Chris Crisci music has been a part of my life for over a decade. He was a founding member of The Appleseed Cast, one of my favorite bands. I feel like i’ve matured with them as they grown from their indie roots, to more of a progressive, atmospheric sound. He also formed Old Canes, a bit of an all-star lineup from bands in the Lawrence, KC area. His love of music has expanded beyond just performing, as he now runs his own studio, builds custom guitars, and works at a venue. It’s great to get insight from such a multifaceted musician.
Is guitar your primary instrument?
Not in the sense that it was my first, but in the sense that it is my most used, yes. I played Clarinet, Trumpet, Trombone, and Bass Guitar, (in order of appearance) before I played guitar. I do most of my writing on guitar now… with keys as a close second.
How long have you been playing guitar?
Let’s see, I was 16 then and I’m 39 now… that’s a million years. Way to long to have the limited chops that I do.
Did you take any lessons growing up? (guitar or other)
Pretty much every other instrument besides guitar, I had lessons for. Guitar, for me, was and has been a tool for writing music. If someone asked me, “Chris are you a guitarist?” I feel like to answer “Yes” I would have to throw in a bunch of qualifiers and excuses. My chops are just not that good. Certainly not for having played the thing for 23 years. I’m a song writer and guitar is my favorite tool for writing. By the time I picked up guitar, I had played a few different instruments and it became a clarifier. Chording instruments do that, because all of the sudden you can see the relationship of the notes in a scale to each other. It kind gives music a geometrical form. That was when theory began to make sense for me.
What impact did that have on you as a musician?
Once I had a grasp of theory it made writing songs that much easier. It was the old you have to know the rules before you can break them thing.
Do you still practice instruments, beyond when you’re writing for your bands?
Unfortunately, no. I keep my plate pretty full with other projects, and work, and family. When I’m on the road, that is primarily when I have the time to play around with instruments and experiment. I wish I could tell you that I have a great discipline to go over scales and chops, but I don’t. When I do that, it just makes me realize that I should have applied myself to it more when I was starting off.
Do you still attempt to push forward by learning new instruments or applications?
All the time. I can’t see an in instrument and not want to play it. That’s also one of the revelations that comes with theory… you can figure out any instrument pretty easily. Half of them are various forms of piano, and the other half are various forms of guitar (to oversimplify)… Then there’s the third half I guess, the wind instruments… and the fourth half… percussion… so yeah, not halves. Catergories.
Do you have have a method for songwriting? How does it usually happen?
I always bring a skeleton, if not a completely written song. Normally if I bring the central 2 or 3 parts to a song, we will complete it in a collaborative way, with everyone writing their accompaniment to the central idea. There have been a handful of songs that has started as jam sessions , and developed into songs, but that is pretty rare for us. On Middle States, our most recent release, we have a song, Three Rivers, which is 100% improvised. I had heard of bands recording 30 minutes of improvisation, and then editing it down to 7 minutes or whatever, and I wanted to give that technique a try. We got 14 minutes out of it, and though there’s some slop to it, I think it came out really well. We’ll definitely be employing that technique some more.
What is your guitar rig these days?
I’m playing through a 5150, which is definitely not my favorite amplifier, but I have a lot of respect for it. I’ve gone through 2 Fender Twin amps, in the last 6 years. The Peavy has been in the band, and on the road with us for about 12 years, and has held up great. It’s very loud, and I can dial up the tone that I want. If I had my pick of amps, I would get a vintage point to point wired Fender Twin. For effects, I has an EH Memory Man, a Line 6 DL4 Delay, a DD5 Delay, a Full Tech Dual Distortion, A Boss Tremolo, and an EQ pedal, which I use mainly as a boost. My guitar is one that I built. It’s basically a Jazzmaster with Gibson Classic 57 pickups.
Do you You build some pretty awesome custom guitars.
How much focus do you have on gear?
To be honest, guitar building aside, I have a very pragmatic view on guitar gear. If I can dial up a tone I like, I don’t think about it any more than that. I don’t worry too much about brands or anything like that. I get much more excited about pro audio and recording gear.
Does gear impact your songwriting / performing?
Only in as much as I have to be comfortable with my guitar sound to sing with any kind of confidence. As for song writing, absolutely it does. New gear will always bring about new ideas. Different attributes want to be played in different ways.
How did you get into building guitars?
It came with the realization that I have the tools and resources to build whatever I want. That realization came from building my son’s crib when he was born. My wife likes modern furniture, and had a crib picked out that she liked. I saw a picture of it and said, I can build that. I bought some tools and built it. After that I had an appetite to build more stuff, and a guitar seemed sensible to me. I wasn’t entirely happy with my Jaguar, it was a little too bright, so I wanted to build a cross between a Jaguar/Jazzmaster and a Les Paul. After that, people enquired about it and I’ve built about 5 more.
Any advice for someone wanting to start their own project instrument?
Practice shaping on cheap wood. I shaped 3 guitars in fir before I attempted to build my guitar. Read a lot a bout it. There’s some great books and lots of articles online that can guide you through building a guitar. Also, get used to using a router. That’s going to be your main tool.
A pair of sweet Crisci Custom Guitars.
I’ve been recording almost as long as I have been playing guitar. It’s something I had interest in from the very beginning, and over the years, I’ve been fortunate to learn from great engineers and producers. I just kind of picked it up as part of the process of being in a band.
What are you running in the studio?
My home set up is pretty modest, and is comprised of a Pro Tools and some decent mics, but I also use stuff from work. (I work at a large venue in Kansas City) We have a plethora of awesome mics, a couple LA4A compressors, a couple distressors, various other comps and outboard gear, great mics, U87’s, C414’s, KM184’s, MD421’s. We probably have 70 or so mics to pick from, and it’s very rarely that they are not available for the techs to use on their home projects. We also have access to a Midas board with Firewire outs on each channel, which can function as a Pro Tools interface as soon as we get 9. And finally, at the moment, we’re borrowing a 16 track 1” tape machine.
Any advice for students of the instrument on being in a long-term band?
It takes a lot of sacrifice, and there’s no guarantee that there will be any kind of payoff. I have plenty of friends that are in great bands, that no one has heard of, and probably won’t. We made a name for ourselves at the beginning by literally living in a van for 9 months. Touring is definitely one of the things that does still help, but I have this feeling that the quickest way to get big these days is to pay a ton of money to PR firms and create hype through blogs. A well connected manager can do wonders for a band. That said, I have always thought that music should be about music. If you write really great songs, and put yourself out there, there’s a good chance someone with money will want to invest in you.
What are your thoughts on the state of the music industry, and what the future holds?
It feels like it’s collapsing, but there’s tons of opportunity to use in new media outlets. There are bands out there using them to great advantage. There are some really great services out there for bands to help bring in revenue. If you take advantage of them, and sacrifice on the road for a couple of years, you might be able to make music work for you… you have to have songs first though, which is what I prefer to focus on.