|Chris Standring Interviewed by Jeff Charney - May 29, 2003|
Guitarist Chris Standring was born and raised in England. His early years were spent studying classical guitar on a farm in Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire, though as a typical teenager he learned rock guitar during those years. Moving to Los Angeles for a year when he was 20, Chris hung out at the famous Jazz club The Baked Potato, listening to some of the master contemporary Jazz guitar players that came through the club like Larry Carlton and Robben Ford.Ford told Chris to start a band. Chris took Fordís advice while he was enrolled at the London College of Music playing jazz with all of his free time. After being part of Londonís studio scene, Chris moved back to Los Angeles and started another band which leaned towards Fusion. Hooking up with Rodney Lee the pair put out a well-received acid jazz project in 1996 for Sonic Images titled SolarSytem. Being friends with guitarist Marc Antoine paid off as Antoine got Chris into the Guitars and Saxes band that led to a friendship with Rick Braun. Braun played on the single ďCool ShadesĒ that was on Standringís debut CD, Velvet. The track went Top 10 for over three months on Gavin/Radio & Recordsí airplay charts. On Standringís 2nd CD Hip Sway, the title track which featured saxophonist Richard Elliot went to #2 on the charts. I caught up with Chris as he was getting excited about his upcoming release of his third CD, Groovalicious.
JC: You have a brand new CD titled Groovalicious, how come it took a couple of years to get another CD released here in the U.S.?
CS: It took three years, but it is not because I wanted to take that long. I was stuck in a record contract and couldnít get out for about a year. So purely contractual reasons. Of course when you leave one label and go to another one it takes a heck of a long time just to find another deal, to secure it and get through the contract. That is why it took so long. The record by right should of come out a year and a half ago.
JC: The label that you got out of, Instinct Records isnít even doing Jazz anymore are they?
CS: Thatís right.
JC: If they knew that they werenít going to do Jazz anymore why did they hold you to the contract for so long?
CS: My option period was up last March 2002. They basically wanted until March 30 to decided whether they did want to do Jazz anymore. So all of their office was kept to their contract and held waiting until they decided what they wanted to do which was a bit of a nightmare, but Iím not the first person to go through hell with a label.
JC: And you wonít be the last. You ended up releasing a CD over in the UK in 2001, Shades Of Cool. How come you didnít put that out in the United States as well under a different label?
CS: Shades Of Cool was nothing more than a compilation of my last two records in the U.S., but with two extra added bonus cuts. There wasnít enough originality for us to put it out over here, because it was already out on the other albums. It was really a European release only.
JC: Did the bonus cuts make Groovalicious?
CS: No, they didnít because they were Instinct cuts.
JC: What did you do differently on the new CD?
CS: Much like Hip Sway took us into the Ď60ís direction wise we went a little bit into the Ď70ís. I donít think it was because we sort of consciously decided to do that, but the music kind of took us that way when we started writing. The band live was getting funkier by the day so it naturally went in that direction. So when we wrote a couple of songs and we thought this sounds a bit like the Average White Band well we thought that this might be a good direction for the whole record.
JC: What was the one thing that made the band go funkier by the day?
CS: I think just playing together all the time. Everybodyís influences was coming from a different place and the band became sort of a sum of itís parts and when the same guys play together for about five or six years without any change of personality, you know a band grows and thatís just the direction that it decided to grow in. Also the audience likes it that way.
JC: Now you did some touring over in Europe doings some of the new material?
CS: Yes, we went to the UK this past March and did six shows and shot this little video which is on my web site www.chrisstandring.com.
JC: I dug a bunch of songs on Groovalicious. The first single ďI ĎAint Mad AtchaĒ is groovy. Are we allowed to say that word these days?
CS: I think we will be saying it a lot now.
JC: I like the way you combined your guitar picking with the strumming in a hip sort of way. Is there any special meaning behind that song or is it just a jam?
CS: Rodney Lee, my partner who I have been writing with a long time and went into the studio. I just bought this acoustic guitar and I thought ďlets do something with thisĒ because it sounds really good. So I just micíd it up and I started playing this funky acoustic guitar part and I said ďlet me record another part on the other side.Ē Itís a stereo guitar part that you may or may not be able to hear it in the track and that was really the basis for the whole song. We put a beat to it and you know how it goes and it became that and it was kind of cool.
JC: For the technical guys who read this when you mic the guitar is the new acoustic guitar is it set up to just plug in or do you use a real microphone?
CS: I actually personally donít believe in plugging in an acoustic guitar. I always make sure that I get instruments that only require a mic. When you play live in concert you go plug in, but for recording I like to mic it.
JC: Any particular favorite mic you like to use?
CS: Iím not that technical to tell you truth. Rodney has got a couple of mics that sound really, really good. I donít even remember what they are to tell you the truth.
JC: You donít even care as long as it sounds good.
CS: (laughing) yeah.
JC: The song ďSay What.Ē Should the Crusaders be listening to that one?
CS: Well, they might.
JC: It kind of had that groove oriented, jazzy sound to it. Do you listen much to the Crusaders? The song sounds like it could have been influenced from them.
CS: I use to . There are a couple of Crusader albums that I got in the Ď80ís which I loved. Free As The Wind was a great record and also Streetlife. They may have had a big influence in that track when I wrote it. I donít know to tell you the truth, it is difficult to say.
JC: What about this flute player that was on ďAll In Good Time?Ē
CS: That is a guy called Katisse Buckingham. He is a local guy in Los Angeles. He is probably the best flute player I have ever heard, frankly. I have never heard anybody play a solo like that. Certainly not played liked that. He was a friend of Rodney Lee. He just came into the studio and decided to play alto flute instead of a normal flute. It was the first take and we kept it and that was that.
JC: In the Ď70ís and the early Ď80ís Herbie Mann used to come to Kansas City a lot. The concerts were always for free in the park put on by the city. I use to just love hearing him and the way Mann sounds in concert and the way that Buckingham was sounding on the flute on that track reminded me a lot about those sessions I used to go see many years ago.
CS: I think the music that you are listening to is definitely reminiscent of that time period that is for sure. It is quite possible that Katisse would have listened to Herbie Mann. There is no question.
JC: What is the deal with the R&B vocal track ďCome Back Home?Ē Are you trying to cross over or anything?
CS: That is exactly right.
JC: Are you going to release that song at the same time to Urban radio?
CS: It wonít happen at the same time. It will happen later after we launch the first NAC single. It will definitely go Urban AC sometime during the year. Iím not sure quite when yet.
JC: How did you find the vocalist Ashely Taímar?
CS: I went to a producer friend of mine, Steve Harvey who is responsible for producing artists CeCe and BeBe Winans and Karen White. He is very much an R&B Vocal producer. I called him up and said ďSteve, would you like to produce a vocal track for my album?Ē He said ďyeah, sure why not.Ē So we got together and we wrote the track and we needed to basically to get a vocalist to sing the track. We didnít know whether it should be a male or a female. We had a couple of ideas and Steve was working with this singer Ashely Taímar. Sheís 21 years old and he gave her the track to write to. He played it over the phone to me and I said ďthatís it. I love it.Ē So that is what we ended up with.
JC: She didnít have any contract problems like you did?
CS: Actually no because she is not signed to a label yet. She is signed to Steve as a production company. It wasnít straight forward, we had to go through attorneys and things, but it was fine.
JC: Chris Botti is on the CD doing a track called ďSnowfall.Ē It sounds like a very Smooth Jazz radio song. I was kind of surprised that it is not your first single.
CS: It is the actual obvious single and everybody is saying that it is an obvious single, but people arenít saying it is the strongest melody. Well certainly the industry people arenít. Itíll probably be the second single. They have chosen the first one and itís ďI íAint Mad Atcha.Ē
JC: How did you get hooked up with Chris Botti and what was it like getting him into the studio to work on ďSnowfall?Ē
CS: My record company Mesa/Bluemoon is run by a guy named George Norfall. George is an old friend of Chris. I also know him a little bit from playing and seeing him on festivals and things. I mentioned it to George ďhow about getting Chris on this record?Ē We wanted something a little bit different. We didnít want a saxophone player. George said ďwell, Iíll call him.Ē He did and Chris said yes. The deal was done very quickly. He came in and he was there for about an hour. He just put some trumpet on the track.
JC: Easy work for an hour. Does Chris have a home now?
CS: I donít think he does.
JC: You did some time with Guitars and Saxes didnít you ?
CS: A long, long time ago. I think it was 1996 or 1998 I canít remember.
JC: I want to read a quote from your press stuff. ďIn England, itís about being the best player you can be, but here, I have learned the importance of how to communicate with listeners. That has made all the difference.Ē Do people in England listen to Jazz differently than we do here in America?
CS: No, I actually donít think that the audience is any different at all. I just think the musicians have a different attitude and they donít see it as a necessity to communicate and entertain in the way Americans seem to. I think it is possibly to do with professional competition. Over here there are so many artists and so many musicians wanting careers itís really about being the best you can be in order to stay in the game at all. In London there is a very small, little cottage industry of Jazz. It is the same people that have been in it for a long, long time. So they feel like they are really not going anywhere. They do what they always have done and they do it very, very well, but itís not about entertainment. Itís about playing as well as you can. I have a bit of a grip about it because I used to live there and I used to be a part of it and I had no idea about this stuff until I was here.
JC: But here you also have to play as well as you can..
CS: Yes, but that is a given to be a great player over here. Itís more than that. You are building a career and you have to entertain.
JC: Itís funny that you said that. I saw Ronny Jordan once and you got to admit that he is a great player. He came on stage and barely said anything, played his set and that was it. Now it was great music!! But he said nothing to anybody. It was a part of the Boney James/Rick Braun show and you know they interact with the audience.
CS: That is what Iím talking about.
JC: When you are trying to build an audience you have to at least talk to them. Donít you find that you get more energy back from the audience? You said that you went to the UK for some shows this past March. Did you do the American shtick where you got involved with the people?
JC: How did the crowd react?
CS: They loved it! Iíve been going over there to do these things every year for the last three years now and I make a point of going over there and do what I do over here and they love it because it is larger than life. Thatís what they want, you know.
JC: You own a web site http://www.aandronline.com/ to promote some artists?
CS: Thatís right. Itís basically a web site that I have together since 2000. Itís a place where I showcase unfound artists to record companies and music publishers and any industry person who subscribes to the web site. There are a lot of towns out there that donít have industry connections in any way. I mean there might be a great band in Idaho somewhere, that donít have managers, that donít have an attorney, but they have a great CD and good following and they need to get to the next place. Itís very, very difficult to get any kind of connection in the music business and you need representation. Itís a big catch 22. So I decided to start a site where I can circumvent that just a little bit. It is an extremely popular site. It is not just a place where I showcase artists, I wrote these music business ebooks. And I sell them on the site, too. It has become a big music business resource education as much as anything.
JC: This book of yours, Street Team: A Killer Promotional Strategy For Independent Artists in a nutshell what is it about?
CS: Since it has become very, very difficult for new artists to get signed to any label. The trend has become about promoting everything yourself so I decided to write a book about street marketing techniques. Itís really about the bands themselves going to their fans and putting them to work. Itís about doing all the cost effective marketing strategies that you can in order to increase your fan base and bring new fans to you rather than the other way around. Itís a big pool technique. I talk about off line techniques where you give out sample CDís to fans and other bands fans. About subscribing to your web site in order to increase your mailing list and data base. All that kind of stuff. It is very in depth and it is something called ďSystem XĒ that Iíve invented. Iím actually using it myself and it works like a charm.
JC: Thatís terrific because you are lucky. You had two records out here in the U.S. and now you have a third one, though it is no guarantee, though you got lucky because on your first record, Velvet, it did well. Then Hip Sway, (Oh, man I really dug that CD) it did good as well. You personally have been fortunate. How did you get hooked up with Instinct Records to begin with?
CS: It all started from the Guitars and Saxes tour. I was playing with a friend of mine, Marc Antoine. I was just strumming behind him just as he was starting out with his career and he got offered this Guitars and Saxes tour as one of the artists. He wanted me to play in his band. He roped me into playing in the band with the Guitars and Saxes troupe and at the time it was Peter White, Marc, Rick Braun and Kirk Whalum. There I met Rick Braun and we got along so well that he asked me to join his band, which I did sub sequentially for about a year and a half. It was the time where I was writing my first album, Velvet or certainly doing all the demos. I asked Rick if he would be interested to play trumpet on that record. He said yes and he guested on a song called ďCool Shades.Ē That became part of a demo that I sent to Instinct Records. When they heard it they really like it. They took about ten months to actually decided to sign me. I think the end of the year came and I confronted them and I called them up and said ďdo you want to do this or donít you, because if you donít Iím going somewhere else?Ē I had nowhere else to go (laughing). I said ďIím in Rickís band. We can do all this promotion together. He is going to let me play my song live. It can be a single, all of that.Ē So they bought it and signed me and that was that.
JC: Did you sell a lot of copies? I know you did well airplay, but that doesnít always translate to sales.
CS: It was alright. We didnít do amazingly well, but bare in mind I was on an independent label for a long time with limited resources. It was a good first go.
JC: They were happy with the sales of your first record? Obviously because they released a second one. Did the second one do better?
CS: It did a little better, yes.
JC: What kind of expectations do you have of Groovalicious then?
CS: Iím with a much more powerful label who are spending a lot more money and they have much better distribution. So we have the potential to do ten times as good. Skies the limit I like to think. So we will see. It is really down to the promotional power of the record company at this point because I canít do anymore.
JC: What is their game plan?
CS: Theyíve hired a couple of radio promoters to put the song to radio. Most people just hire one which is fantastic. They have bought a bunch of pricing positions at retail so you will see a whole bunch of my records on an end cap.
JC: That is important. People donít realize how important that is.
CS: That is really, really expensive. They will also be putting me on the listening stations.
JC: Another trick is, and it is not cheap either is the soundtrack that plays at the movie theaters and in their lobbies while you are waiting for movie to start.
CS: That is pretty much a major label game, so I donít know if we will be doing that one. We'll do all the others. The other thing is Iíll be touring.
JC: Will you be touring as your own band or with a group of guys or what?
CS: It will be my band. Iím hoping to get on a tour with another artist or at least a string of gigs with a larger artist. We have been doing a few gigs with Boney James, which has been great because he has a huge audience. So maybe something like that, weíll see.
JC: So name a guitar player that you die for to listen to.
CS: When ever Pat Martino comes to town I have to go and see him. Heís pretty much my number one guy. Before that Wes Montgomery which Pat Martino listened to a lot as well. Before that I was really into the West Coast guys like Larry Carlton and Robben Ford. I went through a big Pat Metheny phase, too.
Solar System - Sonic Images (1996)
Velvet - Instinct Records (1998) Buy
Hip Sway - Instinct Records (2000) Buy
Shades Of Cool - - Passion Jazz ( 2001) U.K. and Europe only
Groovalicious - Mesa/Blue moon (2003)
Soul Express - Trippin' N Rhythm (2006)