Jenny: What was your first guitar? How many guitars do you own? Which one is your most precious? Why?
Chris: I think my first guitar was a cheap Fender Strat copy. Looking back, it was pretty ugly, but I think everyone starts out using a plank. I’ve just downsized my guitar collection actually, because I had too many. I’ve got 5 now, I had 8 or 9 before….
I’ve got two main electric guitars, a decent USA strat that I’ve customized with a hotrail pickup in the bridge position, which sounds amazing. While I was putting that in I customized the scratchplate with a soldering iron. Soldering irons aren’t good for art on scratchplates. Especially if it’s me doing it. Looks ridiculous, but I like it. My other main guitar is a Les Paul Custom, which is probably the best guitar I’ve ever played. They both do different things very well though. I love the Strat for nastier stuff, and the Les Paul sings sweetly.
Jenny: What guitar strings, pedals, amps, etc. do you use. What gear, besides guitar, would they have to pry from your hands?
Chris: Good question. I just checked, I use Ernie Ball strings, and alter between gauge 11s to 12s. 12s give me a harder sound, and 11′s don’t break my fingers so much. I don’t really use pedals. I had a wah pedal, but lent that out. I pretty much go straight into my Mesa Boogie Nomad. It’s a 3 channel amp. Between that and the guitars, there’s quite a lot you can do if you’re a bit creative. Besides the guitars and stuff, I’m so into Logic Pro. It’s a bit nerdy I guess, but my MacBook has become my life – it’s great being able to record songs at such high quality.
Jenny: Are their any current projects you are working on or any tours coming up?
Chris: Currently I’m working on a full album release. I’ll get bored, so I’ll release several EP’s before hand, just to keep people interested (as well as me), and then release a full album of unheard stuff at some point…. whenever it’s ready I suppose. I’ve got a box of 300+ songs sitting to my left, so I’m not really short of material.
Jenny: Other than music, what other activities are you involved in or organizations you support?
Chris: Nothing else. I have purposefully become a total recluse. It’s music, or going out. All the other stuff I used to do (whether it was promoting gigs, running a business, etc), just took too much time away. I’m 32 now, so I’m pushing hard on the music front with no distractions.
Chris: I’ve always thought that you don’t choose to be a musician – music chooses you. Life would often be a lot easier if I had never picked up a guitar, but I don’t regret it. It’s a life of ups and downs – but the highs are like nothing else, and I am inspired by every single part of the life as a musician, totally in love with it. As for what inspired my passion in it, I think I just heard some guitar bands and knew that I had to do that too. As soon as I could play a note, I couldn’t ever stop. My family have always been very supportive, although probably very worried about me too as it’s not an easy path to walk. My friends are great too. Most of them are musicians, but the ones who aren’t always support me, whether it’s going to gigs, or listening to new songs.
Jenny: How do you feel about the music industry of today? What would you change if you had the opportunity?
Chris: I actually think it’s in a very healthy state, and I can’t understand the negativity that surrounds ‘decline of sales through illegal downloading’. There was a time that rockstars were elite, untouchable and often hugely egotistical. The record industry as a whole has become a shadow of its former self, so while it’s less common for record companies to support artists through a 3 – 6 album deal, and nurture them (which is a shame) – the UP side is that anyone can make a record now, and potentially release it to the entire world. Social networking sites mean you can grow a fan base and speed up the ‘word of mouth’ process. It’s still tough to do, and I certainly haven’t got it right yet, but it’s incredibly exciting.
Things I would change? I try not to focus on that too much, I’ve always followed my own path in everything I do. However – while we’re on the subject, live music promoters who ask bands to buy tickets to their own gig, so that they’re not out of pocket. Pay To Play. At what point does the Promoter actually do any promoting during this process? They’re just looking to make a few quid, and have some time in the limelight. I understand the argument that they can’t lose money – but if you would like a band to play, then it’s your job to promote your night. If that involves working to get existing fans of the bands down to the gig – fine. If it involves finding potentially new fans, then go and do that. Do not sit on your arse and expect the bands to do all your work for you.
The same can be said for Battle Of The Band competitions. They can be a good experience when you are just starting out, and need some gigging experience, but I’ve never seen one where the winning band wasn’t also the one who brought the most people to the gig. Funny that One last gripe is industry professionals who say you can’t make a record in your bedroom and attain mainstream success. Absolute rubbish. They’re scared of not maintaining their elite status. It may be true that professional mix engineers, producers, and mastering engineers are worth paying, and paying well – because the really big guns DO produce hit after hit after hit. I just dislike anyone who believes in ‘impossible’.
Jenny: Any loves besides music?
Chris: Loads. But mostly music.
Jenny: What instruments do you play and have you had any formal training? Are you a self taught musician or do you play by ear or read sheet music or both? Have you had any vocal coaching?
Chris: I’m a guitarist and singer. A few years ago I was in a hotel and thought I’d play the piano and sing everyone a song. I may have been slightly drunk. I’d forgotten that I can’t really play the piano. I’ve been known to play the drums a bit, but my old drummer said that I “..prove the chaos theory”. So just guitar and vocals really. I did have guitar lessons when I was a teenager, but when I hit 16 I quit and started to develop my own style. I’m probably less technically proficient now than I was back then, but for me, it’s all about creating the sound that you have in your head. Sometimes that means having to learn something new, and get better, sometimes it means hitting the guitar with a brick. Whatever gets the sound I want.
Jenny: Who are your favorite musical influences? What are your favorite techniques from your influences?
Chris: I don’t really follow bands that much. Some bands consistently produce music I love, and some, it’s just a few songs. I really liked Reuben, and was sad when they split, because I think they had it all. Amazing DIY ethic, amazing songs, amazing production. If I take any techniques from music that I love, it’s normally not a conscious decision. When I’m writing and recording, I don’t listen to the radio, and don’t listen to other music, because I like the idea of discovering a song, and letting it become what it should be, rather than trying to force it in a certain direction. Often I have a sound in mind, but throughout the recording process, it’ll become something entirely different, and for me, they always come out sounding better for it.
Chris: I don’t have a daily practice routine. I play for fun, but it’s just what I feel like playing, as opposed to actually training. Vocal preparation/warm up is just running through a few songs. My voice is very raw, and it’s also very distinctive. It’s far from the best singing voice in the world, but that’s kind of the point. The songs I write are normally about situations that aren’t perfect, often melancholy, and even the sweet sounding songs are lyrically very realistic. Sometimes the world is not fair, and sometimes it’s absolutely depraved and harsh. My voice sounds like that. You’ll never hear my songs in the X-Factor final.
Jenny: How does music affect you and the world around you?
Chris: It’s all-consuming. There’s rarely a moment that I’m not enjoying a song, or thinking about one of my own in the back of my mind. In practical terms, it’s taken me way off track from doing well at school (I used to skip most of my lessons and hang out in the music rooms). Instead of going to University, I toured Australia, playing at cafes, pubs and backpackers hostels. Instead of focusing on getting good jobs, I got jobs which allowed me to have no responsibility so I could tour with my bands. It’s often meant that I have no money for weeks on end. Same as almost every other musician I suppose. It affects girlfriends because I’m not always very well off. They get sick of that in the end. I don’t blame them. But above all, it’s been absolutely brilliant.
Jenny: Have you been in any competitions and/or won any special awards or titles. Which one are you most proud of?
Chris: I think the music industry is competitive enough! I have always tried to support other musicians when I think they’re talented, whether that’s getting them their first gig at The Cavern, getting them on at festivals, or producing their album. I think the only thing I ever ‘won’ was an award for the best song of 2005. It was a local music forum in Leicester, where I was based at the time. ‘Fascinate By Hate‘ won that. And so it should, it’s a great song. Although it wouldn’t win now, because the bands in Leicester have come on leaps and bounds – some truly amazing talent.
Jenny: How important are your fans and engaging your audience? What are some of your marketing strategies that your willing to share? Do you support other artists?
Chris: Again, I always support artists if I think they deserve it. So if they’re talented, or doing something different, and thinking outside of the box. It’s a massive struggle to get heard above the noise of other bands. I don’t really have any marketing techniques, I just do what I do, and put it out there. If people like it, it makes everything brilliant for the rest of the day. I wouldn’t say I have fans, maybe a few. I enjoy talking to them. I’ll send them new demos, or acoustic versions of songs, and tracks that have never been released, just to say thanks for the support. I don’t know if it’s important in the big scheme of things, but they seem to enjoy hearing the songs, and I really like that they appreciate something I do. It’s a very humbling experience to put your feelings out there and someone says “I loved it”.
Jenny: Who in the music business can vouch for your ability? Have you received any press?
Chris: My old band ‘Vitriol I.D. were in Kerrang. Once. Maybe NME as well. In fact, ‘ist’ (the band prior to VID) were in Kerrang as well. Didn’t make a blind bit of difference. I don’t think anyone in the music business really knows who I am. Oh – XFM played a song last year, but they mostly ignore me now. HINT HINT.
Jenny: Who is the World’s Greatest Singer/Songwriter? Most underrated?
Chris: I really don’t know. Ben Harper and Tom Waits are both amazing, but not exactly underrated! Ben Howard is great too, but again, he’s receiving worthy praise, which I hope continues to grow. I could go into who is overrated, but that’s just not fair is it?
Chris: I think I was 18 when I decided to get on a plane and move to Australia on my own for a while. As I was about to go, my Father just said “Think twice, act once”. Very wise words, and even if I make the wrong choices sometimes, I can at least think of those words and hold myself accountable for my own mistakes.
Jenny: For our readers who have never heard your songs, how would you describe your sound and what the lyrics mean to you. Are the lyrics personal?
Chris: Someone once said this about ‘The Fray‘ which is very apt: “Basically if they remake DEVILS REJECTS i want to hear this song over the scene where they’re in the whorehouse and Ken Foree sells em out while spaulding is banging back the coke.”I would say that I produce songs which range in style from Nirvana Unplugged to a Queens Of The Stone Age/Garbage/Pendulum mashup, via a more melancholy version of Elbow. There’s angry songs for the boys, and the girls cry and the rest. Hopefully in a good way.
Jenny: You write all your own music. Where do you draw inspiration from when you write your songs and what is your favorite part of the process? What is your own process of songwriting?
Chris: It’s always different. I spent last Christmas alone. I’d just split up with someone I didn’t want to split up with, and spent a few days writing and recording ‘The Fray‘ and ‘All Of You‘ – two completely different songs, which have done very well with radio play this year. I loved the entire time, despite being miserable! I’d wake up on the sofa at 4am, with all my studio gear right there, and just carry on with what I was doing. It’s about as far from an Abbey Road scenario as you could get, but it works for me, so I’m doing that more and more. Eat, sleep, breathe the entire process. Even if I’m miserable, and writing miserable songs, that process is fun for me, and the most fun I’ve ever had recording. It’s not structured, but it is VERY creative!
Jenny: What are some of your live studio credits, collaborations, and memorable concerts?
Chris: After I got back to the UK, my first band was ‘ist’. In 4 years we did around 400 gigs. We had the most amount of fun you can have on the road. We were passionate, energetic, we fought (really), even on stage, we laughed, some of us had children, some of us lost family during that time. We were like family. Most of all, we were very, very drunk. I have no idea about credits, or anything else. Just that we were one of the best bands on the road at the time (most venues said so, and I agree with them). Vitriol I.D. continued in a similar vein, but the lineup changed a few times. I was lucky enough to have Sarah Jones play drums for the first year of that. She went on to be in New Young Pony Club, and recently joined Hot Chip. She’s a fantastic drummer, and I’m pleased to have her play on ‘Fascinate By Hate‘ and one other track, which is currently in hiding because of the lyrics (not telling).
Jenny: For someone interested in becoming a singer/songwriter, what would you recommend they should be learning? Are their any special classes or schooling that would benefit them?
Chris: Hmm, I think that you are either a singer/songwriter or you aren’t. You learn from other people, and from your mistakes. Lessons and schooling (BRIT School for example) can be OK, but really it’s about being creative, and having a voice. Say what you mean, mean what you say. If you believe in yourself, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. You’ll get knocked back, you’ll get turned away, you’ll get told that you’re no good. If you question yourself, then that’s OK too. It’s good to question your faith in anything, because as long as you decide that it IS what you’re meant to do, then your faith in yourself will continue to grow.
I would say just listen to good music – seek out bands and artists that you aren’t familiar with, and think about what they’re doing. Don’t put people into a higher league than yourself. Anything is possible, it takes work, dedication, and sacrifice… a lot of sacrifice. Get out and gig as much as you can. You’ll meet people who may be more experienced than yourself. But you’ll make contacts, and you’ll make friends. If you really want to do it, then make it your life as much as possible.Don’t be fooled into thinking that arrogance and drugs are part of the lifestyle. Those days are gone. Enjoy yourself, because it’s all part of the journey, but keep your mind fixed on the goal, which is to get your music heard by as many people as possible so that you can continue to make the music you want to make. Don’t give up, and don’t be afraid to try new things.
Jenny: Do you think Singer/Songwriters are the best interpreters of their own work or do you believe some cover versions are better than the original.
Chris: Depends entirely. One guy, or girl, with a guitar can bring an audience to absolute silence if they have that kind of talent, and their voice is good enough. On the other hand – All Along The Watchtower.
Jenny: Share with us your proudest moment in your career? Where do you see yourself ten years from now?
Chris: Any time somebody says “That’s beautiful” or something similar. Every single one of those times are my proudest. 10 years from now? I don’t even know what I’m doing next week.
Jenny: Tell us about your latest EP, ” The Fateful Smile”. It sounds pretty personal. What was in your heart when you wrote it?
Chris: There’s a few different ones. I’ve already mentioned
‘The Fray‘ and ‘All Of You‘. The Fray I recorded it on New Years Eve, 2011. I’d just broken up with someone before Christmas, so decided to spend the whole season on my own, wallowing and recording (which sort of made me happy). So The Fray was written and recorded that day, it’s about introspection, very personal stuff. I’d done a hell of a lot of thinking over that time, and it’s relating to how I realized I see my life as a constant fight, a struggle, and about how I don’t actually have anything to fight against any more – so really I was fighting myself. It’s partly about losing her, but really that I found myself afraid to stop fighting, and start achieving. Stuck in the struggle, stuck in the fight.
It was only really intended as a demo, but people seemed to really love it. Even my friends who are into really hardcore rock music loved that one above most other stuff. So I decided to send it to a few radio stations, and they played it. It was the first song I’ve recorded in a long time that turned out to my satisfaction, so kick started the album sessions properly, and I’ve since recorded 5 or 6, and I think 4 of them have received quite a bit of play this year (just regional stations – anywhere from Covent Garden radio to Doncaster FM).
All Of You
This is the angrier part of the story. I needed time away from everyone. I was hurt and angry about the end of a relationship. It was a chance to say all the things I never got to say. About the two sides of a relationship – I hate you/I need you.
This was first written back in 2003, although re-written in about 2009. It’s not about love at all, despite what it sounds like. My Dad had just died, I’d had a few disappointments, and was about to lose the flat my girlfriend and I were renting. I’d been given a job as a tour manager by someone who then disappeared. I was expecting to get paid, which would mean we wouldn’t have to move out. I never got the money. It’s about putting your all into something, and getting let down, or even stitched up! Have a listen
Win Lose Or Die
This is my Bond song. A group of songwriters sometimes get together, and get given a title or a brief for a song, and have one month to record it. Mine was a James Bond song. I just like it, so included it because it’s so different to my other stuff
The Fray Remix
This was remixed by Matthew Ian Chambers, and it’s brilliant. It’s had LOADS of radio play as well.
Jenny: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Download my FREE EP here http://chrisilett.com/free-ep_500.html
Thanks for the interview, and thanks to anyone who read this far!
By Jennifer Stoker