An Interview with
Frontman/Bassist of Owl,
& also Bassist of Ace Frehley & The Cult
that took place on July 7th, 2015.
Interviewed by Glenn Milligan.
Chris: Hello Glenn.
Glenn: How you doing Chris? Good to hear from you.
Glenn: Last time I sae you it was at The Rainbow Bar & Grill last year alongside Scott E. Albanesius & his dog. We had a beer and a photo. It was a good night. If you remember much about that one (laughing).
Chris: The Rainbow where you know everybody there. I always love it there. You get the pizza and you get a beer and you’re happy.
Glenn: Exactly. I was listening to your new material and it’s great.
Chris: Thank you very much.
Glenn: No problem – it’s cool. You’ve got the song ‘Things You Can’t See’ and it talks about the Fourth of July which we’ve just had. How was your Fourth of July over there?
Chris: It was cool. It was pretty cool that Owl played at ‘A Taste of Minnesota’ on the fourth of July and we played that song for the first time.
Chris: That was awesome. It went over great and we all watched fireworks that night and it was very appropriate. It was very exciting.
Glenn: That’s cool. What would you say influenced ‘Things You Can’t See’?
Chris: Well there’s always things brewing behind the scenes of your life and you never really know what’s going to happen. There’s always unforeseen things that happen in everyone’s life. Some of them are good and some of them are bad. It’s little bit of a narcissistic kind of thing where it’s jimmied in underneath the circus of maybe a relationship concept but it also goes much deeper and not just your regular relationship. It can be anything energy-wise in the world. I like to leave things a little vague to the listeners so they can have their own experience with it. Sometimes not but in that case, it’s that kind of song.
Glenn: Yes you can read what you want into it.
Chris: It’s got all kinds of stuff in it so it’s fun to have all the changes.
Glenn: Why do you like the Fender Bass so much? Is it a certain thing about it because in every band you play in, you always seem to be playing that bass.
Chris: The Fender Precision to me is just like the ultimate bass if you are going to trust something on the road and trust the sound. It’s one of those basses where it’s a lot in your fingers. I can get a lot of tones out of it. From my approach, it seems to be responsive and I want it to be really bell like and punchy like a piano with a doll-like top piano thing where it resonates. It’s all there for me on a P Bass. That’s kind of the thing I saw with Steve Harris and I started – that was his main instrument and that had a lot to do with the impression that the P Bass (had on me).
I found that a lot of the things with the Fender basses that you are cutting yourself into a certain kind of rock market there. It changes the whole spectrum when you come out with 5-string. There’s nothing wrong with it but I just haven’t found that in it. I really like the fact that I can really work the P-Bass. It’s kind of ingrained in my head that that’s the bass to get.
Glenn: What was it like growing up in Queens, NYC?
Chris: Well there is just a basic little story because my Aunt was living with us. Back then you had to sponsor someone coming from Ireland because I’m first Irish-American. I remember my Aunt Tina in Queens and we’d walk down because she would smoke cigarettes. My Parents said, “You’ve got to smoke outside”, so I’d go with her for a little walk and I’d have my G.I. Joe. I remember I wanted marzipan from a little bakery around the corner and I’d get to see the Empire State Building. That made a big impact on me.
Later on, in my high school years is where I met Dan (Dinsmore – Drummer of Owl) and we’re upstate closer to Saratoga up in the Capital district area. So that was part of my life and I am very connected to New York. When I travel internationally so much and come through Manhattan, finally I feel like I’m still next to the harbour I need to be. I love to go out to Queens and play, which I’ve always done. I always go, “Oh look, there’s Queens Hospital, I was born there”.
So I have that natural feeling about it. That’s my home town and upstate to a certain degree too. We used to go to Lake George all the time. Funnily enough, Lake George is a miss or a spellcheck on facebook with my mother writing. She was up in Lake George and it turned out to be ‘Lake Ego’. I was working on that song and it gave me the idea that if you use that lyric ‘Ego’ in lyrics (laughs). That was kind of like what that whole New York area is where I grew up.
Glenn: I like the name ‘Owl’.
Glenn: It dawned on me a few days of where the name comes from – it comes from the Wise old Owl. It made so much sense (I laugh).
Chris: Yep. Hahaha.
Glenn: Because your name is Wyse and it’s the wisest bird around. So it’s great.
Chris: Hahahaha! Yeah. It kind of follows the family long before I had the band. That was something that was associated with our family where there would be little owl trinkets, owl tea-towels and owl this and that. So it’s something that naturally evolved. Then one day one of my friends said,“You know what, the band name should be ‘Owl’ – think about it?” I said,“Wow!”. It’s something that naturally came along.
I like the mystical tip of it. There’s vampire-nocturnal fun you can have with this band Owl. The song ‘Witches Familiar’ on the new E.P. has got something different going on. We’ll be getting into places where bands really stretch things out and take risks, yet the song craft of the song is still intact. There’s still a song-craft to it even though we get to be experimental. That’s the fun of the band for me. It’s really vast the name ‘Owl’ and what you can do with it.
Glenn: How would you say you are wiser as a musician and as a person overall since when your first started in the business?
Chris: Hopefully I am (laughs). I would say mainly just keeping an eye on the songcraft. I feel like this shows in the studio that shows on this new stuff really well. This new stuff is more focussed and as a player and my intent on stage, my performance in general lately with Owl and Ace (Frehley) is really truly who I am. I am not really emulating anyone although I’ve been influenced by everyone. I feel like I just really, with the band ‘Owl’ and in general, when we came into my hone from just doing this for so long, I have a little more experience in how I handle things. With all the travel and stuff like that it’s very demanding and two bands juggling and so on and so forth. It gets tricky.
Glenn: How was it recording the E.P?
Chris: Well it was the first time we did it like this where we wrote it in the studio. Those things right up until the very end, it was pretty much all done but I still didn’t have a chorus (for 'Lake Ego). That’s where that ‘Lake Ego’ one came from. That one sticks out to me because I really like that chorus and that was one of the ones I was losing faith in. I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to come up with something that I was happy with.
Glenn: I like the lyrics where you sing, ‘You are drowning in your own ego’. It works.
Chris: Yeah. It’s kind of like a Hollywood base there. I’ve lived in Hollywood for 20 odd years and I’ve seen a lot of crazy stuff there and people losing it. It’s influencing that whole set of lyrics and song idea. I could really let it out in that song (laughs).
Glenn: It’s like the mindset of people when they first arrive there and where they end up further down the road.
Chris: Yes for me it’s all of it. It’s personal. It’s an overall I can share. It’s like a love relationship with a girl and at the same time all the bands I’ve seen. It’s everything. I think people will really relate to that one. I like the little upright bass bit to it. It kind of makes it really fun. In other things, just put on an explanation on things and it’s really more become Owl, this new record. We do more distinctive things.
Glenn: How did you start on the upright bass?
Chris: It was later on. The upright was in college. My Parents were pretty adamant about college for me.
Glenn: Were you a bit like, “Why do I want to play the upright one when I’ve got the electric one?”. Or did you take to the upright bass straight away?
Chris: Yeah. I took to it really fast. I was envisioning playing in my head so I think by the time I got it, my right hand was already cooking and I was just trying to get some of the shapes on the left. Then up where I lived at that point on, upstate where I knew Dan, we had out earlier bands and went to college in that neck of the woods in New York, they were offering classical only. So if I wanted to stay where I was, be in the band… Also at the time I had about 40 students a week, making my living in the band with Dan. I went to college there and it was a hectic time. I thought it was a total pain in the ass at the time. It really helped me distinguish myself from other bass players through doing that.
Glenn: Does the ‘Alive’ refer to anyone in particular or is that more like a Hollywood thing, like ‘No-one gets out alive’?
Chris: I’m sure because I wrote it there in Hollywood. I wrote it there in Wonderland because I lived in a house on Wonderland out there by the school – Jim Morrison’s neighbourhood so I couldn’t help but think about all that. But the song really… the 'bow line and everything else… that was coming from another place. The sonic of the song and the delivery. That was one of those songs I wrote a good few years back actually. I felt like I channelled it. I don’t know how that happened. Maybe I channelled a little Jim and a little bit of top classical sensibility.
Glenn: It’s funny you mention Jim because I thought to myself while listening to it, ‘Is this relating to Jim Morrison?’ because there is a big thing about ‘No-one gets out alive’. Then of course you’ve got the connection because Ian Astbury did the fronting for the 21st Century Doors. It was like it was subconsciously linked. You know what I mean?
Chris: Yeah. It’s an interesting thing. Jim Morrison made such an impression on me after hearing the voice and The Doors too of course. He used to stand out in all the singers. I remember also liking Neil Diamond. When I was a kid, my Dad was listening to Neil Diamond and a lot of singers of Irish music and all kinds of blues stuff. I really like when men sing like men. A lot of guys are singing falsetto all the time. I am not judging it or saying it’s good or bad or whatever, you know? Some guys do it amazing but I’m kind of singing with a full voiced tone most of the time.
Glenn: You can’t beat singing like Neil Diamond. I like singing like Neil Diamond as well so that’s cool.
Chris: Yeah, I really like him and I’ve always felt like it’s kind of what happened in the 80’s with all the riffing on the guitar. They just hit a high note on the vocal. To me, it wasn’t a song anymore. It was definitely very different. They were losing the plot. It’s more about the songwriting craft still. Hopefully if you listen with Owl stuff – you can’t forget some of it. The hooks are in your head. That’s part of hopefully what we are doing even though we are different, slightly progressive and experimental. I like that. There needs to be catchy bits for me in a song. There’s got to be lyrics that stand out and so on.
Glenn: When you are writing some of this material, because some of it is pretty deep, are you sat there on an acoustic bass, or a bass, or acoustic guitar or whatever and working away on the songs or do you just get the lyrics together first and then put the bass or the guitar parts on after? How do some of your songs coming around?
Chris: Sometimes I just choose to start off on the upright bass and this is, ‘I’ve already envisioned something and have a direction going ahead where it’s going to start with the upright bass or something. That lays the ground-work. Then there’s always a concept of the song. ‘Oh this reminds me of this, that or the other’, or ‘this person’ or ‘this experience’. I instantly draw on that and try and just write quickly. I’ve done it before.. like the song ‘Perfect’ on the last album took me a long time to finish on the writing. Finally I did finish it one day it was, ‘Oh my god, what a relief!’.
But I have had more fun writing songs like ‘Alive’ where I have just wrote it in like five minutes and just heard everything in my head. Frantically writing things down to remember the lyric ideas that came out of my head. So that’s more fun for me (laughs). But I’ve had both experiences. In the studio, we just went for it and wrote everything in the studio. I planted a lot of seeds and then I vibe with the guys on the concept and try and come up with as much vocal and lyrical content upfront as I could so they could vibe back on it.
They could come up with a mistake but it is not necessarily a wrong thing to do but I like to get the interactive stuff. When Dan hears a lyric, he responds with a certain drum fill that makes sense to that lyric or whatever. But something works there so the music will then influence the vocal treatment more. We had fun in that regard. The other first two records… the first record I had all written, second record I had a lot written and this time I had really nothing written. I just had 1,2,3,4,5 ideas and we threw them down so they were totally different.
Glenn: The recording sound is such a warm sound. Was that a conscious thing to get a really warm, flowing sound like that?
Chris: Yeah. Well it was something we’ve been working on for a while with our own personal sound and bands drum sound and certain concepts that I had as a Producer. There’s overdubs and poms on top of beats in ‘Star Up’. It’s been like that where we gave ourselves full reign in the studio which I believe is the smartest thing because that’s where you are at that point. You don’t worry about ‘How will we do this live?’. We’ve been running this stuff in the band room and it sounds great. Maybe a little piece of something is in there but the intent of the song is so strong, it’s gonna lead to be played as a trio.
Glenn: Talking about playing live, I’m looking forward to seeing you at The Whisky A Go-Go on July 21st with Philm.
Chris: Yeah, that’s going to be exciting. Dave Lombardo is an amazing drummer and to team up with him I think is a great idea because he’s got a trio, I have a trio. We’re guys from other bands and known through other bands doing their music. Owl have been around since 2007 and this is our third release but to a lot of people it’s still new. People are still just finding out about me and so on and so forth and the guys in Owl and stuff that’s going on. There’s a lot there if someone wants to dig in and start checking us out. But the new release is really the best way. It’s a potent tale this E.P.
Glenn: Which songs can we expect to hear that night from the E.P. that you really want to get out there and the crowd to latch onto?
Chris: Well ‘Things You Can’t See’ we already did at ‘A Taste Of Minnesota’ so I know that one’s going really good. We played that July 4th and it felt great. We have a video coming up and there’s a few other things that are going to come out. It’s just going to force us to play that song. ‘Who’s Gonna Save You?’ is going to be a live one as well and ‘Star Up’ might be a good call too. ‘Alive’ – we’ve already played ‘Alive’. We might do all of them but right now I would say that the definite three for these shows are ‘Things You Can’t See’; ‘Who’s Gonna Save You’ and ‘Lake Ego’. We’ll probably play them all. We get so long of a set so we’re trying to figure it out. It’s hard to pick songs but we’ll sort it out. We’re going to give you a lot of new stuff and some of the highlights from the first two records.
Glenn: That’s cool. I am looking forward to hearing some of the other stuff. Especially since you play the upright bass stuff. I mean, it’s not the sort of thing you are used to hearing.
Chris: I’m glad to do it. It’s really exciting for me to bring that out. People were like, "What is going on?". Some of the sounds I make with it, it’s really fun to play with effects and send it into electric land.
Glenn: When I saw you with ‘Hookers ‘N’ Blow – it was either last year or the year before. That was one of the main things that stood out from that set with Dizzy Reed and the band when you came on and played a couple of songs. One of them was ‘Don't Cry and another number you played on the upright. It was just beautiful. You remember that sort of thing because it was so different. It was like ‘Wow!’
Chris: Yeah it really has become an exciting thing for me to bring forth with the style of music we are doing. It’s really cool but that night with Dizzy was a blast and to hear the approach from that instrument it can still really rock very hard. Not just a rockabilly or classical or jazz. You can see that it has real sonic powers. If the result of that thing can keep up with the bass guitar volume-wise and everything and punch it.
Glenn: What would you say have been your greatest moments on stage have been so far?
Chris: I think that there are so many reasons why any stand out because even though I’ve been doing this for so long I think I’ve come full circle to some degree. When I was a kid, I had my earliest of bands and I’d go out and be obsessed with Kiss. I would be working on my bass solos that were somewhat inspired by Steve Harris, Billy Sheehan and even Eddie Van Halen. But it came full circle and it had to be the Hellfest for me from a few weeks back in France with Ace Frehley.
I’ve played in front of really big crowds before. I remember playing in Canada Day with Tal Bachman and playing ‘She’s So High’ on August 1st and 150,000 people both on TV and in France. You know, that feels like so separated but this Hellfest show was a totally different thing because The Cult had been there, I’ve been on these stages and played many big festivals.
I was playing a bass solo looking across the stage at Ace, he comes across the stage and fist-bumps me and then I go into ‘Strangeways’ as a lead singer. I’m harmonising all night with Scotty Coogan and Ritchie Scarlett and Ace. I’m a lot more featured so for the first time it was really crazy to hear that crowd roar for my bass solo. Ace would go, “Chris Wyse on the bass, Ladies and Gentlemen”. The first time it was like, ‘Wow!’ - I got some chill because in The Cult I never got to do that. Of course, I wouldn’t be a lead singer and do a bass solo so how would I have got that experience up until now in front of those kinds of crowds.
So I am just experiencing that for the first time in my life really. It feels great and when I jump from July 4th to July 5th which was Owl and the next day Ace, my voice is staying really strong and my chops are hard because is giving me a bass solo. So when I jump back and forth to each band it feels like I’m just getting stronger.
Glenn: It’s warming you up bit by bit?
Chris: Yeah. Well it just keeps me in shape. Nothings too foreign to me musically and my voice is generally, really consistently strong and keeping me strong for each gig and I felt like I had to warm up into it before. It’s not that weird really which is strange. Not because it’s like, ‘Of course I know these Kiss songs’. I mean, I am playing them and I get to sing a lot so it’s like I am ready for the Owl stuff when I return to New York.
Glenn: Because you have been in The Cult, can you see you guys having UK show plans for Owl?
Chris: I absolutely could. I can almost feel like getting busy over there on a UK run, hopping on board with somebody. We were talking about that. That might be more reasonable than any of the international stuff right now because of the fact that UK is only like a little tour and it’s doable distance-wise. You can get a lot done in the UK and there is like a very strong music history network there. It’s different. The kids in Manchester know their Rock history. I think Owl might be a really interesting band for the UK. They will appreciate that we are kind of a little strange and we’re almost a little punk but we are sophisticated as well and we’re tetchy.
Glenn: There’s a lot going on in Owl. You are not the sort of band that can be pigeon-holed easy. If you want to be a lazy journalist, it’s a rock band but them again there’s so many different styles coming across. I’m not going to say that you sound like this band or that band. It’s a case of like, let the fans or the people who are going to hear it, let them make their mind up what it sounds like and not try and force-feed them a certain idealism of a genre. It’s the sound of Owl.
Chris: Yeah. We kind of came into our own here and it’s cool just to have that versatility.
Glenn: I must ask you, how did working with Mick Jagger come about?
Chris: Well the Producer I knew very well that actually co-wrote some of the Owl stuff with me. A couple of songs on each record. Not the newer stuff but the first two. Marti Fredericksen, he was Producing Mick. I’d become pretty well known at that point as a ‘Hollywood Bassist’ that could jump in on lots of different and on the upright. For some reason, there was an opening and the bassist couldn’t make it. So he called me, and I came in that very day and I was recording with Mick Jagger - Just like ‘Kapow!’.
I played upright bass on a song called ‘Visions Of Paradise’ (from 'Goddess In The Doorway). I t was just one of those things. Then Darryl was available to do the rest of it from The Stones. I was like, “Come on Darryl, you’re already in the Stones, give the guy a break", no I’m joking (We laugh). No I’m lucky I get the opportunity and I get the call. You never know what is going to happen with those things. It was really exciting. I just tried to stay focussed and came up with some cool stuff thankfully that Mick dug!
Glenn: I guess that was a bit of a 'pinch me' moment? Is this really happening?
Chris: Yeah I often say, it’s usually when I’m driving home and I’m done, job accomplished and everything’s back in the car, I’m driving home and I’m going, “Wait a minute now, I just did that”. That’s how it hits me because otherwise you are doing your… you are there for a job.
Glenn: It’s a bit like that when you are in Hollywood and you are walking round or you are sat ina bar or something and you come back home to the UK and you think, ‘Holy sh*t I met this person, that person and that person’ and you don’t really run into these situations over here. You get across in Hollywood where everyone is and you just take it for granted. You just get so humbled down and it doesn’t bother you anymore.
Chris: I always feel especially when I have a job to do, I can’t really let anything else get in the way. I can’t even think about who is in the room. “Okay I hear this bass line. You guys like this?". It’s just my job and I have my cap in hand. It can be exciting but one of the things that kept me very strong with a lot of things going on in my music career is just because I deliver and I want to deliver. I want to push the envelope as well and give you a little more. That’s why I like doing what I’m doing. It feels like its worth it out there showing people what the upright bass is again in a different light. That is pretty exciting.
Glenn: Talking of the upright bass, can you imaging recording a Classical album yourself?
Chris: Oh I could see doing more of an acoustic-less album. Using distortion Marshalls. Another kind of a dynamic on acoustic thing but I don’t know exactly what yet. But I don’t know if I’d want to be too religious to anything. I think I want it to be the next evolution of what happens. I definitely see playing with more colours and more dynamics.
Glenn: Have you been approached for soundtracks and stuff like that after people have heard your upright bass playing and the musical colours that you give off while you are playing at all?
Chris: I don’t know. I’ve done some things like that – certain recordings. It could be Owl stuff that could work great in movies. It lends itself to a very theatre of the mind kind of thing that we’ve always had – now even more because the stuff’s very theatrical. That’s the best part of it. I like that. Theatre of the mind.
Glenn: Do you get check out the places you are touring through when you’ve got a day off?
Chris: Well you can’t all the time and sometimes you can. It’s just as simple as that. You’re out there working. It’s still work but it’s the greatest job you can do. For me, it definitely is and I don’t know what else I’d do than do music. You can’t always treat it like that because there’s some other town to get to and then there’s another day to get to so there’s only so much you can fit in. You’ve got your show and maybe interviews and I’m going to be getting ready for soundtrack here real soon. I’m going to take a shower and get ready for the show. It’s pretty fast paced.
You just do what you can and you try to keep yourself balanced. A little bit of yoga for me goes a long way. If there’s a pool in the hotel, I’ll go down in the Jacuzzi and then jump in the pool and swim – just change it up. Then you go back to the venue and you feel refreshed. Like ‘Oh yeah, wow, like a normal person’. You’ve just got to do little things for yourself that are healthy and really good food. You’ve got to be careful not to just keep eating the… you know, I always have salads and stuff after the show not sh*t like pizza. You just have to watch it. You know what I mean?
Glenn: Yeah. You don’t want to be ballooning all of a sudden.
Chris: Yeah you just feel lethargic. You need healthy food. I find a two hour set with a bass solo with Ace for tonight, I mean I can’t go to the gym for two hours then go and do that. You have to be smart and balance my days off with… even using my voice in the interviews is something I consider balances out my day a bit now because you don’t want to drag yourself down. I know I’m a little more experienced. I’ve been around the block a bit so I know what works for me and I keep doing that.
Glenn: So when you are not connected with music whatsoever, what do you enjoy doing?
Chris: Well I mentioned yoga but if there’s any coffee places and local food. Obviously hen you’re in New York, you like to get some really good New York Pizza or a New York Italian. There’s so much there but that comes to mind. I’m in Denver now and we are playing The Oriental Theatre and I have friends in town and guys I’ve known for years coming out to see me. So I really like to connect with friends again and go to nice dinners. If there’s a local brew after the show to meet friends at and try some local beer, I don’t mind doing that – it’s fun. You get to meet some of the local people. It’s usually just about friends and the basics for me. That stuff in life is the best.. the best things you do are really just food and friends and just the healthy things. Maybe late at night for a nightcap, get a pint – try something you haven’t tried before.
Glenn: Nice! Is there anything else you would like to talk about that we haven’t discussed?
Chris: Well the new release is coming out July 28th and we are just really excited about playing live again. I’m having a blast with Ace. It’s a total blast. It’s an awesome band.
Glenn: Apart from say the musical point as such because that is pretty obvious, what would you say are the differences between working alongside Ace (Frehley) and Ian (Astbury) and why?
Chris: Well Ian’s obviously the Frontman and Ace is kind of more a Musician/Guitar Player/Co-Lead Singer. So they are the big things and obviously Ian isn’t playing a guitar or something like that. But as far as their style of writing, I don’t know, I think Ace just starts working really fast when he works and Ian’s a big conceptual. Big different, big strokes at first. They work very different. That’s neither good or bad. It’s just that they work differently.
Sometimes the music might be more together than the vocal concept at first. Ace works really fast like on ‘Space Invader’ and now this new cover record we are working on.. Once we get rolling, Ace works really fast. He’s very focussed and Ace also is producing. He’s running the pro-tools. So Ian’s more of a classic Lead Singer in that regard with his Producer and maybe sometimes a lot of music is done before there’s a vocal.
As to Ace, the whole thing’s going on right from the get-go. The Production of the guitar, the concept of the song, the vocal, the bass guitar lines are already developing. It’s just all happening right in the moment. It may be a little more similar to what I do with Owl – a similar way to work. That’s the basics. (We Laugh).
Right I’ve got to get off because I’ll soon be called for soundcheck.
Glenn: Well it’s been a pleasure talking to you.
Chris: Thank you so much mate. I’ll see you again Brother, Thanks for the Interview.
Glenn: You will do. I’ll see you on July 21st at The Whisky A Go-Go.
Chris: Okay Brother.
Be sure to check out the following web-links:
https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/things-you-cant-see-ep/id1015165748 (Album pre-sale link)
http://owltheband.bigcartel.com/product/pre-order-package (Album pre-sale link)
Owl Tour Dates:
7/17 New York, NY @ Lucille's in BB King’s Blues Club
7/18 Saratoga Springs, NY @Putnam Den
7/19 Providence, RI @Aurora Providence
7/21 Los Angeles, CA @Whiskey A Go Go (with Philm feat. Dave Lombardo of Slayer)
7/23 San Jose, CA @Rockbar (with Philm feat. Dave Lombardo of Slayer)
All Photographs have been supplied and used with the kind permission of Reenee Harrison @ Publicity Please.
A Big Thank You to Renee for setting up the Interview for us.