The audio for an interview with me about music marketing and CD Baby was posted on Hypebot yesterday. I tried to keep my ummms to a minimummmmm.
Check it out below:
The audio for an interview with me about music marketing and CD Baby was posted on Hypebot yesterday. I tried to keep my ummms to a minimummmmm.
Check it out below:
From the album â€œMovie Theatre Haikuâ€
-Reproduced in their entirety with expressed permission from Cutthroat Pop Records-
In all my years playing, rehearsing, practicing, tuning, swearing about,Â and performing music there have been few people with whom I see eye to eye.Â In the beginning my musical associates were into things like rap and teeny pop that wellâ€¦just plain didnâ€™t interest me.Â Not that there arenâ€™t merits to those genres (there has to beâ€¦right?), but in reality they seem to just re-plagiarize themselves over and over.Â As a matter of factâ€¦the other day I played one Shakira song while singing another (and, sadly, it fit perfectly).
As I progressed and moved deeper into my studies my associates changed.Â They became die Ã¼ber Musiker and were unwilling to accept that normal culture included things like guitars and drums.Â I did not really like the later parts of my classical training at the university level, because I was forced to listen and study things that no one should likeâ€¦yet everyone around me claimed to not only like it, but they would gladly reproduce with it were that possible.
I was the only person in the whole major that believed there was a place for real musical training in the modern world.Â I felt likeÂ MugatuÂ when he poignantly stated â€œI feel like Iâ€™m taking crazy pills!â€Â I couldnâ€™t take it, and shortly after graduating a left music for good (so I thought).
Enter Chris Robley, years later.Â Chris, as I knew the second I heard his music, had received classical training like me.Â Not only that, but he had decided to use this forbidden knowledge of music-fu to create something both modern, and worth listening to!
It was luckâ€¦pure luck that I found his music.Â I was on my lunch break cruising the internet when I came upon a music blog.Â I donâ€™t remember which, but it had obviously been around a while as there were about a million â€œreviewsâ€ on it.Â I selected one at random, and played the first song I saw.Â It was â€œMy Life in Film Festivals (haiku #1)â€ by Chris Robley and the Fear of Heights.Â I was BLOWN AWAY.Â I caught myself several times grunting or smiling or cheering in approval of the interesting musical twists, the awesome lyrics.Â I replayed it 4 times right then.Â I also told myself that I would bring this to The Reviewistâ€™s attention immediately.
Song after song after song is completely original.Â Not only from what one would normally expect to hear out there on the radio, but from each other as well.Â Each song is completely different from another.Â NONE of them follow typical progressions, the instrumentation is so diverseâ€¦I truly had not heard anything like this before.Â The creativity required to write such a diverse selection of music is astounding.
As soon as I was allowed I wrote Alex Steininger with â€œIn Music We Trustâ€ to request permission to put a full song on TheReviewist.com.Â I received a reply that this would certainly be possible and I was provided with a list of approved songs, but the list did not contain â€œMy Life in Film Festivals (haiku #1)â€.
This, of course, was sad.Â I really, really wanted all of you to hear the whole song, and not just some clip of it.Â I replied, and made the request.Â I donâ€™t know what strings had to be pulled, but after a time I received confirmation from Cutthroat Pop Records that permission had been given.
On top of that, I was able to score an interview with Chris Robley himself.Â I am very appreciative of the time all involved were willing to spend for me, as they all have more important things to do. What follows is the interview.Â It was done via email because everyone involved is pretty busy (and, in all honesty I didnâ€™t want to take more time away from them as I felt I was already intruding somehow).
While trying to come up with good questions it became readily apparent to me that I am much more of a musician than a journalist, but Chris was kind enough to decipher and answer the questions that I meant to ask, as opposed to the slop I threw in front of him.
Dan: Your music is very complex, especially when compared to one might hear on the radio at any given time. Where does your inspiration come from?
Chris: I donâ€™t think the complexity comes so much from any particular influences as it does from a sort of hyperactive intolerance for anything that sounds clichÃ© or familiar. The world is drowning in boring pop music. I suppose this attitude starts in the writing process, with lyrics, and also in how I try to set melodies against interesting chord changes. I definitely bring that mindset to the production as well, searching for interesting sounds and tones. Searching for something slightly jarring or subversive.
Iâ€™m kind of an arrangement junkie, too. Once the basic song is written (chords, melody, lyrics), it seems to just repeat in my head for days at a time and Iâ€™ll slowly come up with other parts in my head. Â So we usually end up with lots of semi-dissonant countermelodies playing against the more basic â€œsongâ€. None of it is rocket science, though. It is somewhat dissonant for pop music. But weâ€™re not talking about Stockhausen or Sun Ra here.
Dan: What is your process for creating your songs?
Chris: I try to have the songs entirely â€œproducedâ€ in my head before going into the
studio, or at least have a pretty detailed road map for what everyone should be
doing. Iâ€™d say about 75% of what was happening in my head actually works when we press record, and then we adjust the other 25% based on what we hear back through the speakers. The main reason for that process is simply finances. I like to record in studios with engineers as opposed to neurotically over-obsessing in a home recording environment. But the down side of studios is, of course, that it gets expensive. So the more complete the arrangements are in my head before going to record, the better. The cheaper. The quicker.
Dan: I think that related to the complexity of your music is the use of interesting
instrumentation (kazoo, whistling, clarinet, mandolin, fiddle etc.). Having been through classical training as well, I know you most likely didnâ€™t learn to put those things together in a school setting. Where do you get your ideas for the instruments used in your pieces?
Chris: Well, Iâ€™m not exactly sure where the ideas come from. I tend to just hear the arrangements in terms of melodies, counter-melodies, harmonic changes, and groove. And then itâ€™s just a matter of fitting the right instrument to the corresponding melody. Iâ€™m not really stubborn about it, though. For any given melody there are probably a handful of instruments that could do the job and then it is just trial and error to see what works with the other instruments. They donâ€™t have to behave. But theyâ€™ve all got to co-exist.
Iâ€™m also a big fan of albums that have a range of diverse sounds and instruments from start to finish. The ubiquitous Beatles influence, I suppose. So if Iâ€™ve got a Theremin on a song already, Iâ€™m probably not going to use it again on that album. Iâ€™ll find some other tone that works just to keep the album evolving for the listener.
Dan: Who would you say your music is intended for? In other words, is there a
particular group of people you hope to reach?
Chris: I wish I had an easily definable target demographic like â€œangst-ridden goth teensâ€ or â€œ30-something divorcees,â€ (actually, that might actually be my target market) but I think, because the tunes, styles, and production is fairly diverse from song to song and album to album it becomes harder to nail down who the actual audience is. I suppose that is a good thing in the end, because the only audience I can really guarantee will be there is me. So I definitely write with ME in mind first as the target audience.
Iâ€™m definitely proud that so many musicians and obsessive music-geeks are fans of my music. Theyâ€™re a harder crowd to please anyways. But perhaps I inhabit the in-between place for people who are bored-to-tears by most of the un-ambitious pop/rock/folk crap that is out there now, but theyâ€™re a bit too traditional in their tastes to really start digging the avant jams.
Dan: Where would you like to see yourself in 5 years? 10? Do you have any particular milestone at which point you could say, â€œI have finally accomplished what I set out to accomplishâ€?
Chris: Well, like a lot of songwriters, I think the pie-in-the-sky dream for me right now would be to live a somewhat stable existence solely on the income from performing and selling my own songs, and continuing to do production work for other bands. If I could keep that up for a good run, Iâ€™ll think I have â€œarrived.â€
Making touring sustainable is a big goal now, too. Balancing finances, time, family, the schedules of the other 6 people I tour with. There are a ton of challenges there. Â But if we can keep the momentum going and feel like weâ€™ve achieved something new each time we go out, that would be success in my book.
Dan: While this may be a somewhat clichÃ© question, I have readers who have specifically stated they want to know these kinds of thingsâ€¦if you could meet and perform with any musician in history, who would that be?
Chris: Well, a clichÃ©d question deserves a clichÃ©d answer (though Iâ€™m very sincere in this response.) I just think everyone else on the planet would pick a lot of the same people. OK. Here is the dream jam session:
Stravinsky, Tchaikovsky, Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman, Thom Yorke, Paul McCartney, Harry Nilsson, Tom Waits, Elvis Costello, Bowie/Eno, Syd Barrett, Gillian Welch/David Rawlings, and John Vanderslice producing.
It would inevitably sound TERRIBLE, but itâ€™d be fun to record.
Dan: The Fear of Heights has to do some difficult playing to keep up with the complexity of your music. Has it ever been hard to get everyone on the same page when it comes to creating songs and getting them practiced and ready for performance?
Chris: Surprisingly, no. Iâ€™m really fortunate to have a bunch of really talented players. I kinda stole them all from other bands and projects, so I got to pick the people I wanted to play with from the local Portland scene. Practices are really efficient since Iâ€™ve already come up with half of the parts. So we start with a good framework. Then it is just a matter of committing it all to memory. And if someone is having trouble with a particular part we leave it until the next practice and they go home and work it out on their own time.
Dan: One thing that I found in my previous life as a musician is that sometimes things just donâ€™t go well live, especially when the music being performed is so complex. Have you guys ever had the dreaded â€œOH NO! We donâ€™t know where we are in the song!â€ moment on stage?
Chris: Again, no. Iâ€™m lucky. I canâ€™t ever remember any time weâ€™ve totally botched a song. There is always the rare missed chord here and there, and I screw up a lyric occasionally. But that actually is sometimes a good thing for a gig. If you donâ€™t let it throw you it can loosen things up a bit and actually become a fun moment for the audience, too, especially when I just start making up words on the spot. I think the worst thing recently was about 2 months ago; Iâ€™d had a few too many fancy drinks and counted off every song slow. It was like our morphine set. Unfortunately, I think it was a Red Bull crowd.
Dan: Iâ€™ve heard you say that the first song that got you going was â€œThe Boy in the
Bubbleâ€ by Paul Simon. Have there been any other particularly influential
pieces for you?
Chris: Many. It all started with Rhythm of the Saints (Paul Simon). Then Revolver (Beatles). Bitches Brew (Miles), OK Computer (Radiohead), Hunky Dory (Bowie), Animals (Floyd), the Rite of Spring (Stravinsky), Armed Forces and the Juliet Letters (Costello), Big Time (live Tom Waits), Drumming (Reich), Revelator (Gillian Welch), Cellar Door (John Vanderslice), Nilsson Schmilsson (Nilsson), Sung Tongs (Animal Collective). Sail Away (Randy Newman). A hundred othersâ€¦
Favorite Instrument and Venue?
Chris: Mississippi Studios in Portland is a pretty great, cozy place where we have played a bunch. The people there are a bit like family and it feels like home. Besides that, Iâ€™d have to say we always love playing the Deva CafÃ© in Modesto. It ainâ€™t technically a great venue, but the audience is always tops.
In the present world, Iâ€™d have to say I like sitting down at a real baby-grand piano
best of all. Nothing quite like a few hundred pounds of wood resonating and sending sound directly up your body through your arms.
In a post-apocalyptic peak-oil world, Iâ€™d have to make my acoustic guitar my prized
possession. As long as Iâ€™ve stashed away enough strings Iâ€™ll be fine. And it can double as an easily wielded weapon.
I canâ€™t say enough how much I recommend this music.Â It is great stuff.Â The lyrics are superb (and, at times unnerving), and there are times when I am just floored at what he throws in there musically.Â Once, there was even aÂ Picardy ThirdÂ (my personal favorite) in â€œPremiereâ€
You can hear Chris live regularly, his schedule in on the websites up at the top.
Finallyâ€¦I think I can safely say that Chris Robley and I see eye to eye musically.Â Itâ€™s about damn time someone does.
Back in September, one of the regular â€œnew arrivalsâ€ emails sent to me included Chris Robleyâ€™s second solo album, The Drunken Dance of Modern Man in Love, in a list of albums that included better known talent such as Michelle Shocked and Iron and Wine. The name looked familiar to me. Was this the same guy I knew back in high school? After sending an email to Chris through his MySpace profile, sure enough, he confirmed that it was the same guy! Whatâ€™s more, as Chris was swinging through San Francisco on a brief tour in support of The Drunken Dance, I had the opportunity to speak with him, up close and personal, before his appearance at a unique venue called BrainWash. This promising new voice in music, who counts Randy Newman and Harry Nilsson among his influences, talks with Bullz-Eye about his musical journey from the state of Rhode Island to his current home base in Portland, Oregon, as well as the genesis of some of his new songs. He even asks our interviewer a few questions of his own and shares some hometown gossip!
Bullz-Eye: So how did you find this current band, the Fear of Heights, that youâ€™re playing with?
Chris Robley: The drummer and I actually went to college together in Richmond. We met in our first class of the first day of freshman year in a music theory class. Both said that we really just wanted to “rock” (laughs) and exchanged numbers. And then wemoved out to Portland after school. He and I started my other band, the Sort Ofs, too. As well as him playing in my solo band. And Rachel, I played a show with her a couple years back. Sheâ€™s a singer-songwriter herself, with a kind of creepy piano pop thing, so I really liked her style and tunes. And then we started opening for each other at gigs, and then we were like, â€œWell, why donâ€™t we play on each otherâ€™s recordings?â€ Then she knew all the songs. Time to go on tour. â€œCome with me!â€ And then Arthur, the bass player, one of my friends who plays saxophone and clarinet in my band. I was looking for an upright bass player and my friend Benny recommended Arthur.
BE: There is a saxophone and clarinet in the Fear of Heights?
CR: Yeah, although heâ€™s not here, of course. I couldn’t afford to bring the whole nine-piece orchestra on the road. (laughs) So I met Arthur through that guy. And then it ended up that the show I was looking for him to play upright on, we realized there were going to be too many people onstage, so he just played electric bass to save some room. Yeah, thatâ€™s how I met them. And then the rest of the folks that are in the band when I play in Portlandâ€¦ all kinds of ways, you know, finding horns and strings, flutes, guitars, banjo, on and onâ€¦ mostly itâ€™s through playing with other bands I like and then stealing their players. Itâ€™s really incestuous. So lots of people play in each otherâ€™s bands in Portland too. Thatâ€™s how that worked out.
BE: So why Portland?
CR: Um, well we â€¦ at the time it was John and I and another guy who all moved out here together from Richmond right after September 11. Great timing! There were absolutely NO jobs. Anyways, I was from Rhode Island. The other guy was from Philly, and John was from Mississippi. So none of us wanted to live that close to home, which pretty much Xâ€™d-out the whole East coast. But we wanted to be near the ocean, so we drove around the country for like two months and looked at Seattle, Portland, here [San Francisco], L.A., San Diego and Austin. A big beach town. We narrowed it down to Austin and Portland. And pretty much, sad to say, it didnâ€™t have anything to do with music. When we went to Portland, it was early July, so the weather was 80 and sunny and beautiful. Then we went to Austin, and it was 112 the whole week we were there. So that made up our minds for us.
BE: Have you been back to Austin since you moved to Portland?
CR: No. I keep meaning to go for South by Southwest, then lots of friends go and say itâ€™s a nightmare, soâ€¦ have you been?
BE: No, not yet. Iâ€™ve been meaning to get down there though. Youâ€™ve got some East coast dates coming up, is that right?
CR: I actually just took that off my MySpace â€˜cause it didnâ€™t work out. I started booking it too late. It would have been a tour of playing really crappy places and not very well plotted out as far as driving, Iâ€˜d be doing a lot of back and forth. So I just cancelled it. Iâ€™ll try and do it next year though.
BE: Some of the places that you probably would have played are gone. Like the Met CafÃ© is gone.
CR: Oh, right. Thatâ€™s the one that was attached to Lupoâ€™s, right?
BE: Yeah. And thereâ€™s another one Iâ€™m thinking of that may be gone now.
CR: AS220, are they still open?
BE: I think theyâ€™re still there, yeah.
CR: I donâ€™t remember if they were cool or not.
BE: Yeah, itâ€™s a non-profit arts organization, so if you play there, youâ€™re probably pretty hip.
CR: Interesting. Iâ€™ll have to get the hip endorsement from them! (laughs) Yeah, so anyway, I just cancelled that. But I am going to go home anyway, just to take a vacation, see my parents.
BE: For the holidays?
CR: Before the holidays. I work at, you know CD Baby?
BE: Oh yeah! Iâ€™ve ordered from them before.
CR: Okay. Yeah, I work there, and obviously it gets pretty crazy around the holidays, so I canâ€™t leave between like mid-November and mid-January. So Iâ€™ll just go home a little early.
BE: Are they selling your CDs too?
BE: How are they doing sales-wise?
CR: Good! Itâ€™s funny, because like, the owner makes our business reports public, and he loves little graphs and colored flowcharts and whatnot. So sales have, I think for the first 10 years it was just like this huge increase. And then over the past two years, itâ€™s a little leveled out but itâ€™s still growing each year. So like that, in comparison to the horrible fear-mongering major label crashing sales thingâ€¦ itâ€™s interesting because like, yeah, maybe Britney Spears is selling a lot less, but those sales are being picked up by lots of little people, you know. It seems like it at least, as far as we can tell. That whole Long Tail economic thing.
BE: Are you selling your music on iTunes also?
CR: Uh huh. CD Baby does digital distribution, so basically we sign it up with them, theyâ€™ll send it to iTunes, Rhapsody, Napster, like 50 companies, eMusic, you know, those kinds of places.
BE: How are the digital sales of your albums compared to the physical ones?
CR: Um, money-wise, itâ€™s maybe like a fourth. I mean, Iâ€™m not doing huge sales or anything, butâ€¦ and CD Baby just started doing full album downloads off their site, which are a higher resolution, I think, than any download site.
BE: Higher than 160?
CR: I think itâ€™s 200. Itâ€™s variable? I donâ€™t really understand the technical stuff, but like, it goes between 240 and 160, depending on how much information, sonic information is going on? I donâ€™t know. But yeah, the average is 200. [editorâ€™s note: about 200kbps VBR]
BE: Thatâ€™s better than iTunes!
CR: Yeah. So, once they launched that, it was like a month or two ago, and I put my new album up on there. And, including download sales done directly from CDBaby.com, it was probably about half and half. So I guess people are going more for that route now.
BE: Yeah, I mean, Radiohead certainly saw that.
CR: I havenâ€™t gotten that yet. Have you heard it? Is it awesome?
BE: If you liked the last album, Hail to the Thief, then youâ€™ll like this one too. They havenâ€™t really deviated too far from that sound.
CR: Thatâ€™s cool though, because that album was sort of eclectic and had everything theyâ€™ve ever done in the course of an hour.
BE: This oneâ€™s shorter though, itâ€™s only 10 songs, so itâ€™s easier to digest.
CR: Nice. Yeah, thatâ€™s a cool idea, if youâ€™re at that level. If youâ€™re me, you probably donâ€™t gain too much from it. Exposure, sure. But I don’t think folks would pay money for a lesser-known indie act’s music if they’re given the option to take it for free. I think Radiohead’s fans felt a kind of duty to rise to the occasion since they’re in the public eye with this thing. Humanity on trial.
BE: How long have you been touring around now?
CR: On this particular tour, you mean?
CR: This is, like, 20 days, I think? Itâ€™s been great. Getting a ton of good ink thrown about and playing with good bands. Selling merch, of course. The Key! I made a merch display that resembles a junior high school science project. It conjurs up some kind of sympathetic nostalgia in people that makes them suddenly want CDs and t-shirts. We played at a private prep school in Ojai where the kids swarmed the merch booth after the show. Itâ€™s all about Prep schools for us now. Rich kids with credit cards. That is our target market now. Anyways, we go home tomorrow. So we hit San Francisco on the way down and played at the Make Out Room, and weâ€™re playinâ€™ at this place on the way back. Interesting club, by the way. (laughs)
BE: Itâ€™s a really interesting concept, combining the Laundromat with the restaurant and bar, and then the internet portal. Iâ€™ve never seen anything like it.
CR: Itâ€™s a good idea though, because then you get lots of different people in there for different reasons, and hopefully theyâ€™ll stick around for music. I donâ€™t know, weâ€™ll see!
BE: We got at least one fan waiting in there.
CR: Yeah, that was random. I havenâ€™t seen that guy in a while. But yeah, weâ€™re ready to go home. Three weeks is about the limit at this point. Weâ€™re all likeâ€¦ did you know I got married to Krissy Weseloh?
BE: I did see that on your MySpace!
CR: Oh, okay (laughs). Just thought Iâ€™d throw a little East Greenwich gossip into the conversation.
BE: I hadnâ€™t thought of her name in years. It was maybe last year or so that I was hearing about Mike Weseloh again. I think he may have gotten in contact with Scott Goldis. You remember him?
CR: Oh yeah.
BE: Heâ€™s down in L.A.
CR: Oh wow. Whatâ€™s he doinâ€™?
BE: Thatâ€™s an offline conversation! (laughs) Weâ€™ll talk about that offline.
BE: That may even be source material for new songs.
CR: Okay, good. Youâ€™ll have to give it to me then. Nothing like exploiting other people for the sake of art. In fact, I’ve been filming this whole tour for a vidcast. I’ve been a little dictator. Demanding. I wanted to capture the sad goodbyes from the loved ones before leaving. No privacy. Just a camera in their faces as they kissed goodbye. My band grows weary of my damn camera.
BE: Youâ€™ve got some really interesting characters in your songs. I was listening to â€œThe Love I Fakeâ€ on the way here. That was a really good song, one of the best songs Iâ€™ve heard about a prostitute.
CR: (Laughs) Are there many? You have a whole iPod subcategory of prostitute songs?
BE: Gonna make a prostitute mix! (laughs)
CR: Iâ€™d like to hear that!
BE: Where did that idea come from?
CR: Um, I donâ€™t know. Someone else asked me that in an interview recently. I think that sometimes Iâ€™ll just come up with these little mental problems in my head that need solving, and like, it might have been a movie or a discussion or something where I was pondering, well, everyone at some low point in their life needs to feel empowered, and how could a prostitute feel empowered given the daily horrors? And the answer I came up with was by sort of having an air of superiority and making fun of the dude in her head while itâ€™s all going down. Quiet condescension. So, I thought that was an interesting thing to write about (laughs) For me, at least. I donâ€™t know if anyone else is interested! (laughs)
BE: Well I certainly was.
BE: That, and the other one Iâ€™ve been listening to the most is â€œA Vague Notion of Nothing Much,â€ the couple thatâ€™s having the baby they donâ€™t want anymore and then the lesbian couple, you know, wants a baby. I bet there are a lot of folks in this town that could relate to that one.
CR: I donâ€™t know where I came up with that one! (Laughs) I think I got that line “A vague notion of nothing much” in my head first. And then rather than the song being about an idea, it was about a person… or baby. “The baby in your belly is a vague notion of nothing much.” Then I thought, God, what a terrible thing to say. But it’d be even more terrible if it were the father talking to the mother. So I guess I think of these things and then wonder how I can make them the most cruel. In fact, another Portland songwriter took one of my songs called “XMAS Card from NYC to Anyone Who’ll Read It, 1946” [from The Sort Ofsâ€™ Anxiety on Parade], which is basically a depressing missive from a lady who doesn’t like how life is turning out, and basically answered the letter in one of his own songs from the perspective of someone in love with the character. So I’d pretty much consigned the girl to her horrible fate, and out of nowhere this guy comes and writes this positive ending for her. It was really very touching, artistically and personally. He saved my character… from me. Ha! And it was tastefully done, too. Krissy thinks I should start a contest for people who want to write new songs to save my sad characters. Maybe someone will eventually save the deadbeat dad in “Vague Notion” and they’ll end up a happy family. Or maybe just a functional family would be okay.
BE: Iâ€™m listening to that one and Iâ€™m thinking, whoâ€™s having a baby that suddenly they donâ€™t want anymore? (laughs)
CR: Iâ€™m sure lots of people. Not me though.
BE: No kids in the future yet?
CR: No, I donâ€™t know. A few years off, maybe. I wanna try and milk the touring, recording thing for a while without worrying about taking care of another life. Krissyâ€™s good about it, sheâ€™s totally supportive. Iâ€™d say three weeks is about my limit for touring at one time, though. But I can go and come back pretty often. And CD Babyâ€™s really understanding of the touring thing. This is kind of unrelated, but thereâ€™s this one song that I havenâ€™t officially released yet [editorâ€™s note: â€œMovie Theater Haiku,â€ fromShorthand vs. Shorthand: A Tour-Only Preview]. I put it out on this tour-only limited edition disc, and this guy bought it at a show. And he came up at another show and said that he and his wife were listening to it as they drove home that night, and they looked at each other and realized that there was no point in continuing their marriage.
BE: (laughs hysterically)
CR: Then he was basically blaming me for his failed marriage! Quite the musical moment.
BE: Wow. Now thatâ€™s heavy! Iâ€™m hearing this and Iâ€™m remembering a story that Paul McCartney had told to some interviewer about a song he had written two albums ago that he ended up playing at someoneâ€™s wedding because the person heard it and loved it so much. Polar opposite.
CR: Right, and I remember Sting, someone asking him to play â€œEvery Breath You Takeâ€ at a wedding. And heâ€™s like, â€œItâ€™s kind of a stalker song, itâ€™s a little creepy.â€
BE: Itâ€™s a very creepy song. (laughs) Did you get to see the Police?
CR: I didnâ€™t. The drummer did, John, up in Seattle. He said it was kinda, too loose. They sounded bad. Did you see them?
BE: I saw them twice, actually. I think they got the kinks out the way by the time they came to Oakland. They seemed like they were having a good time.
CR: Thatâ€™s cool. Iâ€™d hate to go and be disappointed after paying that much money. Do you get to go to that stuff for free?
BE: That one, no. Itâ€™s kinda hard to get into sold out shows comped. I tried to do that with Elvis Costello a couple of years ago, and they said absolutely no way. But Dylan, I was able to do that a couple years ago.
CR: I just saw him last year, I think. Finally enjoyed it! Iâ€™d seen him like four times and hated it every time. Finally I saw a show where I was like, oh, sounds good!
BE: I also really like the instrumentals on your disc too. Iâ€™ve been hearing a lot of independent discs this year, writing for â€œPerformer,â€ and every time I hear an instrumental, I single that out.
CR: Cool. Yeah, I think itâ€™s a good palate cleanser, especially after the first three proper songs that are all kind of dense and poppy and fast, I thought it would be good to just, you know, pull in the reins a little bit. And then it gets kinda folky for a while. The acoustic guitar one called â€œ388 Hate Houseâ€ I just recorded on a four track at home. I liked how it came out, so I just threw it on the album.
BE: Thereâ€™s something about those four-track recordings, it captures something you canâ€™t get on digital.
CR: Right. We did most of the album on 24-track, two-inch tape in a proper studio, but I did that one at home, mistakes and all. Thereâ€™s a little squelched note in there! (Laughs)
BE: You know, all this time thatâ€™s gone by, Iâ€™ve only really known you as a jazz player. What was the road from jazz to singer-songwriter pop, when did that start?
CR: I was wondering if you were going to ask that, â€˜cause you wrote, â€œis this the same guy that introduced me to We Want Miles?â€ I thought, oh no, heâ€™s gonna think I shouldâ€™ve been some, you know, John Scofield virtuoso type or something. I think late in high school I started writing songs on my acoustic guitar, kinda finger-style singer-songwriterly kinds of things that were probably terrible, I donâ€™t even remember them. But I was really shy about it and I wouldnâ€™t sing them for anyone, they were just kinda, my private tunes. And I went to college and played guitar in the jazz band at the University of Richmond, and started a sort of jazz fusion instrumental group that played funk, rock, prog, some sort of instrumental pop stuff all mixed in. And then we played the whole four years I was there. We did really well. Party music, ya know? Andâ€¦ I liked it, I thought it was fun, but it was never like “this is me,” I donâ€™t know, I just like those quick succinct pop songs, so eventually I got up the nerve to sing tunes for a guy that was in the same dorm with me that was a musician, and he was playing guitar and singing too. So he liked the tunes, and I kinda got him to sing most of them, just â€˜cause I really wasnâ€™t that comfortable as a singer. So I wrote the songs and he sang, and we started a band with John, who still plays drums with me. But then, I was always a littleâ€¦ although I felt like he had a better voice technically, it never felt, like, honest, like he seemed like a faker, and when he sang it didnâ€™t seem honest in some way, which, I donâ€™t know if thatâ€™s just in my imagination. He’s really a good singer. Maybe I was just possessive of my songs. So I started to sing more and more, and then he left finally, and John and I started the Sort Ofs together at the same time as I was starting to make my first solo album, which Krissy kind of prodded me to do. So that was the transformation. I studied music at school too and did a lot of composition and theory stuff, so there was some string quartets, and a little art leider kind of songs that we had to write for class that I did, and hopefully some of that stayed with me.
BE: And when you did the leider, were you writing in German?
CR: No. (laughs) That language frightens me when itâ€™s sung.
BE: Oh, but it sounds so funny!
CR: Yeah, thatâ€™s true. No wait, actually I was taking, I forget who it was, Berryman I think, some poet, and setting his poems as the lyrics, so, yeah, slow slow transformation. But now I feel like Iâ€™m doing what I should be doing. I wish I had my jazz chops still, in some sense, but this is more me. Like, when Iâ€™m home alone, I want to be writing songs.
BE: I wasnâ€™t hearing a lot of long-winded solos or anything.
CR: (laughs) Thereâ€™s no guitar solos on it, are there? Maybe one.
BE: I donâ€™t think so.
CR: There are a few on the Sort Ofs record, but theyâ€™re like, theyâ€™re more sort of just noisy attack-y kind of things. Iâ€™d like to start an informal jazz group just to play every once in a while and exorcise those demons.
BE: You always sounded good playing that stuff, and like you said, itâ€™s good to exorcise.
CR: Itâ€™s weird, because this group the Fear of Heights is entirely acoustic guitar for me. The Sort Ofs is, Iâ€™d say 90 percent Iâ€™m on the keyboard, piano, or synths or whatever, Rhodes/Wurlitzer kinda stuff. And then I play in two other bands, Norfolk & Western and the Imprints, on electric guitar. So I get some compartmentalization, theyâ€™re all very regimented as far as instruments.
BE: Their own little silos.
CR: Yeah. Itâ€™d be cool to mix it all up at some point, but, that would require roadies! (Laughs) â€˜Cause Iâ€™m not carrying that much gear.
BE: You gotta get that East Coast tour booked and try to build the fanbase up.
CR: Yeah, totally. I donâ€™t know how that would go. I feel like thereâ€™s enough people I still know back there to wrangle them and their friends together and probably have a good tour.
BE: Oh sure! And then those people probably know people, too.
CR: True. This is the second time weâ€™ve done this, this year, here. On the west coast. And we noticed a lot of people coming back. Like, we played in Modesto last night, and there were maybe like 10 people who were at our last show that came back. And then they brought their friends, so, it seems to be working, slowly, bit by bit.
BE: Itâ€™s a slow process, but if people really like you, theyâ€™ll keep coming back.
CR: Itâ€™s fun too. I donâ€™t know anything else Iâ€™d rather be doing.
BE: Weâ€™ve done 30 minutes, I think thatâ€™s good.
CR: You got what you need.
BE: Yes, and Iâ€™m looking forward to the show.
CR: Is it going to be an interview piece?
BE: Itâ€™s going to be a verbatim transcription. (Editorâ€™s note: more accurately, anedited verbatim transcription
CR: Oh, sweet! (Laughs)
BE: Itâ€™ll be up there with asides and all.
CR: Awesome. In that case, letâ€™s start over! (Laughs) I didnâ€™t sound quite pompous enough.
BE: We can plug in some pompous asides.
CR: Yes, email it to me and I can put in all these huge words and stuff.
BE: (Laughs) We could have a lot of fun with this.
CR: Okay, good (laughs)
[â€¦and from here, the recorder is turned as Chris runs off to join his bandmates, who are already setting up their gear for their performanceâ€¦]