High Spirits - Chris Black

Chris Black, or Professor Black if you prefer, has been working non-stop putting together awesome music with HIGH SPIRITS, AKTOR and, of course, DAWNBRINGER. In the context of the release of the “Motivator” LP, METAL KAOZ got Professor on the phone to get a good scoop of what’s going on mainly on the HIGH SPIRITS camp, and then get some info for his other musical doings. Well, the discussion revealed some really exciting news, so without further ado, I give you the following most enjoyable Q/A session...

Hello Chris and welcome to METAL KAOZ!
Hey Dimitris, how are you doing?

I’m good, how are you?
Pretty good. You know, I saw you and Maria on Wednesday at the SATAN gig.

Yeah! We were really in the front, so you couldn’t miss us (laughs).
You were busy with the camera – it’s too bad I couldn’t say hi to you guys.

No worries. The SATAN show was again amazing! But let’s talk about your doings; first of all, how was the ‘Frost And Fire’ festival?
It was great. I think the bands were very consistent, the crowd was very happy with all the bands – all the bands got a good response - CIRITH UNGOL of course, you know, there is a lot comments on the internet saying how great Tim Baker’s voice sounded and how well the band really performed, and everything iss true; as far as anyone could tell, his voice was in great shape, no complaints about the setlist - and I am sure because there was a lot of anticipation there was probably a lot of pressure on these guys. If I was in that band I would have been damn nervous before that show. But I think they in particular and the festival overall did a great job. Ventura is a beautiful city - I’ve spent some time in the Bay area, California recently but not that far south and man, you could really get used to the weather.

(laughs) I see what you’re saying, yes.
A real nice location for a festival like that, so that was kind of a bonus on top of all the music and everything.

And how did HIGH SPIRITS do? I mean do you see any increased feedback, more faces, something like that?
Yeah, it was very positive. I think maybe there were a lot of people there who maybe hadn’t seen us before. When we play in Chicago, people who have seen us 3-4-5 times and even in some cities in Europe like Hamburg, Germany where we’ve played 3-4 times now too but in California I think maybe there were some people who saw as for the first time and that’s one of the cool things about a festival as you get to perform in the big stage with hopefully a great sound and a hall full of people and it’s an opportunity to really make a strong impression to somebody who maybe only knows your name or has heard a couple songs online. So you can get up there and hit them really hard and kind of make the most of that opportunity, and that’s what we’re trying to do, but really with every gig because you never know who’s gonna be there.

Yeah, I think nowadays things have become more difficult and I’m talking about the economics and all that comes with it.
Sure, and that’s another thing about the festival where you get, you know the expression ‘more bang for your buck’, I mean that’s a way for a festival and the bands to buy the expensive ticket but then the value you’re getting to see 25-30 bands and maybe hundreds of your friends too. A lot of the faces we do see at the festivals are people we recognize, like ‘we saw at ‘Defenders Of The Faith’ in New York City’ or like when we saw you at ‘Keep It True’ in 2013, so these festivals have more dimensions than just the music or the bands that connection that people have on a human level…

[interrupting] Although I have to admit when we’re getting older, it’s kind of difficult to stand there and see 7-8 bands in one day but we still try to do that (laughs).
It’s hard, it’s hard.

Ok, so let’s talk about “Motivator”.
Yes, thank you for the review by the way. I think that was the most detailed and kind of thorough review I’ve seen.

Well, you don’t have to thank me, I mean, I’m just writing what I think, so it’s not like I’m trying to satisfy anyone other than myself (laughs).
We appreciate it anyway.

Sure, of course. So how long did you work on the songwriting for “Motivator”?
Quite a while; I would say the songwriting took almost a whole year and the recording also another full year and then of course you have to wait for whatever 6-8 months, something like this, for the records to be made, artwork, promotion and all that stuff, so it was a little more than 2 years I think from when I began the songwriting until the album was released; so quite a long time.

All the songs we hear in “Motivator” are new stuff or did you use something from previous sessions?
Everything is new except from the  song “Thank You” which is a bit older and actually while recording the previous album “We Are Here” we originally we started recording “Thank You” like in the beginning of the session I think; maybe we did the drums and the bass and maybe the guitars before we said “you know what? This song doesn’t really fit with the rest of the album, so let’s put it to the side and maybe save it for the future and try again”. And that’s exactly what we did. Other than that, all the songs I’d say the oldest ones are from May 2014.

You mentioned this song, “Thank You”; when reading the lyrics, it sounds a bit special, so for whom did you write it?
It’s really for everybody; I mean, that includes you, my bandmates, everybody we saw at ‘Frost And Fire’ and any other gigs. It’s a literal meaning; it means ‘thank you’. If you can hear me singing it right now, then it’s you.

(laughs) Yeah, got it. And you have been working with HIGH SPIRITS at least in the studio pretty much on your own, so what are the pros and cons of this?
It’s hard to sum everything up; the pros are that I can experiment a lot without having to try to explain the idea to somebody else. It saves me time to just say “well, I have this idea, let me just try to play it real fast” because when I’m writing/making demos and sitting in front of  the computer, if I have an idea I wanna try I just record it quickly, play it back and move on. But there’s no conversation - the conversation is all internal. All takes place just inside my head. Nobody’s feelings are being hurt (laughs), if an idea sucks, it sucks, you know. Another pro to working alone is that I can work whenever I have the opportunity; I’m not trying to schedule something with another person or four other persons when it’s convenient for everybody to be in the studio. I can be working 9 o’ clock in the morning or late at night. There is a flexibility that I really enjoy and depend on. The cons, I’m not that great of a guitar player - it takes me a very long time to make the guitar tracks good enough for what they need to be. It’s tiring I guess, it takes a lot of my energy to do things this way, it probably takes more time but on the other side of that, we’re saving time because I don’t have to teach the songs to anybody. So there are a lot of pros and cons, a lot of trade-offs along the way. I don’t know if it’s the right or the wrong way for another band, but to this band, it is our way at this point.

There is no right or wrong in this case – whatever makes your clock tick, we’re fine. The result is awesome, so we are good with that.
Thank you.

The reason for me asking this is that if I put myself in your position I’d like to have someone telling me “ok, this is good” or not, I mean, maybe this comes from lack of confidence in terms of songwriting, but I’d like someone else’s input. I dunno how this works in a musician.
It’s good to have that kind of feedback and as I said when I’m writing I’m basically making demos constantly, and recording all of my ideas so that I can hear them and kind of maybe take some distance and come back and listen to them later, and these demos I do share with my bandmates and maybe a few other people get to hear them. If I’m driving with somebody in the car, I’m like “check this out, let me know what you think”, so I do take a lot of feedback in those ways. And it has been very helpful, not much with this album, but some of the previous ones.

It makes sense. Do you feel that you have all the degrees of freedom with HIGH SPIRITS? Because this was the third album, right? So, you have built, let’s say, a musical image of the band. Do you feel that you can do pretty much everything, or you have boundaries to not experiment that much at some point in the HIGH SPIRITS universe?
Hm, somewhere in between. I know it’s not exactly positive to have it both ways but I am aware of certain boundaries, certain parameters, certain things where if it wasn’t this way, it wouldn’t be HIGH SPIRITS. The ultimate example of that kind of is that it’s a solo project in the studio. I think if you change that, maybe it’s good, maybe it’s great, but it’s not HIGH SPIRITS. Because it breaks from the process that helped us to find that like you said the musical image of the band. There are certain other small things like nobody really notices because it’s maybe not a big deal but there is no double bass, you know double kick drum, on HIGH SPIRITS. And this wasn’t really on purpose but now once I noticed this, I’m like “ok, that’s another thing but it does kind of keep me on a certain track”.

It keeps the Hard Rock aspect of the music alive.
I think so.

Otherwise, you’d be walking towards more Metal norms or something like that.
I think it’s true and I like to play double bass, I like to listen to double bass but I think it is not always necessary. There are plenty of examples of bands with a really killer drummer that only uses one bass drum. You know, but that’s not me; I don’t feel obligated to go to that direction. In fact, quite the opposite.

And speaking of degrees of freedom in the stuff that you’re doing, you have lots of projects, other bands going on. I learned today that DAWNBRINGER have a new EP. Do you think that all these projects have helped you express yourself in an artistic way you want?
I do. Over the years I have felt that way. More recently I’d say the past 1-2 years it has felt kind of hard to manage and I don’t mean in terms of managing in the sense of the office stuff or doing schedules or anything. I mean creatively, it was getting harder for me to see kind of the different movements and different directions of things, so I think what’s going to happen is that things will be a bit more consolidated from now on and I’ll give you an example; we have a show coming up November 12th in Chicago where hopefully we’ll see you guys there; the ‘Alehorn Of Power’ festival, the headline this year is THOR but we’re trying something new in that kind of - I hesitate to call it a solo act because it really isn’t - but the band is just called PROFESSOR BLACK. This band will play kind of a little bit from all of my projects; there will be some SUPERCHRIST, some DAWNBRINGER, maybe some surprises also in the set. We experiment with a lot of ideas. The rule, or whatever you want to call it, is if I wrote the lyrics, then it’s fair game. You can draw your conclusions from that. It’s almost 300 songs I think, so it’s hard to represent everything, but we’re going to play the songs I think that we like the most and also what we kind of believe are some of the more popular songs from the different catalogues.

Will we see the HIGH SPIRITS lineup for this show?

No, it will be a lineup of different musicians, kind of from my musical family and hopefully that’s part of the surprise for the show - not only the setlist but some of the musicians who will participate. Depending on how it goes, how it’s received, we might do it more regularly, we might do it only on special occasions or maybe it will suck, and we’ll say “oh well, worth of a try”. So we have an open mind as far as the future but I know the rehearsals have being fun and things sound good, so I think it’s gonna be a good show.

Ok, you have my attention! Let’s talk about AKTOR; I read somewhere you’re working on a second album.
Yes, I have, let’s see, I’d say it’s about half way recorded because the drums and the guitars and the bass are all finished. Right now I’m working on the vocals and then after that, we put in all the synthesizers and all the extra stuff that goes onto those songs, so I don’t know when it’ll be finished, but it’s true that it is in process.

Nice! Have you ever physically met these guys?
Yes, we met most recently in March of this year in Helsinki - DAWNBRINGER did a gig together with CIRCLE which is a band of the bass player and the drummer of CIRCLE - and I’ve met Jussi, the AKTOR guitar player, who goes at ‘Keep It True’ every year, so I’ve met him there twice.

I know that this will be difficult but have you discussed playing live at some time in the future?
We did, and we had almost kind of talked ourselves into it last year but then, we decided to wait until there was another album, simply because, you know, if you have a 40-minutes set for your live show and a 40-minute album, then you’ll have to play the entire thing, and maybe some songs work better in the studio, so there wouldn’t be enough room for error in that sense, because sometimes you have a song that sounds brilliant on the album but really sucks when you play it live, and vice versa. Sometimes I’ve been surprised what songs are the most popular live songs from an album. So we said “let’s wait until we have 20-songs or whatever that we can choose a set from” and then maybe give it a try.

Well, in the number of bands and projects you’ve been involved, you can pretty much put up a festival on your own (laughs). Well, you’ll have to play live for five hours, but it’ll be nice.
(laughs) Yeah, it will be like a Bruce Springsteen-style show, yeah (laughs).

So, for other HIGH SPIRITS live shows, what do you have on the works?
Well, ‘Frost And Fire’ was our 99th show. I’m glad that somebody noticed because otherwise I would have completely missed, so we decided that being the case that we should do our 100th show here in Chicago and we’ve just confirmed that. I think we’ll be announcing the date very soon but the band SAVAGE MASTER has agreed to play with us and we also have a surprise headliner - actually we’re not going to be the headliner.

From Europe or the US?
From the US (laughs). It’s not RUNNING WILD (laughs).

Oh man, that would be awesome (laughs)! You hit a nerve right there!
Yeah, I know what you mean, man! But that’s coming next. Like I said, we’ll be announcing the date and the venue very soon. And after that, we’ll go to Europe in March and then we’ll tour the US in July and then back to Europe in September 2017, so we have a lot coming up.

So, you’re gonna be busy the full year. And last question; I saw a posting of yours on FaceBook with a bunch of CDs with the label unfinished works; so, is this material worth of publishing or are you keeping it for yourself?
The idea is that I’m gonna finish it all next year, in 2017; it’s not unfinished because I decided it sucked; it’s unfinished because I ran out of time or because I had to do another project that had more of a deadline or needed more of a process related to it. Those discs I think go back to 2007-2008, there are about like five albums and three EPs or something; in there, different styles mostly stuff that would not surprise you compared to what else I’ve been doing. Like I said, it’s just stuff that ever had the time to record in a way that was presentable. It’s just a lot of stuff with a drum machine and a guitar track but the idea is to record as much as possible between tours, between HIGH SPIRITS tours, next year 2017, and then, (laughs) you’re out of what to do it after that.

Bonus question; is there a plan to release on vinyl the DAWNBRINGER EP, “XX”? And even some SUPERCHRIST albums, re-release them on vinyl that currently are sold out?
SUPERCHRIST, really doesn’t sell very well, now that the band isn’t playing live anymore. I would love to have more SUPERCHRIST stuff being released but again, with the band being basically dead, it would be hard to justify anybody spending any money on that. Maybe with this PROFESSOR BLACK show, if it’s successful, maybe there is a little bit more interest in SUPERCHRIST as a result out of that. We’ll see. The DAWNBRINGER EP did come out on vinyl.

Is there any plans for a full DAWNBRINGER release on the works?
No. I don’t think there will be any more DAWNBRINGER recordings for the future. I think like you’re saying about SUPERCHRIST, I think there is maybe more potential to have some of the back-catalogue re-released on vinyl for DAWNBRINGER. I think there is probably more interest and more possibility for that, and actually that is something to focus on I think that rather than building the catalogue up anymore. I’d rather focus on making what is already available, what already exists and making it available for the people who would like to have it.

That makes me sad a little bit but that’s ok.
It’s time to maybe consolidate a few things and get a bigger container that I can carry it forward.

Of course you need to do what you like, but we like what we hear from you, so I’m sure it will be nice.

Thank you very much, we appreciate the support.

Ok Chris, see you at ‘Alehorn Of Power’, on November 12th then.