INTERVIEW AND LIVE PHOTOS BY MARKO SYRJALA
Chris Wyse is an American bassist and singer, best known for his work with The Cult, Ozzy Osbourne, Jerry Cantrell, and many others. Wyse joined The Cult permanently in 2006 and recorded three albums with the band. However, he left the Cult earlier this year. With Ozzy, he recorded the album UNDER COVER (2005). In 2014, he played on Ace Frehley’s SPACE INVADER. He’ has been a member of Frehley’s solo band ever since. Wyse is also a singer and bassist in his own band called The Owl, a band he founded in 2007. The Owl is described as “approaching through the timeless rock structures healthy experimentation and instrumental intricacy.” The band released its debut album in 2009, followed by the album THE RIGHT THING in April 2013. Their third album, THINGS YOU CAN’T SEE, will be published in July 2015. I met a cheerful Chris in June in Stockholm, and here’s what he had to tell about his new job in the Ace Frehley band, his split with The Cult, the future of Owl, and much more.
ACE FREHLEY TALK
Let’s start with the most current thing; you’re now playing with Ace Frehley. How did you end up in this band?
Chris Wyse: The first time I met Ace, I got a call from The Cult drummer John Tempesta, and he happened to know the producer, director of the “Behind the Player” DVD. I got hired to be the bass player for the day, and they couldn’t find anyone, and there were other guitar players and drummers, Matt Sorum, Scotty was on there, and Scotty and I already knew each other. Scot “Cookie Monster” Coogan was there, and he and I always talked about playing together; and when I met Ace and Rachel was there too, Ace’s fiancé. We were like, what the hell is going on? Even though Ace Frehley and when I grew up, Kiss was one of my biggest influences with Iron Maiden. It was beyond that; it was a really nice connection. Like a family connection where you felt like, hey, I know you. But it’s easy to feel that about the SPACE INVADER because I watched him my whole life. But he felt the same way, and it was a genuine mutual connection. So I was busy with The Cult and doing Owl, and Cult and Owl. The Cult was on a hiatus. I had already recorded SPACE INVADER, a couple of tracks with Ace. I did “Whatever Every Girl Wants” and “Starship.” So then I got invited back to record, but I wasn’t really in the band. I was just a guest, and then I was on a November tour for SPACE INVADER while The Cult was on the hiatus. The situation kept growing and growing, and The Cult was just starting to write, and I started recording with Ace. I have already done much of his new record, which was not out yet, the cover’s record; “Parasite,” “Cold Gin,” some cool stuff. I’m able to say that because he already said it, and that’s the first time he’s ever done it without Kiss. So I’m pleased about that, and The Cult schedule was starting to really just drag on a bit in the sense that they didn’t have a plan. I just got the opportunity to record and continue with Ace, and it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity because he’s one of my heroes. He’s one of my favorite guitar players on the planet. So I decided when he offered me the gig that maybe it was time to really express myself in a new way as I get a bass solo every night. I also get to sing lead vocals, and I’m singing harmony all night. Part of the reason why beyond Ace, which I absolutely love is, in his music and the whole thing. But it’s also Richie Scarlet and Scot Coogan that really drew me to the band. My Cult boys are my brothers, but it just was time for something new. People, for the first time, we’re seeing me in this way. They see the bass solo and the singing, and they didn’t even realize I was able to do that or had that within me. So it’s a nice change. Ace is very gracious about the stage, and I get to really perform and be a wild man, and this band is like a pack of wolves. I like the feeling of the gang. So I went with it, so I’m not doing The Cult right now. But they are my brothers, and we are friends, so it’s not like the door is slammed or anything either way.
You named Ace as one of your heroes, but when you first get into Kiss and Ace?
Chris Wyse: When I was eight years old, I saw KISS ALIVE and KISS ALIVE II. When I was growing up, I’m a ’70s kid. I was just a little kid watching, reading comic books rather and listening to Rock N Roll. When I saw Kiss, I was like there was nothing better than being a superhero rock star. So Ace is the superhero rock star, and that was my impression as a young boy. As a professional, I really appreciate the music and how much velocity is in the music. This is not for casual musicians. This is real music, and we sweat hard every night, as you’ve seen, and it’s challenging because of all the energy. So I’m really proud to be with one of my favorite guitar players of all time.
Speaking more about the covers album, I know that you have been working for a while already, and it’s maybe coming out in October?
Chris Wyse: We’re hoping, yeah. We were just talking about it the other day, how we need to get into the studio between the tour and getting back to finish up. So that’s the goal later this year. How exciting! This will be my second Ace release, and the new Owl album is coming out on July 28th as well. I’m just going with the energy and the flow. I need to stay active, so that’s what it’s all about.
So, you like to keep moving on?
Chris Wyse: Yeah, yeah, I do.
Richie Scarlet mentioned that there are also plans for the next Ace Frehley studio album and all original material?
Chris Wyse: There is talk of that, and I feel there will be a good run with Ace. Ace is back.
That sounds really good when you have two Ace albums in the works already. Because I remember that there was a saying; there is a timeline for all things, but then there is Ace Frehley timeline which is sometimes endless “Laughs.”
Chris Wyse: Sure. But I think he sees the moment now and is going for it, The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, etc. Kiss is very active, and I think he feels like this is the time to claim his stake in Rock and Roll.
THE CULT TALK
Let’s talk next about The Cult. I remember seeing you a couple of times with the band. The first time was at Porisphere Festival in Finland when that hurricane thing happened, and one of the stages collapsed. Remember that?
Chris Wyse: Of course.
And then I saw The Cult in Hammersmith Odeon a few years later. The Cult is a great band, and I love the albums you did with the band.
Chris Wyse: Thanks! I did three. I did BEYOND GOOD AND EVIL with Matt Sorum, which led to Metallica, which went to audition via Bob Rock. If you hear BEYOND GOOD AND EVIL, a lot of people didn’t know that was me because I didn’t tour BEYOND GOOD AND EVIL. I recorded with Mick Jagger; I got a deal for Owl. I also played with Jerry Cantrell before I came back to The Cult, 2006.
BEYOND GOOD AND EVIL, I almost forgot that you played on that album.
Chris Wyse: Yeah, that’s my signature overdrive sound, if you listen to “War.” You see, I used the distortion that’s my signature, and there are “wah” and harmonics. People probably don’t even know; they thought it was a guitar, some of it. But the main riff and “wah-wah” when you hear the bass coming into the lead vocal, you know that’s me.
I remember when BEYOND GOOD AND EVIL came out, and I liked that album a lot, but many fans were thinking it’s not The Cult. It was too heavy. And when BORN INTO THIS came out, again, people were criticizing that’s not sounding The Cult because it was too much of a pop album. But CHOICE OF WEAPON was back to roots album in the vein of the early Cult sound.
Chris Wyse: That’s The Cult; they always change. I’m proud of this stuff I’ve done, and if you go back to listen now, you’ll realize it’s me. You will probably hear a big difference in the last few records with the bass and then CHOICE OF WEAPON. I actually wrote some of the stuff on there too, and was part of the band and very proud of what I’ve done. I wrote the riffs in “Wolf.” Which has kind of got the Led Zep parts and BORN INTO THIS. I came up with the “Savages” intro outro classical bits and some other interesting musical parts. I’d always come up with a few things, they are the primary writers, and then I’d kind of sprinkle my Rock N Roll dust on it or whatever. A little magic bass dust. Whatever it is, I really just did my best to complement that band by pushing a little bit for my own style. But was always conscious of the chemistry of what The Cult already was and then honoring that first. It was a good experience and a very good learning experience. These guys taught Gun’s N Roses how to tour, and they taught me how to tour. Although I had been in many bands before, this was a long stretch, and I really worked long and hard in the band. So I would say nothing but great things about these guys, their great style and sound, and I’m proud of what I did with them.
When this interview comes out, it’s not a secret that you’re not playing with The Cult anymore. You spent over ten years with the band. If you sum up that whole time, how was the ride?
Chris Wyse: It was 10 years, and then before I did BEYOND GOOD AND EVIL, that was in 2000. The record came out in 2001, and I even had an All-Star band where I played with Billy Duffy in between. We had projects and Camp Freddy (An All-Star band). So Billy threw me in that group and then when The Cult got back together. So the first time, I just filled in and did the album and a South American tour. I really put my stamp on BEYOND GOOD AND EVIL. That was the beginning experience, but then they asked me back. So that was a full decade of working and recording and then many live concert CD’S that came out over the years. It was a great learning experience. They are my older brothers, and they taught me, and at times it was difficult because I had to learn how to integrate. That’s the important thing. If you want to make it in the music business, you can’t be all really pushy about what you are about. You have to make sure you are smart and fit in, but yes, it’s a fine line. You have to bring something. You can’t be too meek, and you have to have some balls and bring something. So that’s a bit of a fine line as far as the guys go, they’re my brothers in Rock N Roll, and we’re all cool. If they popped in right now, they would give me a big hug and kiss. We’re on good terms, and you never know, I might be jamming with them again at some point, but right now, I’m doing Ace and Owl.
I have learned that they have a new bass player already?
Chris Wyse: Jimmy Ashhurst (ex –Buckcherry) did the last few shows, and I think he might be just a fantastic choice. I wish him all the best. I like Jimmy a lot, and he actually contacted me, and it was very nice for him to say hi. He had a couple of minor little questions, and I thought that it was cool to “check-in.” I think just keep it all cool; there is going to be no shit-talking. No. There is really nothing to shit talk about; I’m just honest. Did we butt heads, did we get in arguments? Was it unusual at times? Like brothers would behave, of course? It was ten years with the band, tension happens. So it doesn’t matter, that would happen with anybody. It would happen with any band. If I were to tell you the stupid little things that happened, I’d be petty and waste good energy.
There are some big personalities in The Cult, but you always got along quite well.
Chris Wyse: Yeah. Big personalities and you’ve got to honor that and serve the band, and that’s why guys like me work a lot. It’s why guys like me get called because you don’t go in and bulldoze over the music and do what you want to do. You have to be sensitive. Like if I’m working with you on your song, I want to know what you want. I want to know what you are thinking a little bit, and that’s what makes you work more. As an artist, you are sensitive, and you have to be… If I’m going to draw a painting of something you’d like me to draw, I have to be sensitive. I can’t just say, it’s my way, my way. It’s not going to work. I will say you still have to bring something to be valid.
You give something, and you get something.
Chris Wyse: Yeah. It’s chemistry.
Let’s next talk about Owl. What’s going on with the band?
Chris Wyse: Yeah, my baby Owl. Owl is growing. Owl is one of my childhood buddies from high school, a massive drummer Dan Dinsmore and guitarist Jason Achilles Meziles, one of my best friends in L.A. It’s a genuine band, it’s lasted and outlasted many bands already, and we are not breaking up. We are moving forward. 2009 we did our first record OWL, and it did really great. People noticed that I get to express a lot of things in this band, like the fact that I sing, write and play upright bass. I think the first album really put our stamp out there. The second album showed we were a little more diverse and a little looser with a little more personality than just hard rock. We had a lot more to offer and even a sense of humor, and that was when I received The Rolling Stone Magazine, Revolver, and this was while I was on tour with The Cult. A lot of people were like, what the heck is going on here? I was getting more press from my own band than anything I’ve ever done. The Rolling Stone magazine thing made my jaw hit the ground. I couldn’t believe that they featured THE RIGHT THING. . So the first record set the tone, the second record we grew, but THINGS YOU CAN’T SEE is coming out July 28’Th, and we really came into our own sound now. It’s a lot more mystical and edgy than any other stuff we’ve done, and I feel like I really sing and play within my own realm, which didn’t happen by accident, but yet it happened because we stayed together. It’s bigger and better than anything than we expected! The sound and the style was really unique. It became something more than we ever expected. We are about to drop a new record in July, and the video we are going to be featuring. I can’t tell you quite yet, but some very good things are going to happen. We are playing at “A Taste of Minnesota” on July 4Th, opening up for P.O.D and Fuel. We’re playing B.B. Kings, July 17th. We are playing Aurora Providence on the 19th. Dave Lombardo’s band Philm from Slayer and OWL are also teaming up on the 21st at Whisky-A-GoGo in Hollywood and San Hose on the 23rd. There are many really cool things going on with my own band, and I produced it and wrote it with the guys and stuff like that. So it’s been a tremendous undertaking. When you get out there on the stage with Ace or when I see that my records come out, it makes me really happy. It’s a relief to all the pain and suffering “Laughs,” But I’m really pleased with the Owl thing. I got featured in Bass Player Magazine last year, and I was shocked to see they didn’t even talk about anybody other than Owl because it’s such a heavy bass band. All I can say is thank you to everyone for paying attention, and even my peers; they are starting to pay attention to me, which is a real humbling and yet exciting thing.
When you’re doing Owl, you’re also a lead vocalist. How is it different from being the main man in the band instead of being just a bass player in some other band? Laughs”
Chris Wyse: I feel like in my band, I came with my own voice, and it’s not that different than what I do with “Strange Ways.” It just happened to suit my voice pretty good, and for me, as a lead vocalist, it has to be very honestly my voice, and I don’t want to do anything contrived. So in a sense, it’s a little different. I’m shaping to these guy’s harmonies. I’m shaping to Ace’s voice. In my band, I guess they are shaping to mine. That would be the only difference, but I’m saying honestly, I don’t want to try to sound like anyone. You can tell, you’ve heard me singing, speak in person. You can hear my baritone. I just sing where I sound good, and that’s my rule, but I have my own little cracks and things that if you sing with me, tomorrow you might have to shape a little bit the way I do. I have my own little ways of doing things when I sing in a way. I do have a banshee scream on there too, which is something different. Lots of metal guys do, but Owl is not metal. It is lots more like alternative hard rock. It’s more like we skip over the metal and go to hardcore. There are unique things I do, I’m into really interesting melodies and interesting rhythms, and that’s kind of where Owl’s foundation is. Once in a while, the band will scream, but we don’t live there. We just give you a lot of different things no one else even does.
THE OZZY OSBOURNE THING
Another interesting period in your career was the time you spent with Ozzy Osbourne.
Chris Wyse: I met Mike Bordin playing with Jerry Cantrell from Alice in Chains, and when I met Mike, he told me he wished he met me earlier. Because he wished he met a fingerstyle, aggressive player like me earlier because Ozzy had been looking for someone like that. So after I toured with Mike, we became friends, and I just saw them (Faith No More) the other day at Download. It’s the first time I have seen him in a couple of years, and I congratulated them on Faith No More, one of my favorite bands. So it was a real honor for me when Faith No More/Ozzy drummer called up Ozzy and went; I found the guy, don’t even worry about it. Awesome. So he told me; yeah, you are the man. But when you hear that, you are like, wow! He called me out of the blue, and I talked to the man. You are in. We are doing a record. No audition, nothing. I just showed up to record it. So that was a real blessing, and we did UNDERCOVER, which became a fourth CD on the PRINCE OF DARKNESS box. Then they invited me back, and we did like five or six more, which was really awesome to get invited back because I knew OZZY, and I had a vibe. I really loved the time with Mike Bordin, and there were guest guitar players, Leslie West; we did “Mississippi Queen.” So I have been on two Ozzy releases, which is funny for one record, you know. There was kind of one record and part of the record and then more, so that was fantastic. Ozzy and I got along great, and he would ask me to throw riffs in as where other guys might say; hey, tone it down. Ozzy was like, hey, go for it. So that was a real treat, and to put the icing on the cake, I told my mom and dad when I was like a teenager, 14-15 years old. I’m going to move to Hollywood and play with Ozzy. So they love it, and I was lucky too with my folks being supportive of my music. So they get a kick out of everything, and they’ve met Ace. I’ve called them with Ozzy on the phone; they met Ace in New York. My dad made a funny joke because we’re 100% Irish about; are you sure you are not an O’Frehley? So it’s been great for these kinds of things to come full-circle because it’s just like I psychically drew myself to it. After all, I loved it.
OTHER STUFF IN LIFE AND OVERALL
You are originally from New York, right?
Chris Wyse: Yeah, Queens.
The music scene has changed a lot in New York, but it’s probably the same everywhere in the States?
Chris Wyse: It’s kind of like that in the Hollywood world, too, now.
Many musicians have moved to Nashville or Las Vegas nowadays. Isn’t it a kind of strange thing what’s going on in the music scene nowadays?
Chris Wyse: Yeah, you never know. A lot of people move around where the action is, and they go where the money is. But there is always going to be money and action in New York and LA, of course, but there is a bigger divide between the bottom and the top now. Just like the economy, the economic system. The reason is it’s because obviously there is the Internet; obviously, there is the lack of hard product now. We all know about this. Also, I’ll take you back a little further when I first came up in New York, I was profiled on Guitar Player magazine, and I was just 17, and I had all this good stuff, and my band did very well, and we played at the Scrap Bar, and we played in L’Amour, and we played The Cat Club. We really worked it, but I watched the drinking age change. I would say that was the beginning of things really changing, and it changed to 18. So when I was 18, you had 15 years old sneaking in with fake IDs. Then you’re talking about 15 to 21, that’s a huge amount of people, huge. They are the biggest buying group, and they’ll buy CDs, they’ll buy T-Shirts. They love it. When you get up to more mature ages, you might have more mature issues. Your disposable income isn’t going to CDs. So I think that was the beginning of the problem, and then I watched the clubs shrink down. DJs and dancing took over, and then a lot of clubs realized they could just play some music with some lights, and all the girls were going to dance anyway. Now we were into this sort of dance sort of society, where you just need to be a little sound and everyone jumps around dancing, and they’ll pay the DJ $1,000,000 for that. The truth is dance music is just a lesser form of entertainment unless it’s really done artistically right. They make jokes about it, and they just put four on the floor… DJs make fun of the crowd because they know they are getting away with murder. We all know this, and I know there are some real talented DJs out there. I know there are some great house deejays and electronica and bass and drum. Don’t get me wrong, and I’m just saying we need to get a balance. It’s not the supreme art unless they start getting artistic. Right now, we are about interesting as Miley Cyrus and dance music, and I’m very proud to bring back real Rock N Roll and edgy bass playing and music that people haven’t really heard much about.
I was speaking about this with somebody that back in the late ’70s, disco music came in, and basically, it killed metal and rock clubs and the whole scene, right?
Chris Wyse: It did, yeah.
In a way, it’s the same kind of thing going on now?
Chris Wyse: The same thing. The same thing that technology is also a part of that. Back then, after all, Kiss was out there, and so was Donna Summer. It did change a bit, but there was still room for things. Now, unfortunately, the Rock N Roll category is very watered down. It’s good and bad. I’d hate to discourage anyone from anything they love if you love going out to listen to dance music; you and the boys want to go out dancing?? Ha, I don’t! I just went dancing in clubs to meet girls, but I didn’t pay attention to the music. To be honest, none of the boys got together; especially this band, that said; let’s go dancing tonight. It’s not going to happen. Let’s face it, all the guys out there are going to meet the girls. So we know what that’s all about.
But it’s a little bit different here in Europe. Have you noticed it?
Chris Wyse: It’s more versatile in here. I think there are fewer lines drawn here, and all kinds of artists can play together. Whereas in the States there used to be more of this; like it has to be metal or it has to be… I think there is a healthier attitude in Europe about music. I saw Donington had Body Count, and Slipknot, and Ace Frehley, and that’s so cool. I’d never want to discourage anyone from doing what they love. I just say have a wide spectrum and don’t get too caught up with the Hollywood cheese. I play upright bass in America, and I bring it to the shows, and people don’t even know what it is. They come to talk to me, and they think it’s a cello. It really bums me out. I’ve seen the education system go from music out of the schools to American football being supreme and passing athletes that can’t even get through their math class. How many of them actually are successful in professional football? Not that many. So we’re a little off-balance, and it just sounds very un-Rock and Roll. But I’m just saying we need to get music back in the schools, and we need to educate our kids and not hear about the upright bass being cello. I just bite my tongue, and I don’t get pissed off, but internally I do. But I just go; it’s the upright bass. I go; listen, there are only four strings in the string family, and if we can’t raise our children to understand what the basic strings are in the orchestra, then what the hell are we doing? With that loss, it’s time to take a step back and tone down American football, and fucking get music education back in the schools. Because football is not educating anyone, music used to educate everyone, and once you got good in music, it’s proven the other aspects of your life ARE ENHANCED. From math to science, it is enhanced. Take that and absorb that! I hope people do. Sure we need sports, but once again, a balance is needed.
THE LAST WORDS
We are running out of time soon, but is there anything else you want to say or talk about now?
Chris Wyse: I’m just really surprised with how I’ve made some twists and turns in my career, with my fans and Cult fans, and everyone is well receiving me and encouraging me. There is a lot of press out about to come out and a lot of talks right now on the Internet. I’m very impressed with how nice everyone has been and accepting of my decision. Ace is an icon, and I am happy that I’m with Ace. It was a difficult decision to leave The Cult. There was some sadness there, but the excitement of The Ace Frehley band took over!! What a great band!! I thank everyone for all their acceptance and support for OWL. www.Owltheband.net is where you need to check out the latest, and I’m pretty reachable on Facebook. I’m pretty constantly interacting with the fans. If anyone wants to check in or say hi, they can; I get back to at least 50% of the people. It’s hard sometimes, but I really do make an effort. I walk out every night and talk to people. I try to stay connected with what they like about us, so I don’t get too lost. But I like to connect with the fans. That’s what it’s all about, after all.
How do you react to negative comments once you face them? Because everyone gets some for sure.
Chris Wyse: I don’t even think about it; that’s ridiculous. Because I know I can play my parts, I know I can play most guys’ guitar solos with my bow and my bass in, and I’m not worried about it. I got nothing to prove, except more to myself now. I have already broken a lot of boundaries, so now I’d like to compete with myself. I don’t really have anyone to compete with; there are some great bass players out there. But I have my standards in what I want to do, and I think people appreciate that because I keep fighting for something more to give them rather than the same old. That’s what I’m about.
One more question regarding what you just said. Did you ever feel that you were musically kind of stuck in The Cult because then you had to play most of the stuff like it was recorded back in the day, and maybe that wasn’t challenging enough for you?
Chris Wyse: The truth is I wouldn’t really want to mess with that because I would look silly and try just to annoy the band. That’s part of what’s tricky; I wouldn’t put a negative spin or whatever you want to call it. I did influence the sound of The Cult when I was involved, but without saying anything negative. I did want the band to get edgier and more daring, and I feel like maybe this is more what’s out for me; that’s why I’m here doing Ace and Owl. This is a lot edgier for me, and this set is challenging. This is two hours of just absolute kicking ass. Our hands have cuts, and we have bruises. We are really into it, and every night I improvise a bass solo. So that’s more challenging than any other thing I have ever done, except for maybe Owl, because that’s so much responsibility as a lead singer and upright bassist as well. Ace Frehley is probably the best band I have ever been to. He is at the top. The owl is coming at you too, and it is a great thing to have both.
Thank you, Chris, bye for now and see you at the show!
Chris Wyse: Thank you, Marko.
ACE FREHLEY BAND PHOTOS FROM GRONA LUND, STOCKHOLM