I had an opportunity to speak with The Cult’s Chris Wyse, Bassist Extraordinaire, while on a tour bus with co-band members on their way to The Fillmore, San Francisco, Calif. The UK-originated band began their Electric 13: US Tour July 25, 2013, at the House of Blues in San Diego, Calif. Beginning his involvement with The Cult in 2001, and becoming a permanent member in 2006, Wyse is well known among the rock circuit as a bleeding-edge bass player, acknowledged by Guitar Player Magazine and Rolling Stone Magazine. Wyse has played with well-known talents such as Jerry Cantrell, Ozzy Osbourne and Mick Jagger, Scott Weiland and more.
In 2007, Wyse took the roles of Lead Vocals, Bassist and Executive Producer within his own band, Owl, which includes childhood friend Dan Dinsmore on drums and Jason Mezilis on guitar. In 2013, Owl produced its second studio album, The Right Thing, with videos for the songs “Consequences,” “Destroyer” and “Perfect” premiering on the Rolling Stone website.
Wyse is the absolute musician, performing music for the pure enjoyment of it. He was a master of the bass before he received his instrument from his parents, a Gibson Ripper. A level head, incredible passion and undying tenacity paved the way of his success. As just a normal guy, he gives great insight on how to follow a dream – whatever the dream may be.
Be sure to see Wyse on tour with The Cult, at the Atlanta Tabernacle on Aug 17, 2013. For more information and ticket purchases, go to http://concerts.livenation.com.
When were you introduced to music? When did you think, “wow, music”?
I came up in NY, I’m a first generation Irish American, so I did have a lot of (influence) you know, I think my mom and dad, my dad would sing around the house, he had a really powerful, loud voice, you know. There was like Celtic songs, there were things like he grew up with, there was a lot of like the show bands, which is kind of like a different era. In NY, you know, there would be these show bands, so I kind of got exposed to some of this Irish music. Even real traditional like (the) Chieftains. What really struck me when I was like 8 years old was I saw KISS live, too – it blew my mind, and I couldn’t believe there was this thing and I was obsessed with KISS. I really had a love for Rock and Roll. And what got me into bass was Iron Maiden’s Steve Harris. And he just turned me on (to it), you know.
It was through this that kind of created your passion, and it bubbled up?
Well, I finally got a bass, I begged my mom and dad for one, and I was really, really into it. I was really passionate as a kid, I was about 13, listening to Iron Maiden. I remember teachers in school would say ‘Chris stop doing that,’ and what I was doing was taping the rhythms to Iron Maiden songs with my fingers, and this was even before I got the bass. I was pretend playing it, and by the time I got it, I was already playing with a band within a week. It was like I lived before and played a string instrument. It was probably just the love of it all.
Were there any other instruments before the bass?
No, I was in choirs in schools, and stuff like that. I was part of a music program, I knew I had a voice, I could sing. My dad sang a lot, you know, when I was a little kid growing up, and he still does, it’s just kind of what he does. It was just that kind of natural for me to sing.
Was your dad a professional singer?
He dabbled a little bit, but no, he did not follow a path.
Now, growing up, you were surrounded by friends, schoolmates, how did they influence you in being a musician?
My buddies, two of them were guitar players, and one was a drummer, and they needed a bass player. So they really egged me on to play bass, and they would play me all kinds of amazing bass players, but what got me was the “Number of the Beast” song from the Iron Maiden. They kind of opened the door for me to do it.
Were you actually going places, and performing as a band?
Oh yeah, what was interesting was we jumped right in, and back then the live scene was everything. There was no, you know, internet, or this is free all that, and the way communities and towns would integrate was rock was supreme, so we would jump out and play. There was this whole scene where you would play battle of the band in high school, it was really big. A great learning ground. We played clubs too, everyone thought I was older in the clubs, but I wasn’t. And I remember one time I got ID’d by a new guy at one of the clubs where we played a lot, and he was really mad, and the owner was really mad because he finally saw my ID and realized I had jut turned ‘of age’ playing all of these clubs. So we were young playing all of these clubs. I was with my childhood buddy, Dan Dinsmore, who is the drummer in my band Owl.
So, as you’re doing this, you’re making an income?
Well, originally in front of all these people I would do these over the top bass solos at our shows, and stuff, and eventually it drew attention and I got a lot of (attention), I was written up in Guitar Player Magazine. I was like 17. Mike Varney said, he couldn’t explain some of my ideas, which was really cool. I was pushing the bar, and I ended up being a bass teacher at a very young age, I got deep into theory, playing techniques, and so on. Two hand tapping, two things at once, and shredding – you name it, I got into it. That gave me background to be a teacher, so… I had about 35 students a week from all over the place. (And students) who would take lessons from me. And at that point, going to college for upright bass.
What were some of the trials and tribulations that you faced?
A lot of obstacles were there if I let them be there, or if I let them mentally get to me. I think the way I was approaching the base would get some ridicule because I was stretching out and doing some different things. Some people would say ‘you’re not supposed to do that on a bass’, or bah, bah, bah… (Despite) I just totally believed in it. Just believing in yourself can be an obstacle, believing in what you’re doing. Fortunately, I got a lot of support, and I had a great family supporting me, and they still do. I had a lot of positive things (which) allowed me to be a bit of an underdog, and I am proud of it.
What were the key elements that kept you motivated and going?
I was passionate about playing fiery, chasing down riffs, I would go to Paganinni and listen to riffs and the physical challenge of it all was really appealing to me. I was very competitive, I had to be playing on top of everything that was out there. Again, it was a real passion for the instrument. Everybody got a real kick out of it how into it I was, and they egged me on more and more.
Was there any formal training?
I did get formal training when I took on the upright bass (in college) because the bow technique I needed to learn more about. I had a lot of heavy-duty finger picking, right hand stuff going on that instantly applied. But the bow was a different thing and being fretless was a different animal as well. It became musical yoga, you couldn’t just beat up the instrument. I was very balanced and specific about my technique. It was humbling, but I had to conquer it. The challenge is what kept me on top of it.
How do you integrate yourself with so many different musical talents or bands?
If you’re professional your going to take a look at the situation, and hopefully like understanding colors or flavors or anything like that, you have an eye for and a taste for this – you need to go in as like an artist and see what’s already there… And I really enjoy that, and you can liken it to an actor who might need to play different roles but you still have the essence of the person there. And once you get in and learn more, I’ve also been responsible for the newer records, right, so I would at that point understand their history, it’s having knowledge and understanding of who you’re working with, and vibing with them; some of it is unexplainable.
What goes through your head in the few seconds before you go on stage to perform?
Usually, I am not thinking about anything, I’m just trying to get into more of an emotional place, you know, like you know, first song, maybe just taking a gaze over the set, or if we changed it around, it’s just mainly I want to get a tone for the set. And I’m good, I’m good, it’s very natural for me. Live is very comfortable.
And once you go out on stage, how does the energy from the audience feed you?
Oh, well, it’s everything, it’s their show, right? You know it’s really them, I mean, it’s all about them. Last night was our (the Cult’s) first one (show on the tour), it was fantastic, a lot of smiles, high energy from the crowd and we gave it back.
Not many bands have been able to stay together (The Cult) as you guys have, what do you think the success factor is?
Obviously, they were around before me, I think the in touch with fans live element. It’s always been a very strong live band. There has been a lot of touring over the years.
With the introduction of Owl in 2007, how has this been an outlet for you from other bands?
I kinda created them and wrote songs with those things that don’t really don’t come up in other bands. But I’m doing it. In Owl, it’s my childhood buddy, our roots, kind of artistic slightly off center music, but it’s still song craft. I had all theses songs and I had this kind of other style to get out of me, I was still my own singer songwriter, so I still had that to still get out of me, and Dan and I always talked about getting back together, and all the timing was just great, and it all, it all popped. And the record we did came out in 2009, The Right Thing, is out now, and it got premiered in Rolling Stone, it’s a really awesome experience to be known as my own artist with my own band.
How do you balance both (Owl and The Cult)?
Well, I think at the end of the day, you jump in, in the deep end when you do this kind of work – and that’s sorta been my ‘get in and get working’ kind of philosophy. Don’t think too much. That’s been kind of a big, key thing – even though I fail sometimes. I am eager to get a break from one, and then you have this cool situation, it’s kind of exciting to go back and forth from each one.
What do you see for the future for The Cult and Owl?
The good news is there’s just going to be more – there’s going to be a focus on new music. Maybe 2014 is a zone where there will be new music coming out, I don’t have any specifics when new music will be coming.
How do you define success and are you successful?
I think the main point when you say you’re successful is that you’re happy doing what you do and I do feel successful. I mean, there’s more to be done, but yes, I do feel successful. And I’m very grateful for having my band Owl because it gives me a whole different kind of outlet. It’s awesome, this record, and it’s been so well received. It feels great, but there is more to be done.
Was there ever an option not to be a musician?
No, I just had some ups and downs and thought maybe I had to go back to being a teacher, but no, not really.
If you had to give advise to somebody who was just starting out now, what would it be?
Play live. Don’t just practice so much just at home, don’t be so precious and have to unveil it after a million rehearsals, get going.