Chris Wyse has spent the last few decades establishing himself as one of the music industries premiere bassists. His impeccable chops have lead him to play for numerous bands including The Cult, Ozzy Osbourne and Mick Jagger, just to name a few. He is also the vocalist and bassist of his own band, OWL. This Los Angeles-based rock band is comprised of Chris Wyse (vocals/bass), Dan Dinsmore (drums), Jason Achilles Mezilis (guitar/vocals) – and is set to unleash its new album, ‘The Right Thing,’ on April 9th via Overit Records. ‘The Right Thing’ roars to life with opening salvo “Destroyer,” in which Owl transforms The Kinks’ classic into a swaggering futuristic stomper. The title track boasts a propulsive drumbeat that drives into staggering distortion and teeters between brooding and hypnotic. Elsewhere, Wyse delves into his Irish roots on the rousing “Rover” and the band welcomes guest drummer Johnny Tempesta of The Cult on the tribal-beat driven track, “All Day.”
After releasing their self-titled debut in 2009, Owl captivated audiences alongside the likes of Helmet, Jet and Hollywood all-star rock collective Camp Freddy. Between touring and recording commitments with Wyse’s other gig – playing bass in The Cult – Owl began writing what would become the band’s self-produced ‘The Right Thing’ in early 2011.
Approaching timeless rock structures through a healthy amount of experimentation and instrumental intricacy, Owl takes flight locked and loaded with unforgettable hooks and impressive delivery on The Right Thing. It’s a combination that instantly impacts and takes up residence inside your head as all great hard rock should. Do the right thing: Check out Owl’s electrifying new album. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently sat down with Chris Wyse to discuss his musical roots, the evolution of OWL, the creation of the band’s new album and much more!
I want to take it back a bit to give our readers, who may not be familiar with you and those who are, a feel for how this began. What are your first memories of music and how did it make its grand entrance?
Well, I am Irish and I am a first generation American, so I heard a lot of Irish/Celtic music coming up as a kid. That was a little different. Later on, it was Elvis and Beatles music from my parents. But then it turned into KISS! I saw “KISS Alive II” when I was around 8 years old. That led to hearing Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Pink Floyd. That blew my mind because it was like a theater in my mind. I was just so amazed and it seemed limitless.
What was it about music that made you pursue it as a career?
It wasn’t something I thought about as a career early on. I started out pretty young, in my teens, where I was just very passionate about playing and it just became my career. I was passionate about music in general, so I just kept doing it!
Looking back on those early years, and even today, who would you cite as your biggest influences as an artist?
I always have to bring up Steve Harris from Iron Maiden. My buddies in New York wanted me to play bass and kept playing me all kinds of amazing bass players. I was hearing some of the best but for some reason they weren’t making me want to play bass. Then they put on “Number of The Beast” from Iron Maiden and I was like, “Oh my God! Are you kidding? The bass is doing that?!” [laughs] It caught my ear in a different way with its sound and he had his own style. I realized that the bass was limitless too. It was also a bit of an underdog, meaning it was a lot about guitar solos and stuff like that when I was a kid growing up in the late ‘80s. Steve Harris was a huge influence because he was so musical. Then there are singers like Jim Morrison and things that were less metal. The thing that kinda got me on the bass was definitely Steve Harris!
You grew a tremendous amount musically since those early years. That brings us to your latest project, OWL. How did this project begin and who are the players involved?
Originally, the project was like my baby here in Los Angeles. Moving from New York and playing for all of these other bands, I was always my own artist, writing and singing. I have always been a signer and I have a Martin acoustic bass guitar and sometimes I just strum on it, play bass and sing. I wanted to record all of this stuff and that sort of turned into forming the band. Even though it had early incarnations, the band really started with the release in mind of our first album. Dan Dinsmore, my childhood buddy, had always said, “One day, we will get back together and play!” We had a band back during those high school years where everything is the biggest deal in the world! We were pretty convinced we were going to be the biggest band in the world at 15 and 16 years old! [laughs] We did really have an amazing energy and fiery chops together, so we maintained our friendship through the years. I had this thing going and it was arranged that I was going to do this record but I just needed the players. Dan was like, “Let’s do this!” That was the catalyst of the band taking on a serious lineup. Then Jason Mexilis came in. He is one of my best buddies out here in Los Angeles. That is when Dana and Jason met, when we were recording the first record! Originally, it was my spearheaded idea but now it has really turned into a band. For the new album, “The Right Thing,” I didn’t have it all written. I might have a chorus and then maybe I will write a verse but nothing was really done. I was like, “I don’t know what to do with this! I don’t know how that verse should go” or “I don’t have a bridge.” Jason would play something in the studio and I would say, “Wow! That is beautiful! Who is that?” He would say, “That is you and me! We wrote that a couple of years ago!” I was like, “Are you serious?!” [laughs] We have been around each other a lot. We had time this time where we were jamming and leaving the creativity open, where as the first album I really did have demo’d and gone through a lot of the material on my own before we got together. That being said, there are some really great songs and spontaneous moments with the band on the first record but this new record had more of that. It was more of a collaboration!
What can you tell us about the songwriting process for this record? It seems you were working on it at different periods of time.
Yeah, I had a couple of songs on there which I had written 10 years ago. Then I kinda heard it in a new light and was like, “This is great!” For example, “Perfect” was a song I wrote many years ago. Even before I had Owl, I was thinking about songwriting and writing songs all of the time and using piano and stuff like that. Jason plays piano on “Perfect.” We went through the songs and said, “That one is really good!” We just went and did it! I would say half of the songs I had around for a while and the other half we really worked on together, ya know. Even the ones I had around for a while, we shaped and formed together in the band room. It wasn’t like studio time, it was a little looser.
When you started putting the album together, what were your expectations?
We started out with the idea we would release a four song EP with a video to it. We were thinking about smaller releases in general since things are so viral these days. You know, before you put so much into a record and so much time goes by in your life and now you can just release a few songs at a time! It’s all wide open. We are still full album believers! At the beginning, we had all of this other material, all of these great songs started and it was all exciting. We just thought, “Why not do a record?” Dan owns a studio in Albany, New York. We actually recorded the instrumental track “Eleven” at his church, which is an actual Catholic Church that he has remodeled for his media company and recording studio. I am glad we persevered and made an album because I think people still like a body of work. Me personally, I still like the concept of a vinyl record. Even if it is in a CD form, the LP is a connective piece of art as opposed to song per song. I think the longer you are a band on a journey and express different things. I am a fan of music myself and I think that is what makes me a vibrant musician. I am a fan of bands and I like digging in on things. That is what I did as a kid and is what I still do.
Did you find any artists from your past influencing this album?
Yeah. I think we all have a love for Zeppelin and Sabbath and things like that. I think we may have leaned out of that as there as a couple of really heavy tracks on there. I don’t consider metal though, we skip over the metal and get into these real hardcore Banshee moments and I am not even sure if it is considered metal. I have all kinds of different influences but the main thing is that mystical quality where things really affect your mood and you feel you are creating some sort of scenery or concept. Those bands like Floyd, Zeppelin, Sabbath and even Van Halen to a large degree, all put a weird piece of music on the record that you know everyone loves that thing right before or after that song. I had all of those things in my head. There were things I always appreciated growing up and I think even though I might approach it differently by playing an upright bass and doing some experimental things, it is all in that spirit of venturing out into space to, hopefully, learn more and more all the time. It is the same thing with music. You don’t want to reside too much in one place. That is why I put a song like “Rover” on the record, which is the Irish, gypsy, jam song about me when I was a kid. We are really willing to take risks and I think that will be fun for the fans who are listening to it.
What was the biggest challenge in putting this album together?
I think for me, and the other guys, getting our momentum going and then stopping because things were going on in life was a challenge. I was out there touring with The Cult, working and doing other things. What is great these days, Dan can send me an email with an MP3 of a beat and I can be like, “Yeah, I think that is the right one but I don’t know … ” Actually, working this way, we can get a lot of things done without feeling so stressed. I would be out there on the road and just try to keep it simple and tackle one song at a time and not take on the idea of I am doing a whole record and producing it. I would just take it on bit by bit over the past couple of years. The Cult did their very busy tour cycle for “Choice of Weapon” and it wound down because it will kill you if you go 24/7. They had their break now and are regrouping with a concept for 2013, the later half of the year. It just worked out great! Here we are doing this now and there is a break with The Cult. For me, that is fantastic! You have to keep busy. I can take a couple of days off but usually I want to get right back to it!
It is cool to think how much the technology changed during the course of your career. You seem to be the type who is definitely not afraid to use it to your advantage.
Yeah. For a while, the guys in the band were yelling at me for not being as much on it. It just becomes part of your day to day with things like Facebook and Twitter. We just try to stay public and be accessible. We did start a Twitter account for the band which was new for us but what are you going to do? Flyer all of Manhattan?! [laughs] It is different. And don’t get me wrong, I think you should do everything if you are a young, new band or an old band. They have those people out there flyering in person for bigger bands. I think that is cool. It takes everything, ya know?
Absolutely! As you mentioned, the title of the album is “The Right Thing.” How did you chose the title and what does it mean to you?
“The Right Thing” to me is one of those endless kind of things, if you ask yourself if you are doing the right thing. Moment to moment, consciousness is a lot to keep up with. It is a way to ask yourself, in the big picture, in the moment, emotionally, are you doing the right thing? It is a great little self-help trip or something, if you want to get psychological! [laughs] I liken it to the songs being very raw and my vocal, I don’t go in there and practice singing over and over. I can’t understand that shit! I like to go in there, get my character together and go in and sing it. It was a lot of fun. It was raw and it had a lot of attitude. I let out all my frustrations on these songs. I get to scream like a Banshee in the middle of it, which was crazy! I think music is a great therapeutic thing for people. It lets you scream a bit, hang out with an instrument and play some badass shit! [laughs]
I really dig the upright bass. What led you to that instrument? Was it a progression?
It was a progression. I had lived in Queens and my mom and dad moved my brothers and I upstate because they wanted to get out of the city at the time. That is when I met Dan. The progression of the upright bass resulted in me being up there and there was no bass guitar at the colleges. It was all upright bass. There might have been some in the city but at the time I had my band with Dan and a girlfriend and I didn’t want to move to the city. I liked playing there. My folks told me I was definitely going to college, so my focus became the upright bass. I was super overwhelmed and humbled because I could already shred on bass guitar! I was an obsessed little kid! I mean, if I could stick my little toe on there to get another note, I would! You betcha! [laughs] It was very humbling and a good life lesson to be there at 16 and 17 years old and you are written up in “Guitar Magazine” and “Guitar for the Practicing Musician” with everybody praising me and to get international press and stuff like that. I remember as a young guy thinking, “Oh, I am going to be huge.” And then I couldn’t hold a note in tune with my bow on the upright bass. That was mind-blowing! Things like crunching my fingers was creating a nuisance that was putting me out of tune or my technique was off. Bow is completely different and so is the fretless instrument, so it was like starting all over again! I was in shock! [laughs] I stuck with it and with my pride knew there was no way I wasn’t going to play it! This was the real thing!
Upright bass is the real bass. It is the first and only one for a long long time. We didn’t even have bass guitar until the 1950s. If you think about Elvis Presley, he never had a bass guitar until after bass guitar came out. The original band for Elvis had an upright bassist! People always ask me, “What is it like to bring a very non-rock ‘n’ roll instrument into rock ‘n’ roll?” I understand why they ask it because we are so used to seeing the bass guitar, which is usually a Fender Precision or a Jazz. When I stand there with an electric upright bass at shows, I will use an acoustic once in a blue moon, people are always like, “Wow! That is interesting that you are bringing this back!” I say, “Yeah but it was rock ‘n’ roll that used it originally!” That is what is so interesting. That is what rockabilly players are basing a lot of their work on. Elvis’ guy was the guy who used it slightly rhythmically, he would whack on it for percussion. I take it more in a classical jazz sense but I also consider all of the things that made it up. Those guys had bloody fingers at the end of the show, I guarantee it! [laughs] I say that because the amplification for upright bass is really only come into its own in the past 10 to 15 years. When I was a young guy, my fingers used to bleed. I used to hate everybody because the guitar was so much louder. When the electric upright bass came out, Paul D’Amour from TOOL bought me one. I was in band of his called LUSK about 14 or 15 years ago. That was right before I did Tal Bachman. There was a lot of red tape with Paul’s band unfortunately because TOOL’s label had some litigation or whatever. That was unfortunate because we were doing so well. The upright bass was then bought by Tal Bachman, who wrote “She’s So High.” I was in his band and worked with him and that is how I met Bob Rock. This upright has followed me but the technology on this electric upright bass is the same as my acoustic. I don’t know if people know this, and it may be a boring tidbit in general, maybe it is more for “Bass Magazine” or something, but the technology really did come into its own only in recent years.
Historically speaking, it was like yesterday. It was only recently that I could plug in my upright bass acoustically and really have proper volume, that was in the late ‘90s. Then Paul found this bass that is awesome aesthetically. It is called a Messenger Bass by John Newsome. It has the same transducer pickup stuff that I knew he was into. There was a certain tip that I was on and now it changes everything. Now you have OWL, me playing with a bow, adding wah-wah, digital delay, distortions and everything else. That is really exciting for me! [laughs] Now, I am taking the bass to this whole other other place. Hendrix on the upright bass, you haven’t had that yet! To me, I love that. I work on real chops and keep it acoustic. That stuff enhances it. If you focus too much on all the other stuff and you don’t have a song you can sing, where are you? I try to keep it very bare bones during the writing process and then can add on all the bells and whistles later. “Pusher,” on the old record, had a lot of sounds and that was our first video. This second record, we didn’t really put the bass or any other instruments in the first video because we really just want you to listen to the music and get demented by this “Are you doing the right thing?” message. We want you to get into the concept of the songs. I think as the record and videos get released and we put out more content for this album, you will see more of what I did on the album with the upright bass, bow and so on. We will be playing live as well, so you will be able to see where the sounds came from!
That leads me to the next question. What types of things do you have in mind to help support the release of the album? What do you have in store for us?
Right now, we are doing a couple little shows here and there for the release. We are playing the Mercury Lounge in Manhattan on March 29. We are playing a show in Upstate New York where we will be opening for IN THIS MOMENT. We will be there at the merch booth and will be very accessible after the show. We are looking forward to promoting “The Right Thing” in that very close, down home way. We are also playing the Roxy here in LA on April 12. I am working on Vegas. I know later in May we will be back in Manhattan playing The Gramercy on a night called Gotham Rocks with our buddies KILLCODE. I think we will be back at the venue in Upstate New York at the Upstate Concert Hall, which used to be called Northern Lights, on their 10th anniversary. We are doing these special little boutique shows and will probably make a big deal out of it and videotape it and maybe even stream some stuff. Then we will venue around the States opening for different bands and have a good run, ya know. It will be interesting.
Do you have other projects in the works at the moment or is OWL the biggest priority?
OWL definitely has my full focus right now. I feel really blessed to have something to jump into and really get behind. It has been really exciting for us because we are getting a lot of really good press and people seem to be tuning in and paying attention. It is kinda wild because we are a rock band that is experimental and a little different. I think it will be exciting for people to get into the fact that we are players. We are not trying to go above anybody’s head or be too witty. We are trying to relate to people in an emotional way, so I hope people dig “The Right Thing.” We really had fun making it and we can’t wait to play it live!
Thanks for your time today, Chris. We will be out spreading the word on OWL and “The Right Thing.” We can’t wait to catch you on tour!
Thanks so much! Looking forward to seeing and hearing from you again! Have a good one!
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.