaining traction), but the now semiannual return trips becoming more consistent would seem to belie a desire to ultimately return to the left coast permanently. The heart wants what it wants, especially if it is no longer constantly mired in the white noise of bereavement overload, but things are more complicated now that Schiele has created such a fulfilling life back in his hometown. For now, this gypsy maven will thrive in his bicoastal-ness, consummate his long-distance relationship with San Diego when he can, and make the best of the current situation, which is nothing to scoff at, and has healed Schiele in ways he is still fathoming.
Chuck Schiele’s Quatro: Four Perfectly Aligned Musical Misfits Creating with Elegance and Irreverence
by Jason Emerson
The instruments and chairs are all set in a circle ready for rehearsal; the smell of recently cooked food is in the air; a fire is going in the wood stove; the lights are moody dim but bright enough to see; and steel guitarist George Newton playfully tells the rest of the band to shut up because the cat knocked his instrument out of tune again.
That would be Chuck Schiele’s cat, Sofía, who likes to sleep on top of Newton’s pedal steel so much that Schiele puts a towel on it when it’s not in use. “She loves that thing,” Schiele says. “She’s like Sheba on it.”
The constant banter among bandmates, the two cats chilling in the space, the homestyle feel of rehearsal in Schiele’s living room—this is the vibe of Chuck Schiele’s Quatro. It’s family, not practicality—not formulated sound seeking fame and fortune (not that that would be a bad thing). “There’s a strong family dynamic of the band, more than most groups, in my opinion,” Schiele said before the rest of the group arrived that evening while he cooked stir fry chicken and broccoli and the song “Dancing Queen” was playing on the classic hits radio station.
“All the bands I’ve been in have had a family nature; The Grams in San Diego was very much a family,” Schiele continued. “I’m careful how I choose the bandmates—chops are a given, but I really look for who I want to hang with, because you really live with people you do this with. In Quatro, we’ve just grown close to one another. When we’re done playing, we hang out as pals and just talk about life and stuff, and I think that shows in our music. I call it “pillow talk”: you can hear it when people are friends in the music.”
As the band started to arrive that night, Schiele was warming up and improvising on his D’Angelico acoustic guitar, checking sound levels and string tuning. The sleeping cats perked up when cellist and vocalist Heather Kubacki came in the door with a gust of cold air. As she set up her instrument and checked the mic, John Dancks hauled in his double bass and Newton carried in cases of pedals and cords for his already present instrument.
A little taste of Quatro, performing Lafe Dutton’s song “Pray for Rain.”
These four “perfectly aligned misfits,” as they say of themselves on their website, play with a sound that “exists somewhere between the deserts of New Mexico and the rings of Saturn.” It’s exotic and unlikely, yet familiar, beautiful yet haunting. It’s the uniqueness that really strikes you when you first see and hear them: acoustic guitar, cello, upright bass, and steel guitar—no drums or percussion equipment—male and female, young and seasoned, creating music and vocal harmonies that intoxicate the listener.
“We’re the only ones we know doing this combination of instruments,” Schiele says. “It’s uncharted territory and allows us the opportunity to discover, explore, and invent while we’re playing. It’s like driving down a road you don’t know—it’s a beautiful territory and a great playground, so were having a lot of fun.”
Schiele is a career musician—guitarist and singer/songwriter—who has made waves in San Diego and Syracuse, NY; Dancks is a first-call bass veteran and Syracuse-area music Hall of Famer; Newton has been a fixture on the Syracuse music scene for 30 years with numerous bands and sitting in with famous musicians on tour; while Kubacki, the youngster of the group, brings the youthful dynamic, the modern cello chops, and haunting vocals (she was an all-state singer in high school) of a much more seasoned musician.
Schiele and Dancks played together in another Syracuse band and then crossed paths with Newton in same music circles. The three decided to jam and have a couple of beers. The serendipity of a business lunch between Schiele, a former college professor, and Kubacki, his former student, then brought the fourth piece into place. In that lunch, Schiele inquired about her choir activities (he used to sign her out of class so that she could sing with her college choir). She informed that the choir days were over, but that she wished to play cello, again. Upon learning this, Schiele encouraged her to sit-in and try this project with Dancks and Newton. “We threw her under the bus, and the rest is history,” Schiele recalls.
Together, Quatro has been impressing audiences since its live debut in June 2019 at the 443 Social Club & Lounge to a standing-room-only turnout. A good way to describe their music is that it is simultaneously elegant and irreverent. They have the elegance of seasoned musicians allowing classical elements into their music, as well as the elegance of playing fretless instruments with graceful gestures and movements (watching Dancks’ fingers on his bass, for example, is like looking at the delicate perfection of a spider walking around its web without a hint of imbalance or hesitation).
Quatro’s irreverence comes in the way they play familiar music in their own unique style. They cover songs such as “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” by Eurythmics, “Freak on a Leash” by Korn, and “Something Stupid” by Frank Sinatra, but rearrange each into a Quatro original. “It doesn’t matter what goes through the ‘meat grinder’ as I call it; it all comes out Quatro,” Schiele says. “We make those songs naturally fit into the mix beautifully in a way that makes sense. It’s great.”
For the past two years, the group has performed across the Central New York area, on television and radio, and recorded a three-song EP, Chuck Schiele’s Quatro, 4.1. That self-produced EP was just the beginning—the formative incubation of their unique sound development—and has since transcended into a recorded outdoor concert (called “Four in the Field”) of a 20-song set in late 2020, and a studio recording project, the “Subcat Sessions,” in early 2021.
They battled through COVID lockdowns like all artists have, by rehearsing at a safe distance until more normal times returned. But they still played together at least once a week, crafting their sound and exploring their style.
With a new year on the horizon, Quatro continues to groove in a forward motion, booking gigs, writing original songs, and planning to release more material in audio and video in 2022.
Don’t miss Quatro, who will be flying to San Diego and playing at the San Diego Troubadour’s 20th Anniversary Celebration/Annual Holiday Fundraiser, December 12, 5pm at Tango Del Rey, 3567 Del Rey St. (off Mission Bay Drive). Other featured bands include the Shawn Rohlf Band, Sue Palmer & her Motel Swing Orchestra, Charlie Arbelaez Quartet, and Whitney Shay Band with Laura Chavez. Everyone welcome!
Jason Emerson is a freelance writer based in Syracuse, NY.