OWL live in LA
BASSIST FOR THE CULT AND OWL
THE A LIST BASS PLAYER
You may not know the name, but I’m sure you have heard him. In fact you probably have some of his work in your CD collection. Yep, I’m talking about Chris Wyse. Chris has been fortunate enough to find his niche and make it his own. He started out as a kid learning bass guitar and then picked up the classical side of the instrument. He is fully rounded pro, but is still experimenting and learning. He is the extraordinary bassist that has recorded with the likes of Ozzy Osbourne, Mick Jagger, Tal Bachman, and Ace Frehley, just to name a few. In 2003 he auditioned for Metallica and you can see the process he went through in their film, “Some Kind of Monster”. If you have any Cult albums since 2001 – he’s on them. He came in as a studio player in 2001 and has been The Cult’s bassist since they reformed in 2006. In 2007 he formed, OWL, and they are about to release a new album. I think Chris could teach us all a few lessons on time management. I don’t think I’ve ever met a person who is so down to earth and yet has so much big stuff going on. Just for the rest of 2014 he’s looking at studio time with The Cult, releasing OWL’s third album along with a video, and doing live shows – that’s a full year for a lot of musicians!
STEAM OK, I’m little on the star struck side, especially after reading a list of musicians and bands that you have performed with. So, just going back to your musical beginnings, you were inspired to play the bass by Iron Maiden’s Steve Harris.
CW Yes, that was when the light bulb went on. I had been thinking about playing drums and at the time a lot of guys were playing guitar and I have always liked the underdog approach. At the same time my friends were pushing me to play bass and they are the ones that introduced me to Iron Maiden’s music. Steve Harris is such a driving force of the band and being the bass player it was a little unorthodox to be such an innovator and pioneer. So there was something really cool about it and that’s what created the spark for me. After that I became really obsessed with everything Iron Maiden and Steve Harris. And to some degree today, I still am; I still follow the band and they continue to inspire me.
STEAM Have you had the chance to meet him?
CW Actually, no. I have become friends with Adrian Smith and his wife. They were at a Cult show this past year and I got a chance to jam with him doing a blues/rock format. That was just awesome because he’s in one of my favorite bands. The thing is when I finally get to meet Steve I’ll be all nervous and stutter. (laughing) Actually, I doubt I’d be that way just because I admire Iron Maiden so much, and KISS too.
You know I’m really blessed to be called upon by some of my heroes. At this point in life, it still means a lot even though it’s not my first barbeque so to speak. I’ve been working in and out with a couple of the members of KISS over the last couple years. In fact I played bass on Ace Frehley’s new album, Space Invader; which is being released this month. My time spent around Ace was really cool. He’s got his own brand of guitar magic; he’s like Hendrix and someone else mashed together. It’s a really interesting style he’s got.
Not too long after recording with Ace I got to do a set with Paul Stanley at a private show that was benefitting a school. It was really cool, because we did a Motown set and Paul has this great falsetto so he just nailed it on Smokey Robinson and The Miracles, and stuff like that. We had three background singers, two keyboard players, guitar, drums, and bass. The bass in Motown is really dominant, very active, and directs the band. It was just so fun. But here I am hanging out with Paul Stanley and he says, “hey, didn’t you just play on Ace’s new album?” Which gave me the awkward hesitation wondering how they’d react to it, but they know I’m a huge fan, so it was good.
STEAM Well, let’s switch gears a little here to your band OWL. On your second album, The Right Thing, you did a Kinks cover, Destroyer. I really think you nailed that song and owned it. The first time I heard your version I thought I recognized it, but it’s different – which in my mind is a good thing.
CW We were at the end of the day and we just decided to do a cover. And it was really fun. But you know they stole their own song, that’s the thing about the Kinks. The ripped off “All Day and All Night” and came out with “Destroyer”. (laughing)
STEAM My experience in talking with songwriters is that many say they do this – find one song that hits it and make a few changes, but basically it’s a repeat.
CW Yeah, I’ve seen that too and to a certain degree I can understand it. Take AC/DC, that’s their signature sound. But the Kinks were ripping off their own song. (laughing) Well, the good news is that we had a good run with the second album, The Right Thing, and we’re gearing up for a release of the third album.
STEAM I know you’re in the “top secret-pre marketing blitz”, so what can you tell us about the new album?
CW You’re right, top secret is exactly how the publicity people tell me to treat everything. We did the recording at OVERIT Media in Albany NY. It’s an old Roman Catholic Church that Dan (Dinsmore, drummer) converted into a studio. I can tell you it’s an EP, we’ve got the first video just about dialed in, and we’ve been messing around with artwork. So we’re really starting to see some light with this and will have a single released soon. The EP will be out this fall and I’m hoping for October-November time frame. But the video will be out first, then the EP, and then we’ll follow up with some shows around the States. The new music has got some really heavy stuff on it and there are moments where I really feel that we’ve come into our own. It’s progressive and moody and catchy all at the same time. We take you to some unusual places and I think the main thing now is that we have our stamp on each song. Some of this is the most heavy and intense stuff I’ve ever done and much different than the first two records. It’s really exciting because usually a song is catchy or creative, but these are both - at once! It’s a trio, but we’re going for that big sound.
STEAM What I noticed on the previous albums is that you don’t sound like a trio, you have a much fuller sound.
CW Yeah, that’s kind of the fun part of being a trio. It’s that each member has to max out their ability to make sure it’s all there. An example is the song Rover on the last album; in the recording we had bagpipes. And do we have bagpipe guests all the time? No, but Jason Mezilis (guitar and background vocals) covers some of the ground doing a simulated thing. I believe that if you’ve got a good song, then you’ve got a good song, and it’s not going to fall apart because the tambourine guy isn’t there. At the end of the day we are a rock band that ventures out like some of the 60’s-70’s bands did, but we do it in a modern way. We have some heavy stuff and we have moments, but we don’t live there.
STEAM OWL is your project when The Cult isn’t busy; that’s how I understood it at first, but I think it’s much more than that.
CW I really don’t have much down time with The Cult; I try very hard to keep my schedule full all year. OWL is much more of a band than a lot out there today. We are in this for the music, not the notoriety of it. Dan Dinsmore (drummer extraordinaire, Clay People) is a childhood friend and Jason is one of my longtime friends from here, in LA; I’ve been out here for about 17, 18 years. So OWL is about as real as it gets in being a band; we butt heads and sweat it out in the band room, whereas a project would consist of rotating players and more studio work than shows.
STEAM I like how you say that OWL is a real band and that you’re doing it because you love it. I think it really shows through in your work.
CW That’s just the way I need to do it, because otherwise I could be a career bassist and just shoot for the biggest gigs and that kind of stuff. But I have to do stuff I really dig. We’re pretty pleased with the response we’ve gotten and I feel it’s really taken on its own energy now. It’s exciting to go out there and play this kind of music too. One of the new songs has a great bass with bow in it.
STEAM Not many bands can boast that they have a kick-ass bass player on lead vocals! You play both the upright bass and bass guitar, do you have a preference or is it about technique?
CW Well, they are both so different really. Bass guitar I’ll do two hand tapping and take it into some places that you can’t or don’t do with the upright because it doesn’t tap properly – you can do it a little bit, but it’s not going to be the same. Then you go back to the upright bass for example and you’re playing with a bow, so it’s all about the intonation and the pitch and drawing the bow, because you can’t muscle it. One is like playing a piano (bass guitar) and the other is like playing a bow fretless. Playing with a bow versus playing with a pick is very different as well. So to do it right, you have to commit to each piece. I just got into it all when I was a kid and the last thing I did was play with a pick. In fact I didn’t play with a pick until I joined The Cult.
I get to be more experimental with OWL, because as a trio we’re filling the space and using effects. I know that when we’re playing sometimes and Dan has such a huge sound, such a distinct stomp. And Dan’s a big guy so he stomps like no one else I’ve seen. It’s almost like a sophisticated wild gorilla. Just Dan on the drums alone is a lot to keep up with, but you don’t really get it until you see it live.
STEAM Speaking of shows, you kicked off the Taste of Minnesota Festival in St Paul in July. How did that show go?
CW It was super cool and what was great about it is that we’re having to earn our stripes so we kicked the whole festival off and we were probably the heaviest band that played. But you know we won a lot of people over and are invited back to next year’s festival. It’s just been a nice thing. It’s happening because people are fans of the band – we’re doing this because we love what we do, it’s not like we’re trying to win the lottery and if a song blows up then great, but we will still continue with what we’re doing. It’s growing and I can’t wait to share the new music!