With the floodgates open, Chamberlin's life, at least professionally and creatively, quite literally began anew. His new label gave him the one thing that Life Begins Again is all about - freedom, the freedom to harness musical inspiration as it hits, and preventing it from being diluted by bottom-line concerns. With that freedom, Chamberlin and a cast of trusted friends and peers, bounded into an L.A. studio and cranked out his first solo statement in record pace.
"I'm amazed that we did it. There was a lot of internal laughing going on while we were making it, just because we were thrilled at the progress we were making and we were actually pulling it off," Chamberlin says.
Ranging from the sweet and lush (the ethereal "Loki Cat") to the moody and mean ("Cranes of Prey"), Life Begins Again is the brainchild of both Chamberlin and friend, colleague and multi-instrumentalist Billy Mohler, an L.A.-based songwriter who has worked with everyone from Macy Gray to Fred Durst. The two first met when Mohler, who sings lead on "Newerwaves," auditioned for Zwan. While he wasn't hired for the gig, Mohler and Chamberlin became quick friends. It was him who Chamberlin called first after securing a record deal.
The two proved perfect collaborators: "It was kind of like, `Oh, I got this riff,' or `Oh, I got this idea,' and we would kind of talk through the parts and write the songs together," Chamberlin notes. "His strength melodically kind of tied into my strength as far as "tunesmithery." He's a good part writer, and I'm a good song assembler. So I think in that respect our relationship really complements each other."
The two built the disc's rhythm tracks first. "Once the bass and drums were done, you could kind of hear the songs finished," Chamberlin notes. "It was just a matter of waiting for God to drop the guitar player or piano player in your lap." That heaven-sent duo wound up being Sean Woolstenhulme and Adam Benjamin, respectively. The latter came in at the 11th hour, lathering the trademark Rhodes organ sound over several Chamberlin and Mohler creations. Woolstenhulme's participation, meanwhile, was sort of a last-minute addition, as well: "Originally, I didn't want any guitar on the record," Chamberlin says. "I just sort of wanted all this distorted Fender Rhodes all over it. And when Sean came in, he immediately started playing me stuff that sounded exactly like distorted Fender Rhodes. I thought, "This is exactly what I want-it sounds nothing like guitar.'"
The varying influences drifting in and out of Life Begins Again are rooted in a childhood spent being virtually bombarded by music. Growing up in Joliet, Illinois, an old steel town on Chicago's Southside, Chamberlin was weaned on both the Duke Ellington and Count Basie swing records favored by his father (a clarinet player), as
well as the classic rock beloved by his siblings (one of which was a drummer): Steely Dan, Rickie Lee Jones, Hendrix, John Mayall, Alvin Lee, Led Zeppelin.
With a musical style landing somewhere between Gene Krupa and Mitch Mitchell, Chamberlin would alter the alt-rock landscape as a member of the massively successful Smashing Pumpkins, who he linked up with through mutual friends/acquaintances. While the last to join the band, his musical relationship with Billy Corgan would outlast the band itself, as the two would go on to co-found Zwan, their first post-Pumpkins project in 2001.
"For me, everything is cyclical," Chamberlin says. "If you look at nature, the universe, everything is in circles. In any person's life, they can kind of point to where it starts again. I think Life Begins Again is just the start of another cycle for me musically."
All of the lyrics on Life Begins Again were written by Chamberlin (with the exception of "Lullabye" written by Mohler and Becca Popkin), who makes his debut as a lyricist. While Mohler sings "Newerwaves," ex-Catherine Wheel front man Rob Dickinson is the voice behind the title track and "Love Is Real," while Rock n' Roll Hall of Famer Bill Medley (one-half of the Righteous Brothers) takes the mic on "Lullabye." Corgan teams up with Chamberlin for "Loki Cat." Chamberlin says, "I played the CD for Billy and when he heard that song, he immediately asked if I had lyrics. I told him, `No, the song is an instrumental.' He said," I would love to sing on that song! Write me some lyrics and a melody." So after a couple of attempts at lyrics, I hit on something we both liked." The chemistry and love between these two friends makes for one of the strongest tracks on the record.
The album's lyrical concept, Chamberlin says, is freedom of the spirit: "I think that love and spirituality - and this cosmic vibration that runs through everybody - is a real thing. For me, music is a testament that if you acknowledge the vibrations going on around you, it's possible to reproduce that in to an art form. To me, this CD is an acknowledgement of the natural vibrations running through me. It was just a period of my life where I was able to channel those into music because I was given the freedom to do so."
"The song "Love Is Real" has a lyric that goes, `I walked outside tonight with the stars as my guide, knowing where to go/ it's my heart that tells me so.' To me, that line sums up the whole record right there. It was more of a heartfelt musical adventure than it was a thought-out process. This whole project was based on intuition and not over thinking anything, just knowing that when something comes to you, it's in its most natural form, and that's how it needs to be translated musically....
When something comes to you, use that power to make it great."