Charlotte, North Carolina
Razorcake Interviewer/ Reviewer/ Columnist
Lauren: Chris; it’s been so long since you’ve contributed to Razorcake! Why the long absence and when are we going to hear from you again?
Chris: I just did a review of The Prostitutes new album but I realize that is a mere drop in the ocean of writing that I could be doing. The primary competition for my potential Razorcake-writing time is my time spent writing for a local website called www.stillnotdead.com. The site was launched in Dec. 2007 by my friend and ex-bandmate in My So-Called Band, Ryan McGinnnis. It has turned into a pretty popular site and messageboard for our local punk rock community. We don’t only cover local/regional bands though as we also cover touring bands coming through our area. The site has grown significantly from its onset and I’m happy to be a part of it. Still, my loyalty to Razorcake stands strong and planning my next interview for this mag/site has been on my mind for some time now. Much like Todd, I feel that in person interviews are the best. Sadly, many of the bands I’d like to interview don’t play where I live. Plenty of bands I like do come through town, but I primarily like to interview bands where I feel a strong emotional connection to their music. It makes the interview process flow much more smoothly for me. I did one recorded phone interview for Razorcake. It was Young People With Faces and I’ll never try to interview a band over the phone again. Transcribing that proved to be a nightmare. Interviewing one person over the phone is something I’m ready to try, but transcribing a recording of four people’s voices coming through my cell phone’s speaker phone is hard work. The most recent potential Razorcake interview subject I’ve been trying to track down is Kat Arthur from the old LA band Legal Weapon. I’ve got the guy who’s their archivist on the web, Karl Wentzel, trying to make that happen, so we shall see.
Lauren: There’s not much personal information in the bio you sent to me; so start off with that by telling me about your day job. Do you have a wife? Dogs? Crazy roommates?
Chris: At my day job I work for a contractor whose contract in this area is to manage the database records that belong to AT&T. I have been doing this same work since 1997 although not always for the same contractor as big companies are always trying to save money by moving this work from one bidder to another lower bidder assuming another lower bidder comes along. It’s the most professional job I’ve ever had, but, by no means, is it the most stressful. We don’t have to wear suits and ties, but we do have to dress up a little bit. In other words, you can’t wear jeans and a t-shirt. All of the top managers know I play in a punk band and they’re cool with that. Somebody told me that our company’s Chief Operating Officer has a picture of our band as his screensaver on his laptop! I don’t know whether to feel flattered by that or to conclude that punk rock is no longer a threat! But, seriously, I feel good about working there because both of the contractors I’ve worked for in this line of work hire people like me, which is to say, people who’ve never had a decent job with benefits. Before I went back to community college and got into this line of work I had always worked warehouse/manufacturing jobs that were sometimes soul-crushing experiences. So, I feel really good about helping people out who get hired there because you can tell they really appreciate getting out of their old job environment. I was the trainer there for a long time. Our drummer works there too. In this recession we still have jobs although you cannot take anything for granted these days. Oh, and no wife, dogs, or crazy roommates. Generally, I like to keep my private life really separate from my public one. Sometimes I have to bring it up to shut somebody down though. I remember after a show on a Saturday night one time there was a young punk guy pleading with me “dude, why won’t you come over to my house and get fucked up with us?”. When he wouldn’t take “no” for an answer I finally responded with “because I have to be over at my mom’s house tomorrow to mow the grass”. It doesn’t sound cool when I have to say that, of course, but staying up all night and partying is no longer on my calendar although I can stay up pretty damn late to drive our band back from an out of town show.
Lauren: You have done some interviews for Razorcake, so impart some wisdom and tell me: What questions are just way too cliché to ask a band?
Chris: I don’t think that there are any questions that are too cliche for me to ask. If I’m interested in a band I want to know why they came together to make this music. I want to know their influences and their backgrounds and, invariably, some of those questions will come off as cliche to some readers.
Lauren: What kind of topics do you try to cover in an interview? What do you think a fan would want to know about the band from reading the interview?
Chris: I don’t usually have any set topics other than the influences/background ones I mentioned previously. My favorite thing is to try to get individuals to tell you something about themselves that personalizes the interview so that it’s not so cut and dried. If I’m really into the band then I can usually find an opening in some of their lyrics. For instance, when I interviewed Signal Lost I was fairly certain that their singer Ashley was singing about her mother in their song “Domestic Relief” and that her mother had been a victim of spousal abuse. I wanted to ask about this, but was unsure how it would be received. At some point during the interview I found a way to ease into it and Ashley was very receptive and really opened up about it. If I’m a fan of a band then this draws me in even closer as it puts more of a human face on their lyrics. I just assume that other fans feel the same way that I do.
Lauren: How do you make a band interview interesting to a reader who has never heard of the group?
Chris: I know that Todd likes to ask bands questions like “who was your favorite teacher in high school?”, but I don’t know if he’s doing that to make the interview interesting to someone who’s never heard of the band before. I’ve thought about asking questions like that, but, generally, I like to keep digging to see if I can get the band members to open up to me and break out from the usual Q&A. The way that I do this is by being the best listener that I can be. I wait for someone to say something that I can pick up and run with just to see where it goes. I can’t recall ever going to an interview with a list of questions. I already know what I want to ask the band and I’m more than ready to let them say something that will take us down different avenues.
Lauren: What other writing projects are you involved in besides Razorcake?
Chris: Other than the Still Not Dead writing and writing songs for my band, that’s it. My cousin Jan Millsapps, who has just had her first book published and is working on another one, has offered to edit my punk rock memoirs that she says I need to write someday. I told her not to expect those anytime soon.
Lauren: What instruments can you play? Who taught you, and was it difficult to learn?
Chris: The first instrument I ever learned was the piano. Actually, my cousin Jan’s mother Ruby gave me lessons for a few months when I started at the age of 14. Then she advised me to seek a more professional teacher and I found Catherine Hartgrove and took lessons from her until I graduated high school. Catherine really helped me out a lot, but I did struggle with it at times. I was 14 in 1977 and did not become interested in punk until 1980. My influences before 1980 were piano-oriented people like Elton John and Jackson Browne. This may seem incredibly lame by today’s standards, but liking Elton John in 1977 in the South was considered quite rebellious as he had just announced he was bisexual. When guys at my school found out that I was a fledging musician and liked Elton John they were sure that I was gay and weren’t shy about sharing their opinions with me and, sometimes, forcefully. For a long time that was the only instrument I played. I put off trying to learn anything else due to my lack of self-confidence, I’d imagine. I wasn’t that great of a keyboard player, but the style I developed was sort of a pounding, heavily rhythmic style like Jerry Lee Lewis or some of those New Orleans piano players like Professor Longhair. I played keyboard in my first band, Intensive Care. I used the keyboard so that it sounded more like a guitar than a real melodic, flowery instrument. I had a keyboard with tons of sounds on it, but I only used the one that I thought blended the best with our guitar player’s sound. I decided to learn bass in 1992 when I realized that we would be losing our bass player and that it would be hard to find another one. I got a local musician/producer, Rob Tavaglione, to teach me. The first few months were tough, but I practiced a lot and made my bass playing debut one year after first picking the instrument. Maybe one day I’ll actually get around to learning the guitar, but I have a lot less free time now than I had back in those days.
Lauren: You’ve been in bands like My So- Called Band and The Rogue Nations. How did you feel when you saw the Razorcake reviews of releases by bands that you were in?
Chris: I’m always a little nervous about seeing reviews of my own band in Razorcake. I know that Todd and the other writers are not going to cut us any slack if they can’t appreciate what we’re doing and I wouldn’t want them to either. The first Rogue Nations LP is off at the pressing plant now so I will be scanning these pages for our name yet again to see how we fared.
Lauren: What do you get out of being part of a band? Compare that to the rewards that come with the writing work that you do.
Chris: As I get older I’m always asking myself “how much longer?” Fast punk rock is a lot easier to play when you’re young and nimble, so, there may come a day when my joints and muscles will cease to cooperate with my brain. I’ve had a couple of experiences in recent years where I lost control of some of the fingers on my left hand for a few minutes while playing. They were just dead meat for a scary minute or two. As for what I get out of it, I’d have to say that when all of the elements come together it’s like discovering the secret to life. That could mean writing a song that I really like, playing a show where the audience is completely going off, making a record that turns out as good as I could have hoped, or having younger punks telling me that I’ve inspired them in some way. Of course, there are other times (usually when we take a chance on an unpredictable out of town show) where I find myself thinking “I hope the guys in the band aren’t too pissed at me for getting us on this show!” But, mostly, the good outweighs the bad. Rewards from writing are completely different and the peaks just aren’t as high for me in that department, but I really do enjoy it and plan to do more of it as time allows.
Lauren: Tell me your favorite…
Chris: I always look forward to Sean Carswell, Maddy Tight Pants, Designated Dale, Amy Adoyzie, but Todd is probably my favorite when he writes one. And whatever happened to Jessica Disobedience? Her obituary of Joe Strummer was just perfect!
Chris: The Milestone here in Charlotte, NC. I’ve been going there since 1981!
Way to kill time:
Chris: What I’m doing right now (writing for or reading on the internet)
City to visit:
Chris: Athens, GA
Chris: The first day of the first grade and my mother drove me to school. As she brought the car to a stop at the main entrance for me to get out, I took one look at the place and threw up in her car! That moment would prove to be the perfect opening shot to the years of public school pain and humiliation that were soon to follow.
Band you’ve played a show with:
Chris: That Razorcake readers may be familiar with: TSOL, Against Me, Agnostic Front, I Object, Double Negative, AntiSeen, Guyana Punchline, Mischief Brew, Kakistocracy, The Toasters, The Briggs, The Vibrators, Ten Foot Pole, Bridge And Tunnel, Nervous Breakdown (Germany), Harvey Milk, The Street Dogs, The Dead Pets.