High Spirits – Channeling CreativityTuesday, 29th July 2014
Many musicians into metal carve out specific times to turn on the songwriting afterburners when it comes to their next product. In the case of Chris Black, the floodgates are open 24/7/365, and he’s using the most of his time to craft a lot of material in a number of outfits. If you aren’t familiar with his work in the traditional, power metal band Pharaoh, the darker but still heavy metal Dawnbringer, the Motörhead-oriented, stripped down Superchrist, as well as the band that is the crux of this feature, High Spirits – you have a lot of recording history to pick up and consume.
Things are going along smoothly for High Spirits these days. Their new album You Are Here has been receiving high marks and praise from Germany to the UK, North America to the Far East. I felt it was more than necessary to send off a host of questions to multi-instrumentalist Chris Black (as he does everything in the studio for High Spirits) and gain some more insight behind the vision and passion he has for the cause. Currently recording the new Dawnbringer album in California, you can expect even more product to fill your shelves in the coming months.
Dead Rhetoric: You recently completed a short two week plus tour across the East Coast and parts of Canada with High Spirits. Now that you’ve had time to reflect, how did these shows go in your eyes, did you accomplish what you set out to achieve, and any special memories (as I still live with the impressive audience to band vibe from the show I attended at Dusk in Providence, RI)?
Chris Black: It was a great tour! Everything ran so smoothly, we were kind of asking ourselves afterward, “Did that really happen?” It was like a dream and over so fast. Yeah we like to have a lot of audience interaction during the show. And before and after the show as well. We’re normal guys, we like to hang out and socialize a bit, check out the other bands for sure. Especially in a place like Providence where we have lots of friends and the atmosphere is always very cordial and relaxed.
Dead Rhetoric: The new album You Are Here recently hit the streets, and it’s another outstanding record filled with catchy hard rock/NWOBHM style anthems and tracks. You record and write all the material yourself. How long of a process is it from conception to completion as a result of this ‘one man operation’ at least in terms of the studio? Are there any particular reason(s) why the touring band for High Spirits does not participate on the recording side?
Black: This one took about two months to record because I was not quite finished with the songs when I started. I was doing a lot of revisions even during the recording process, which of course prolonged everything. This is one of the reasons the live band isn’t part of the recording process, because it just takes too long! I like to experiment and explore and I think they would get frustrated pretty quickly with all of the different directions my brain goes when analyzing the possible ways out of a song. When it’s just me, those conversations are all internal. I don’t think any of the other guys wants to take two months off to sit in a studio with me while I scratch my head and pace around for hours trying to think of a single word that’s missing from the lyrics! There are a lot of other reasons, too. I may be quite limited as a guitarist, but those limitations in a weird way have helped form the High Spirits sound. We’re not looking to change our approach. It’s working quite well. And thank you for your kind comments about the album!
Dead Rhetoric: What seemed most attractive to work with Hells Headbangers and High Roller this time around for High Spirits?
Black: Hells Headbangers was the first US label to offer a step up. Over the past few years, we received a handful of offers from other cool labels, but those labels weren’t in a position to do anything we weren’t already doing ourselves. There was already a relationship with Hells, of course, going back several years now. They have sold a lot of High Spirits stuff through their mail order, for example, and we’ve worked together in other ways as well. So while the album may not be typical Hells Headbangers material per se, the connection was definitely there. In Europe, High Roller is the perfect label for this band. The relationship there began with High Spirits, but it’s been a huge success. I’m very happy with our label situation on both sides. It’s a great foundation for the future.
Dead Rhetoric: How critical are you when it comes to your own writing and performances? Especially considering the years you spent writing reviews for your own fanzines Word of Mouth and METAL as well as your years writing for national/international magazines such as Metal Maniacs?
Black: I’m very critical, but I always was. I think those years gave me a huge edge in terms of ear training and building my musical vocabulary. For better or for worse, it gave me a very singular introduction to the business side of things too, and the fact that I was so young (I was 18 when I started writing for Maniacs) made my view even more distorted. But to answer your question, I mostly go by feel when it comes to songwriting. A song needs to complete a certain revolution, provoke a particular reaction in myself. When it comes to High Spirits, there’s a “secret test” that a song must pass, and I’ll never tell. The rest is intangible stuff that would be hard to explain, just that I know it when I hear it.
Dead Rhetoric: Did you ever personally expect High Spirits to take off so well in terms of critical and fan acclaim, especially overseas where you’ve had the chance to play some prestigious festivals as Rock Hard and Keep It True?
Black: No, I expected nothing. All I’ve done with High Spirits, from the very first time I picked up the guitar, is say “yes.”
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