Nashville Rock Group CHLSY Releases “555,” from Their Upcoming Album, Quantum Entanglement

Donna Block
8 min readJul 18, 2022

The alt/rock trio, CHLSY, is made up of front-woman Chelsea Gilliland, bassist Sean Swanson and drummer Sawyer Dodds. We chatted with Gilliland about her music background and CHLSY.

Boston, MA native. Summers in your mother’s native Spain. Growing up what music did your family listen to?

I was very fortunate to have a father that loved the sounds of the 90s. His taste in music was the catalyst for the music I create. He showed me Pearl Jam, The Smashing Pumpkins, Weezer, Sonic Youth, Radiohead, L7, Nirvana, The Pixies, and pretty much every band I love.

Moving to Piedmont, CA, just outside of San Francisco, at age 14. Attended a co-ed high school after being in all-girls schools to that point. You’ve shared how this experience was “incredibly toxic … and unsafe for women, with bullying and sexual violence.” Throughout those years you turned to music, working through your feelings towards healing. What advice would you give teen girls (and guys) struggling to find themselves?

My dad said to me once, “This too shall pass.” I think it’s from the Bible or something. Even though I don’t identify as Christian, that quote saved me at my worst times. I would say that when the sadness or when the pain starts to become unbearable. When it starts to feel like there won’t be an end, that’s when the end is near. That’s when things will start to get better, so never give up. And stay true to who you are. Don’t let someone bully you out of you.

Finding authenticity after years of trying to be what everyone else wanted you to be. Which artists most impacted your sound during this time?

Thom Yorke and Julian Casablancas have had the biggest impact on me and my sound. Both of their lyrics are like poetry and there’s something so humble about the way they sing them. I know this is a controversial topic but I have always found Yorke’s voice to be so beautiful and effortless. And I love the way Casablancas’s vocals sound. I read an article saying he runs them through a guitar amp to get his signature distorted sound and I think that’s so cool. I want to do something like that. In terms of guitar, The Smashing Pumpkins have had the biggest effect on the parts I have written.

2017, BMI Foundation’s Annual John Lennon Scholarship Songwriting Award winner for “Fire.” Established in 1997 by Yoko Ono to honor her late husband, the award goes to the nation’s best and brightest young songwriters between the ages of 17 to 24. Can you share the backstory to the song?

I wrote that song when I was a sophomore in High School. I think it was about my ex-boyfriend. Looking back it’s crazy to see how far my music has come and how much it’s changed. That song was as pop-sounding as pop can get. I don’t think there was a single live instrument tracked on the record. The music I make now is all live instruments.

While attending Belmont University (concentration in songwriting and minoring in the music business), you met bandmates Dodds and Swanson at a college party. Forming the band American Gothic (later known as CHLSY). How did they help you shift your views towards men?

Sean and Sawyer have been like family to me. They always look out for me and have my best interest in mind. It shifted the way I view men because, in the town I grew up in, the boys and men around me never felt safe. It was like I was an object placed in their living room as decor. Something pretty for them to look at. Sean and Sawyer have always thought of me as equal and listen and respect the things I say. I don’t know what I would do without them. They are two of the kindest, most genuine, most talented people I know and they’ve changed my life completely.

Working as a radio host for station Yoco Nashville, 96.7FM. Thinking of what you learned in college about the industry, in what ways can an independent artist get radio play?

It’s hard to get radio play as an indie artist. That’s why I love the station I work for. We are genre free and play everything — as long as it’s a good song! I would say if you’re an indie artist hoping for radio play, just reach out to me via Instagram DM!

CHLSY’s music, like “No (Hard) Feelings,” is 90’s sounds with a modern “dark rock” spin. Which bands most influenced your sound?

The Smashing Pumpkins, Radiohead, Nirvana, Weezer, The Pixies, Sonic Youth, Black Sabbath, Beach Bunny.

Just one year after forming the band, you already have a loyal social media fan base. “I recently concluded that the hard work is actually self-work. I hope that it finds the people that need it. I want to be able to share this experience with other people too because it’s really fun to be able to make other people feel seen with my words.” Can you share a fan’s story about how your music impacted their life?

I have a lot of people reach out to me about how my music has helped them in different ways and it feels nice to be able to have a direct line of communication with fans where we can both share our stories with each other. It feels more like a friendship to me than having “a fan” and that direct communication is the only benefit I’ve found of social media. Without going into too much detail (trying to keep this as confidential as possible) I had one person in particular reach out to me about their experience with depression and suicidal ideation as a result of sexual assault. They said my music really helped them out of that and honestly that is all I could ever hope to give to people from my art.

The new single, “555,” is the lead single from your upcoming album, Quantum Entanglement, and one rooted in your personal story. You said the number five is a sign of major changes to come. The song was written after a breakup, based on the need for more space, about your feelings on the day when your boyfriend brought you back your things. You have happily since gotten back together — how did he first react to the lyrics in the track?

Well, I’m sitting next to him so I’ll let him answer. “Damn. Couldn’t process it at first. I was trying to decipher every vowel. I first heard it online a couple of hours after we had broken up. Thus rubbing salt into the wound. After talking with several of my friends I had gotten different opinions on the song. It wasn’t until I talked about it with my therapist that she finally clarified what the words meant. I digress, it’s a great song. Beautiful lyrics. It makes me happy to be a part of her songwriting process. I jokingly told her early on in our relationship that I would break her heart one day just so she could write a good song. It didn’t quite work out as I intended.” — Dawson Blankinship

The power of manifestation, speaking what you want into the universe. A new sense of self-acceptance is reflected in the band’s upcoming record release. Your father instilled in you a fascination for theoretical science. Quantum entanglement represents the concept that what happens to one will happen to all. Particles, even ones scattered across the universe, can affect others instantaneously at a speed faster than the speed of light. That mind-blowing concept makes you think about the people you feel connected to, and how those relationships, no matter where you each are at, is like quantum entanglement. How has this helped you find your own best version of yourself?

I like to think of relationships as being quantum entangled because it pushes me to be the best I can be. If what I do affects other people, I only want to do good to make those other people feel good. I think of this more in terms of my healing journey. I like to think that the more I heal myself, the more I help heal the people around me. I still have a lot of healing work to do, but I am incredibly proud of how far I’ve come.

“Karmic Debt,” explores the concept of repaying one’s karmic debt from a past life in this realm. “Cloud,” the most vulnerable song on the project and your favorite song you’ve ever written. “Ceiling Fan,” explores your new definition of love, and how it’s more of a slow burn than the fast-paced free falls you were used to, which was inspired by your current relationship. Which track was the most challenging to write lyrically?

“Cloud” was the most challenging to write lyrically. Because in order to finish it, a deep level of inner healing was required of me. I had to look at one of the most painful situations I’ve ever been through from all perspectives. I had to completely remove myself from that experience to write about it. It took a whole year to finish the lyrics of that song. Initially, I intended for it to be a love song. Although it never quite felt like a happy love song to me. It always felt like it should be a tragedy. I think that’s why it took so long to write. The tragedy hadn’t yet unfolded when I first began writing it. After I experienced all of it and healed from it, I was able to write about it.

Favorite places to explore in the city with your dog, your BFF?

My favorite place to hang out was Rosemary and Beauty Queen for the past year and a half. Now it’s become overrun with finance bros and retired fraternity boys. I no longer feel like I fit in :( but I love Lakeside Lounge and Dinos. I also love to spend my days writing at Barista Parlor and thrifting. The antique mall on Gallatin is a favorite place of mine. I also love A Shop of Things.

Connect with CHLSY by visiting their website and follow them on Facebook, Instagram, Tik Tok, and YouTube.