Music Interview: Chris Howard
Tell us about yourself?
My name is Chris Howard, and I’m a multi-instrumentalist, singer and songwriter based in Liverpool. I grew up on a council estate in Bolton, and music became an escape for me from a very early age. I fell in love with the piano aged 2. I sat on my dad’s knee as he played, (my grandparents had an ancient and huge grand piano jammed in their tiny council house living room, there was just enough room for the piano, a couch and my grandpas’ collection of hand-built stereos and amps – I’m from a family of music obsessives aha)…I would try to play along to my dad’s songs and got hooked for life.
What is your songwriting process?
I basically just sit down and improvise. Then usually a motif or chord progression will trigger an emotion or memory, and I quickly open up Cubase (or grab my phone) to record it – I’ve got hundreds of these little snippets that will never make it into actual songs! When it comes to lyrics and melody, I’ll mock up a demo of the song to sing to and then just hit ‘record’, and sing the first thing that comes into my head – this is usually gibberish, but it mostly sketches out the phonetics and phrasing, plus there’s usually a few lines that spring from somewhere deep in my subconscious that can shape the whole rest of the song.
Tell us about your latest release?
‘Fool For You’ was written for my ex-partner when our relationship finally broke down. We are still good friends, but my life was in a total spiral of alcoholism and self-destruction for the ten years we were together, and she couldn’t watch me slowly kill myself and continually break promises any longer. Her leaving me literally saved my life – calling myself a ‘fool’ is putting it mildly.
What message do you think your music conveys to your fans?
The one thing I’d want to convey to anyone listening to my music (whether they enjoy it or not), is that it’s honest. I mean what I write – I think that’s important.
Who are your musical influences?
This is such a hard question for me as I listen to all kinds of music, depending on my mood! It varies from day to day – although not all of these necessarily come across when you listen to my songs, if I had to pick three, I’d have to say:
Jarle Bernhoft – Norweigian soul singer and multi-instrumentalist who used to front a rock band called SPAN (His solo live album Walk With Me with a full orchestra is just something else).
Hiromi Uehara – In my opinion, a contender for the greatest living pianist. She improvises with such freedom, passion and emotion (literally making herself laugh and cry on stage mid-performance). A genuine joy to watch.
Danny Elfman – Composer of The Simpsons theme plus the soundtrack to almost every Tim Burton film. He also fronted a crazy art-rock band called Oingo Boingo in the 1980s and their album ‘Only A Lad’ is a masterpiece in screwball musicality.
Those aren’t even close to representative – I’d have to give you a list of at least 100 names ranging from Ella Fitzgerald to The Prodigy!
Who are your non-musical influences?
Genuinely great question! Jess Thom is an amazing and inspirational figure (she has Tourettes syndrome, and her life story and attitude are incredible – she’s the founder of TourettesHero.com) – I can hugely recommend her book ‘Welcome To Biscuit Land’.
What’s the best gig that you have ever played?
I’m lucky that I’ve had a few stand-out gigs, but back in 2012 the band I was in at the time opened for Bon Jovi to 35,000 people at Old Trafford Cricket Ground. My dad had very recently died, and Bon Jovi were his favourite band. It was an incredibly emotional experience, and one I’ll never forget.
What is your funniest gig moment?
Tripping over at the end of a particularly aggressive keyboard solo (I move a LOT onstage) somewhere in Manchester years ago and fully catapulting myself off the side of the stage. I just vanished, and the band kept playing.
What do you think are the biggest obstacles for bands/artists today?
Well, in honesty, the whole industry is on the back foot right now. Nobody has much of a clue as to how things are going to be once the gigging circuit opens back up again, so it’s very much anyone’s guess at the moment. Getting exposure in a saturated online market without playing any live shows is less than ideal – as soon as we can, we all need to get out and support artists and venues. The future of this industry is at stake, and musicians need to work together (along with independent venues) to make it better than ever.
What advice would you give to other bands/artists starting out?
Unless you have very deep pockets, be able to self-market and promote, and this takes a lot of time and patience. It’s not enough to be a band or an artist today; you have to be able to produce video content, advertise through specific mediums and stay savvy with the latest in digital trends. You might not like the idea of being active on Facebook or Instagram (I don’t), but to not use these tools fully is to cut yourself off from a huge chunk of promotional potential. Invest in your art. Make content (and lots of it).
Some people get lucky, and their first video goes ‘viral’ – you can’t rely on that. Everything you put online is another potential avenue for people to find (and fall in love with) the thing that you do. Most importantly – don’t give up. Rejection will happen (a lot, probably) – don’t take it personally and keep doing the thing that you do.
I’ve had countless conversations with people at gigs saying things like “oh, I used to play guitar/be in a band, but I gave it up because of such and such…I wish I hadn’t now”. Don’t be that person, and don’t give up on your dreams just because they aren’t as easily attainable as we like to tell ourselves. 6 years ago I was less than 12 months away from being dead through alcoholism – things change – even if you never play Wembley (or whatever your dream is), it’s about living a full and interesting life and being true to yourself.
What are your hopes for the next two years?
Keep releasing music! I’ve another six singles mastered and ready to go, so they will be coming out over the remainder of this year, then I’ll be heading back into the studio to work on the next batch of songs I’m currently working on. Obviously, I would love to start touring my songs, but for the foreseeable future that’s not really an option; so I have to just focus on writing and making online content for the moment.
FV Music Blog July 2020
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