October 23, 2013 Interview – Chris Wyse of The Cult & Owl
Rock n roll comes in all shapes and forms. New york native, bassist Chris Wyse has been involved in rock n roll for over 20 years now. In his impressive career he has played with the likes of Jerry Cantrell, Ozzy Osbourne, Mick Jagger, among many others. For the better part of 13 years Wyse has been an key member in influential rock band The Cult. In that time Wyse has continued to explore his musical boundaries on his own and in 2007 founded Owl. Taking influence from various forms of rock n roll, Owl takes a different approach to the music with the presence of upright bass performed by Wyse. Recently we caught up with Chris Wyse for a personal look at him joining The Cult, his passion for music, and much more.
Crypticrock.com – You have been involved in the rock scene for over 2 decades now. You have played with Ozzy Osbourne, Mick Jagger, Jerry Cantrell, among many others. How does it feel to be living a dream playing music for a living and among such great company?
Chris Wyse – Well, a lot of the time the reality of the whole thing would hit me often after. Being a professional first, you do your job first. I remember driving home after a recording session and being like “What the hell, did I just do that?”. There is a bit of a surreal feeling about it. It often hits me after because you have a job to do, and you want to do a good job on the music. It’s been a real treat, Ozzy was a real treat. I’m in the dressing room here with John Tempesta, I grew up watching him in Rob Zombie and White Zombie. It’s been a fantastic career so far and I hope to do lots more.
Crypticrock.com – Your story with the Cult is rather interesting. You didn’t officially join the band until 2006 but you played on the band’s 2001 album Beyond Good And Evil. You’ve essentially been part of The Cult a decade now. Tell me a little bit about how you became part of the band?
Chris Wyse – I came in via Bob Rock for Beyond Good And Evil, that was actually in late 2000. It came out in 2001, but you have to take the time to work on the record obviously. So I met these guys 13 years ago, and I jumped in because they had a problem with their bass player and he was no longer going to continue with them. So I jumped in via a Bob Rock phone call. He said “Oh Chris I need you in here as soon as possible. Can you do it, are you available?” and I said yea. He said it was for The Cult and I was like oh wow, so the next day I literally just jumped in and starting working on Beyond Good And Evil with Bob, Ian Astbury, Billy Duffy, and Matt Sorum.
Crypticrock.com – That’s awesome how that happened for you and the band. Now you have done three full length records with The Cult that being Beyond Good And Evil (2001), Born Into This (2007), and the most recent album Choice Of Weapon (2012). How is working with the band and how does it differ for you from previous musical projects you have been involved in?
Chris Wyse – Well The Cult has their history and I think it’s good to understand their genetics and how they came up in the post punk era. It’s good to have some information and understanding about what a band is about. Although, I think I came in also to kind of bring them some new energy especially through Bob Rock. Your always sort of balancing what a band has existed as, and also where they are going in the future which is hopefully growing and expanding. It’s a very natural process for me especially at this point because I understand the guys so well and have been working with them for so long now. When I was doing Ozzy, I probably had Geezer Butler on my mind, and Bob Daisley. I just couldn’t help it, I was a Geezer Butler fan. When I’m doing The Cult I’m think more about Joy Division, Led Zeppelin, and AC/DC so you draw on different energies. At the same time I always take risks, so I’ll bring things to the table, like maybe upright bass. I’m an upright bassist as well, and there is some bow layers in the bridge on the bonus track “Embers” off of Choice Of Weapon(2012). There is also some bow with flanger effect on another track “Elemental Light”. Sometimes I go out on a limb and the limb breaks. People say maybe it doesn’t suit the band or it’s not what they are interested in, but I’m always coming up with a combination of what the band already is and pushing the envelope a little bit with new stuff that maybe they haven’t done yet.
Crypticrock.com – Right and it’s been 13 years so there is that comfort level now where you can bring more stuff to the table which I can understand. The Cult is now in the middle of a international tour playing the entire Electric album from 1987 through November. How has the tour been thus far and how does it feel to play this classic album live every night?
Chris Wyse – It’s pretty awesome because it’s a big and important record to The Cult. The fans are anticipating the songs in a certain order as well, they know the record. It’s been doing over really great. Honestly and truly, it’s probably the best Cult tour yet. We come back and do a second set with a mixture of the other records including Choice Of Weapon (2012).
Crypticrock.com –Besides The Cult you have your own band Owl. With Owl you released your debut self-title album in 2009 and followed up with The Right Thing this year. The Right Thing is a great record with a good mix of harder tracks and slower melodic tracks and fun to listen to. What was the writing and recording process like for this new record?
Chris Wyse – I guess I get to express other things on The Right Thing and with Owl in general. The first record I had mostly written, and I had a concept for the band to be a little more alternative, experimental, and slightly progressive. With The Right Thing I had some of the songs written but, sort of like with The Cult, the guys and I have integrated over the years and there was a lot of cool things just happening naturally. Dan Dinsmore (drums) is just phenomenal. I had less to say, they were just already in the groove of what the band is all about, the guys understand it really well. Dan just came in and kicked ass on drums. I would come up with a song idea and a chorus, and he would come in with a drum line and drum stuff that I didn’t dictate to him, he just had that natural understanding of what to do and came up with phenomenal stuff. Same thing with Jason Achilles Mezilis (guitar and back-round vocals), it really became a very cool organic process. Sometimes I wouldn’t even have a part of the song, it would just sort of magically appear in the band room jamming. I think what your are hearing on The Right Thing is more development in the band’s relationships and organic qualities we have. We just got better, we cut to the chase more, we got really strong choruses, and we also experimented more.
There is a bass solo on the record called “Eleven” for example, and that was inspired by Hendrix, Van Halen, and Zeppelin that were great original hard rock ground breaking bands. They always had musical stuff on their records even though they had catchy songs, they tried different things, and that’s what we are all about. Just pushing the envelope a little bit and giving fans something different even though there is familiarity within the rock format maybe to some degree. We’re not trying to be too witty, we want you to get it on that visceral way, but also if you go in deeper there’s a lot of other layers and levels for fans to listen to. You can listen to the record and not realize what’s what until you hear it the 10th time. That is what is interesting about Owl.
Crypticrock.com – Yes and I get that from hearing the record. What is also really cool with Owl is you get to showcase an upright bass. That is something very different you don’t hear in many rock bands.
Chris Wyse – Yea that’s really awesome. Every time we play live people really respond to it as well. There is just something about it. I use it in a very modern way with effects. I can run it through an amp, it can keep up with an electric guitar, a heavy drummer like Dan, Jason can plug into a Marshall, and it’s still an electrified instrument so it changed the whole game. Also in Owl, aside from being the singer and one of the primary song writers, I’m building into musical places that people might find a little scary for them cause at the end of the day I have a song like “Rover” on the record with bagpipes. We try different things and it all somehow still comes together even though one song to the next might be a little different. Compared to a lot of bands today they have one song, you hear the single, and the whole record sounds like that. We’re not like that, but somehow there is still a common thread to everything that we do whether it’s a bowed line on upright bass or a really unusual song with bagpipes. That’s the fun in Owl and the upright bass is part of that as well, which I really enjoy.
Crypticrock.com – Yes and you are right, on the record , none of the songs sound familiar but are connected. With The Cult having such a large audience and built such a big name over the years do you find The Cult fans checking out your work with Owl?
Chris Wyse – yea when we do shows I see some of the same faces that have been following The Cult around. I think they find it interesting that I add to the story and I have other things I do. I don’t think they are looking to hear The Cult when they come see Owl, I think they are surprised at first because it is different, but I wouldn’t see much point in the same kind of sounding creative direction as the Cult because I am already in The Cult. It really was just born of these that I have in my musical palate that I am not able to express this kind of writing or playing unless I created it. I’ve had an amazing response from The Cult fans.
Crypticrock.com – When the Cult tour ends in November can fans expect to see some more tour dates for Owl once things wind down with The Cult tour?
Chris Wyse – There is going to be more to come this year for sure. We are working on another video to support The Right Thing and keep the momentum going. I think also next year we will try and get on some proper touring across the United States when The Cult is maybe off for a little bit. Then there is also an opportunity I will have when we do the new The Cult record and the drums and bass are always done first. I’ll have a chance to have a break while Ian and Billy finish up vocals and guitar, that will be another shot for Owl to get out there. We are already working on how the next year is going to pan out with new music for Owl. Busy time, but it’s going to be awesome. I am pretty excited about both bands, developing, growing, and continuing.
Crypticrock.com – It sounds like exciting and busy times. It’s obvious you have an eclectic influence and background. What are some of your musical influences?
Chris Wyse – It’s interesting because it was things of when I was 8 years old, it was comic books and Kiss. Getting that sort of impression of that sort of super hero / rock star thing that Kiss had. After that for me it was Iron Maiden, I began to play bass and I was just in awe of Steve Harris. That was my very beginnings of music. It went on from there to classical and jazz. I get into everything from Stanley Clarke on upright bass to Charles Mingus to Niccolò Paganini to Antonio Vivaldi since I went to college for classical music and upright bass. I think all of these things influenced me. Of course I’ve worked with a lot of amazing rock stars as well. I think everything influenced me even though some things are very different than the other. Obviously Paganini is very different than Kiss (laughs). My main thing is a song writing sort of background and influence. I really like strong choruses and songs you can sing back. I also like bands like Van Halen would have crazy little interludes, intros, and outros. Those sometimes were my favorite things on the record which weren’t even a song. All those kind of things influenced me. Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, bands that weren’t afraid. I see a lot of this sort of conforming. Everyone is trying to write a 3 minute hit and then they make the whole record sound like it, that’s not where I came from. You can probably hear that on the Owl record that we are daring to be different.
Crypticrock.com – Totally, that is an amazing mix of classical, rock and metal influences. My last question for you is regarding films. Crypticrock.com is a rock/metal and horror news site so we like to focus on all genres. Are you a fan of horror films and if so what are some of your favorite horror films?
Chris Wyse – The one that always stands out to me the most is The Exorcist (1973). It’s something beyond gory and blood type of horror. It’s psychologically twisted because you don’t understand or know how this possession is going to take over and control everything, it was very unpredictable. I found that to be very scary, even though it’s just a girl tied down to a bed pulling off crazy kind of maneuvers with her head spinning around and all that (laughs). That’s all very scary but it was just something very scary about the unpredictable nature of the possession that I found maybe on a psychological level more scary than a blood and guts type of horror.
Crypticrock.com – That film is that powerful and scary. Another aspect of that film in particular was the soundtrack. The music in the film is frightening as hell.
Chris Wyse – Yea it’s amazing how some dissonant chords or just little sounds here and there add an immense tension and anxiety sometimes to a scary scene. If you were to take the music out maybe you really wouldn’t feel as much.
Crypticrock.com – It’s true, very true. I think that’s a lost quality, lost in modern horror films, the soundtrack. You look at older horror films they had music which were composed for those films. That is not happening now a days and it feels films in general have kind of lost that.
Chris Wyse – Yes it’s funny you bring that up because Owl has that quality. A lot of people have always said Owl is so cool you have songs but it’s also kind of like movie with music which takes you on a little journey. I’ve always been into what I call theater of the mind. I really want to take you on a journey and maybe even scare you a little bit. There is some stuff that goes a little dark and creates tension. I appreciate that in movie music. I have heard that quite often about Owl that it can be like movie music. It leads itself to a theater of the mind concept.
Crypticrock.com – It’s great that you are willing to explore those things. It’s interesting because you stated that sometimes a band is afraid to try something new and only wants to write a 3 minute song. It seems like even in films everything is a remake, everything is a rehashed idea. No one is daring to try something new.
Chris Wyse – Well I think that is what drives me to a different kind of artist in general and go up on stage with an electric upright bass. People are often like what is that? That also drives me to continue to do it because I can tell we are losing touch with music here in the states especially because music has been taken out of school programs. I’ve never heard people not know what an upright bass is so much in my life. It always drives me to do it even more. There are only 4 strings in string family. You have bass, cello, viola, and violin. How is our youth not learning about this? It’s not a judgment or meant to be mean, I’m not angry about it, I’m just happy to bring it to light again. After all the first rock n roll that ever started was Elvis and he had an upright bassist before there was even a bass guitar created. That’s the original rock was with an upright bass.
Crypticrock.com – You are absolutely right. You look at big band music. They had no bass guitars back then.
Chris Wyse – There were no bass guitars until the 1950’s. Somehow within the scope of 60 years everyone has lost track of that. That is just mind-blowing to me. Funny enough when bass guitar came out all the bass guys had a hard time accepting because they were just trying to stimulate the upright bass in a more simple fashion. That is why Paul McCartney had a violin looking bass and that is why guys played with their thumbs more for that plucking upright bass sound. That is why there is a thumb rest on a lot of old bass guitars. There is a history that’s been lost and I am really proud to bring it to the table again. I feel like it’s an exciting new thing in our modern time to be bringing to the people.
Check out Be sure to check out Owl live in NYC at The Mercury Lounge on November 30th 11:30 PM (w/ Atom Strange)
Check out The Cult on tour this December on the following dates:
Dec. 5: Wellmont Theater, Montclair, NJ
Dec. 6: Paramount Theater, Huntington, NY
Dec. 7: Danforth Music Hall, Toronto, Canada
Dec. 8: Métropolis, Montreal, Canada
Dec. 10: Living Arts Centre, Mississauga, ON, Canada
Dec. 12: Town Ballroom, Buffalo, NY
Dec. 13: Bogart’s, Cincinatti, OH
Dec. 14: Egyptian Room, Indianapolis, IN
Dec. 15: Minglewood Hall, Memphis, TN
Dec. 17: Cain’s Ballroom, Tulsa, OK
Dec. 18: Billy Bob’s Texas, Ft. Worth, TX
Dec. 20: Rialto Theatre, Tucson, AZ
Dec. 21: The Fox Theater, Pomona, CA
Dec. 22: Ventura Theater, Ventura, CA