Saturday, December 29, 2012

On the SPOT: Chris Isaak


Chris Isaak is a super nice guy, and had me laughing all through our interview.  His latest album is Beyond the Sun.  It pays tribute to musical legends who got their start at Sun Studio in Memphis.  The album also includes some of Isaak's own compositions.

PAUL:  Your album Beyond the Sun pays tribute to a lot of the musical greats.  Where were you when you first heard this kind of music?

CHRIS:  I'm lucky enough that my parents were smart and they had good taste.  My  dad listened to nothing but Johnny Cash, Elvis, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, you know, B B King... it was all these great records.  I didn't realize that they all came out of one little place in Memphis, Tennessee until much later in my life, but I loved that music growing up

PAUL:  What appeals to you about this kind of music?

CHRIS:  I think I liked it because I'm a guitar player, and growing up we didn't really have musical lessons so we taught ourselves to play guitar.  You could learn those songs. They were simple enough that you kind of felt like you could kind of pick them out...and you could start twanging along.

PAUL:  You wrote about Sam Phillips, the founder of Sun Studio on the liner notes of your album.
He discovered Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins.  Why is he so special to you?

CHRIS:  I understand how the real world works.  Elvis Presley deserves tons of credit, and he's going to be the one remembered because he's beautiful,  and you see him singing a song and you think, "Well, he did this all by himself,"  but Elvis really was part of a musical movement that was started by, I think, Sam Phillips.  Sam Phillips really was a visionary, a genius, and he took risks. I mean he took risks and he did stuff with music that changed the whole world. I know you think of it as just rock n' roll but I love Sam Philips because one of the things he said for example goes "I didn't want to just make a record by black artists and then try to change it so it would be palatable to white people.  He said I wanted them to make the record that they wanted to make.  For his time and where he's from, I mean, he was way ahead of everybody.  He said, "We're not going to worry about rules.  We're going to play this for fun, and we're going to have fun, and you're going to feel that on the record."  That's what rock n' roll is.  You can feel the fun.

PAUL:  He also paid you a very high compliment.

CHRIS:  He did.  There's a lot of great musicians and he worked with so many of them and I was reading an article in Oxford American it was a great music magazine, and I was reading this article.  I had no idea that he had mentioned me, and at the end of the article, they said, "Well Sam, who do you listen to today?"  I was the first one he mentioned.  He said "I listen to Chris Isaak," and he said a lot of nice things.  Man, it meant a lot to me.  When I saw that article and I read it I broke down in tears, because he's the reason I have a job, I mean, it was his records that really made me want to be a musician.  One time I saw him talking...this is an odd bit but it sticks in my mind about Sam Phillips... He was talking to a bunch of school kids, and Sam was a little older at the time, and he said to them something I thought it was a great quote.  He said "Any time yo spend making music is never wasted."  And you know like everybody else, I waste a lot of my life.  I waste time doing stuff that really didn't mean much, but when you're making music with your friends, that time is never wasted.

PAUL:  What is the best thing about performing music from these great musicians?

CHRIS:  I have a ball singing this stuff.  You get to sing that, and the whole band kicks in behind you.. the whole band and the singing in the background.  I go, "This is what I used to pretend to do when I was a kid in front of the mirror in my bedroom, you know?  I'd sing along with a record.  Now I have the band behind me.  So, this is a dream come true.


Chris Isaak's album Beyond the Sun is available now.

Official website:

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