High Spirits - Chris Black

High Spirits - Chris Black

HIGH SPIRITS is considered as a crude and hidden diamond in Chicago but in Europe is a well-known hard working act with an impressive old-school sound full of nostalgia coming straight from the heart. After the band's impressive set at 'Keep It True' festival in Germany, METAL KAOZ got in touch with Chris Black to get the latest update on HIGH SPIRITS but also on DAWNBRINGER that walk in parallel roads when it comes to music quality and personal sound. So, after a decent amount of time, the interview is ready and you're invited to learn about the Chicago's finest!

Hello, Chris and welcome to METAL KAOZ! First of all, many congrats on the HIGH SPIRITS set at ‘Keep It True’ fest! That was a really killer performance and I did not expect that reaction from the crowd. What was the experience like from your own perspective?
Hi Dimitris, well, thanks a lot! We were blown away by the crowd response as well. It was an unforgettable experience.

Having played live in both sides of the Atlantic what are the differences between the US and the European metalheads?
On both sides there are very dedicated fans who show a ton of support to their favorite bands and to each other. The main difference is that it’s a much bigger community in Europe. The size of the “Metal” population in Germany in particular seems it could outnumber anyone else’s! Hmm... maybe there is more violence at American shows, but there is just more violence in all aspects of life here, sorry to say. And maybe I have it all wrong, because my experience is very limited in either case! I’ve never attended for example ‘Wacken’, ‘Ozzfest’, ‘Lollapalooza’ and so on. The smaller, independent and/or underground festivals tend to attract the cool and dedicated people in any country.

How did it feel being part of such an underground Metal festival like ‘KIT’?
It was a great honor, of course. In fact, this was in some ways our first European show! I say this because it was the first one we booked. And then after it was announced (more than one year in advance!), we had the offer to play ‘Rock Hard’, even though it was way sooner than ‘KIT’. The ‘KIT’ organizers were very happy to see that happen, and in fact Oliver came over to ‘Rock Hard’ to check us out, and we had a nice chat. I will say that I think we gave a better show at ‘KIT’, which is not to say that ‘Rock Hard’ was bad. But we were much more relaxed this time, and that was in part because we had such a positive experience at ‘Rock Hard’ and so from that we knew how fun ‘KIT’ would to be. There was less stress leading up to it, in other words. Also we were pretty hot from playing seven straight nights leading up to ‘KIT’.

How easy was for you to choose the songs for the setlist for ‘KIT’?
Very easy, actually, since we only have around 25 songs, some obvious “hits”, as well as a few songs that are just too hard to play live! The list comes together pretty quickly. And it comes together quickly in rehearsal too. The only word to describe HIGH SPIRITS sometimes is... GO!

Any bands you liked from ‘KIT’ (in case you stayed to watch the festival)?
The big surprise for me was BURNING STARR. The band was good but the singer was really dynamite. I had no expectations one way or the other, and they were really good. I also liked ANGEL WITCH a lot. Too bad we arrived when BORROWED TIME was already playing. We had woken up in a hostel in the Netherlands, in the middle of the woods, and also had to stop and return our tour backline on the way down to Lauda-Königshofen! It all ran pretty smoothly.

This year we saw many bands coming from the States, so do you feel that this old school sound is referring mostly to the European fans? I mean, would it be possible to see all these bands gathered in a similar festival here in the US?
Nothing’s impossible, and it could only be a matter of time. The Heavy Metal audience in the USA right now is growing, with a lot of young people getting into it too. There is a very high level of activity right now and it’s cool to be a part of it.

What was the feedback you got during your entire European tour? Is there any chance to visit more European countries for live shows soon?
We’ll be back in Europe sooner rather than later, I think. So far, the fans there have really been great to us, and we can only hope to be as great in return. We’ve had great support from our label as well and of course the promoters who have taken a chance on us, and I should also mention VANDERBUYST who said “Yeah, let’s do a couple of shows together!” They are a much more established band so it was very cool that they made it possible for us to play together, and for us to see what they do up close. They were a good role model for us perhaps, at least I would say so. They perform at a very high level. Every once in a while I see a band that plays so well, just with such finesse, that it makes me realize I should practice more. They are definitely inspiring in that regard. Great musicians, all three of them.

In ‘KIT’ you had available the “2013” EP on vinyl; so how long did it take you to write the music for this one? Is this also available in the US? Where can fans buy it?
The music for that was mostly from the second half of the year 2012, so I guess the title is a bit inaccurate! But it would have been strange to release the “2012” EP in the year 2013, right? Anyway, it’s really just a demos collection that HIGH ROLLER released to support the European tour. These songs are maybe a bit experimental, maybe a bit unfinished as well, and definitely more to the melancholy and atmospheric side of HIGH SPIRITS. The vinyl is sold out, but there will be a CD version available very soon, sometime in early October.

Do you have more new music waiting to be released? In other words are there any thoughts about a third full length release for HIGH SPIRITS?
Definitely, right now I am focusing on the songwriting for the new album. Studio sessions will begin in late November, and we hope to release the album sometime in the Spring of 2014. None of the songs are really finished at the moment, but I would say what we have so far is more rockin’ and less atmospheric than the previous round of demos.

Extending the previous question, how difficult is to run a band and have a day job?
It’s very difficult! I’m fortunate that I no longer have a normal day job. This has its drawbacks as well, including pretty low pay, but overall I consider myself very lucky. I have no plans to go back to the 9-to-5 world and to be honest they might not want me back either!

You also did the production for the new ZÜÜL album “To The Frontlines”; so do you like producing albums or this is a way to making ends meet?
Well, I didn’t produce that one, but I did release it on my label, so I guess I am an executive producer if anything. My last paid gig as a producer was on NACHTMYSTIUM’s “Addicts” album. And that was producing in the more creative sense, structuring the songs, developing the vocals and solos, and so on. All of the physical work that people think of when they think of a producer... microphones, knobs, switches, computers... that was all Sanford Parker. I’ve never really done that kind of work outside of my own little PC workstation.

I know that you are based in Chicago, so what is the situation in the Metal scene here? Is it easy to book shows and most importantly attract audiences in them?
It’s easy to book shows. There are so many venues and bands to partner with, I would say if you just want to play, you could play every single night. Drawing an audience is not so easy, but that just takes patience and good judgment with the shows you do choose to play. Chicago is a huge city, so we have one of the biggest and most active Metal communities in the USA. But that’s also because people put in the work to make it happen. The Midwest has a pretty good work ethic in general.

Let’s talk a little about DAWNBRINGER; what is in this band’s calendar?
Speaking of good work ethic (laughs)! Well, we did just play a Chicago show on very short notice! ZÜÜL’s touring partners SCREAMER (from Sweden) ended up postponing their trip, so ZÜÜL had to go it alone, and so DAWNBRINGER took SCREAMER’s spot in Chicago. It was on a Monday night at a small bar and the die-hards enjoyed it. I know I did! Did you get any decent photos?

When can we expect the next album after the excellent “Into The Lair Of The Sun God”?
Fall of 2014.

By the way, how did you come up with the story on “Into The Lair Of The Sun God”? It seems to me there is more to this story and a lot of allegory, right?
Yes, I guess it is allegory, a fable. I’m not sure how I came up with the story exactly. It involved a lot of pacing around the room! I remember it began with the title, and I somehow built the story from that phrase. I wrote the music and the story at the same time. It developed into a kind of musical graphic novel, where each riff or section was an action in the narrative, or a panel of a comic.

How hard can it be having DAWNBRINGER and HIGH SPIRITS on the same billing? Although singing for both bands can be exhausting…
That would be very difficult, and yes the vocals would be quite a challenge. We share two other musicians as well, and none of us are cyborgs, although our drummer perhaps descended from some kind of Medieval-era cyborg prototype. So no, I don’t think that could ever happen. Whether we will one day be tempted enough to try, that is a different question.

Apart from DAWNBRINGER and HIGH SPIRITS is there any other project or band that you are involved?
Always. I have been writing and playing music constantly since I was a teenager. At the moment SUPERCHRIST is resting but my other band PHARAOH is working in the background. At the moment we’re building up some song ideas for our fifth album. We will probably record in 2014 but not release until 2015. I also have a few one-off 7” projects coming up. But the priority at the moment is HIGH SPIRITS.

What about the live plans for both bands, then? And when can we expect to see live DAWNBRINGER and HIGH SPIRITS in the Chicago?
HIGH SPIRITS will be playing on November 2nd at this year’s ‘Alehorn Of Power’ festival, alongside MANILLA ROAD, BIBLE OF THE DEVIL, HARBINGER, and ANCIENT DREAMS. It will be our first US show in 18 months! Amazing!

Well, Chris these were my questions, but feel free to add something I forgot to ask. I hope to see you soon onstage here in Chicago!
Thanks a lot, Dimitris for the interview and to you and Maria for checking out the DAWNBRINGER show! Looking forward to rocking with you at the ‘Alehorn Of Power’ in November!