Her voice is soft but confident in the way of a purposeful young woman on the cusp of adulthood, “I’ve always known that I definitely have to do something with music.”
That’s seventeen-year-old Maleena Dominick, the fresh-faced, pink-haired bassist that holds down the groove for Pittsburgh-based power-pop rock band, Chip & The Charge Ups. Her musical nature runs in her blood, inherited from her father, Chip Dominick, the lead singer, guitarist, and primary songwriter for the band. I’m sitting across from them both, Chip the commensurate rock and roller sporting a concert tee under cool duds, his long dark hair bound by a bandana, and lithe Maleena, effervescent of youth with Chucks on her feet and iridescent coils through her ear lobes. Missing are drummer Jeff DiPerna and guitarist Chris Bowers, but their presence surrounds us in the form of instruments galore.
We’re in the basement of the Dominick Family home, a converted practice space for the band. It is a veritable palace of rock and roll with walls lined with bright colors, posters, and myriad concert tickets from some of history’s greatest shows, 1989 Metallica and Motley Crue to name just a couple. The stubs are framed under glass and arranged in reverence as if to invite the spark of these musical legends into the room. The high energy is just what Chip & The Charge Ups are going for, with everything from their electrically inspired name to their core musical style, an amalgamation of hard rock and power punk emblemized by their mashup of Poison’s “Fallen Angel” and Green Day’s “Good Riddance”. Even the band’s album names are a nod to their electrified roots, Flow of the Current, Part I (+) released in 2018, and Flow of the Current, Part II (-) due out on April 5, 2019.
“I like the plus/minus for the electrical charge,” I say, “It’s like a little joke in there.”
“They’re contrasting styles,” Chip says. Of the newest album, he elaborates, “It incorporates a lot more acoustic. With the first album we just kind of wanted to introduce ourselves and have some edge to it, be more straightforward, and then with the second album show a little more of an artistic side, deeper lyrics, add some contrast, keep people guessing, and not be predictable.” Maleena subtlety nods as her father speaks.
Eleven songs span the two albums, and Chip says he wrote them all in a flow of what was current to his inspirations. Only later did he recognize the unique way the collection split into two distinct sets.
“An album should be an experience; an album should be a journey. Each of them kind of tell their own story.”
The first, he says, screams, “Here we are, let’s rock!” where the second is meant to take that rock base to the next level and show how deep the band can go. Chip describes some of the sincere nuances of the new tunes with wide eyes and a buzzing fervor.
“Lyrically, ‘The Song that Saved the World’, that’s a song that explores possibilities. ‘What if someone got inspired by this song and found the cure to cancer? What if someone got inspired by this song and found a solution to peace on Earth?’ All great things on this Earth start with the spark of an idea, and that song is just about trying to have that spark happen to someone who can take it and do something amazing with it.”
Many of the songs on the new album share similar depth, such as “By the Tracks”, a fictional story of a love that resists the ravages of time, and even “Punk Rock on Acoustic Guitar”, which places the acoustic guitar into an atypical context with complete intention.
“On a surface level, it’s just a fun song with the title and the style,” Chip says, “It seems like it’s funny or a joke, but really, it’s a love story about two people who society says don’t really belong together. It’s laughing in the face of society and saying, ‘You know what this is my soul mate. I don’t care if I’m a punk rocker and she’s a goody two shoes, we found something, and we belong together no matter what the world says.’”
With Chip & The Charge Ups, the story telling doesn’t end at the level of the song or the album, it extends all the way to the performances. Maleena was all smiles, eager to share this aspect of their venture.
She says, “I think one thing that makes it really cool about our shows is that we always have a theme we incorporate, into the songs we play, different things we do for our outfits, and I think that brings in a whole new element that you don’t always see at concerts.”
Indeed, even a quick video search will show the band’s zestful style, dressed in black button ups with yellow ties, bopping around the stage like electrons whizzing around in an atom. Chip commands the crowd, addressing them as he sings. Maleena bolts towards the drummer and bangs her head to the beat before springing off the riser in a fit of fun, all while crushing every note on the bass.
She says they’ve had a “Black and Gold Rock and Roll Riot” filled with such antics, and that one of her favorite gigs was “Maleena’s Bombastic Birthday Bash” with cake, balloons, bead necklaces, and a special feature wherein she played one of her solo works. Though Maleena is not yet a senior in high school, she’s already had a lot of experience in both composition and performance, dabbling with songwriting as early as four years old and playing acoustically on her own before joining forces with her pops.
“I started my whole music career in third grade when I started playing recorder,” she earnestly declares. She explains how the school program incentivized musical learning by rewarding increasing skill with bits of different colored yarn tied to the end of the recorder, “They called them belts,” Chip chimes in, “kind of like karate.” Maleena said she excelled so quickly they had to add new levels, “That’s when I knew I wanted to be a musician.”
Chip hangs back, watching her with an unimposing fatherly pride as she speaks freely.
“Every Monday I have my music days and I just go and I write a song, I write a song every week. Usually I start with a drum beat, I pick out a tempo, I have a little MIDI keyboard and I also have EZdrummer, so I just mess around with it until I find a drum beat I like and then I build on top of that until I have a full song.”
“Every Monday?” I ask, astonished by her discipline.
“Yup!” she replies in a pleased chirp. “It started over the summer before my junior year because everybody’s like ‘oh you have to start thinking about college and career,’ and I was like… ‘Yikes!’”
We all laugh together at the simple honesty of this statement, so revealing of the pressures we place on young people.
“Honestly being a musician is my dream, so I figured I’m not gonna get anywhere unless I start doing it. So, I just dedicated every Monday. I said, ‘I’m gonna go in and I’m gonna write so many songs,’ and then before I graduate, I’m hoping to have an album of just my solo music to get me started.”
“How did you get so wise?” I ask.
She folds in on herself a little with a shy laugh, “I don’t know.”
“Good parenting maybe?” I suggest.
“I don’t want to take all the credit,” Chip says, waving his hands, “She’s so self-motivated with that. It’s her own idea.”
Even so, Chip and his wife Sharon must be doing something right to raise a kid who is saving her pennies for recording studio time when most spend their dough on fast food. Open-minded support seems to be a common thread in the family; Sharon is a visual artist and greeting card designer while Maleena’s little brother is more into sports and school. Everyone just gets to be who they are, and they all cheerlead for each other. Case in point, one of Chip & The Charge Up’s biggest successes is having weekly airplay on the WDVE Morning Show when their song “The Ol’ Two Niner” is played as radio host and former Pittsburgh Penguin Phil Bourque comes on the air. It came about when Sharon heard the station’s request for a local band to write a song for the former hockey pro. She immediately encouraged Chip to pursue the opportunity, even when he started talking himself out of it.
“I said, ‘What are the chances? That’d be a waste of time, I’m not good at recording my own stuff,’ and then my wife’s like, ‘No no, you gotta do it, you gotta do it!’ and I’m like, ‘Really?’, and she’s like, ‘Yeah, you gotta do it!’ So I went up to my small little studio type thing upstairs on our second floor, took about eighty minutes, wrote it, recorded it, and emailed it. They wrote back immediately, ‘We loved it!’ They played it the next Wednesday and then made a fuss of it and kept playing it over and over again.”
It was all said and done within one day, thanks to Sharon’s rallying and Chip’s quick work.
“You know the phrase is, ‘Strike while the iron is hot.’ If they want something, they might not want it tomorrow, they might not want it next week, but it’s their idea right now.” Chip firmly tapped the table in rapid fire for emphasis. “So, let’s get it to them right now.”
I was beginning to see where Maleena got her enterprising attitude.
“Do you get a lot of musical influence from your Dad?” I ask.
“Oh yeah,” Maleena nods her head vigorously. Her tastes range from the heavy metal from her dad’s earlier years to modern edgy bands like Yungblud, and she keeps her own concert tickets upstairs in her room, an autographed Anti-Flag ticket being one of her most prized.
I ask what band that no longer exists she would most like to see. Without hesitation, she says, “The Beatles are my favorite band of all time.”
“Good answer,” I exclaim, “me too!” I begin to ask, “What’s your favorite Beatles song?” but before I even finish the sentence she blurts out, “Can’t pick a favorite!”
“I know,” I laugh, “Trick question!”
We talk about the future objectives for the band.
“The next month our goal is just PR, PR, PR,” Chip says, “and then over the summer, start hitting the road and seeing what the reactions are of people across the country. Will they like us more than our hometown fans, will they like us less than our hometown fans, kind of get a temperature check for what our potential is for growing on a national level.”
In addition, they’ve got three songs for their next album already recorded and more written, many of which will feature Maleena as lead vocalist in addition to her role as a bad ass chick bassist. It is an expansion that does not wrack her nerves at all. “I get scared doing other things, but being on stage is where I’m most comfortable,” she says, a trait she clearly shares with her dad. The band’s new tunes will further evolve their sound by incorporating new guitar tones from effects pedals as well as weaving electronic beats with acoustic drums via a sample pad.
“We want to break through,” Chip says, “We want people to say, ‘Wow this is a band that’s really cutting edge. They’re doing new things that other artists aren’t doing.’”
One thing’s for sure, their energy together is voltaic and it’s easy to see how they are zapping their way into the hearts of their growing fan base. See for yourself what Chip & The Charge Ups are all about at their big release party for Flow of the Current, Part II (-) being held at The Smiling Moose on April 5th. They will be supported by acoustic duo Tupelo & Noah, and the classic/alt rock group Pleading the Fifth. Doors open at 6pm for this all ages show; find tickets HERE