High Spirits – Interview with Chris Black
Interview by Jack Merry
29th June 2020
Heavy metal and hard rock outfit High Spirits are set to release their fourth full-length studio album Hard To Stop on the 31st July 2020 and we got to talk with the man behind the band, the hugely talented and multi-instrumentalist Chris Black, to discuss the upcoming album, the ongoing global pandemic, and the future of the band…
Hey Chris, thank you for your time! Please state your position in the band.
Hey! My name is Chris Black and I play all instruments in High Spirits.
High Spirits formed in Chicago, Illinois in 2009, how did you all meet? What is the meaning behind the band name, and what would you say was the driving force behind the early days of the band?
The idea was to start a musical project that was entirely based on songs. No band members, no gigs, no photos, no artwork, and barely a logo. What a weird concept, right? I wrote 11 songs on my own, then we got the band together because people wanted to see High Spirits live. Things evolved quickly and we have been well rewarded. I still believe that High Spirits is a “songs” band above all else, and that is what allows the recordings and the live band to both succeed. The name just came to me, I think after I saw the name Aiming High (which is a cool band from Japan, a power metal band basically). That may have triggered the idea. I’m not sure. But no doubt the name has been a big plus. It’s inseparable.
At what age did you first start getting into music and realise you wanted to join a band? Growing up, who were your biggest influences in songwriting?
I got permanently into heavy metal and hard rock around age 9. Younger than that I kind of liked all music equally, but once I got my hands on heavy metal, that was it. That was the sound I had been looking for.
You are about to release your fifth album Hard to Stop on July 31st of this year. Is there a concept behind the album, or are there any overarching themes you would like to discuss?
No concept other than to make the best possible High Spirits album I can make right now. I think if anything the previous two albums were a bit “boxed-in,” they didn’t have the variety of the earlier material. But this time I just put everything out of my mind and let it fly.
1. Since You’ve Been Gone
3. Face to Face
4. Hearts Will Burn
5. Voice in the Wind
6. All Night Long
7. Midnight Sun
8. Now I Know
9. We Are Everywhere
I’ve been a fan of you since the You Are Here days when I discovered that album through a friend of mine, and I absolutely adored the Motivator record from 2016, before going through your back catalogue. Do you have a favourite album or a particular song that you have recorded in the band’s past?
I have always been big on the demos album because obviously that was a big moment for me even at the time, to kind of tap into this new approach for songwriting. Again it was just a songwriting project at first, by myself, on the computer. That was early 2009, and then the live band got together in August of that same year. And for our first two tours, that was all the material we had. So it really is the foundation of everything. We still do “I Need to Know” and of course “High Spirits” every night. Whether it’s my favourite, I don’t know, but it definitely transports me to a special place.
How would you describe your music to someone who has never heard it?
100% High-Energy Rock Music! Was that a trick question?
The Hard to Stop album cover is beautiful yet simplistic in a great way, who does your artwork? Is there anyone you would like to collaborate with, be it an artist/photographer, musician or producer?
The album cover is an artistic photo of a car a night, but it also looks a bit like a comet or something, so I thought it was cool.
What is the procedure for High Spirits when you guys set about producing a new album or EP? Do you have a set way of doing things?
I write and record on my own, that’s the procedure, haha. The other guys just wait for me to be done and then we merge the new stuff into our live act.
You guys have toured America and Europe extensively, what has been your favourite gig to date and why? Who would you like to go on tour with next?
Our next tour is planned for March of 2021 and we will be partnering with the band Screamer from Sweden. Pretty cool! It’s hard to pick a favourite gig to date, but the September 2017 tour with Argus was a real banger, every single night. The tours and shows we have done with Savage Master were also great, there is a real “family” feel being on the road with them. The same goes for Bible of the Devil.
You also recently celebrated your tenth anniversary by doing a gig in Chicago back in August 2019, what was that like?
It was actually quite stressful because our drummer had a death in the family that very night, so he was unable to do the gig. We had about two hours do figure it out. In order to pull it off, I played drums, and we had guest singers helping us out. But the audience was behind us 100% and at the end of the show, I was able to come out and sing the last three songs while Pat from Midnight Dice sat in on the drums. He had filled in for a tour once before so it was not his first time, but definitely short notice.
Do you have a favourite track from Hard to Stop? Why is this song your favourite, and are you looking forward to getting back on the road to perform the new material for your fans?
My favourite is “Hearts Will Burn.” It is very metalized! That’s gonna be a tough one to sing! Yes, of course, we will be very happy to get back on the road when the time is right!
Could you name me one album that had the biggest impact on you during your formative years, and why?
I decided at age 14 that “Helpless” would be my life code and that’s all there is to it.
What is the music scene like in Chicago? Is it a melting pot of different musical styles or is there one genre proving more popular at the moment?
I don’t know because I am very isolated. It is a huge city with pretty much every kind of music and every kind of audience. If anything I think the attendance and participation for heavy metal were sliding down a bit during 2018-2019, maybe people had gotten a bit overloaded from the burst of activity at the beginning of the decade. I don’t know. I think it will be very competitive when gigs start up again because there will be fewer venues and reduced capacity at the ones that do survive and reopen.
Heavy metal and hard rock are experiencing a renaissance of sorts in certain parts of the world, how important is the genre to you?
CB: I don’t always agree. Some days I feel that bands are literally dying off and there is an ever-expanding void that no amount of holograms or Record Store Day collectibles will fill. What can you do but carry on?
What is it like touring? Do you all get on all of the time? Or do you have times you need space from each other?
We do pretty well I think. It helps that we’re not also in the studio together or rehearsing all the time. We don’t all even live in the same city. So typically everyone comes in, we rehearse once and then get on the plane. If all five of us together, it’s because we’re on tour. So we know each other very well in that situation, in those environments. I think the most important thing is that we trust each other to look out for ourselves in the best way. That one wants to go to the late-night bar after the gig, fine. That one wants to eat ice cream at the hotel, cool. That other one hasn’t said a word in 14 hours, but he’ll be fine. Where is Ian? Can I get the keys to the van?
What are your views on bands who give away their music free on social media? Do you think this is a good beneficial marketing idea, or should fans be paying to purchase tracks?
It devalues the product but then begs the question of whether the product was overvalued in the first place. Bands want two things, most importantly we want to be heard, and secondly, we want to be paid, and it seems like now it’s a bit of an either/or, or at least that it’s a trade-off from one to the other. That being said, I think it’s more important to be heard than to be paid.
What genres of music do you like to listen to personally? Any new bands that have caught your attention recently?
I only listen to heavy metal and hard rock. There is so much of that stuff that there isn’t really time for anything else, and if I’m in the middle of a project, I don’t listen to much music at all because my ears are often too tired.
What advice would you give someone wanting to start a band? Were you given any advice from other bands before starting out?
Not that I remember, but I would say patience is the most important thing. Be loyal to what you do and to those who are in it with you. Don’t move around. Don’t be a moving target. If you love what you do then that should be easy. Stay in one place so people know where to find you, however long that takes.
What do you like to do outside of music? Any hobbies?
High Spirits is our hobby, our side project, our break, and escape from the eat/work/chores/sleep of real life. Not that we don’t take it seriously, because we absolutely do.
With the global pandemic of Covid-19, how is Chicago, or America in general, coping with the virus? And how are High Spirits coping as a band? How are you spending your time during this difficult period, and do you any advice for those struggling with the lockdown?
Chicago has been very affected due to our large population, but compared to New York City, for example, we had some extra time to prepare, and the impact was statistically not as bad by comparison. But if your friend or family member gets sick and dies, then you don’t really care much about the statistics overall. So there is sadness everywhere. This period has made me realize how socially isolated I already was before it became the norm. As far as the band goes, we had to postpone about 10 gigs. No big deal compared to what some other bands, crews, venues are now having to accept.
Are you beginning to put new touring plans together for next year, or are you using the lockdown to pen some new material?
We have about 20 gigs lined up already for 2021, and hopefully, those plans will go forward.
Thank you for your time, is there anything you would like to say to our readers? Stay safe guys!
Thank you too Jack, and to everyone reading this far, I hope you enjoyed it and will check out the new album. We will see you back at the gig when the time is right. Just gotta be patient a little while longer and look out for ourselves and everyone else. Cheers!
Hard to Stop will be available for physical purchases and digital downloads on July 31st, 2020.