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Release of new single signals return of Farmington metal band Signal 99

Signal 99 leader emerges from hiatus with new perspective

FARMINGTON — Even as other musicians have spent the last year anticipating the end of the of the COVID-19 pandemic and making plans to hit the ground running when live music venues reopen, Chuck Haven has taken a far more passive approach.

It's not that Haven doesn't have plenty at stake. He has invested much of his adult life into his metal group Signal 99, which was an upward career trajectory when the pandemic hit. The group records for the California indie label Dead Sea Records and has earned a slew of endorsement deals while establishing itself on the festival circuit on the West Coast and in Mexico.

But rather than trying to figure out what will be left of the music business when the pandemic ends, and positioning his band to be ready for that, Haven has spent most of the last year focusing on his family, writing and recording new material, and adopting a fatalistic, wait-and-see attitude about the industry.

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He figures there's little to be gained by making long-term plans in the midst of so much uncertainty, and he remains committed to the idea of taking a cautious approach to returning to the stage.

"Yeah, that's a good perspective of how I take things," Haven said. "I think it's about being responsible. You've got to be responsible about your action. We had this discussion with everyone in the band a few weeks ago. There were some who wanted to go out and play and some who wanted to wait."

In at least one respect, however, the waiting is over for Signal 99. The group has recorded a slew of new songs over the past three years, and it plans to digitally release the first single from those sessions, "Revolution," on April 15. Other new singles will follow every 90 days until early next year, when the band releases a full album, also titled "Revolution."

Haven likens the release of the new song to waving a flag and signaling to the group's fan base that Signal 99, despite its year-long performance hiatus, is still around.

"I know a lot of people have been through a lot," he said. "A lot of people have been through some hardship. But we're still here, and we're ready to get back on our feet and start moving forward, although that's not to say we're going to be in a rush about it."

The benefit of life lessons

Haven is certainly no stranger to hardship himself. His grief over the death of his two brothers several years ago nearly caused him to quit the music business, and now the pandemic has taken two more family members from him. He recognizes the wisdom of avoiding taking any chances that might endanger his health or the health of his bandmates and family members.

Haven acknowledged that hard-won life experience has informed his decision-making process.

"Honestly, if I was younger or if my brothers were still here, I would have been more aggressive about getting things out," he said. "But I want to stay safe. I'm the last surviving son for my parents. I don't want to sound morbid, but I think I owe it to them to outlive my parents."

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That's not to say Haven isn't as ready as anyone else for the pandemic to be over. He said his dreams are haunted by visions of being back on stage in front of an enthusiastic throng and interacting with fans after the show.

But that will come in time, he knows. For now, Haven is excited about having new music to share with listeners, and he's eager to find out how fans react to the new single, which he characterized as nothing short of a breakthrough.

"Revolution" is much different than anything Signal 99 has released before, highlighted by an attention-grabbing guitar riff and a hip hop-influenced vocal cadence.

"I distinctly remember writing that guitar riff," Haven said, explaining he knew instantly the song's structure would serve as a departure for his group. "I really liked it. Then I began writing all the parts around it. It was totally different, but it's still me."

When he's constructing a new song, Haven said his biggest challenge is capturing something on tape for an audience to hear that matches the ideal he holds in his mind. With "Revolution," he believes he has done that.

"Revolution" also represents a progression in his philosophy and an adoption of a more hopeful outlook. Haven said when he listens to songs he wrote earlier in his career, he can sense the anger and despair he was feeling over the death of his brothers. The material on "American Monster," the group's 2017 disc, was a reaction to the political developments of that period, but it also explored Haven's larger sense that, while we picture ourselves as individuals, we are stuck in a collective machine that marches to its own agenda.

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But "Revolution," coming on the heels of the societal reset that the pandemic has mandated, is all about seizing that opportunity, and building a new and better foundation for your life.

"It's not a revelation, it's a revolution," he said, describing the theme of the single, something the hopes matches the spirit of the times. "It's a revolution of your mind, body and soul. That's what the song is all about."

Gardening, chickens and sin

Haven, who works a day job in the public relations department at a local health care facility, said he has spent much of the last year on such unglamorous pursuits as developing his gardening skills and raising chickens. But he also dedicated himself to improving his guitar technique and pondering life's more serious concepts, including examining the seven deadly sins — a theme whose presence will be felt throughout the new album.

Likening his group's year-long absence from performing to hibernation, he said Signal 99 has awakened and is ready to reassert itself — loudly. He doesn't know when that will translate into a return to the stage, but Haven is committed to continuing writing and producing new music, and reaching out to his fans that way.

The last year has confirmed for him the essential role music plays in his sense of fulfillment, he said.

"When I found myself not doing music for a week or two, that was when I felt anxious," Haven said. "Music is really therapy for me. I do not see myself not doing it. If this goes on another year, I'll probably put out another 10 songs."

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or Support local journalism with a digital subscription.