[Interview] CHKLZ Continues to Foster Community and Joy Through Music at Every Show

May 2, 2024 -

Justin Angle

CHKLZ, crowned as the Best Dance Artist of 2023 by Phoenix New Times, is setting the stage for an explosive 2024 filled with unforgettable performances. This duo, comprising DJ iLL Choppo and LeMarshawn Jean, has carved a distinct niche - and story- with their Groove Fiesta genre, blending engaging house music sets with high energy surprises and atmosphere that brings a crowd together.

Starting their journey under the most unique circumstances, CHKLZ drew inspiration from an unexpected source—a small, white dog named Charlie, rescued on a scorching July fourth. Charlie, affectionately nicknamed “Chuckles,” embodies the spirit of their music: joyous, inclusive, and resilient. This spirit is channeled and seen in their performance history, having played across diverse locales from the US to Australia, without the backing of an agent, showcasing their ability to connect and adapt.

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The duo’s sound is a lively fusion of DJ iLL Choppo’s live drum inclusion, honed over two decades, and well-orchestrated live DJ set, introduced by LeMarshawn Jean. This blend ensures that each CHKLZ show is packed with serious juice and unpredictability, keeping audiences on their toes and eagerly anticipating what comes next.

A landmark moment in their career was at Friendzy Fest 2023 in Alberta, Canada. What was scheduled as an early slot turned into a prime nighttime show, significantly boosting their profile and leading to increased bookings at festivals and as headliners. This pivot marked a step up in their career trajectory and expanded their fan base, a moment all artists desire but few accomplish.

CHKLZ is also revisiting their roots with an upcoming remix of the hit "White Wine Spritzer," originally by the heavy metal band Okilly Dokilly. This project bridges their early days in heavy metal with their current energizing house music vibe, creating a hybrid that promises to be both nostalgic and refreshing.

The story of CHKLZ is a celebration of community, creativity, and the unexpected journeys that define us. As they continue to tour and create new music, the duo carries with them the spirit of Chuckles, reminding fans worldwide that music is a powerful connector, irrespective of background or belief. Their upcoming shows are hard-working performances and a call to join a party where everyone is welcome and every moment is a blast.

We couldn't help but sit down with the duo and get to know them better! See the full interview below.

How did the unique name "CHKLZ" come about, and what does it represent for your duo?

A: The name CHKLZ (pronounced Chuckles) was born from our little white dog Charlie. We called here “Chuckles” as a nickname because she was a little girl “Chuck” just wasn’t going to stick.

She quickly became an instant source of inspiration one night sitting in my living. Our entire theme and language is “Doggies!” And it’s because of her. LeMarshawn Jean suggested we spell it this way to be different and stand out. And what a great decision that was looking back today.

The name represents our entire existence and way of being. We believe the most important aspect of all this is inclusivity. Every person matters. That is why we say “Doggies.” Anyone from any walk of life can be a “Doggie.” And we believe that our name and message reflect this. We also like to joke around and laugh alot, so it is a natural fit based on our personalities. You better believe when we are all together, there is definitely some hearty chuckling going down Doggies!

Can you describe the initial meeting with Charlie and how that moment influenced your music and philosophy?

A: On the 4th of July in 2015, I found a little white dog underneath a truck on the I-10 and 16th St off ramp in downtown Phoenix. I saw some movement underneath the truck and I thought to myself, “Is that a dog?”

She immediately came over to us and basically asked to be picked up. Her with sweet little eyes seemed so desperate when I walked over to her in the crosswalk. We took her with us and took her in.

That dog changed my life and existence. Prior to having Charlie in my life, I can confidently say I wasn’t in the best spot in my own existence. The dog forced me to change my ways and increased my focus. It really is a “who rescued who” situation. I think without that chance encounter with that little dog, my life might be very different and I thank higher beings every day that we were able to connect. She changed my life.

And because of her, we found new approaches and new inspirations for music that I have been trying to compose since the early 2000s. And even though we had to say goodbye to her in October 2022, she still remains our muse and her spirit will live on with us forever. There would be no “Whaddup Doggies!” without her. She is our brand!

What key elements define the Groove Fiesta genre that CHKLZ is known for?

A: We believe the key elements that define our genre of Groove Fiesta revolve entirely around heavy drums, percussion, catchy vocals, and experimental soundscapes. These sounds and intentions meld together to create a unique, uplifting experience for the listener. At heart of it, we very much believe that drums are truly the international language of the planet. It connects us to our deepest roots of music. And it evokes strong, rhythmic emotion. And drums always get people going!

We also believe in the power of focusing on the “world sound” as well. Drawing inspirations from all over the globe, our songs all have their own unique world that revolve around the red thread of our Groove Fiesta. We love house music, and know our sound is different and new to the genre. And we believe that we are diving right into the mix and shaking things up with our sound. And we couldn’t be prouder about it.

How does your past experience touring with a heavy metal band influence your current music style?

A: It has in several ways. One way is using the live drums and extra FX. We draw on the raw power we experienced while touring in Okilly Dokilly from 2018 - 2022. The energy a live band can create is different than the DJ world. These connections and experience give us the ability to combine all of our passions into the Groove Fiesta.

Another is the presentation of a professional, consistent project. We learned so about so many valuable tools and skills under the leadership of Head Ned. We saw what it takes to really run a professionally touring entity for 4 years. And we feel that experience has really helped us prepare to take CHKLZ to the next level professionally.

And I think it really further exemplified to us the power of a well-rehearsed, consistent live show. When we are touring, we rehearse a show. I wouldn’t say we are up there just DJing a set. We do some audibles depending on the show and the vibe, but I would say that strive hard for a well-rehearsed performance we can constantly deliver every night on tour. We want our live shows to be air-tight and consistent for our fans. When people are expecting an experience, we believe it’s our duty to deliver to the Doggies!

What has been the most memorable show for CHKLZ, and why?

A: This is a tough one. Every show is memorable and has so much value. I’d say honestly our most memorable shows were when we integrated a live band in Phoenix and Flagstaff in February 2023.

We have had crazier sets and shows for sure, but these were amazing because we got to take a major chance and play our first full sets on CHKLZ only productions with a live band accompanying the music.

Our goal in the long-term is for this project to have more musicians and really turn into a live edm band. We love DJing, but we see more for us as time and opportunities continue to arise.

How do you integrate live instrumentation with electronic elements during your performances?

A: Currently we integrate live instrumentation in several ways into our live shows. We use a Roland SPD-SX Pro for percussion, cowbell, and Korg Kaoss Pad. And we run everything through the Kaoss Pad. LeMarshawn Jean has become what I feel is a “master of the effects!” He will run on the fly samples, run effects on the drums, and make some builds so massive, sometimes I think I am gonna puke. Just kidding. We really feel that this, along with focusing on bringing our productions to the forefront, have become the bread and butter of our live show.

And I know this is a little off topic, but I also wanted to include that LeMarshawn Jean is also our head of production. He makes our custom visuals and is just amazing at making all of this craziness sound loud, clean, effective. He has really been instrumental in bringing this vision to life live.

What inspires you most when creating new music?

A: Are we having fun and losing our shit is the way I define what inspires us most when we are creating and crafting new music. If we are not losing it at the drop in our studio and getting out of the chair to start dancing, I know the song is not ready.

Is it always fun, no. Sometimes we have to push through some slow moments to get the goods! And I am fine with that. We love the process and we really love the songs we are sharing with the world. They are truly a reflection of us as people.

Ideas come from everywhere on the regular as well. I wouldn’t say there is a definitive source. It can be anything or any moment. And I truly stress on the importance of fun. If we aren’t having fun, why are we making this music? The world more uplifting music.

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Could you share your thoughts on the community you've built around your music?

A: I would say that the community built around music is truly an amazing one. Over the last 20 years in the Industry, some of my best relationships and friendships have stemmed from music. And when you share that magic with someone, and you truly share the raw energy of creation from the soul together, you will be bonded for life. I have played in so many bands, and all the bands I truly believed in, those folks are still close to me in my life. I may not always have the time or energy for some of those relationships as we progress through our journey, but when we talk and get together, it’s like we never missed a beat. And I know that is from the power of truly being open and sharing your energy with others. I know the same can be said for LeMarshsawn Jean.

We also love our Doggie Pack that we have built around CHKLZ. Whenever you move to a new world and sound, you are the “new guy” no matter what you’re background is. And over the years, we have been able to cultivate so many meaningful relationships with our fans and other artists that make us feel like we are less of the “new guys” and that we are more of the “here to stay” guys now. It has been an amazing journey and we are excited to more meaningful relationships as time continues in the project. They are the key!

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