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Exclusive Interview: Bassist Chris Wyse of The Cult, front man for rock trio Owl

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Rock band The Cult will be making a stop at the House of Blues in Las Vegas on September 6 for their Electric 13 tour, which will feature two sets: the group’s landmark album Electric played in its entirety for the first time ever, followed by a set that consists of songs from deep within their extensive catalogue.

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The Cult is Ian Astbury (lead vocals), Billy Duffy (guitar), Chris Wyse (bassist), and John Tempesta (drums).

Bassist Chris Wyse is also the bassist and front man for his alternative rock trio Owl, and the Las Vegas Local Music Examiner had the opportunity to speak with Chris for an exclusive interview.

Examiner: How does ‘The Right Thing’ differ from OWL’s first album (in 2009)?

Chris Wyse (CW): The first album, I had much of it written, and it was like an opening of the flood gates sort of experience because the band sort of formed out of me having this sort of sound and style and direction, and me being my own singer/songwriter. Dan Dinsmore (Owl drummer) and I kept talking about getting back together since our high school years, and essentially through a lot of phone conversations and discussing what we’re going to do...used a lot of the demos as a guide.

In the second album The Right Thing, I had some songs written, but also I had open spots where these guys kind of jammed and filled in the blanks. It was really a very natural experience and I think some of Dan’s best drumming ever is on our new record. It happened through more like silent communication – just let it all happen. And it was really a much more creative experience as a result because there was a lot of spontaneity on the record.

Examiner: I know you play the stand up bass. Is that something unique with Owl or have you played it with The Cult or other projects?

A lot of people get excited just when they see it.

CW: It is more unique in the sense that in Owl I feature it sometimes and make a point to. It’s kind of a tricky thing. People can be a little taken back by it. Say you’re in a session and you say ‘Oh, I got my upright bass in the car too, you want that?’ and they will sometimes go like ‘What? What are you talking about?’[laughing]. So I try not to push it on people when I’m working for other people, but Cult has a lot of bass guitar – bass guitar is the main instrument in all the records – but even with The Cult there is a couple of layers that I put on. Choice of Weapon has a song called Embers where I did bow lines right over the top of the bass guitar and also kind of affected flanger bows on a song called Elemental Light.

In the studio environment sometimes it comes in as a great layering. I did the same thing on the Owl record but I will tend to feature the upright bass more and then even take solos and things like that. You might here at the end of All Day there’s a little solo-kind of thing going on with Owl. So, I will affect it and have the advantage of the technology now where I can really shape the sound of an upright bass beyond maybe what people are used to hearing.

A lot of people get excited just when they see it. They’re like, 'Oh cool, that’s so neat’. People associate sort of a rockabilly, Elvis kind of thing to it…but I’m really taking it more from a page of Hendrix and Jimmy Page and kind of affecting it and getting into using it a little more beyond just the bass line concept. I’ll use it more as an expressive accompaniment instrument. Or its the basic things too. I mean, I love just laying down a heavy groove. I do more than just maybe laying down a groove, I like to be real expressive.

Examiner: How much do Dan [Dinsmore] and guitarist Jason Achilles Mezilis contribute to the writing process?

CW: Basically Dan is a big part of it - so is Jason, but Dan really has a lot to do with pushing me. He would be creative when we are working on songs together and he has opinions about the arrangement. He would say to me: ‘maybe’, ‘yes’ or ‘no’ when no one else would say anything to me. Dan is like, ‘Nah, I don’t think the chorus is good enough yet. See if you can come up with a better chorus’. So he’s in there. He’s got opinions about everything and he also pushes me to really do the best that I can. And that’s really cool because I’m producing it. But, it is a bit of a co-production; I ask everybody for their opinions. I want to hear what they think, because this team really knows what Owl is all about. These guys really fit with me and I fit with them and its great chemistry. So when something is a little off there are only three of us and we can’t all be happy, that'd be crazy.

So for the most part we should all be happy with what’s going on. There is a lot of give and take in this even though I might write a lot they’re the whole thing that puts a big stamp on it. Dan’s drumming is like – I didn’t even have to say anything. He was just coming up with this drum stuff everyday in the studio. And it wasn’t hard at all. It was like it took the song to another level. So what do you say? It's like: ‘Okay, I think we got it!’ Again, a real natural, cool organic, sort of process that we went through making this record.

Examiner: What is the biggest difference between Owl and The Cult?

We keep our song craft high up there in the whole mix of things. We don’t want to lose you; we’re just trying to take you on a different kind of journey.

CW: Well, obviously I’m singing and I’m the lead singer. We’re taking on a lot of musical interludes and things like that, which maybe is more in common with Zeppelin or Hendrix or Van Halen even that would have it. There not just pieces of music on our record. Probably the biggest difference is that we’ll lean out of the song writing into a progressive realm where there is a lot of musical stuff going on. We keep our song craft high up there in the whole mix of things. We don’t want to lose you; we’re just trying to take you on a different kind of journey.

There’s some real intense stuff out there. I really love bands like Tool; I think (drummer) Danny Carey’s amazing, for example. Those guys take it onto another progressive level. We’re not like that progressive. I mean, we’ll have moments of it. And I think the real point is to just color the story of the song so it will often be like an outro or an extra piece of music. We don’t really do 10 minute songs and stuff like that. But we have lots of things that you can connect that is still quite musical. I like super catchy hooks and I love when we play for a new crowd and they’re singing stuff back to me on the second chorus already. To me that’s cool.

Examiner: The Cult is on tour playing the Electric album in its entirety. Is there a favorite of yours from the album that you enjoy playing live more than another?

This is probably one of the best Cult tours I’ve done...

CW: Yeah, it’s kind of been Aphrodisiac Jacket because it’s got more of a creamy, sort of a Zeppelin vibe to it. A little bit stronger… compared to some of the more famous songs on the record. That’s like a little diamond in the rough there, I enjoy that one quite a bit. And Memphis Hip Shake is really fun too. It’s got lot of spaces in it. And it’s real big live because there all the breaks. We’re playing real well together. It’s really tight and the crowds enjoying that record because they know it, they’re like 'Oh yeah!' and it goes into the next song on the record, but they know that so they’re anticipating. This is probably one of the best Cult tours I’ve done over the last 8 years. It’s probably the best response and some of the best energy that I’ve seen so far.

Examiner: On September 6, The Cult stops in Las Vegas to play the House of Blues. Have you personally played Las Vegas before?

CW: Yes, we’ve been there before and it’s always a great time. We’ve done lots of these House of Blues’ on this tour already and it’s been a good consistent vibe, you know, on account we know a lot of the venues. The band has done Vegas many times… and it’s kind of like another home away from home when you toured like this a lot. You know, you don’t live there but you been there may be 10 times playing and it becomes like you feel like you’re at home. That’s what I love about Vegas – that’s what I love about touring the states in general is that these are all homes away from home after you visited and hung out so much and played for people and integrated with people. And Vegas is one of those great entertainment centers.

Examiner: The Cult released Weapon of Choice in 2012 and I’ve read that new material is planned for release in 2014?

CW: Yes. We’re not for sure on the exact plan of order yet. Ian and Billy have ideas and some demos kicking around and were talking about winding down this year going right into the studio after a little holiday break and starting to jam out demos and getting all these ideas on the table for a new record into next year. An exact release date and stuff like that no one really has but we do have a general idea that next year it’s all going to happen.

Examiner: When you finally find some free time, what do you do? Do you have a routine?

CW: Well, routine is really hard on the road. It takes a lot of discipline to keep up a routine because you might be getting into a town on a day off after being on the bus all day and if you like to go for a run in the gym, sometimes by the time you get to your room and reorganize your clothes, and sweaty things, and figure out what you’re going to do with your laundry, the gym is closed. Routine is really hard, so you have to be flexible and go with the flow. I got a yoga mat with me, so if I get a day off, like yesterday we had the day off, I did some yoga.

For me, even my break time I like to pull out the bow and just go over a Vivaldi sonata and keep my head sharp, keep everything sharp.

I have a new upright bass I have on the bus. I just try to fill it in with positive things instead of always chasing down to party in every town. It’s more important to rejuvenate and for me a little bit of yoga, I run on the treadmill in the gym and I keep up my upright bass playing…it’s very portable and I can put it in the gig bag over my shoulder and have both my bows… what I’m trying to do is I’m getting a little more mature here – not so much of a kid anymore. I try and fill in the blanks. Like, yesterday it was Vivaldi and yoga. And catching up with my close friends and family. For me that’s enough… I like hanging out and integrating with the people who are coming to see us. I really like the simple things in life. For me, even my break time I like to pull out the bow and just go over a Vivaldi sonata and keep my head sharp, keep everything sharp.

It’s not all about this rock star behavior. The main thing that I’m trying to do is be a vibrant cutting edge artist. I spend a lot of time, even on my free time going back to that craft. And in fact, Dan and I were having a talk about our new music for next year and even putting out another video this year for The Right Thing, so there’s a lot going on… I got my hands full!

Examiner: Is there something musically that you have not done yet, but would like to?

Maybe throw in some remix of Neil Diamond and Sinatra, but rock it out and freak it out like a la Mike Patton...

CW: Yah there is. I have some other ideas kicking around. I have this idea in my head that as I’ve been playing so much hard rock music over the years that it would be really cool to be in a band, like a chieftain, jazz/Sinatra band. I would be the lead singer; maybe I’d share the singing duties with a real interesting group of fellows. Maybe throw in some remix of Neil Diamond and Sinatra, but rock it out and freak it out like a la Mike Patton but with my bass style and stylish thinking. That would be a lot of fun. And staying away from all the Marshalls and all that. Try another kind of easier-on-the ears – maybe medium kind of volume. It doesn’t mean that we wouldn’t rock – I would just like to play more acoustic off my bass.

Examiner: If you could pick three people, past or present, to form a super group, who would they be and why?

CW: It would be hard not to want Hendrix on the guitar. John Bonham, probably one of the best drummers of all time, and I would go for David Bowie as lead singer. And I just have to be at least 50 percent on the upright bass – not all bass guitar.

Thank you to Chris Wyse for taking time out of a very busy schedule to spend a few minutes with the Las Vegas Local Music Examiner.

Who: The Cult (with White Hills)
When: September 6
Time: 8:00 PM (doors open at 7:00 PM)
Where: House of Blues, 3950 S Las Vegas Blvd (inside Mandalay Bay Resort)
Tickets: $35 (General Admission – Standing)
For more information, please call 702-632-7600 or visit HouseOfBlues.com

More tour dates:
8/25 - Philadelphia, PA - Theatre of Living Arts
8/27 - Chicago, IL - House of Blues
8/29 - Lake Charles, LA - L'Aubergine Casino Resort
8/30 - Houston, TX - House of Blues
8/31 - New Orleans, LA - House of Blues
9/1 - Dallas, TX - House of Blues
9/3 - Austin, TX - ACL Live/Moody Theatre
9/5 - Phoenix, AZ - Celebrity Theatre
9/6 - Las Vegas, NV - House of Blues
9/7 - Los Angeles, CA - Wiltern Theatre
9/8 - Los Angeles, CA - House of Blues

Want to know more? Click the links below.
The Cult
Owl
Chris Wyse

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