You’ve definitely heard Chris Wyse’s bass playing. He’s laid down the groove with the likes OZZY, Mick Jagger, Tal Bachman, and countless others. He currently plays in The Cult, as well as his own heavy alternative trio, Owl. Utilizing both electric upright bass and bass guitar, Wyse is a versatile, vibrant, vital player whose musicianship is as unique as it is unmistakable. We sat down with Chris, who’s currently on The Cult’s Electric 13 Tour which hits Dallas this Sunday September 1. We wanted to see how it’s going, and to talk about Owl, whose second album The Right Thing hit stores in April:
Amps: You’ve played with some heavies: OZZY, Mick Jagger, and now The Cult since 2006. What have you learned from being around these people in all these gigs?
Chris: Well I think the main thing that I see is that there’s a lot of bands that have been going for many, many years now. Like you might not have anticipated seeing Aerosmith and the Rolling Stones and OZZY, and one thing I got from all my “rock star” experiences, or whatever, is from when I was living with Jerry Cantrell. Jerry was always working his craft. He’s like Billy (Duffy, The Cult) that way. Even if he wasn’t sure when a record would be done, there’s already music brewing and things happening. I think the main thing I learned is to maintain your craft and keep it up, and be competitive with yourself. There’s no final place of success and achievement throughout your whole life. Seeing these guys who are our heroes just continuing on, coming up with great stuff, that’s what impresses me. You learn it’s not about just climbing one particular mountain, it’s a whole lifetime of stuff.
Amps: How is the tour going, as far as playing two sets a night?
Chris: The show’s a couple hours. First is the Electric set, the record from top to bottom. And that’s always great because the fans know what’s coming, they know the order of the record, they’ve heard the flow of it many times. I think it’s been one of the best tours yet, because they’re just anticipating each song and they’re very hard rock, sort of visceral songs. It’s very raw, and it’s in your face, it’s got the Rick Rubin treatment, and I think it sounds as fresh as anything.
Amps: Are you guys exhausted at the end of each show? You’re out there a long time.
Chris: We’ve done a couple, four in a row, then the next day is usually an off day, then another couple gigs, and it definitely adds up. I’ve been trying to do more yoga on the road. You know a half hour on show days, and on days off an hour. Maybe go to a gym and do some running. The only way to really combat exhaustion though, is to get a really good rest at the hotel, and lots of hydration. We throw down a lot of energy and we’re soaked in sweat. On the one hand it’s the life, because of the crowd and the energy, on the other hand the not so glamorous part of it is running around with a bag of sweaty clothes wondering when the heck are you gonna have a chance to do laundry (laughs)! And that’s why you have to take it easy and go with the flow, because as soon as you get all crazy and serious it works against you.
Amps: Beyond Good and Evil was one of 2001’s best records. You got rave reviews for your work on it, so great job there. Did you guys know what you had on your hands with that one?
Chris: I definitely didn’t! I was thrown in because they were having problems with their bass player and Bob Rock called me. So I came in right at the beginning of pre-production and just started working, I didn’t even think about it. There was no time to, because I also did a tour of South America in the middle of working on about 20 songs. You know how it is; you work on more songs than make the record. Then they gave me a 25-song set to go through for South America. So I’m in the studio, listening to the live stuff on the way home, so I could memorize every note, even if it was very straightforward, you still have to know every little detail, and know the feel. I was swimming in the deep end, working on the album AND working on the live set. I don’t know if you realize but the bass on “War” at the top of the record is wah wah harmonics and digital delay on the bass underneath a swirling guitar line. It’s almost like a 60’s psychedelic thing. Lots of stuff on that record was cool, and most of it was stuff I naturally did, which they liked because they’re continually evolving.
Amps: Billy is without a doubt, one of the most underrated guitarists out there.
Chris: He’s got everything, all the chops, feel, the tone, and the sound that make a guitar hero.
Amps: What bass and what amps do you play through to get your sound? It’s very cool that you play the upright, too.
Chris: Oh, I’m a Fender P-Bass guy, I have an endorsement with D’addario Strings which is great because they send me my upright bass strings, too. So, it’s Fender basses, new strings, and Ampeg Classics. There’s some great products out there but, in my book, you can’t mess with the Classic setup. I get everything I need out of it. As far as uprights go, I have a couple of great electric ones; I have an old 50’s Kay that used to be Ray Brown’s. I got it in New York. He had several of them, so I was able to get one.
Amps: Tell me about the new Owl record The Right Thing.
Chris: I think it’s my best work to date, really. I’ve obviously had the good fortune to play with a lot of rock stars, but what’s come with that has been all the great producers as well, and they’re the leader of the show in their own way, too. This is a culmination of all my work. I’m a singer-songwriter, I get to express my own style of bass playing and writing with my buddies that I came up with. Dan Dinsmore (drums) and I went to high school together and had our earliest of bands, we were CRAZY competitive about getting written up in Guitar Magazine, and we were just crazy kids! We wanted to kick everyone’s ass with our music.
We also have an interest in music that’s progressive and edgy. We were fans of music that wasn’t popular when we were kids. We weren’t big on all the hair metal bands, even though we did dabble and wore some pretty outrageous outfits. We were about the chops, and the sounds, and the creative places bands were going that inspired us. And that’s what Owl is. I feel like the style of sound we’ve created together is very much a band, and it’s exciting. We’ve been selling out shows, and selling out merch and people were very excited. Watching Dan Dinsmore is like watching a sophisticated wild animal behind the drums. It’s its own thing, this band, and a place where we can have ultimate expression.
There are some interesting melodies, and we’re just stretching it out a little farther, you know? It started with Zeppelin, Floyd, Sabbath, and Hendrix, now we’re getting way off track right now with letting technology take over a little too much in the industry, so we’re proud to bring it back. Every night people go, “What’s that instrument you’re playing?”, and I’m like, “Are you kidding me? Elvis started rock and roll with an upright bass, and that’s what I was just playing.” We’re getting a little too far from reality and the organic qualities of music. I don’t condemn anything, whatever turns you on, really, but I’m proud to be getting people’s attention by keeping it simple again.
Amps: What’s next for Chris Wyse?
Chris: Well, I was just talking to Dinsmore a little while ago about how we’re gonna release another video for “The Right Thing”. We’ve got some great ideas happening. We want to perpetuate the momentum we have already going. We got written up in Rolling Stone and Revolver, a lot of great, amazing attention we’ve received already, so we’re just gonna continue that and actually I’m selling Owl CDs at The Cult merch booth every night for fans who are interested. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a couple of events that came up. We’re not gonna be able to do a tour with The Cult schedule, but a couple of special shows before the year is up. I’m also working on two new song ideas that are kind of outrageous and over the top. Also, The Cult is gonna be working on new material in 2014.
Amps: Any advice for aspiring young bass players, both upright and the swing-around-your-neck style?
There are some fundamental things that everyone expects from you, and that’s holding it down, holding down the fort. You can’t underestimate that, and it’s never boring if you put your energy into it. You gotta believe in it, and not only bring your chops, but look at the big picture. Be good, but know when and where to take advantage of the moments to shine, especially when working with other artists. My goal with other artists is not to lay my thing on them, it’s to work with them in a way that makes them happy, and then eventually your style comes out anyway.
Amps: I know you’re a pretty big KISS fan. What’s your favorite record?
Hotter Than Hell just stands out the most to me all the time. There’s something about it. The album cover, the rawness of that record. “Parasite” is awesome. I’ve played with Paul Stanley in Camp Freddy, and a special benefit for a school, and it was really cool, you know? Paul Stanley called me to be in his solo band for a night! I also did a DVD with Ace Frehley. It’s so inspiring that once in a while I pinch myself (laughs). It’s pretty awesome when your heroes call you up!
Amps: Thanks for taking the time, Chris. Can’t wait for the show in Dallas.
Chris: You got it, enjoy the rest of your day.
Pretty cool guy, that Chris. He’s smart, humble, down-to-earth, and willing to offer what I thought was sage-like advice to young musicians. Catch him on tour with The Cult and be sure to pick up a copy of Owl’s newest CD The Right Thing wherever you normally get your tunes from. In fact, go. Go now.