Two USM students, Nick Decker and Chris Armstrong, have been bringing new sounds to Gorham with their band Azaria Chamberlain, but now, with only two shows left, the band is dissolving after being one of the most active bands on campus this year.
Considered by some to be out of their element at USM, Decker, a sophomore English education major from Maryland, and Armstrong, a sophomore studio art major from New Hampshire, choose to express themselves with the heartfelt rage of a punk-rock band they started last January.
These two stand out as part of a burgeoning wave of the Maine (and Maryland) music scene that is ready to embrace fresh ideas and raw, unsullied artistic enthusiasm. Decker and Armstrong bridge the gap between USM’s talented student body and greater Portland’s art and music scenes.
According to them, music, out of all their aspirations and exploits, has been most influential on them and helped form the bond that solidified their friendship, that started when they were assigned to the same dorm room last January. Both Decker and Armstrong have various side projects out of Maine and Maryland, but their band, which will only exist for another month, has been their main collaborative brainchild. Inspired by post hardcore bands like City of Caterpillar and Father Figure, Azaria Chamberlain served as a creative outlet for both the musicians and the fans to explore the nature of their angst, confusion and sometimes sorrow.
The band name stems from the Azaria Chamberlain incident in 1980, when an Australian baby girl was killed by a dingo after being taken from the tent her family was camping in. The child’s mother was initially was charged with murder and spent more than three years in prison. In 1983, forensics proved that she was innocent when the child’s jacket was found near a dingo lair and more research could be done. Decker said that the point across that the name wasn’t intended to trivialize the situation.
“[The name] was chosen because we play extremely emotive music that could be compared to the despair of the mother’s situation,” said Decker. “Although, realistically, I’m sure nothing could compare.”
And now after rocking out in friends’ basements for a full year, Azaria Chamberlain is breaking up after Decker decided to move back to Maryland to be with his family.
“From the beginning all the members agreed that if one of us leaves, the band is done,” said Decker. “But we still both have our solo work as well as my new band Dream Wheels.”
Decker’s current solo project is Koala Tea Time, an emo folk project inspired by bands like Defiance Ohio, and he feels like it has been his most successful music project. Armstrong also has been busy recording and is planning on releasing his untitled EP next week. But the duo still has some life left in them, as the band is planning a couple “farewell shows” over the next month.
Armstrong described Azaria as “skramz,” which is sort of a humorous term for “real screamo,” coined back in the ‘90s. Bands who felt like they were the real deal started to dislike newer screamo bands, whom they felt were giving the movement a bad name.
According to Anna Powers, a sophomore history major, Azaria Chamberlain sticks to its early ‘90s roots by swapping emasculating sensitivity with sentimentality, genuine emotion and magnetism so that any mention of death and dying –– which would ordinarily be another screamo clichè –– dredges up an unquestionable angst that lives within every human being, no matter how remote those emotions seem.
“Nick’s singing isn’t angry, it’s exhausted,” said Powers. “A lot of people can relate to the exhaustion that is prevalent in their music. It’s a release of emotion for them.”
According to Decker, their music is the sting of raw youth and the atmosphere of every problematic episode in one’s life. Decker’s lyrics come straight from a spry ability to read situations and dissect experiences that many times are lost in the dulling of adulthood.
“They’re about experiences with other people and my feelings about the experiences,” said Decker. “I don’t like isolating the audience; everyone who can relate is welcome to.”
Both relatable and unique, it’s hard to get past lyrics like “when I moved into my new place/I painted the walls the color of your eyes/ I painted the walls the color of your soul/ I’m sorry that I left you/ You were the only home I ever had” without feeling familiarly tender.
The chance to experience this familiarity will come a couple more times this month. They are planning on Monday, April 14 at the Woodbury Art Gallery at 7 p.m., according to Decker. He said that they haven’t acquired permission to use the space, so worst -case scenario, they’ll play in the parking garage. The band plans to perform their goodbye concert on May 6 at the Meg Perry Center. They’ve also created a Facebook page, inviting fans to join them for a celebration of all the friends they’ve made in Maine.
“I’ll miss Maine and Azaria, but I’ll tour fairly regularly, so I’ll be back soon enough,” said Decker.
“The band splitting up doesn’t mean that they are done playing for good,” said Powers.
This merging of young artists from a university background with the exhilarating grime of Portland’s network of city musicians, instigates real opportunity for incredible new music, introducing diversity in the content of the scene that could take the usual (albeit extraordinarily fun) show experience to new levels. Both Armstrong and Decker are so fluid between being students and being local musicians; they alone are the fiber by which a whole intertwining rope could be formed to link USM’s artistic community to Portland’s artistic community. Azaria Chamberlain is ending, but that doesn’t mean an end to Armstrong and Decker’s creative collaborations.
“Short-lived and loud––true skramz,” said Decker.