SNFU singer Chi Pig returns from hell – to the art world
“I was born at the Royal Alex, went to school at Vic Comp and played shows at the Polish Hall,” he says. “It all connected. It all made sense to me. I remember walking with my friend, 17 years old, across that fucking track field and we smoked a joint and it was the first time I got fucking stoned. We’d bought a Thai stick for 10 bucks and we had to undo the string to smoke it. Oh, man. Then my math grades went down.”
But that boy graduated with honours in English and visual arts, talents that would hold one Kendall “Chi Pig” Chinn in good stead as the lead singer of one of the greatest punk bands to come from Edmonton, from Western Canada, hell, let’s go out on a limb here and say from all of Canada. SNFU went hard for more than two decades, give or take a few bumps and a move to Vancouver, with Chi clean and sober through 17 years of it, before a hiatus in 2005. At that point, the singer slipped into a terrible spiral of crystal meth addiction and homelessness. He’s lucky to be alive. For gory details, he refers us to the 2010 documentary Open Your Mouth and Say…Mr. Chi Pig (trailer below).
“It’s the truth,” he says. “Fuck this Internet bullshit and the rumour mill. You fucking heard it from me. Yeah, I did hard drugs, I did lose everything. I did lose my belongings, which appeared on the Internet for sale a fucking year later. Like, fuck you. Fuck that. That makes me agitated, but I tried my best to rise above it. Yes, I did the crystal meth, I did do the cocaine, yes, I was on crack for a couple of years and I was walking those fucking streets in Vancouver. But no more! I’ve been drug free for four years. It’s not over until I’m over!”
And so, sounding a little weary and worn (and a bit like the slow-talking Mitch from Mitch & Mickey in A Mighty Wind), but sardonic wit in full throttle, Chi Pig returns to action – as a visual artist.
As the guy responsible for most of the distinctive SNFU album and poster imagery over the years, the 49-year-old punk rocker opened his first art show in Edmonton, at Wunderbar on Halloween night. His old friends the Spartans will be performed at the event, as well as a band called the Chokeouts. Chi’s trying to get SNFU back together yet again, minus any of the other original members.
“There’s a line-up of people who are begging to be in the band,” Chi says. “But I have to know these people. It’s not just about the music. You commit to it and you’re living with these people. You’ve got to be able to get along, to communicate with each other. You’re living in close quarters, you’re in that van together for hours. If you don’t get along, it’s not going to fucking work. I don’t care how great of a player you are. There are certain rules, even though its punk rock: You don’t embarrass the band.”
To illustrate his point, he brings up an incident with one of the band’s many drummers on the last European tour. They didn’t get along very well.
Chi recalls, “Were were backstage after we played. There was a glass table and a giant wheel of camembert cheese for the band, from the promoter, and drinks on the table, bottles. We were just playing around. I threw a roll of paper towels at the drummer’s head and it connected. It wasn’t hard. It wasn’t like it was a brick. So he fucking comes storming over and pushes over the table. The camembert hits the fucking floor, the fucking bottles go smashing and he breaks the table – and that embarrasses everybody.”
The cheese was salvaged and the promoter was cool. The drummer, not so much. Upon return to Vancouver, he was gone.
Chi says, “He was a great player, but he couldn’t hold his alcohol. That’s what we’re talking about here.”
The pot calling the kettle black? Chi says he’s “narrowed down” his substance abuse to beer and cigarettes, that his artwork is a way to keep his hands busy and to “spend some time with my mind.”
At the time of this interview, he said he had no idea what artwork was going to be on display at Monday night’s opening. “I’m a last minute kind of guy,” he says, allowing that themes will involve pigs and the colour pink. And the medium will not be paint, or clay, or even macrame, but “toys.” Seriously. Some people look all those plastic sacks of toys in Value Village and think junk. Says Chi, “I say that’s art. I will make it into something interesting.”
You can trust him on that.