The music on Chanti Darling's debut record, RNB Vol. 1, is engineered for one purpose—to get audiences to dance so hard the windows steam up.
"When I go to shows, I go to dance—music is made for that," says Chanticleer Trü, the singer and producer behind the Portland retro-futurist R&B project. "I always feel really confused when I go to see Little Dragon or something and people aren't dancing. A lot of those tracks are so dance-worthy!"
Portland crowds are infamously stiff. So Chanti Darling makes a point of breaking down the barriers between performer and audience. Trü creates music that's big, bright and brazen. He performs with two dancers at every show and, in the past, has performed with a full band of Portland powerhouses like Gossip's Hannah Blilie and Natasha Kmeto.
At Chanti Darling shows, dancing is essentially an act of communion. "I want to give people the opportunity to engage with the music on a more intimate level," says Trü from behind a pair of impossibly dark shades in a Belmont bar on an impossibly hot day. "I set the intention [of dancing] very clearly. You're on a date with them basically—you're trying to woo them into fully engaging with you. I guess it is an act of charming."
Since the project's inception, that's exactly what Chanti Darling has done with its retro, maximalist sound. The project was named WW's Best New Band in 2016. Chanti Darling was quickly picked up by Tender Loving Empire, has performed at Treefort, Pickathon and What the Festival, and gained national attention from the likes of Vice.
It almost seemed as if Chanti Darling had become a local institution overnight. But Trü has been thinking about Chanti Darling for a long time. "I guess I've been writing this record for about three years," Trü says. "But conceptually, I started to kick around these ideas musically even before [my first band,] Magic Mouth."
The lip-curling post-punk of Magic Mouth was a far cry from the bright, fervent dance music he now writes, but Trü has always worshiped at the altar of classic R&B. "My mom was kind of a party girl who loved to dance, so I had exposure to that music," he says. "I've just always leaned toward older music, so it's always in my consciousness."
When Magic Mouth folded in 2015, Trü had the opportunity to explore that sound. He hunkered down with longtime friend and main collaborator Damon Boucher. Together, the two built songs around Trü's melodies and lyrics. Three years later, RNB Vol. 1 is the result, which features vocal contributions from rising Portland stars like Kmeto and the Last Artful Dodgr.
Listening to RNB Vol. 1 is like looking back and stepping into the future at the same time. Recorded in part at School of Rock (where Trü and Boucher worked as instructors) and Martell Webster's home studio, the music is filled with the big, bombastic sounds of '80s and '90s R&B, the unabashed jubilance of disco, and the slick grooves of funk. Built from the music and style that reigned during Trü's childhood, RNB Vol. 1 is alive with unapologetic lushness. Songs like "Wake Up the Night" are filled with palm-muted guitar, driving basslines, hand claps, and a sea of grooving synth licks.
On its face, RNB Vol. 1 might sound like a throwback record. But Trü uses the aural landscape of R&B and dance music from a few decades ago to create a vision of the future that's guided by positivity, inclusivity and intimacy.
"Because of all the music that's coming out today—it's dark, and minimal—we decided to go for this whole kitchen-sink decadence," says Trü. "A lot of our producer friends were like, 'We love this, but do you think people will be able to digest what you're doing?' I think people are ready for it."
Trü is part of a new wave of Portland artists like Blossom, Dodgr, Tribe Mars, Neill Von Tally, and many others who are steering the city's sound away from traditional indie-rock sensibilities toward larger-than-life sounds and bighearted melodies. Trü wants you to know he's here for that.
"I think we're in a moment here," he says. "I'm ride or die for this community. There are so many great parts of this community I've been blessed to be a part of, from the higher arts to the queer artists down to the music scene. I completely believe in this place."
SEE IT: Chanti Darling play Doug Fir, 830 E Burnside St., dougfirlounge.com, with Gold Casio and Guayaba, on Wednesday, Aug. 8. 9 pm. $12-$14. 21+.