Shryack, Chris (Under The Sun) (June 2005)

And The Sun Also Rises: Under The Sun Interview With Chris Shryack
A Discussion With George Heron

Under The Sun's Chris Shryack and Kurt Barabas (circa 2000)I always wondered what happened to Under The Sun after their impressive eponymous first album. They were one of those great new prog bands of the early 00s that were adorned upon the formidable roster of the Magna Carta label, which at that time included acts such as Shadow Gallery, Magellan and Dali's Dilemma. When I found out that they had recently signed to the ProgRock Records label and had just released their new live disc Schematism - On Stage With Under The Sun, I was compelled to arrange an interview with powerful lead vocalist and guitarist, Chris Shryack. I present to you the transcription of this fascinating discussion.

George Heron: What is different to the previous Magna Carta incarnation of Under The Sun?

Chris Shryack: The current incarnation is predominantly Kurt [Barabas] and I. After the initial cycle was completed back in 2001 with the original band, we kind of reached the end of our collective tether and realised that changes needed to be made. These changes took effect and ended up with me and Kurt holding the bag. Over the last couple of years, 2003 - 5 we've been keeping the vision and the spirit of the band together, though admittedly it hasn't been easy. Also, in terms of recording, Kurt's been embracing new and different technologies. We've been recording at Kurt's studio - affectionately dubbed "The Aquarium" by our friend Bill Seaberry since 2000 - and since the release of our debut on Magna Carta, Kurt's acquired some new recording equipment. Also, on this new disc we're both playing different instruments. Kurt's singing more and also playing guitar in certain sections. He played a little distorted acoustic on "Seeing Eye God" from the 1st disc but he's doing more traditional guitar accompaniment on this disc. He's also brought more actual fully fleshed-out songs to the table than ever before?

Personally, I had a Sustainiac Sustainer system installed into my PRS electric a couple of years ago, and it's made my guitar a virtual flame-thrower? It's changed the way I think about electric. Having said that, I've been focusing almost solely on acoustic guitar over the past couple of years, basically utilizing the acoustic as my primary practice vehicle. I practice everything I do on it... Doing so has made my hands twice as strong as they used to be -- it's very much like the "swing eight bats theory." I nearly cut the fingertips off my right hand on a table saw last year, so it's been real important for me to re-establish contact with the instrument in a more meaningful capacity. When you work nearly exclusively on acoustic and then pick up electric, it's like a hot knife through butter. The strings feel so supple. I've also been working on becoming a better writer of both prose and music, plus I've been singing a lot.

Under The Sun - Under The Sun (2000)So, that's some of what we've been doing since the first disc? And I think the vision of the band has grown and matured since then? You'd damn well hope so - it's been nearly five years since its release! One would hope we've grown. I think we have.

GH: Is the musical direction any different to the previous album?

CS: This material isn't necessarily all that different from the previous album in terms of scope or vision. But it may sound quite different. It'll probably be a little more sparse and rock-based and we'll be breaking some new ground on this one, at least for us. We're focused on maintaining the same sound without the keyboards per se by building up wave-upon-wave of guitars, basses and vocals in an effort to emulate keys? So, yeah, we're continuing on in the same vein, more than less, but we are also acknowledging the four years of time that's elapsed by making do with being a guitar-based band for now and replicating the keyboard sound without the use of synthesizers. Well, with the exception of the bass pedals. Those are still there. It's not that we have a problem with keyboards, it's just that we have no one to take over the role in the way that we'd prefer. We prefer a keyboardist to come in as a team player, first and foremost, before we write and perform with him. That's how it's always been. I, personally, would love to have a good keyboard player in the band again. But it has to be the right guy.

We've written nearly two new CDs worth of fresh material and also have provided some commercial spots for an automotive company called K&N Engineering, Inc. Apart from that, we've just been writing individually and collectively and been trying to get the sophomore effort finished... It's been a long road filled with false starts and stops. That first chapter of Under The Sun was a great experience for all involved but those days are long gone and things now are extremely different. We're still positive about everything and we continue to view things as a glass half full, but we'll just have to see how things go.

Some folks who've heard the new material have asked how we're going to reproduce it live. The answer is simple: You just do it! You pick and choose individual overdubs and vocal lines and decide which best represents the section of music you're working on? Work out the samples. Then maybe extend or truncate sections depending on the band's collective attitude about the track. After awhile things tend to come together. It feels so much freer to stretch things out and improvise a little bit when we reproduce our music as opposed to recreating something to the tee? I mean, there are times when that is an appropriate approach, but other times when it's great to use the studio version as a template for a far wider-reaching and different kind of take on a song. I like to use Zeppelin as a model for this? They were masters at re-approaching their songs and creating live renditions that only partially reflected their studio counterparts.

That's one thing we've gotten into in the past few years that I've personally really enjoyed - a certain looseness and more improvised feel to some of our more regimented arrangements. If I have any personal criticisms about the Magna Carta version of the group, it's the fact we were a little stiff at times. We used to change instrumental sections here and there live a little bit but that's not really what I'm talking about. Though I'm grateful we did at least that. It's just that we used to be a little uptight about going out on a limb live, and that's what I prefer to do now.

Take something like "Golden Voyage"? The ending of that track just BEGS to be improvised over, and not recreated the exact same way night after night. I like the band to take chances and build into the material areas where the rhythm section can take off and explore new terrain. Yeah, you risk falling on your ass in front of an audience. Okay. Your point is? Yeah, you risk maybe making a slight train wreck of the proceedings in doing so - so what? That rarely if ever happens, but even if things get a little wonky due to a little risk-taking live - what's the worst that can happen? "Oooooooooh - you made a mistake!!!" So you make a mistake - so what? Who gives a fuck? Makes the performer appear more human as far as I'm concerned. I don't play for other musicians. This band doesn't care about performing music designed to impress other musicians. We write and perform music that is honest to our sensibilities at that time and also try and construct the music as to not be boring? We like accessibility. We like vocals - a lot. We like simplified thematic cycles as well as the more overtly complex stuff. We like it all.

The days of over-rehearsing the shit out of songs over and over again, and finding myself emoting to the wall in our rehearsal space instead emoting to an actual audience are gone. We did that for a long time. We performed quite a bit during those years but we REHEARSED ad nauseam as well. It yielded a tight ensemble but it also killed much of our spirit. Having said all that, I do recognize the value in our earlier approach to rehearsal, but Kurt and I have discussed it and we both agree we never want to do that again.

GH: Is this Under the Sun back on track and not an album then another hiatus?

CS: That's wishful thinking at this point. We're just trying to get this new studio album finished once and for all. Kurt and I have spoken as of today about this and we remain completely committed to finishing it, so that's comforting. When this album is finished and released I don't think it will be such a long period of time between this and the next album. It is admittedly a disgustingly long time between studio efforts. This band has never been one to confuse quantity with quality, that's for sure! Both of the official Under the Sun releases so far are unapologetically quality and that is what I'm most proud of.

Schematism - On Stage With Under The Sun (2005)Recently, Schematism has been released, which was a much-needed shot in the arm. It's an excellent finalized take on the band's strengths during that era. We were a well-rehearsed, unified vision at that point. Even with our problems, musically, for a time, we were definitely in sync. When this live album was released, to be honest I wasn't sure if it would be a closing of a chapter, a farewell to UTS or if it would give us the impetus to carry on. It seems to have been the latter, a shoving-off-of-the-boat again, so to speak. Thankfully. I trust in future.

GH: Would you say the new material is heavier than the previous album?

CS: Definitely. Due to the fact that it is more guitar-based.

GH: Veering towards metal?

CS: I don't really like the term metal. And I know Kurt doesn't. The only metal I've ever really enjoyed was Black Sabbath during the Ozzy era. I love that incarnation of Sabbath. To me they were the only true heavy metal band. Hell, they're the Big Grand-Daddies of Heavy Metal. They created it. Think of the term "Heavy Metal" - to me it suggests wading through a pool of molasses in trench boots, and to my ears that's how some of the arrangements of some of their songs sound. And I mean that in a good way!!! Aural psychic sludge? Just an awesome band. And some Judas Priest - they're obviously a great band. Sad Wings, British Steel, Stained Class? I love those albums. And I've heard some nu-metal that I've kinda liked recently.

So, yeah, when people refer to Under the Sun as a metal band my back goes up a little bit. I don't find it an appropriate correlation. Having said that, if people are saying that we're metal, it admittedly is probably due to my guitar playing! Because I tend to play aggressively. I was once chewed-out by a Japanese drummer we worked with for being too "metal." "You are heavy metal guitarist!" Threw down his sticks and stormed out all indignant. Really? Umm, okay, if you say so. The good ol' days. But, no, I don't think we're a metal band even though there may be metal overtones to my guitar style.

GH: How far is the second album from being completed?

CS: We're a little less than three quarters of the way through and it's been extraordinarily difficult to finish. We thought when we took ten-and-a-half months to finish the first album that it was a long time. This one has taken up to 3 - 4 years now. It's been so loaded with its own obstacles. But what is there is quality, and when completed, will have been to the best of our abilities. It will be a logical successor to the first album. When you have two people focused on ensuring quality over a long, drawn-out period of time, visions can change, opinions on the performances or material can shift and therefore subsequent delays occur almost ad nauseum and ad infinitum due to all those various subjective considerations. But once it's done it'll have been worth the wait. Of that I have no doubt.

GH: Great. A lot of former Magna Carta artists have been critical of their old label. What was your experience with them?

CS: First of all, let me make this perfectly clear: Magna Carta never misrepresented themselves - ever. At least to our knowledge. Right up to the time we opted out of our contract to become free agents they were always very forthright and were never anything other than on-the-nose in terms of what they suggested they would do for the band. I've always felt Pete Morticelli and I had a nice rapport - I like the guy. I've met Mike Varney only once, and spoke to him on the phone a couple of times when we were in discussions about signing with them.

Pete's initial vision of Magna Carta was to create a label that didn't play to radio. He told me this himself. He wanted to release CDs by musicians he admired and did not want to deal with radio. That's how it began. Although I kind of understand him not wanting to deal [with] the frustration of dealing with the state of FM radio, to me it's still the oddest damn thing on which to predicate a label, but to each his own, and we knew all this when we signed with them. It was our choice to sign with them.

However, it does seem odd to maintain that militant, non-radio-friendly stance when you've just signed a group like UTS that brings to the table certain songs that are undeniably more commercial than most of your other acts. Or - in the case of Kansas - during that same year they released their Somewhere To Elsewhere album on Magna Carta, one of their absolute best recordings ever. We all realize the state of FM radio in this country has gone straight down the toilet and rock itself is slowly fading from view in a mainstream capacity, but it's still a drag Magna Carta didn't really try to break new ground with these releases.

It's amazing to me that Mike or Pete didn't think to themselves "I know we created a label that doesn't cater to radio but here we have two albums, one by a new band that we believe in and one by one of greatest bands of all time. Maybe we'll be able to make a dent and get some widespread recognition and success that'll transcend the 'prog' genre." Instead of doing that, you almost get the feeling that they did the opposite - that they actually under-promoted those releases intentionally. It's a very strange, odd and borderline creepy mindset, which I think has alienated virtually everyone on their roster. It's a shame they don't think larger scale, it really is.

UTS was ready at that point to be a synergistic companion. Magna Carta did not want to roll the dice with their investment. They asked us for a second album while we were in the middle of a tour and I said: "Hang on guys! We're touring like a real band should. Instead of sitting around in a studio talking about how great things are, we're a touring band presenting our music to as many people as we can. That's one of the main reasons you signed us!!!" Magna Carta never claimed to offer tour support, but we figured we had nothing to lose by asking for their help on our tour. So we did. Of course, we got none.

Under The Sun at NEARfest 2001 (photo: Stephanie Sollow)They didn't even take an ad out in the NEARfest program! Jim Pitulski and Bob Snyder from Inside Out [America] were there, however, working the backline, digging the scene, and being helpful and supportive. Kurt and I initially thought they were crew! It was cool to see a couple of the top guys in the indie progressive biz gettin' down and dirty in the trenches. But no sign of Magna Carta anywhere on the premises, not even an endorsement. Again, maybe things have changed since then, and they support some of the progressive festivals in the country, I don't know. I don't follow the progressive scene closely enough to know.

It drives me crazy when labels don't make the attempt to reach new people with their new investments... It is maddening. Shawn Gordon and I discussed these issues quite a bit back when we first met in 2002? He created ProgRock Records - now that's a label that lays out its walloping Progressive Girth right there on the table, splayed out and vulnerable for all the world to see! And it's understandable in terms of what he wanted to do, but he's also a guy who is much more communicative than most and I think understands the need to transcend the genre, which is why we signed with them for Schematism. We believe he'll do his best to reach beyond the genre. And that's really all you can ask. We'll see how it goes.

We were living up to our end of the deal, and going the extra mile by touring our music. At the time, Magna Carta had very few acts that did that. We were ready to take things to the next level. They weren't.

It's extraordinarily frustrating to revisit and to rethink. But I will not put Magna Carta down per se, as, again, they did not misrepresent themselves, and if it wasn't for them, you and I possibly would not even be having this conversation right now. When Magna Carta released the debut Under The Sun album worldwide, it immediately legitimised the band. No question. And we were stoked - the music was completely uncompromised. The packaging and distribution was of an extremely high quality. Plus, we landed on a label with other acts we'd long admired. There were many, many life-changing highlights to having been associated with that label. I always say that the experience with Magna Carta yielded 100% artistic satisfaction and 0% monetary compensation.

GH: That was a comprehensive answer.

CS: Yeah, good luck transcribing that one? Truth is, I sound here like I care about all this a lot more than I actually do. It's ancient history now and we've moved on. We moved on a long time ago.

GH: I'd like to now ask you about your musical development through the years. Did you ever have singing lessons?

CS: No. Our band up to 1995 had been reliant upon other singers to make their mark and there came a point during that year that I realised that I could either become one of the best backing vocalists in the business, or by taking over as lead vocalist I would become viable as an alternative to the more traditionally-derivative singers that we had at the time, though they were all good. For donkey's years we were waiting for the right vocalist to come along, meanwhile we'd already gone through quite a few and then finally I got enough balls to assert myself and pitch to the band the idea of me giving the lead vocals a shot. I pulled it off, they were very supportive and then not long after we were signed.

For a few months I used to get to rehearsal early and practice through the P.A. system to instrumental rehearsal tapes we'd made. I'd crank up my amp and basically perform the songs full throttle over and over again with a tape deck at my side. I used the rewind button, that's for sure. That's how I learned how to play relatively complex guitar parts and sing independent vocal lines. I used Geddy Lee as a model for this.

Things like the second verse of "Gardens Of Autumn" proved to be the hardest to pull off believably, and it's that particular song that helped me make the leap, to split my mind and think independently. Kind of odd it wasn't included on Schematism cause that song was the catalyst for our band in a lot of ways? Not only did it kind of single-handedly teach me how to sing and play our style of original music, but it was also the first original song the Magna Carta version of the band worked on when we first got together. Again, I was very fortunate that I had a supportive group of guys to work with at that time. It was what I needed cause I was pretty tentative at first.

Prior to that I'd made the grave error of internalizing opinions of former players and some close friends who kept telling me I "wasn't a singer" and that we needed a singer to "make it." I'd made the mistake of taking their nonsense to heart. My problem, not theirs. Actually, I've come to be grateful that they offered their opinions in that regard 'cause it indirectly gave me impetus to prove them wrong. And I did. That's the nutshell version of how I did it, anyway.

The reviews started coming and they were saying that we didn't really sound like anyone. That was the first time that had happened. With all the other vocalists, even though they were good - at times great - they were singing in a style that was stereotypical of the music we were producing, and that's why I say we were a little derivative. When we had other vocalists we were being pigeon-holed as Kansas clones. I love Kansas but I don't want to be labelled as derivative of anyone! It didn't help we were working with a violinist at the time! Duh. Again, the good ol' days. My voice seems to have a lent a certain amount of originality to the proceedings.

It also means by singing that as a guitarist that I don't have to compete at the level of the Steve Morse's of the world and the like. Well, "compete" is the wrong word 'cause we're all just trying to channel our talents honestly before we pass on, but you know what I mean. By singing and playing you carve out a different niche for yourself. I really needed to do that as it alleviated the stress within a genre that is full of virtuosity and doing so has helped me enjoy the instrument more.

Under The Sun at NEARFest 2001 - Chris Shryack (photo: Stephanie Sollow)GH: Are you self-taught on the guitar?

CS: Yes, for the most part. No one is entirely self-taught. As to whether I studied or not, I have on-and-off over the years. My attention span is short, I get bored very easily. I'm enjoying teaching and studying more now than ever, that's for sure. I love it now. Didn't then.

GH: What's your favourite guitar equipment?

CS: I dig valve amps of all types, the Roland JC120 for clean sounds and I do actually like many of the modelling rigs I've heard. As for guitars, since '92 I've had a Paul Reed Smith Custom 24.

GH: Are you endorsed by Paul Reed Smith?

CS: I'm not endorsed, but I got that guitar because, prior to that I had a white Gibson hollow body 335 that I grew up playing and really enjoyed until it was stolen at a gig - along with all my other gear. I went home that night with a pick. As a replacement, I went with the Paul Reed at the time as I thought it was a nice blend of the traditional Fender Strat and Tele sounds with the Gibson Les Paul sounds. As I mentioned, I've since had a custom sustainer installed, which has brought with it a lot of tonal versatility. It's a wonderful axe. I tend to be a purist when it comes to gear. Kurt and I have been talking a lot about this of late and we both love the vintage guitar pedals: the good old MXR Phase 90, Smallstone Phase Shifters, a good CryBaby. Voodoo Lab makes a great analogue chorus pedal, it's truly a nice replica of the old Roland CE-1. We both use Ernie Ball volume pedals -- always. I try never to play through amplification without a volume pedal if I can help it. They are indispensable for some of the more ethereal playing plus they are the best noise gates - next to the guitar's volume knob, of course! Some of the digital stuff looks really intriguing. I've not dove into the digital realm yet, not taken the leap, but it definitely looks good. I like both digital and analogue, so will probably end up going for a hybrid rig - a modelling amp with a good three-channel Marshall head or something like that to add warmth. I should mention I love the Mellotron as well. I'd love to acquire one someday.

GH: I'd like to ask you about your composition technique now. Do you sit down with the intent to write long songs or do they naturally come out that way?

CS: On the first album, it was a hodgepodge of songs that we had collectively. Some of the songs pre-dated the first album by nearly a decade. For example, "Time Being" which was a long song that I brought in, yes, that was written to be lengthy from the outset. It's the longest song on the album (10:01). I came into the fold of this new album with a sort of script, a black and white drawing, if you will. If you can imagine songs being a painting. We decided the overall feel, how many long and short songs we wanted, authorship contributions, everything we could predetermine, we did. We devised a master plan based on some existing tracks and also just sketched out muses and ideas we had and then penned them accordingly. We slotted them into the framework and evenly divided everything and then structured the album from there. We've been slowly building it up and now we're almost done. But it's morphed along the way; though it's still close in content to the initial drafts.

Under The Sun at NEARFest 2001 - Kurt Barabas (photo: Stephanie Sollow)This structured approach is something that I have always wanted to do. Kurt and I both felt the first UTS album was a bit lopsided in terms of aggressiveness. We both have a deep fondness of more pastoral music as well, so we want make sure this time that there's more acoustic guitar represented, and more balance overall. We've tried to head it off at the pass.

After this disc is done, I think I'd like to go back to more of an organic approach and write more freely and allow things to manifest as they do, as we did in back in the late 90s. Either that or go whole hog and really hunker down and put together some kind of massive conceptual piece. I love both approaches. We'll see what happens.

GH: In your composition technique, is it the music that comes first or the lyrics?

CS: It depends. I'm sure everyone says that, but in the music I've grown up enjoying the most, I think the music came first most often and the lyrics and vocals came later. When we are writing in a more developed fashion, I would think the music comes first for us, too. Plus having been only a guitarist for years and years definitely colours your impression of the instrumental stuff going on behind the vocals. But it changes often, too; I've written around lyrics. It depends what kind of feel you want. It can get a bit samey if you write the music first all the time, it can sound a bit unrelentingly overwhelming from song-to-song. That could have been a bit of a problem with the first album.

GH: What do you think is the best song that you've composed?

CS: Probably "Time Being." There's a song on the new album called "Songlight" that is about 20 minutes long. That's kinda my new baby. Well, "new" being relative 'cause that's another one I've had since the dawn of time. But, yeah, I think those two songs contain some of the best stuff I've ever done. Then again, I'm not the most prolific guy in the world either. I tend to write when we need to get something together. Other than that I work on individual guitar pieces, and lately I've been learning Celtic 17th-century harp arrangements on guitar, and also teaching guitar at a local music academy. That's what I spend my time doing currently. Kurt and I at the moment are getting the lyrics together for the sequel to "Dream Catcher." Compositionally, that's where we're at now.

GH: What made you suddenly try and play 17th century Celtic Harp arrangements on guitar? Did you just wake up one morning and think, "I'm gonna learn to play 17th century Celtic Harp arrangements on guitar?"

CS: I love Celtic music and the harp. An old friend of mine, Aryeh Frankfurter is one of the great Celtic harpists around? He was also one of the founders of an powerful eclectic rock ensemble called Azigza. Last time he and I spoke he told me he had just left them. I don't know if he's back with them or not. He lives in San Francisco now, has for years. But, anyway, he was a big inspiration when it came to learning some Celtic tunes. Something about the music really hits me where I live.

Anyway, as I mentioned earlier, right after the Magna Carta version of UTS dissolved in 2001, I realized the guitar was starting to feel like a hangover from the past and I wasn't really enjoying it. I was just playing it to perform the songs in the band. I felt I really needed to re-explore the guitar again as an instrument, as opposed to as just a vehicle to write with for a group. So I worked up a set of acoustic and vocal material comprising some new originals, some old originals, and some covers of songs I grew up enjoying. That's when I decided to try my hand at the Celtic stuff. It worked. I started to become obsessed with the guitar again. And I needed to do that. It had been so long since I'd looked at the guitar as anything more than a musical typewriter. Like I said, nearly two years ago I practically started over, learning pieces and songs that I'd grown up playing and forgotten about, stringing them together into little medleys and reconnecting with the instrument. I'm still in the process of reconnection. Bottom line is I needed to rediscover the instrument and fall back in love with the idea of making noise with a bunch of strings stretched taut across a plank of wood.

GH: [Laughs] How many hours do you practice a day?

CS: It varies. It can be between 2 or 4 usually.

GH: That's healthy.

CS: I'd like to do more, but wouldn't we all like to practice more? Such limited time.

GH: You always hear about the virtuosos who lock themselves into rooms for ten hours and I don't know how they can do it.

CS: That's true. I always think of Steve Vai when I hear that. I've got an article saved somewhere where he outlines a ten-hour workout plan. Good lord. Sounds like a spiritually-enhanced experience to me! I believe he even scheduled in masturbation time.

GH: No way! [laughing a little too loudly into the microphone] Got all bases covered, hey?

CS: If you're that disciplined, Steve, no wonder you're so great! [both laugh].

GH: Moving on to your lyric-writing. Are you an introspective writer or more of a storyteller?

CS: I try and do both. Jon Anderson, who is a great lyricist of the unrelentingly positive stream-of-words-as-notes has a style that I've always loved. It leaves a lot to interpretation. I know some people don't like his lyrical approach, but I love it. The antithesis of that, who is equally brilliant, is Roger Waters. He is the extremist who does not leave anything to interpretation. You go to war every time you listen to Roger's music. He's awesome. Bruce Cockburn is another genius lyricist.

Peter Gabriel. Kerry Livgren. Ian Anderson. And, of course, Neil Peart.

My dad is a screenwriter and to warm up before writing a script he sometimes types prose from some of his favourite authors. Direct copy just to warm his hands up and get his mind wrapped around writing in a style that he enjoys. Then he'll throw that away and start working on his own piece.

I sometimes emulate that approach a little, listening to music that I like and then trying to touch down on certain elements? I attempt to put it all together and then promptly forget about it, try not to think too much and go with it. I try not to over-analyze my ideas, 'cause I'm really bad at that and as a result I tend to discard many of my initial ideas. Which is obviously not good. I really need to demo things out before I get to a point of understanding what I'm doing musically otherwise it'll remain in a constant state-of-flux. In the case of "Time Being," I remember sitting on the floor and having five drafts of lyrics that I had yet to put music to. I sifted through the stanzas and wove together a master draft and then put the music to it. The lyrics to that song preceded the music by about 6-7 years.

GH: What kind of scripts does your father write?

CS: He's made his living for the most part writing action/adventure screenplays. He's written about 14/15 scripts that have been produced since the late 60s.

GH: What's the latest one he's done?

CS: The latest one was a cable movie with Lou Diamond Phillips called Malevolent. Over the course of the years he's seen a lot of his scripts made into movies: Two Clint Eastwood films, one called The Gauntlet and another one called Pale Rider. He also wrote Turner And Hooch. Also a film called Cadence with Charlie and Martin Sheen, amongst many others.

Martin Sheen was attached to star in Cadence in the early stages of its development, but it took nearly 20 years to get the film off the ground. By the time it finally got the green light, so much time had elapsed Martin was too old to play the lead. So they cast Charlie, his son, as the lead and cast Martin opposite him after Gary Busey fell out of the production at the last minute.

GH: I've noticed in the first UTS album that you use a lot of vocal effects throughout. Would you say the effects are an important part of your sound?

CS: The vocal and sound effects were an issue initially, as when we started the album, we were really just a group of guys who had no formal training, thinking, "Fuck it! We don't want to wait any longer for some elusive engineer, singer, or money to manifest. We're sick of waiting?" Kurt had a lot of gumption to buy some basic pro recording gear, with little formal experience. He took this giant leap of faith cause he believed in the band that much. Thank God he did. Otherwise I doubt you and I would be having this conversation.

I'd done a lot of cassette-demoing and we'd recorded a couple of pro demos over the years, so I knew how to manipulate my voice and collectively we knew the basics. I'm pretty clever with recording guitars and had worked out my approaches. Still, our initial attempts were met with scepticism both inside and outside of the band. But we persevered and basically ignored all the naysayers and kept going and as the album started to take shape we came up with basic tracks and had something that was pretty strong. We started to experiment more and add some aural reinforcement - sound effects that would relate to the themes. Some of the ear candy on the CD is also a tip of the hat to the music we grew up with. I don't know if this new one will have as many.

GH: What did you do before UTS?

CS: I've always been involved in music and production in some capacity. I flirted around with a little acting earlier on. Kurt and I are working with Steve Rogers and K&N at the moment in which we come up with music spots for commercials/advertising campaigns. One or two of our pieces have been used so far.

GH: What kind of acting did you do?

CS: I should clarify - I was never an "actor" per se, that suggests I got serious about it. I didn't. I did a Columbo episode and not only does Peter Falk star in the show but he's executive producer as well. We were sitting across from one another in a round table rehearsal dialogue meeting and when I uttered the few lines I had, he looked at me kind of funny, but didn't say anything. The next day I was informed I would not be speaking on the episode. He took out the dialogue because otherwise he'd have to pay me extra for it and he felt my lines didn't really lend anything too important to the story. I think I reiterated that my character's buddy liked beer over and over. I don't blame him. My lines didn't contribute anything substantial to the plot. As soon as you speak in any motion picture you become a member of the Screen Actor's Guild and the producers have to pay that institution. So I ended up with a non-speaking role. I did some commercials after that. I flirted with acting. It was fun.

At the time UTS was going through quite a few incarnations and I was preoccupied with the beast. My mind was elsewhere. A bit of a back-story for you there.

GH: UTS has been the dominant part of your life.

CS: Yes, and we want to get past this first-album curse and flesh-out our vision of the band with at least a few more albums. We've still got a lot of grand designs for this band, but there's been a lot of internal and external conflicts. We should have more output by now. Like I said, at least the two discs that have been officially released are of equal quality. We're not about to quit now. It'd be like swimming halfway across the lake, deciding you can't make it, then swimming back. We'll make it to the other side. It's been a sopping-wet journey, for sure...

GH: Do you listen to any modern progressive rock nowadays?

CS: I've recently been lovingProto-Kaw's Before Became After. There is some powerful stuff on that album. Great cover, too! Tatonka!!! Little over a year ago I snapped on Josh Groban. I think he is an extraordinary vocalist. Just incredible. Be cool to see him in a more traditional role as lead singer in a band! Shawn sent me some discs of other bands on his ProgRock label. I've heard about The Mars Volta but haven't actually heard their music. I'd be curious to hear them.

GH: They're very good.

CS: I'm aware of them peripherally. But the truth is, I've fallen out of love with rock for the most part. I don't listen to it much anymore. I still enjoy the groups I grew up with and I enjoy new songs I hear occasionally, but for the most part I listen for the music that's inherent in silence. I know it sounds pretentious but it's true. I take long rides on my ten-speed through the mountains and I love to listen to the language of the wind.

I love classical music. And quiet, reflective music? Also, music such as Jon Anderson's "Olias of Sunhillow", the masterworks of Yes, Vangelis, Enya, Anthony Phillips' The Geese And The Ghost, the first four Hackett solo discs, plus all the nylon-string & orchestral stuff he's made, atmospheric Genesis up through Duke, Simon & Garfunkel, John Denver, etc?

I've recently been listening to a bootleg copy of the 2/18/74 Yesshow in Madison Square Garden given to me by my ol' buddy Wayne Gucker. It's probably the best-sounding boot available of that tour, the Tales From Topographic Oceans Tour. And it is absolutely incredible. The version of "The Remembering" on 2/18/74 BLOWS AWAY the studio version, in terms of performance. Just beautiful, spiritually-enhanced music. I don't care what anybody says about that album. I don't even care what Rick or Eddie Offord thinks of that album! Thank GOD Jon & Steve didn't listen to the naysayers of the day and thank God they persevered and finished it and toured it. It is the only album ever made of its kind, and for someone like me it provides a much-needed meditative soundtrack to accompany an escape to a much more beautiful place. Or at least, an instant escape to the more beautiful places in this realm.

Digging quieter music is not a case of mellowing out with age, though I suppose that figures in a little. I can be a bit of an angry guy sometimes and soothing music helps calm my temper. However, I've always enjoyed quieter music when I'm not playing with the band.

And, yeah, occasionally I'll listen to rock stations just to blow out the synapses? And I enjoy it when I do. Truth is there aren't a lot of rock stations left. But, when I do indulge, I crank the shit out of the radio and dig songs like "Getting Away With Murder" by Papa Roach. I love Audioslave. They're a kick-ass band. So is Velvet Revolver. These are two of the best hard rock bands ever, and it just so happens they've come around at a time when rock in general appears to be continually disappearing in the popular sense. Maybe their popularity will signal an upward swing for rock. That'd be cool.

GH: Is there anyone you'd like to collaborate with in the future?

Various - Leonardo: The Absolute ManCS: Name anybody who's talented. New, old, known, unknown, anybody that's really good. But continuing to collaborate with my writing partner Kurt Barabas is the most important thing to me. I tend to be pretty self-contained in the things I want to do otherwise. Set in my ways, as is Kurt. We've been through a lot. It can take a while to get on the same wavelength sometimes, but when we do we've known one another long enough to where it's easy to keep a certain style in focus. I've done some other things with friends and I did that part for Trent Gardner's Leonardo rock opera.

GH: That album was what got me acquainted with your vocals. I thought your vocals really stood out on that album.

CS: Thanks. There is an interesting story behind that. After talking to Pete about the project and after he invited me on, I had a conversation with Trent and he asked me, "Would you like to sing with Steve Walsh?" So I said, "Uh, no thanks, I'm busy brushing my teeth, Trent." Duh. Of course I said "yes." Walsh is my favourite vocalist of all time.

So Trent sent me my initial role, which was Calco. The role of Sforza seemed more appealing melodically to me, but I just shrugged and figured I'd do the best with Calco that I could. In hearing the characters back-to-back I heard in the character of Sforza a role that I felt I'd be more suited to, but didn't say anything out of respect. Then I got a call and Trent said: "We've given Steve Walsh the role we gave you initially, the role of Calco. Do you mind doing Sforza?" I was very happy about that! I think that melody was suited more to my personality and voice. I stuck quite faithfully to Trent's original melody but Walsh on his part destroyed the original and sang all over the place. I say "destroyed the original" as a compliment, meaning he took the part and ran with it, and made it his own. He sings his ass off on that song. As he does every song he takes on. He is the best.

You know, as frustrated with Magna Carta in regard to UTS as I am in retrospect, I am sincerely grateful to Pete for bringing me on as a vocalist on that release. I had the opportunity to sing alongside Steve Walsh and James LaBrie, and I've become good friends with a musician named Michelle Young as well because of it. It was a happening time, it remains a highlight for me.

GH: What profession would you hold if you weren't a musician?

CS: [after considerable pause] Paranormal investigator! I don't know? I'm actually in the process of branching out and exploring some and different stuff, whilst never losing focus of the music. I'd like to get back into screenwriting. I used to write when I was a bit younger. I haven't in a long time. I've always wanted to combine music and screenwriting and I feel now's the right time to do that. The time of audio-only music is running thin. There will come a point when both audio and visual will be required to give the consumer what is expected. With the advent of DVD, to release something that you can only hear and not see will surely go away at some point. You will soon need the visuals to accompany the sound to have the complete package. I want to start going down that path. You'll always have the option to turn the screen off and just listen to the music but I think we're soon gonna have to give the consumer the choice to listen or watch and listen.

GH: You come across as articulate and well-read, with a good command of the English vocabulary. What authors influence you in your writing?

CS: Thanks for the compliment of being articulate as drool slowly runs down my lower lip. I must admit that my attention span has gotten shorter as I get older. As a result, I've got 15 books on the go all the time. I remember when I was growing up I had some Swiss friends who had a very strict father who said, "I do not read fiction, I only read non-fiction." I remember thinking, I sure hope that doesn't happen to me, it sounds so cut and dry! But I've sort of come around to where I too only read non-fiction.

I would like to read The Da Vinci Code. In terms of authors, I love Wayne Dyer, but if I was going to go back to fiction I would probably pick up a classic like Hunchback Of Notre Dame and take in something that's a literary masterpiece. I think the last novel I read was Gerald's Game by Stephen King. That's pretty trippy. There was so much going on in that book that was in her head as she's chained to that bed for pages-upon-pages, I remember thinking if this book was filmed as is, it would end up being a 15-minute movie. [15-hour? -ed.] I'm a great fan of Edgar Allen Poe and have a hardbound 1987 Running Press edition of his complete works, chronologically presented. I've also been reading a wonderful book on the creative mindset called Effortless Mastery by Kenny Werner. And The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. I also enjoy Abraham-Hicks. All, great, potentially life-changing books.

GH: Is there a favourite album that you wish you could have been a part of?

CS: If I could have been a fly on the wall for any past album made it would have to be Going For The One by Yes. They were in Switzerland when they made that record and I've been to the church where Wakeman cut the massive pipe organ which was a mile down the road from the studio. They cut it via fiber-optic cable. They recorded that album back in something like '76. They were on Lake Geneva and I'm sure that was a magical, magical time for them and would have been a beautiful thing to have witnessed? Hearing the creation of tracks like "Turn Of The Century." It is an incredible album and contains what I consider the ultimate composition I've ever heard in this lifetime, "Awaken." To me, that's as meaningful, powerful and transcendent as it gets - well, that and "And You & I." Albums like Close To The Edge, Relayer, Topographic Oceans? These are all albums I would have loved to have been a part of.

Trick Of The Tail and Wind And Wuthering by Genesis as well. The most incredible, pastoral rock I've ever heard. Song For America and Leftoverture by Kansas. Both of those contain what may be some of the most exciting music ever written.

GH: Finally, Chris, what is your ultimate life ambition?

CS: To obtain more balance. To learn how to walk and chew gum without tripping all over my feet. It's been a lifelong struggle. I'm trying to become a more balanced person. Quell the temper as much as possible. Think more positively. I am an optimist! Be a good guy and, down the road, maybe raise a family, which has not yet happened for me in this life but I'd like that. Haven't met the right lady! But I believe it will happen. And become more consistent with the creative output. I'd like to die knowing I left behind something that people enjoy. That'd make me happy.

Under The Sun (2000)
Schematism - On Stage With Under The Sun (2005)

Added: June 3rd 2005
Interviewer: George Heron

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Language: english

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