Ben: Have you been making music your entire life?
Chris: To an extent, yes. My dad and grandfather were both singers and guitarists, so I was enthralled with the guitar since before I could walk. In my earliest photos I can be seen as a toddler trying to wrench my dad’s guitar from him. I started actually playing when I was 12. I took lessons for a bit, and taught myself a great deal. My dad gave me some books about scales and theory and I ate it up. My first gigs happened when I was 17. At that time I was actually traveling around playing in metal bands! But behind closed doors I always considered myself more of an acoustic artist, and was very drawn to music that was driven by texture and nuance. I started gigging out as a folk artist in my early twenties, and have been loving every minute of it.
Ben: Tell me about the album you’re working on now.
Chris: I’m really excited about this one! Right now my bandmates and I are going through a pretty in-depth preproduction phase. We book a room, such as Backseat Production’s B-studio, or my personal rehearsal space, and we track live demos of the songs. We are working hard on honing the songs from an arrangement standpoint. When we go to record the actual record, we’ll have a good roadmap for what we’re doing. We’ll also be very well rehearsed! The plan right now is to track core instruments completely live, and add vocals and embellishments after the fact. I think the album will breathe very well.
Ben: Congratulations on a successful Kickstarter campaign! How did it go?
Chris: It got an amazing response. We are fully funded, and even passed the goal by a good margin. I thought we’d probably make it, but did not expect such a strong and fast response. People were super generous! I definitely owe a lot to videographer Charlie Steen (of the Ann Arbor-based creative group Thoughtwell Media). He really made the project come to life with the Kickstarter video and accompanying live music videos he shot for me. Personally, my favorite part about the campaign is the prizes I get to send to people. We’re going all out with sweet shirts, private house shows, and even collections of the demos I told you about. The campaign stays open until midnight on November 28th, so new listeners can still check it out and pledge if they are interested.
Ben: Do you think crowdfunding and pre-sales are a viable way to fund the production of an album?
Chris: Definitely. It’s certainly not the only way, and it shouldn’t necessarily be a “given” for every project, but it’s powerful if you have a good plan. I think that if you have a solid vision of what you want to do, and a lot of confidence around your work, fans will be excited to get involved. To be honest, the only reason this worked for me is because I have great listeners. I’ve spent the past couple years playing tons of live shows in Michigan, and I’ve met lots of very gracious and supportive people along the way. It was quite humbling to see how seriously they wanted this record to happen. I should add, speaking of album production, that Ann Arbor, Michigan is one of the best places to make a record. There are some truly great and affordable studios around here, and just as many great engineers. Tons of great stuff comes out of Backseat Productions (where we shot my videos), Solid Sound, Big Sky, the list goes on. Plus we have the U of M Performing Arts Technology program cranking out great engineers and producers every year. This town really is a musician’s dream if you network.
Ben: Who is on this album with you?
Chris: I’m stoked about the team working on this with me. So far we’ve got Billy Harrington on drums, Luke Jackson on all kinds of things (guitar, bass, percussion, back vocals, guitar tech), Katie Van Dusen on violin and string arrangements, Tony Pace on dobro and lapsteel, Christina Thomashefski on back vocals, and my lovely wife Betsy King on vocals as well. I’m sure there will be other players too. I love getting lots of different sounds from different human beings. We’ve got Tom Halpin engineering the album, Nick Nagurka mixing it, and Charlie Steen doing videography. I’ll be singing, arranging, and playing various guitars and keyboards.
Ben: How is this new music different from what you’ve done in the past?
Chris: This won’t necessarily be a head-snap transition from “Anxious Animal,” but rather my next step in maturing as a writer and performer. The new songs feel very focused to me. I’m learning to really say what I need to say in my lyrics. Acoustic guitar will still be an essential element, but I’m also getting much braver with electric guitar sounds. I also think the vocal performances will be a little less buttoned up. We’re going to work hard to capture the energy of what I do live. In terms of overall sonic landscape of the album, listeners can expect a tasteful blend of raw and hi-fi. I still tend toward very “lush” arrangements, but I think the tunes will feel even more real and heartfelt since we are recording a lot of the instrumentation simultaneously.
Ben: Are you doing any covers or is it all original music on this album?
Chris: I’ll likely just stick to originals, but I’ve toyed with the idea of dropping in my cover of Sesame Street’s “I Don’t Want to Live on the Moon.” That’s been a fan favorite at live shows. I may drop it in to the B-sides collection, or even the album. I started covering that song just out of nostalgia. I was goofing off and came up with my own acoustic arrangement of it, and it just stuck.
Ben: Congrats on fatherhood! How has that influenced your writing?
Chris: Thank you! We are very excited about this new chapter. I can’t tell if it’s made a direct stylistic impact on my writing yet. It’s certainly made an impact on my music career as a whole. The moment Betsy and I found out, she told me “Get out of here and tour.” She really wanted me to learn the ropes of being on the road before the baby came. So I did! I booked a handful of mini tours, mostly around the midwest. I met lots of really cool artists, and played in lots of new places. My thinking is that if I’m going to be a full time musician and a father, I have a responsibility to work a lot harder. I have to give better shows, better songs, and better records. If I’m going to do this, I have to do it hard. So in that respect, I suppose my impending fatherhood has subconsciously affected my writing. I’m more intent than ever on crafting the best work that I can.
Ben: Where do you want to see your career go from here?
Chris: Honestly, if I could fill rooms that seat 200 or 300 people in 25 different cities, I’d feel very successful. I want to get to a point where I can sustain my family off licensing songs, and playing live shows. It’s still a big dream, but that’s where I’d love to see it go!