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INTERVIEW: CHRIS WYSE of Owl – July 2015

| 13 July 2015 | Reply

Bassist Chris Wyse has played with some of the best rockers since he broke out into the rock world.  His latest position is that of bass with legendary guitarist Ace Frehley, but Chris also rocks the bass with his own three-piece, Owl.  Dropping their third release, these guys are poised to take the world by storm with their cool grooves and slick ambient rock tones.  While he is out playing dates with both Owl and Ace, Chris took a little time away to speak with us regarding his different projects…

Chris Wyse [Carl Mahoney]

Toddstar: Chris? Holy moly, all the technical difficulties.

Chris: Yeah, what’s going on over there? You ready?

Toddstar: Yes. Again, thank you so much for taking time out.

Chris: No problem.

Toddstar: I know your life is crazy busy. We were starting to talk about the differences in between the three albums, specifically the new one, Things You Can’t See.

Chris: Right. What I was trying to say through all the distractions… basically, the first record was written but it had quite a statement, we had a stamp of our sound that we put out there. The second one, we had a little more personality and fun, I think, doing songs like “Rover,” about my trip to Ireland when I was 11, with bagpipes. Also doing the cover song from The Kinks, getting almost very punky with “The Right Thing,” itself-the song-and having beautiful songs like “Perfect.” We expanded quite a bit-we got more colorful-but this stuff I’d say our song-craft that meets our wild sound and style and musicianship and knack for hooky choruses, even though it’s very experimental, all comes together in these little three-and-a-half-minute pills. When you hear “Who’s Gonna Save You Now,” you get the full personality of the band from my voice to the bass playing to the style of music to the stompy drums to the ethereal guitar. You really get a taste of that right there.

Toddstar: The lead single on the disc is “Who’s Gonna Save You Now.” It’s so much different, sonically, than even the opening track, which is the title track, “Things You Can’t See.” How do you draw from influences so diverse to come up with such diverse sounds in this package?

Chris: A lot of it’s within the song writing and the concepts. “Things You Can’t See” actually has heavy elements, but it’s very melodic. Each song sort of ties into the others, still. Part of that is no-rules-style writing, because I grew up listening to Floyd and Zeppelin and Sabbath and they just taught me that it was no rules. You could write a very theatrical, epic-y song and then a very sweet, catchy little one, so that’s what I always thought. Plus, as a grown man that has been traveling around the world for years and played with so many rock stars, I have a gamut of feelings. I’m not just going to be stuck in an angry, heavy mode or a sweet mode or anything. I probably have a million different personalities and I can feed off of them.

Toddstar: The fun part about listening to your playing, specifically, is you’ve kind of created an art out of using either an upright bass or a standard bass. Just doing what the hell you want with your instrument, but you blend the sound so well into what you’ve written that you can’t really tell, one track to the next, what style you’re using. How much do you work at really cultivating your craft of playing the bass?

Chris: Well, it’s been a massive undertaking. I’m not going to sugarcoat it. It’s something you have to maintain and also push and it’s been my craft, so I’ve been doing it ever since I was a teenager and it just comes to me just naturally, the passion for it, but it’s always been work. My shift over to the upright bass is even more challenging because at the end of the day, it’s fretless, there’s a bow, and to sing and play with that instrument’s more challenging in a lot of ways. I took on the challenge a long time ago and I have a lot of fun with it now, but I will say it’s something I have to maintain and also try and kick in the ass a little bit. It’s nothing to do with sports, but at the end of the day, the physicality of it, for me, is a sports-like, acrobatic-like challenge.

Owl - band shot 2015 [Carl Mahoney]

Toddstar: That’s an interesting insight.

Chris: Yeah, it’s just something that comes with the physicality of it all.

Toddstar: It’s nothing I would’ve thought of. When it comes to playing, and especially in the studio and especially on your stuff with Owl, you’ve obviously have a lot more freedom to run and do what you want to do. How do you decide, exactly, how you’re going to approach whether you’re going to use the stand-up or a bass? Is it something, when you’re writing, you think it needs this specific sound or is it just whatever you feel that day?

Chris: I always have a vision for the song, like on the new record, “Lake Ego,” has very strong bow parts and I’m chugging along with the bow as a rhythm kind of thing, too, for the eighth notes and scraping a little bit and getting almost a filter-like sound, so I heard that right away in my head with the guitar line doing the sort of moving bit and the bass just sort of pulsing down the C, but even that right there, I heard in my head. If I’m chugging along with the bow, “thump, thump, thump, thump, thump, thump, thump,” over the guitar line, just sort of taking the melodic part, I could hear that it would almost have a filter effect if I dynamically played a little louder and straight. If you go in there and listen, there are little things like that that came to mind right away, and then I heard the bow bit in the middle for the bridge. I guess I was writing and creating the song on the upright for the song. That’s one of the fun things is that I can go there and go, “Oh, right here, with the bow!” It just takes it to another stratosphere as opposed to the bass guitar, you know?

Toddstar: You take the argument to the next level, because a lot of bass players I speak to, the argument’s pick or finger and you add in that third component that makes it even more complex.

Chris: Yeah, I can’t see that there’s really any argument at all. Chris Squire just passed recently and he was a strong pick player and that’s just what he did. Guys like Steve Harris probably rarely pick up a pick and Geezer Butler, maybe Geezer even a little more than a Steve Harris, actually, if I think back to the parts. But at the end of the day, it’s just a tool. It’s not the creativity. I’ll go see a band that has kick-ass songs over a band that has some fancy bass player because I want to hear the songs. It’s just a tool, you know what I mean? The difference between me and, I guess say, some of the jazz-fusion guys, I guess the main difference would be is my singer-songwriter aspect. I do take the music almost out to a pretty extreme place like some of the jazz guys I watch, but I keep my center in a hard rock/alternative hard rock and it comes off a little different.

Toddstar: It certainly does. Let’s talk about you for a minute, Chris. You mentioned the bands you grew up on, but who made you decide bass was the way you wanted to go? What was the influence there?

Chris: I told this story before, but essentially, in a nutshell, my friends played guitar and drums and they were hoping I’d play bass, and they were playing me all kinds of music and great bass players-and you can just pick ’em-all the great bass players, but for some reason, I didn’t want to play the instrument until I heard Iron Maiden’s Steve Harris and that was the thing that was the spark and I went, “Oh, shit! That’s what I’m doing! I found my thing now. That’s what I’m doing.” I knew I wanted to rock, and I knew I wanted to play rock and roll and be on the stage, so that really came earlier, from Kiss, when I was like eight years old, and I bet I had it in my head with the super-hero rock-star thing. Maiden needed to be fantastical… that was part of it. Owl probably has subtle influences, stylistically, of the iconic figure in the character, which we’ve been talking about developing and putting into a comic book sort of fashion. We’ve hinted at it in our videos and stuff like that, with the fantasy/almost science fiction elements.

Toddstar: You definitely approach anything you do with Owl from an artistic point, whether it is the music or the videos. Everything’s always had that artistic touch.


Chris: Yes, definitely. A little more soft and just ‘I’m gonna get the girl,’ or ‘I got lots of money,’ or ‘I’m such a hot shot.’ There’s more of an undertone and a message, possibly. Not that I’m preaching, but I have some experiences to share and I can keep the lyrics very personal for me, but yet I always believed in a poet like Robert Frost, like you don’t need to say big fancy words to say something, in fact you can keep it very simple and say profound things. My concept is once you hear the lyrics, and feel the tone; you can feel for sure there’s emotion behind it. I’m just kind of singing takes in the studio and some of them were improvised and stuff like that, and I remember in “Witch’s Familiar” when I was doing the scream bits, I was like, “Well, it’s not like I’m going to be doing that every time I tape the song, so I’m just going to tape a section of the song and let’s see what happens. I’m just going to literally scream my head off…” Which I like to do as a climactic thing like a Floyd or Zeppelin would do-also The Doors would do these crazy… Jim Morrison would do these crazy screams. It had to be a motive. It couldn’t be like something you practiced, you know what I mean? I guess the full gamut has to be there emotionally, I guess is what I’m trying to say, and then some of the simple words and stuff will have more feeling and you’ll know what I’m saying-you’ll get the spirit of it, is basically what I’m trying to say. Because of the performance, not because I rehearsed and I’m such a great singer and I am such a great bass player. A lot of it has to do with not chasing anything, like we allow the moment to happen and we just allow some explosive things to happen and we’re like, “Holy cow! That’s it!” That’s the charm of this record. You really hear us harnessing the band’s creativity and improvisational skills into really great song-craft. I’m really proud about how catchy everything is, even though it’s really heavy at times.

Toddstar: Again, I like the eclectic sound that you bring to the table because of your different influences and then your journey along the way. You mentioned Iron Maiden, you mentioned Kiss. With Iron Maiden, what was the first Iron Maiden song you learned front to back?

Chris: “The Trooper” was the one I heard and had to learn really. I guess I just jumped on board right at that point and was trying to figure out what was going on in the song and how his fingers were playing, what he did. I took right away to how he did triplets, funny enough, because a lot of people were thinking it was three fingers, like Cliff, but he does a two-finger ‘one-two-one’ throw that creates the triplet, which I took to right away. I happen to play with all 10 of my fingers. When I was a kid, I’d put my little toe in there to get one more note for the tapping bit. I use all my fingers because I do Flamenco-style techniques and play with my fingers both ways, up and down, and things like that. I’ve always played slap and pop and all that stuff because I taught for many years, so I had everybody wanting to learn everything under the sun. It’s just my approach has been why not? It all counts. I’ll play with a pick a little bit, too, in a song-a couple songs where it’s more of a strummy, kind of Peter Hook-ish kind of thing, which I kind of picked up from being in The Cult for so many years. Different things have influenced me and I’m just open to it all as opposed to “I will never play with a pick!”

Toddstar: You talk about influence and again, we’ve covered Iron Maiden a little bit, but you’ve had a fun little side job here the last little while and that’s playing with Ace Frehley.

Chris: Yeah, it’s actually turned into my gig. I’m full-time with Ace now, I’m doing all his shows and we’re already working on a cover record, which is like half-done. It’s going to come out later this year. I’ve been touring with Ace since November and recorded Space Invader, a few tracks with him. The Cult was in a hiatus, so I just kept hanging with Ace and this whole relationship developed with the band. Richie Scarlet’s on guitar and vocals. Scotty Coogan on drums and vocals. Each guy is a fucking powerhouse, so it’s a really good band and it’s a great opportunity for me because I grew up with the Kiss stuff. Ace is one of my favorite guitar players of all time, so it’s a real hoot for me. I get to sing a lot. I sing harmony all night and I get a lead vocal and I get a bass solo, so people are kind of checking out something from me, possibly, if they’ve been watching me, that they hadn’t seen before. It’s been a great experience so far.

Toddstar: You’ve played with powerhouses your whole career and that stands testament to your abilities. You played with Ozzy. You play with Ace now. You jumped in and put your stamp on The Cult. You really stepped up and said, “This is who I am,” and created your own little cult status.


Chris: It’s kind of an interesting thing the change has been really good. Like I said, people coming to see me for 10 years, and then they’d come out to see an Ace show and they were suddenly like, “Dude! I didn’t know you could play like that!” I’m like, “That’s fucked up. You’ve been watching me for 10 years.” It’s just time that I did different things. The Cult guys, I’m totally cool with still. I’m friends with them all. It’s just kind of a new thing for me to do – a new opportunity.

Toddstar: That’s awesome. The big question is when do we get to see you do something in Detroit, man? We miss you here.

Chris: Yeah, I know! I’m hoping Ace goes to Detroit. I’m hoping Owl goes to Detroit before the end of the year. There’s dates coming up for both bands and things are in the works. It’s all about promoters and managers and all those guys at the clubs giving us the opportunity, and sometimes there is one you know what I mean? We’re going to team up with a cool band and stuff like that. The more you talk about it over there, the easier it is for us.

Toddstar: We’ll definitely push for I know you’re busy. I know you’ve got stuff to do, so I got one more for you, Chris, before we cut you loose. With everything you’ve done in your career, what couple of things do you look back on and either want to be remembered for or you’re just most proud of?

Chris: That’s interesting. My own work’s been sort of the key to all the work I’ve got. I feel like working with Dan and Jason and Owl has given me the platform to do all this stuff. Funny enough, a lot of artists and rock stars are checking out Owl and go, “Well, this is what this guy does. He’s singing, he’s writing, he’s playing the bass in such a way or the upright bass.” They’ve come out to see me play and so on. That’s really been the showcase of what I do, and I think this latest Things You Can’t See is absolutely my edgiest, most colorful work to date, with a lot of really great songs, where I think I’m giving you something different in this strange day and age we’re in. I’m giving you something really edgy and I’m almost picking up where rock and roll left off and hard rock. I’m trying to almost bring it to the masses in the new way, where it’s like, “Look guys! This is as colorful as anything you’re going to do on your iPad, and actually, musical.” I think we need a balance out there and I’m part of that. A lot of people aren’t sure what the upright bass is, even, so I’m happy and lucky to bring it to the people.

Toddstar: Like you said, you’re starting to pepper dates out there. We hope to see you roll through Detroit with Owl, promoting Things You Can’t See, which drops July 28th on Overit Records. We wish you well with getting that promoted and getting that out to the public so that everybody can understand what a powerful player and singer/songwriter you are, Chris.

Chris: Well, thank you so much. Yeah, it’s just been a blessing all around to be able to do it, but then to have it well-received and such, it’s been a real treat, man. Hopefully, we’ll be hitting Detroit Rock City this year!

Toddstar: Sounds good, brother. Be safe on the road and enjoy the ride.

Chris: Thank you for the interview. Have a good one.










Category: Interviews

About the Author ()

ToddStar - that's me... just a rocking accountant who had dreams of being a rock star. I get to do the next best thing to rocking the globe - I get to take pictures of the lucky ones that do. I love to shoot all genres of music and different types of performers. If it is related to music, I love to photograph it. I get to shoot and hang with not only some of my friends and idols, but some of the coolest people around today.

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