Photo: John Barkiple
In talking to and knowing Douglass “Chopper” Styer, I have come to know a man whose stature and voice can range from brash and loud to introspective, humorous and wise all at the same time. He is a true original, and he brings to the fabric of Salt Lake City music an iconic presence and footprint that will never be matched. Whether his project is the full-force punk assault of the Decomposers, the über-heavy, über-loud rocket blast of Blackhole, or his most personal and individual work of Mañanero, his art is unique and his own. His style, music and personality are one-of-a-kind. His face graces a million Squasatch beers, and rightfully so. Like the mighty Sasquatch, he takes one hell of a blurry photo and turns it into magic and mystery. I had the opportunity to travel to his lair and try to unravel the hairy paradox that is Chopper.
To most who know Salt Lake music, Chopper is the best frontman in the city. He is not afraid to lay it all on the line, and you’ll never see a mediocre performance from him. “You want to talk about going from a loud band to this?” Chopper says of transitioning to being a solo guitar player as he puts on a Mañanero recording. “It’s really scary, honestly. There’s so much you cover yourself with in a band. You cover yourself in volume; you cover yourself in your bandmates. My strong point is that I like playing guitar. I just do it so I can sing.” As he says this, the volume rises in the song, and we’re surrounded by an ethereal droning, reminiscent of Tom Waits with a backup band of The Velvet Underground. “I practiced a lot,” he says. “I’ve worked on these songs, and I’ve tried to be loud with them, but it didn’t have any emotion, really. Once I crossed over and realized that it’s OK to be afraid and it’s OK to make mistakes, then it became what it is. It’s OK to fly by the seat of my pants, but I want it to feel.”
Mañanero started in 2002 as a one-man project. The name was generated by coworkers as a joke. The literal meaning of “early riser” and the slang translation stuck with Chopper, so he put the name to use. Apparently, his friendly demeanor and smile as he walked into work stirred some rumors about “rising” early in the morning. “I would come in happy,” he says. The band’s current incarnation includes David Payne (Red Bennies, Ether Orchestra), who plays theremin and records the band’s exploits for posting on the Mañanero Bandcamp site. As to why he writes the way he does with this project, “After Decomposers, I really started thinking about how I say things and how people take them,” he says. His performances in this band were wildly amusing, with Chopper’s costumes stealing the show. On any given night, you could find him covered in saran wrap or clad only in a gas mask, panties and bustier (borrowed from his girlfriend at the time). “People can misconstrue what I say, and that’s fine, but my initial meaning is what matters to me,” he says. “Music is poetry, and that’s important.” I ask if being solo differs in feeling from having a backing band. He replies, “It’s really cool that people are drawn to me. I’m drawn to different things and people, and I want unique. I get to do whatever I want, and this music proves that.”
In early April, Wasatch and Squatters were looking to introduce a new beer in their lineup, the hoppy pilsner known as Squasatch. When looking for a face to match the beer, they ran across Chopper in the brewery warehouse. “Since UBC [Utah Brewers Cooperative] happened, this name has been around,” he says. “Last fall, they told me they wanted me on a beer, and it happened … The photo came from me. I had filters on it, but they liked it.” And Squasatch was born—“I was surprised they liked the photo,” he says about being the face of Squasatch. “They told me they liked me and my style, and that’s great. I love the people I work with, and I love beer. So it has been great. It’s weird, but great.” He smiles, and then it turns into a huge laugh that fills the room. And with that, he was gone. He vanished. He was back in the mist. OK, so really, Chopper had to go to the bathroom, but to me, it was the best closing that could happen to this man-myth who wanders our valley to perform and perplex. His music is a lesson in power through subtlety, and his beer a lesson in, well, drinking to help the words flow. We danced for a brief moment, but at the end, I came out with a more nuanced view of this man’s creativity and heart. Cheers to the Squasatch. And listen for the Mañanero—he could be playing near you at any time.
Mañanero’s music can be found at mananero.bandcamp.com.