These days Chris Wyse is a busy guy. When he's touring across the country with the groundbreaking and legendary band The Cult, he's also writing songs and singing for his own band Owl. Balancing life in two bands is enough for most people to pull their hair out, but Wyse just takes it all in stride. Even though he's touring with one band and promoting the sophomore album of the other, he makes it look easy. Here the bassist talks about how he keeps his cool, the origins of Owl, and what he hopes to achieve as both a singer and a songwriter.
You're pulling double duty in two bands: The Cult and Owl. How are these two bands different in terms of sound and music?
Chris Wyse: First off, one has me playing upright bass and getting into progressive styles and my influences. With Owl I get to be the singer and the songwriter and I'm playing with my childhood friend. With The Cult I try to blend with Ian's voice. I try to honor the material that's already there; I want to deliver those songs properly. But my style of bass is more integrated with the band's new stuff.
Can you tell me more about Owl and how guys got started. Also, what's the story behind the name? It sounds very mysterious.
CW: Owls are part of the Wyse family and name. Wyse is the same as Wise and just happens to be the Old English spelling. Long before Owl was chosen as the band name, friends of my family would give us owl trinkets and such. Owl was born of friend and drummer Dan Dinsmore and I getting back together playing music together since our high school years and getting back to our roots doing really musical different things. Upright bass and heavy drums meets song writing craft that is a little different. There really wasn't any outlet for this kind of thing unless we created it with Owl.
How is it being front and center for one band and then more behind the lines in the other band?
CW: It's kind of the same. Either way I'm doing a lot of singing every night with background vocals and other expressive things with The Cult. It just comes natural to me. I don't get caught up in the lead singer head trip, so it's the same thing with both bands, but with Owl there's more responsibility because I'm the singer and songwriter.
How were you approached to join The Cult back in 2006?
CW: In 2000 I recorded “Beyond Good and Evil” and did a South American tour with them. I jumped in when the previous guy they had was out. I did pre-production with them, but I was a temporary bassist. Meanwhile, I wrote songs for Owl and performed with Jerry Cantrell [Alice in Chains founder] and I started seeing Billy [Duffy] around town all the time. Then the three of us formed Cardboard Vampyres, so I've been working with Billy for a solid decade. After Jerry reformed Alice in Chains, I was wondering what I was going to do next. Turns out Billy and Ian wanted to get The Cult back together and they called me up and the rest developed by friendship. I felt honored to be asked because they're such a legendary band. It was a very organic process because we knew each other.
Aside from The Cult, you've worked with notable musicians like Ozzy Osbourne and Mick Jagger. Is there anyone you worked with that sticks out in your mind more than the others?
CW: I think my favorite person I've worked with has to be Ozzy because I got to do “Prince of Darkness” along with some other material. Also, I was a big Black Sabbath fan back in the day and I love Ozzy as a singer. I recently got to work with Paul Stanley at a school benefit and that was surreal because as a kid I had “Kiss Alive II” open every day just admiring the stage setup and Gene's blood. It was great; he's really nice and a gentleman. It's great to meet your heroes and it inspires you. If you would've told me when I was younger that I was going to have a career where I would be playing with my heroes, I would be blown away. But as a professional you have to focus on the work. You can't look at it as a rock star thing; you have to be competitive, check out the other acts, and get influenced.
If you could work with a musician alive or dead who would it be?
CW: If I could play with anyone it would be [Jimi] Hendrix. The one thing about being a singer is you play to the sound of your own voice and I would love to play to his voice. [Led Zeppelin's] Jon Bonham would be another great choice; I would love to get the three of them together.
The second Owl album “The Right Thing” was released earlier this year. Did you feel any pressure to create a successful follow up to your debut album?
CW: Yeah, I felt that pressure. We started with four songs and we planned to do an EP because of my schedule with The Cult, but the guys pushed me to write and do more material. Dan owns a studio, so we started playing together and we just have this magic where we re-remind each other what we do and why we do it. We worked really hard on the album. There was just a lot of natural stuff coming out of the studio. We would jam together and get it right away. I'm really proud of the album, it has the most inventive songwriting and better sounds. It's the best work I've done on the record.
How do you handle playing in two different bands? Are there ever times where it becomes overwhelming?
CW: It takes a lot of good planning and organization. You've got to rest for a few days, but I get antsy to get moving again, to get back to the studio. You can't really think about it too much, that's when you start to stress out about it. I used to feel that pressure, but then I got over it because I want people to be inspired from what I do and I want to write from the heart. It's a real treat that Owl has been taken in so well. At Cult shows people will talk to me about Owl and I'm like “whoa,” so it's a good feeling.
Owl did some live shows earlier this year. When do you think you guys will be back on the road?
CW: We flew in and out of New York and LA and went around those areas playing shows. We sold out of our merch every night playing at places like Viper and Roxy. Right now we're talking to agents to play mainly in New York and LA again, but we're hoping to hook up with some band and open for them so we can play outside of those areas. Maybe we'll do some acoustic performances before the year is out.
So the band is coming to Chicago August 27. Is there anything you're dying to do when you get to the city or are there any places you really like to go to when you visit?
CW: I feel like the city is home whenever we got to the House of Blues, especially around that area because we know it so well. I like to partake in the local food and I love any performances we do there because we always have great shows; the crowd is always super energetic.
After the tour with The Cult is over, what are you planning to do next in terms of music?
CW: We'll spend a few weeks recording new songs and finishing up another Owl music video. Right now we're working on touring next year. I'm thinking we'll release new material but not until 2014. I'm thinking ahead all the time if I want to keep the momentum going; I like the challenge.
Chris and the rest of The Cult will be stopping by Chicago August 27 at the House of Blues as part of their Electric 13 tour. Also, make sure to go to The Cult's website to see where the guys are headed to next. Tickets are still on sale, so make sure to get yours now. Owl's second album “The Right Thing” is available now. To get your copy and to keep up with the latest Owl news, visit their official website.
The Cult Electric 13 Tour Dates:
7/25 - San Diego, CA - House of Blues
7/26 - Anaheim, CA - House of Blues
7/27 - San Francisco, CA - Fillmore
7/29 - Portland, OR - Roseland
7/30 - Seattle, WA - Showbox Sodo
8/1 - Salt Lake City, UT - The Depot
8/2 - Denver, CO - Ogden Theatre
8/3 - Sturgis, ND - Buffalo Chip Festival
8/5 - Minneapolis, MN - Varsity Theatre
8/8 - Detroit, MI - Fillmore
8/9 - Cleveland, OH - House of Blues
8/10 - Charlotte, NC - Fillmore
8/11 - Myrtle Beach, SC - House of Blues
8/13 - Ft. Lauderdale, FL - Revolution
8/14 - Lake Buena Vista, FL - House of Blues
8/16 - Biloxi, MS - Hard Rock Live
8/17 - Atlanta, GA - Tabernacle
8/18 - Nashville, TN - Marathon Music Works
8/20 - Silver Springs, MD - Fillmore
8/22 - New York, NY - Roseland Ballroom
8/23 - Boston, MA - House of Blues
8/24 - Hampton Beach, NH - Hampton Beach Casino
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 - Pheonix, 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