by: Thomas D. Mooney
We caught up with Texas singer-songwriter Chris King on an early rainy Monday morning. He’s playing The Blue Light–and Lubbock for that matter–for the first time.
“I remember going up to Lubbock with my parents when I was looking at schools,” says King. “I remember leaving really early in the morning, riding in the backseat, waking up at around 10:30am only to realize we were still about two hours away. That alone, pretty much told me that I wasn’t going to Tech,” King says with a laugh.
With full band in tow, King’s now making that same trek up to The Panhandle.
King currently has one full-length album, 1983, an acoustic album, Desire, and a hand full of EPs. But this fall, will be going back into the studio to make his currently untitled sophomore album.
King plays The Blue Light tonight, Friday, Sept. 19.
New Slang: You’ve done a bunch of music since 1983. There’s that, Desire (an acoustic album), and you’ve also been doing these one take recordings of songs–the New Song Dispatch. I really like that idea. Where’d that idea come from?
Chris King: I have this buddy who I talk with quite a bit with named Ryan Hargrave. He’s one of the guys who helped start up Galleywinter. They’ve always been kind of supporters of “the other guys.” They’re fans of the Randy Rogers of the world, but they’ve been also been big supporters of the people who aren’t on that level of success–any kind of Texas independent music. He does some web stuff too. Some film and photography. So I was talking with him about what I could do to stay relevant, stay creative, and keep I guess what you’d call a product out there since I’m not going out on these big tours and things like that. What could I do to keep songs getting into the “market?”
You know, I’m writing constantly. I’m one of those guys who gets up and writes from around 7:30 to around 10. I do that Monday through Friday basically. That’s not to say that having a lot of material means having a lot of good songs. But, it’s a way to get things out. What I’m getting at with the New Song Dispatch is that, it’s a way to get new things out as well.
NS: Yeah. I really think it’s a great thing. I’m not sure too many artists are brave enough to do that. “OK everyone, here’s this song I wrote–but it may not be this way when it’s “recorded”–if it’s recorded at all.”
CK: Right. I guess in the larger sense of that question, is that I wanted to bring more people into the creative side of things. The raw side of it before it becomes this finished thing. I think most people probably want everything to be cut and polished before it’s released. These songs I’m posting, they may turn into nothing. They may be just things I have and end up in a notebook on a shelf. I hate the word “fan,” but the people who like my music [laughs], this is a way to sort of let them in on the creative side of what I do. It’s messy and not perfect. I’m recording all of them through a nice microphone, but it’s then running through an old reel tape machine, and then back into my computer. I’m not tinkering with it too much.
NS: Is there that other aspect to the whole thing–obviously, it’s a way to share with an audience–but does also help you in the writing process because you’re actually hearing a recorded version of something? You’re not just hearing yourself play it in real-time, but you’re able to hear how a fan does?
CK: Definitely. Typically, how a song starts is me recording a verse or something on my phone because there are times I get it on paper and then come back to it a week later and won’t remember the strumming pattern or melody. So I try to get at least a couple of lines on my phone. I’ll then write the whole thing and do a recording of it and let it sit for a while. Inevitably, I’ll want to change something. Most writers would probably agree that it’s all in the editing. So yeah, having those versions help.
NS: Editing. That’s really something that can be so overlooked by people who are beginning to write.
CK: Oh yeah. It’s really, really rare when you get that flash of brilliance when it comes out and it’s just right. But that, that’s so far and few between. I write everything in notebooks so it’s inevitable that I come across things all the time when I’m thinking, “God, when did I write this?” I found a notebook of stuff that I had written probably seven or eight years ago. There was probably 10 or 11 half and full written songs. All I was thinking was how fucking terrible it was [laughs]. It was really before I learned how I should get a song out. It was me word vomiting on a page and going, “OK, cool. I wrote a song.” It was before I started really editing myself.
NS: So a lot of times, I kind of feel that people who are considered “singer-songwriters” feel stuck in an acoustic environment. Maybe they feel that going into a full band setting will take away from the lyrics or something. But, that’s really what I liked about 1983. It’s definitely full band with electric guitars and some pedal steel and everything. But it never feels as though what you’re saying is being overpowered. You get what I’m saying?
CK: Yeah. When I made that record, I got the best guns I knew. Scott Davis played all the lead electric guitar on it. He currently is in The Band of Heathens, but played with Jason Eady and Hayes [Carll] for a long time. He’s just a great multi-instrumentalist. The bass player was Cody Foote. The drummer was John Silva, who was also the producer. He used to be in this band called The Gougers a long time ago. So when I was talking with John about the record, I really wanted it to be me sticking my foot in the door so to say. Well, really, I wanted it to be me kicking the door off the hinges [laughs]. So when we went in, John told Scott to play like he was the only guitarist on the record. We don’t have time to come in and do more. So all that gritty guitar tone, he cut all those guitar solos in like one take. Like a live pass. Drums, electric, and bass, they were all cut live together. That record and I, I guess we kind of get shoved into “Countryland” than I really think it is. There’s some country stuff on it, but it’s really more Americana or a rock record. Was that what you were getting at?
NS: Sort of. I felt that the “rockingness” of the record really fit the songs. Like I think a lot of people consider you a singer-songwriter first and then a front man second. With that, it happens a lot where you think you have to make these songs into sparse arrangements and make them acoustic based or something.
CK: Right. A big part of that came from John. I’m still, but I was really then, I was real green when it came to going into the studio. I didn’t know how to vocalize my ideas so much. But he really helped out on that. He really broke down the songs and helped put in an added intro here and things like that. I think a lot of singer-songwriter types, their songs are like their children. They’re not selfish, but maybe too afraid to let someone else put their input on them.