After spending the last decade singing, writing and recording as a session musician, Chris Howard is hitting centre-stage with his first solo single ‘Fool For You’. However, this single is only the beginning with six more to be released this year. We sat down with Chris Howard (CH) to talk about the track, his music and much more!
OSR: Why did you choose to write for other artists and what prompted you to release your own single?
CH: I didn’t really choose to do this, it just kind of happened! I grew up playing and writing for my own original bands, so playing covers and session musician work was never part of the plan! However, once I started working in the session musician world, I found myself regularly playing on records where even if the artist was a good vocalist, the songwriting itself was often lacking, and I knew I could do better. I write in many different genres, so I have a whole load of material sitting on a hard drive that I can’t personally do anything with as it’s all just too eclectic to release under one name, so selling these other songs on to other artists just made sense.
OSR: What was the first tune you learnt to play?
CH: Well, my earliest memories are as a toddler sitting on my dad’s knee at the piano, trying to play along with him (and failing) as he played his own songs. As for the first “song” I learnt all the way through myself, it was probably ‘House Of The Rising Sun’ on guitar, I have no idea why!
OSR: Is there one particular moment or achievement in your musical career you are most proud of?
CH: I’m really lucky in that I actually have a few moments to pick from. If you’d asked me 2 years ago, I would have said either getting a composition scholarship to Berklee College Of Music (I’m from a poor council estate in Bolton and I can’t read music), or opening for Bon Jovi at Old Trafford Cricket Ground (my dad had just passed away and they were his favourite band so that meant a lot), but in honesty, now, my proudest moment is releasing music under my own name. 6 years ago I was chronically depressed and half-dead through alcoholism, and putting out my own music was a dream I didn’t think I deserved.
OSR: Who are your top three artists of all time and why them?
CH: Wow, this is such a hard question as I love so many types of music! If you held a gun to my head, I’d have to pick:
Hiromi Uehara – in my opinion, she is one of the greatest living pianists. She plays with such virtuosity and emotion, she makes herself laugh and cry as she plays. It almost overloads my senses. Her solo piano work makes me literally cry with joy that she exists.
Danny Elfman – not only has he scored some of the biggest films of the last 20 years and wrote the Simpsons theme, but he also fronted a crazy art-rock band called Oingo Boingo, and their Only A Lad album is beautiful madness.
Jarle Bernhoft – a multi-instrumentalist and singer who has gone from fronting an excellent rock band (SPAN – like the Foo Fighters but better!), to re-inventing himself as an incredible soul singer. His solo work with loop pedals is amazing, but definitely check out Walk With Me, it’s a live album with full orchestra and it’s incredible!
OSR: What are your top five songs of all time and why those?
CH: ‘Fire And Rain’ by James Taylor. A simply beautiful song with beautiful lyrics, the string drone in the final verse gets me every time.
‘River Man’ by Nick Drake. The chords, the vocal delivery and the incredible string arrangement. A genius that left the earth too soon.
‘Piano Man’ by Billy Joel. Like many musicians who’ve spent too many hours in bars, I feel like I’ve lived this song and I love singing it.
‘Smile’ by Chaplin/Turner/Parsons. This song speaks to me on a very deep level. I will probably have the Nat King Cole version played at my funeral. It means that much.
‘Elephant’ by Jason Isbell. This is the finest song about cancer that has ever been written. Honesty is a pre-requisite of a good song for me and this is brutal honesty at it’s most raw.
I realise in retrospect that whose are all pretty depressing choices! I listen to plenty of upbeat stuff too.
OSR: What is your favourite song you have performed and why?
CH: ‘Piano Man’ by Billy Joel. Having spent far too long drinking alone at a piano in bars myself and living the good times and misery that brings in equal measure, this is a song I wish that I’d written.
OSR: What about your music is rebellious, unconventional or unusual?
CH: I listen to such a varied amount of music, that, while there are obvious influences, I truly don’t think my own stuff sounds like anyone else. I love drum and bass as much as I love metal, soul or classical, and these all inform my writing choices. I’m not sure how much of a good thing this is commercially, as people tend to want to put artists in boxes, and I’m not sure there’s a specific box that I fit in!
OSR: How do you go about writing a song? Do you have a melody in your head and then write the other music for it?
CH: I’m a very emotional person, so it generally starts with me just improvising on guitar or keys and then something in what I’m playing will grab me and make me think of a specific time or memory. Most of the time, the melody just appears in my brain and I’ll often track a guide vocal without any written lyrics and just see what comes out of my mouth in the moment. That first take may be half gibberish, but it will sketch out the phonetics that fit the melody and there are usually snatches of lyrics in there that seem to come from some deep recess of my subconscious.
OSR: When you create music, what is your personal purpose or goal?
CH: If I’m writing for myself, it’s basically to create an honest snapshot of a moment in life. Music has always been a shelter and a safe place for me. Throughout my life, when my physical world was full of turmoil and sadness, I could disappear inside new musical worlds of my own creation. This gave me an escape that helped me to survive some very dark times and it gave me a feeling of power and control when I felt like I had none of those things in the real world. I want to write music that is honest. People might not like it, and that’s ok, but it’s honest.
OSR: Based on your background, who did you enjoy collaborating with the most?
CH: From a career point of view, playing on a record alongside Albert Lee was a pretty big thing for me, the man is a living legend in the guitar world and his CV is unbelievable. However, musically, I’m lucky in that my two best friends are ridiculously talented and are my band-mates for several projects, including my own material. Jake Woodward (drums) and Cal Williams (bass) are two of the finest and most inventive musicians around, and whether it’s working on my own stuff, our live Drum’n’Bass trio (Sleeping Dragon) or any of the many other projects we’ve worked together on; they understand me musically, and that’s priceless.
OSR: Where are you going from here?
CH: I’m releasing another 6 tracks over the rest of the year before heading back into the studio to begin work on the next lot, most of which are already written. Obviously, I would love to get a tour booked in to go and play these songs live, but I’m not sure how the landscape is going to be for that for the foreseeable future with the whole pandemic thing still looming over us all. I guess we’ll have to wait and see what happens with that. The whole industry is in turmoil at the moment but hopefully, there’s going to be a big push for live music when it’s safe to do so! I for one cannot wait to get on a stage again!
Thanks so much for your time!