|Chris Standring London Newspaper - March 2008|
You are coming to Southend 30 March - what can the audience expect from the show?
Hopefully a good one! I have a new album coming out called "Love & Paragraphs" and so the band will be playing quite a bit from that disc. We'll do two sets I believe and I'll be playing things from most of my previous albums. It will be a little loose. I'd like to say there will be a lazer light show and several scantily clad dancers and one or two fire-breathers, but I don't think that will be the case this time round.
Have you performed in Essex before?
Yes at Churchills last year. We had such a good time we are coming back!
Would you say the area has a good music scene?
I wish I could answer that question. I don't really know the 'hood. I've been living in Los Angeles for the last 17 years, I'm barely up to speed on how the scene is in central London.
How would you describe your new album Love & Paragraphs?
It's probably my strongest album to date, but you know we all say that every time we release a new album don't we? I have spent years torturing myself in the past artistically, trying to come up with an album that the record company wants, something for radio, something for the audience and most of all something for me. That last part usually requires a little stretching out, saying something different. Most of all I need to know that as a player, I really stepped up to the plate because it is very easy to churn out albums that do well commercially but don't say anything new. So to get back to your question, I think I achieved all this on the new album. It's definitely my most mature work. But most of all I think it has more commercial appeal than all the others. Radio is eating up my new single so it looks like we might have a nice run.
Do you feel the need to keep your music constantly new and fresh?
Yes I do. Absolutely, and that can be hard to do, especially if you have released a number of albums. It gets harder. Somebody said once that songwriters only really have five songs in them and they constantly re-write those same songs. Well I'm not entirely sure I believe that, although I perfectly understand what is being said. But it can get hard to stay fresh and inspired. The music business is in a bit of a pickle right now and there has never been a more important time for artists to be 'great' and say something inspired. Now is not the time to make a record because one is simply due to have one out. No, now is the time to make a record if one has something important to say. Our audience attention span is dropping with distractions such as the internet, video games and so on. There really has to be a reason to buy an album as the music novelty seems to be wearing off. But I see this as a challenge and kick up the backside. My antenna is always up for some fresh inspiration, but yes it is a commitment for sure.
Would you say you have suffered for your art?
Yes I definitely would say that! Not wishing to sound excessively windswept and interesting, but I certainly have paid my dues. There were poverty stricken times for 20 years. I always knew that I wanted to do this music thing but finding the right path took a long time and for some bizarre reason I had the pride and stubbornness to think I was quite good at it, something looking back that kept me driving forward. The last 10 years have been good to me and life is pretty comfortable but I do understand it could all go belly up tomorrow, so I try to really stay on top of things. I'm usually thinking way ahead now as I'm watching friends really struggle in today's musical climate.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Getting as far as I have in this business. I lived in London in the 1980s. I sat in west end theatre orchestra pits and played pub gigs and did the odd live radio broadcast for the BBC and I saw the writing on the wall for me which prompted me to move to the US. Now, I don't want to belittle that work because I hear musicians are scrambling for those gigs over there now, but my aspirations were greater than that, for better or for worse. So I moved to California with only one ambition, and that was to play and record with all my musical heroes. Well I'm afraid it is time to set new goals now because I have reached that goal many times over. Being a successful jazz artist in the states is certainly no easy thing to do and no one appreciates that more than I, as I see many who would love to be where I am. I think that is my biggest achievement really, and being able to document this lucky career on disc too.
You have written several books on playing the guitar - do you like to see other generations become passionate about playing the guitar?
Yes I do and there are some terrific young players out there blistering on the guitar. I love to see that fire in their eyes because it is so familiar and inspiring.
What's the difference when playing jazz guitar?
You mean than not playing jazz guitar? Well I would be holding a plank of wood with six strings and annoying the neighbors. NOT playing the jazz guitar would probably please the neighbours more.
Did classical training give you good grounding for your music?
Without a doubt. That said, my favourite players never had that kind of training and they went on to become the greatest players. So it certainly is not necessary but for me I wouldn't have changed a thing.
Would you have ever predicted your own success?
I don't know how to answer that question except possibly via a therapist's couch! For many years certainly I struggled with the very idea of my own success, despite my lofty goals and huge inner drive. For many years subconciously success was something that happened to others. And in reality that was the case too. And certainly while I lived in the UK I really struggled, as I didn't feel like I fitted in the scene in any way, musically or socially. And of course if you don't feel like you are fitting in, the chances are you are not! I was so seduced by American music and all it had to offer, I eventually had to leave to find my way. So my inner success struggle was countered by a drive that was actually much bigger than me, if that makes any sense at all. Once I arrived in California I felt like there was this weight lifted off my shoulders and I could finally breathe. I'm sure the whole thing was purely physcological, but there is no doubt that I ended up exactly where I should have. But predict my success?" No, I think not, it was more of just finding a place to keep doing what I loved and the opportunity to continue doing it. That was all that mattered for so long. (Same time next week doctor?)
How did you make the jump from session guitarist to front man?
Years ago, 1996 I believe, I would hang out with a French guitarist called Marc Antoine. We had a few friends in common and so we would find ourselves all hanging out together. Marc was trying to get signed himself and did eventually. He went on to great success. Once his first CD came out he said "Chris would you like to strum for me in my band". At the time I was scrambling for gigs so I said yes, and I thought that his music was particularly interesting. So we spent a year or so on the road and then this package tour came up called "Guitars & Saxes", which is now an annual event. The tour featured 4 artists; Kirk Whalum, Marc, Peter White and Rick Braun. There was one band that backed all four acts. So Marc got me the gig, and I got to play with all these other artists too. Rick Braun took a bit of a shine to me and we ended up really connecting. He asked me if I would join his band and I did, something that lasted about a year and a half. Good times. During that time I started to think that the sideman thing seemed a little limiting. At the end of the day I really wanted to be these guys at the FRONT of the stage! So I started recording my own stuff and I asked Rick if he would guest on one track. He said yes. I asked Kirk too and he said yes. I started talking to Instinct Records in New York and they eventually offered me a deal. The first single went to radio and became pretty successful and I guess that was the beginning of my artist career. It was a slow gradual process really.
Are you still as passionate about music as ever you ever were?
I am when I'm "in it". What that means really is that I am so involved in the business side of things that I can't dedicate myself to hours of practice every day like I used to. I now know that unless I spend X amount of time getting the business side of things together, there simply won't be any gigs to be passionate about! I do have managers and agents to help but nothing gets done without me at the helm really. I have to drive it. When the gigs come around playing of course is just fantastic. There is nothing like it. Realistically I'm not sure that I have the fire and hunger that I once had for the music but I think that is just the natural course of life. Again that could also be because I'm a little comfortable now. But if you were to take away the music from me so I couldn't play another show or make another CD, I can't imagine how I might behave! So I might find out I'm a good deal more passionate than I think I am!
What have you got in store for 2008?
Hopefully a hit record. For the first time in my life I decided not to sign another record deal this time. I couldn't bare going through another situation where I was letting some other loonies drive the bus. So I started my own label "Ultimate Vibe Recordings", but I have set it up just like any legit label would. So I have national distribution through Ryko, and I'm spending a ton of money promoting this CD, just like any label would. In fact I'm kind of determined to go the extra mile just to show 'em! So that is the new venture and an extremely time consuming one, but it's like anything, once you set it up and you have a game plan, it's just a matter of execution. Of course I just hope I don't lose my shirt!
Other than that, there will be the festival shows in summer. I started learning French last year and I am determined to speak it well, so that is another little hobby for the next few years. Besides there are gigs to be had in Paris!