You may know Chris Stamey from his work with The dBs. He’s also recorded and produced music for countless artists over the years. Next year he’ll be releasing a brand new album, Lovesick Blues. Earbuddy recently talked with Chris. We discussed the new album, adjusting equipment, and preferences in the recording process. He also suggested a free download from Yep Roc’s website, which you can find at the end of the interview.
Earbuddy: Hello Chris, it’s a pleasure to get to talk to you today. I’ve heard you have a new album coming out next year titled Lovesick Blues. Any relation to the Hank Williams tune? That song’s had its fair share of covers so I don’t think a tribute would be out of place. Where are you in process with this album?
Chris Stamey: You know, there’s no relation to the Hank Williams tune at all! I wrote it about a friend of mine who was a great blues musician and who, in the end, succumbed to sadness and grief. It just seemed like the right title for the song to me. No disrespect intended to Hank, one of the true giants of popular song. I don’t think anyone who hears mine will be confused by this after a few seconds; though, unless their turntable is set at the wrong speed.
My record (by the same name) comes out on February 5th, on Yep Roc, and I’m writing arrangements of the songs now for live performance.
EB: How is this new album different for you?
CS: It’s not a rock record, it’s an at-times moody, very personal record that uses a lot of orchestral instruments in place of distorted guitars. Very little yelling on this one!
EB: Do you play most of the instruments on the album?
CS: I played acoustic guitar and sang, live in the studio, on most of the songs, then a panthenon of local experts came in and played cor anglais and bassoon and tabla and the rest. I do play electric guitar and piano a bit, but mostly I wrote the music for others to play. We have a great group here in NC right now, some of which are in this group.
When one starts to think of oneself as “an expert,” the shutters drop down and the learning stops. It’s the eternal beginner who has room to grow.
EB: You said earlier that you’re in the process of writing arrangements for the live performance of this album’s songs, could you elaborate on that?
CS: I hope to play as much as practical. I’ve written out scores for a few string players and plan on traveling myself and using local musicians in concert. I’ve already done this in London, NYC, Austin, and of course NC and it’s worked like a charm. The level of musicianship of the average viola player, for example, is so high, it’s astonishing.
EB: In addition to your own music you’ve also helped out a variety of other musicians by recording and producing their music. This can quite obviously only aid you in future recording sessions. What have you learned along the way that is unique to a man like yourself who seems to wear a lot of hats?
CS: I’ve learned something from almost everyone I’ve worked with, it happens all the time, in fact this chance to learn is a lot of what makes me want to take on a project. The trick is to be open to this–when one starts to think of oneself as “an expert,” the shutters drop down and the learning stops. It’s the eternal beginner who has room to grow.
EB: Recording techniques evolved a great deal over the years. That’s a lot of gear to update over time. What was your favorite era for recording? What kind of equipment are you using for the new album?
CS: I started in Pro Tools at the very beginning, when it was called Sound Tools I think, and I dearly love it, still, it’s my way of thinking. And now it’s practically vintage itself! I of course spent many many miles traveling by analog tape, but I don’t miss those days at all, although I’ll use old methods if it makes the artist feel more right about it. You have to catch creativity while it’s live and happening, and DAWs are just faster and more invisible. I do like old microphones and old guitars, though, if they are working properly. The only thing that really matters is Were you ‘in record’ when something great was happening? Magic floats through the studio all the time, but you have to have the butterfly net in your hand. By the time you stop and worry about the right technology, it will be gone. To put it another way, the records I love were made/played by people, not machines.
The “technology” I used for this record was very old: violins and oboes and wooden guitars and timpani and bassoons.
EB: Most bands prefer that the new music stands on its own. Do you often get requests to play your older songs and how do you handle it? How’s the new material being received from your loyal fans? What’s the primary age range you’ve been seeing at your shows, or is it fairly mixed?
CS: I do play my older songs, for example, most nights I’ll play a song called “Something Came Over Me.” I haven’t toured much with this new batch, but people have been totally knocked out, as far as I can tell. If they come to see me, I think they are already prepared to listen instead of hoot and holler. But I’m up for anything, really.
EB: The next few are a little more low key. Who have you been listening to and paying attention to lately?
CS: I’ve rediscovered the Charles Ives songs recently. Darius Jones, Lost in the Trees, Brett Harris, Gonwards . . .
EB: What’s your favorite song to play live? Do you ever toss any covers on the set list?
CS: I do play covers, often only once though. Of these new songs, I like playing “Lovesick Blues.” and an older song called “And I Love Her” is a recent favorite, I like the changes it has, a parallel 11th-chord whole-tone progression in the verse.
EB: Thanks for talking to us Chris. Are you putting out any singles for the new album soon?
CS: Ah, they are all singles to me! But maybe “Astronomy”? It’s out as a free give-away already, at the Yep Roc site, I believe–maybe you can check this and put a url in for me?
EB: Of course we can Chris!
Thanks so much to Chris Stamey for speaking with us. Download “Astronomy” from Lovesick Blues, out February 5th.