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Michael's Number Ones: "Send the Pain Below" by Chevelle

Updated: Apr 1



May 24, 2003


How we handle failure often defines us more than how we handle success. No one goes undefeated in life. In my case, when things began to get hard for me, whether it was schoolwork, making friends, or my home life, I cratered and retreated into myself. It wasn't pretty. My bedroom became my world, and the radio was my soundtrack. It took my parents getting divorced and the specter of uprooting my life to realize I needed to get my shit together.

The only time I look back on that period of my life with any fondness is with the music I listened to at the time, including many of the songs I've written about so far. By 2003, I had gotten a fresh start at a high school in Washington State and made as much as I could out of it. I was doing well in school and making friends. I knew what it was get your face rubbed in the dirt and have to wash it off.

So maybe it was natural that a song like "Send the Pain Below", a crunchy alt-metal banger, would resonate with me at the time. Not only was it reflective of where my tastes where going in that moment, but its message meant more to me than I realized.

Pete, Sam, and Joe Loeffler were born in the Chicago suburb of Grayslake, Illinois. Pete and Sam formed Chevelle in 1995, naming the band after the Chevrolet Chevelle, which was their father's favorite car. Joe joined the band soon afterward despite only being 14 years old. After recording a demo album in 1998, the band signed to Christian music label Squint Entertainment.

In 1999, they worked with big deal producer Steve Albini on their debut album, Point #1. Even though the band didn't label themselves a Christian rock band, it was mostly in those circles where the album got attention. In 2000, the band got a Dove Award (basically the Christian version of the Grammys) for Best Hard Music Album for their debut.

Still, Chevelle was beginning to get noticed outside of Christian music circles. They toured with hard rock mainstays like Sevendust and Powerman 5000. When Squint Entertainment folded in 2001, the band signed with Epic Records. They traveled to Vancouver to record their next albums, the sessions for which began the day after the 9/11 attacks.

Wonder What's Next isn't really a typical metal record. The band puts a lot of care into the melodies on the tracks. It even ends with a spare acoustic song. But it's still aggressive as fuck, perhaps influenced by the feelings the band were experiencing after the terrorist attacks occurred. While other artists around this time were expressing thoughts of revenge or patriotism, it seems the Loeffler brothers turned inward. I think the best way to summarize the feeling of the record is thoughtful anguish, something I was probably well versed with at the time.

It also helped that the band worked with Garth Richardson to produce the album. The Loefflers found Albini's production unstructured and loose, resulting in a relatively flat record. When they worked with Richardson, there was more preparation and refinement to their process. There's texture all over the album, a three-dimensionality that I don't think other hard rock bands appreciated in their recordings.

The album was released in the fall of 2002, led by the single "The Red". "The Red" is an absolute slammer of a song. It builds and builds like a volcano until you get the pressure release at the end. The video for the track visualizes this literally, with a group therapy session that slowly goes off the rails. It got heavy rotation on MTV2 and became the band's first big hit, reaching #4 on Billboard's alternative chart and even getting to #56 on the Hot 100. On my chart, the song was a slow burner, but it ultimately reached #3 in February 2003.

"Send the Pain Below" was the second single from Wonder What's Next. The song describes how someone responds to pain and other people enjoying their suffering. "You used to beg me to take care of things/And smile at the thought of me failing." Loeffler compares what he's going through to suffocating, later saying, "I can't feel my chest/need more/drop down/closing in".

I want to stop short of saying the narrator is enjoying the pain they're going through because I don't believe it's endorsing self-harm. The way I interpret it is we all have to go through shit at some point. We can either lay down in it, or get back up, clean yourself off, and move forward. But there's still a moment when you have to absorb what happened, otherwise you're never going to learn from it.

Musically, the song crushes you with its melody. Yet it still allows room to breathe during Pete's verses. It's contemplative, almost like it's signaling thinking through a course of action and not diving headlong into it. And when it takes actions in the choruses there's a focus that you feel to your bone marrow.

The video for the song amplifies this message. A snowboarder tumbles down a mountain during a competition, and later is at a bar thinking about what happened. Everyone is laughing and having a good time, but he's focused on how to get better. He practices at night by himself, nailing his moves. When the next competition takes place, he rips off his bib before proceeding. He's in this to prove to himself he can do it and doesn't care what anyone else thinks.

I don't believe a song needs a great video to get over with me, and with music video channels basically dead at this point, that's never been more true. But I watched MTV2 and Fuse a lot around this time, and they played the fuck out of Chevelle's videos. So the message the video for "Send the Pain Below" delivered really hit home for me. Even though I was on the cusp of turning 17 and still pretty naive about the world, I still dealt with a lot of trauma to this point, both personal and generational. In retrospect, there was no way this wouldn't have made an impact with me.

"Send the Pain Below" topped the Modern Rock chart in July, the band's only number one on that chart, and got to #65 on the Hot 100. Chevelle continued to tour hard behind the record, joining Audioslave (a band that will eventually appear in this column) on a European tour, and appearing on the main stage at Ozzfest that summer.

I was also spinning the hell out of the Wonder What's Next CD by this point. So were other people, with the album selling over a million copies in the United States by the summer of 2003. I even remember a girl in my pre-calculus class noticing I had the CD and asking to borrow it. I wish that had led to something more, but I didn't take any action to try to make that happen. That was one of a long string of failure I would have to take to heart before I came out the other side.

Nevertheless, Chevelle were becoming one of my favorite bands during this time. And "Send the Pain Below" ultimately was named my #1 song of 2003. If I heard any of their songs on the radio, they were going to do something for me. And that's exactly what happened later in the year. We will see Chevelle again in this column.


John Mayer's wistful ode to a quarter-life crisis, "Why Georgia", peaked at #7 behind "Send the Pain Below". I've got a smile on, but it's hiding the quiet superstitions in my head.

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