Unsung Heroes: Chris Shy of White Noise Owl
In our continuing Unsung Heroes series, we probe into the mind of guitarist Chris Shy of White Noise Owl. On the verge of their latest release, Until We Meet Again, Chris and company are putting a new twist on how we listen to music. But who is Chris Shy? In the latest installment of our series, EMURG finds out what makes Chris not only an intricate part of White Noise Owl, but in the music scene as well.
EMURG-For those of you who are not familiar with you, do mind providing our audience with a little background into the life of Chris Shy?
Chris-I have been involved in a myriad of bands/projects since the early 2000’s (mostly as a drummer in those projects). Some signed, some not. A producer who I had worked with sent some of my material to my personal music manager, Craig Stegall, in 2008. Craig and I maintained a fantastic working relationship and friendship. After I took some time away from music, I presented Craig with my concept for what became “White Noise Owl” in 2013 and we were off.
EMURG-Who inspired you to become the musician you are today?
Chris-This can be somewhat of a nebulous question for any musician to answer, but my inspiration is drawn mostly from great songwriters (many of them relatively unknown). I can find inspiration in just about anything if it is thought provoking. In the case of “White Noise Owl”, I was actually inspired by things in my life completely unrelated to music.
EMURG-What is your current rig set up for playing live and recording?
Chris-My live rig isn’t overly complicated, but not very traditional either. I use distorted and clean amps together almost at all times. The foundation of the tone comes from a blend of a Bogner Uberschall (dirty) and a Vox AC30 (clean). I play in a lot of open tunings that require all strings being played throughout the song, so I really need the Vox to sit behind all the big distortion for the notes that would otherwise get lost in the mix. Other than that, it’s just a few boutique stomp-boxes here and there with a switching system. I primarily play G&L guitars.
I really utilized a lot of my live rig in the studio as well. For me, that let me maintain some consistency and control with my tone after we got done recording. We definitely tried a few amps here and there for some unique parts, but I was either playing a G&L Comanche or a G&L Legacy through the Bogner and the Vox. We used a Budda quite a bit for some varying clean tones and Diezel for some thickness also. I think it’s important to be experimental with gear in that environment, but too much gear tends to over complicate things for me. It’s common for me to write new songs just with an electric guitar plugged into nothing at all if that tells you how much gear concerns me.
EMURG-What would you say is the most rewarding aspect of being and independent musician?
Chris-This is the first time I have been associated with musicians that were walking in similar stages of life that I am. I love every part of that. None of us are co-dependent on “White Noise Owl”, which is awesome, because the focus we give it comes from a pure place of ‘want to’ verses the panic of ‘need to’. I think that allows us to be much more proactive vs. reactive with our approaches.
EMURG-Your newest band, “White Noise Owl”, is set to release its debut EP, “Until We Meet Again”. Can you tell us how this band was assembled?
Chris-It seemed so chaotic and also planned with such precision all at once, really. Pete had just released the latest “Lo Pro” record AND was knee deep in the latest “Life on Planet 9” record, John had just finished recording the record for “Noise Within”, and Will was probably only off the bus from the “Device” tour for 14 seconds. I was pretty much all or nothing on having Pete and Ben Grosse for “White Noise Owl”, so I tried not to focus on anything but those two variables first. Through a series of events, Pete and I got to communicating about the project in very non-specific terms and starting sharing song-starts via email. We all live in different states, so the first challenge was already on the board. Once Pete and I cracked the first real song (which became ‘Feed’), we started really figuring out our writing styles as well as how to get Will and John onboard. Pete obviously had a history with John from “Lo Pro” and I just knew this was supposed to be Will’s next record, so we somewhat tasked each other with completing the rhythm section. A few weeks later, Will and John were in and we were assembled in concept. I had only spoken to John once on the phone and maybe twice with Will. When I talk about it here, it almost feels crazy that it even came together, but I think the lack of information really worked in our favor. Basically all we knew were each other’s musical resumes, that Ben Grosse was producing the band, we were going to two of the greatest studios on Earth, and that the foundations of the songs were great. For all we knew, we were going to be in a fistfight within 10 minutes of being around each other.
EMURG-What is it like writing music with heavyweights like Pete Murray (Lo Pro) John Fahnestock (Snot) and Will Hunt (Dark New Day, Device, and Evanescence)?
Chris-It was amazing and surprisingly stress-free. This was an extraordinary combination of talent in all phases. The exercise in self-control for me was making sure that Pete, Will, John, Ben Grosse, and our studio team were always in a position to succeed in their particular area of strength. For instance, I have a background behind the drums, but you don’t get Will Hunt in a studio and make the mistake of trying to dictate how he should play a certain part. That would have been an insane waste of Will’s talents not only as a player, but also as a creative influence. Overall, it was really more about ditching the ego and allowing everyone to author their name to their specific skill or to always feel welcomed in the creative process. I knew before I boarded the plane that I wasn’t married to any one thing that I had written, because expectations like that act as restrictions. For example, Ben Grosse suggested two major section changes in two different songs about 12 hours before we began tracking. That kind of stuff wouldn’t go over well in a lot of groups, but there wasn’t really an alpha among us. It was always about the best interest of the song.
EMURG-Can you describe what the production process was like for creating your debut EP?
Chris-Most bands get to hone and perfect their songs and parts over a period of time before having to make a commitment on the final versions, but we approached it with a different concept. The most unique component of “White Noise Owl” is that none of us had ever actually met (except Pete and John) until the first day we started the recording process. We knew of each other, but that was the extent of it. Pete and I had a meeting with Ben Grosse the night before we started tracking and that was literally the first time we had met in person. The following morning, we were all shaking hands for the first time, introducing ourselves, trying to quickly get over that ‘awkward first date’ vibe, and then we jumped right into the recording process within the hour. Try to imagine how disastrous that could have been. We had all communicated and shared ideas about the details of the songs/individual parts leading up to that day via email, text, and phone calls, but for me, there is no substitute for putting four creative musicians in a historic studio with an amazing producer and just recording what happens with the material. Also, a great byproduct of that process is that you essentially remove the chance to over-produce or over-think the process.
EMURG-What would say is the most rewarding aspect after working with Pete, John, Will, and producer Ben Grosse?
Chris-In my opinion, too many big production recordings aren’t being done today. To be a part of this one was pretty special. Plus, it was unique enough not even knowing each other but this style of music was a bit different for each of us as well. Collectively watching everyone perform outside their comfort zone was pretty awesome. I remember paying close attention when Ben Grosse was tracking Pete’s vocals. Those two guys are responsible for some unreal pieces of music, so seeing their style blend was incredibly rewarding.
EMURG-What are your currently views on the music industry of today? What are your opinions concerning the genre that your band is in and how the industry treats bands like yours?
Chris-As with everything, our genre of music breathes and pulses, which is consistent and fine. It’s difficult to speak in any kind of absolute, because each group has unique reasons for being invested in their projects.
EMURG-What do you want people to take away from Until We Meet Again?
Chris-These days you really have to be borderline insane to intentionally decide to write and professionally record music in this genre, because the palpable rewards aren’t where they used to be. For me, none of that stuff really matters. However, those absences definitely provide new challenges to new bands within the rock genre, but who cares? Rock shouldn’t be some risk/reward scenario anyway. You always want to create music that speaks to people in some way. I hope we’ve done that with ‘Until We Meet Again’.
EMURG-Being a new band is never easy, but what makes White Noise Owl stand out from the rest of the bands in your genre?
Chris-I’m not particularly sure where we fit in the genre, to be honest. If I’m thinking about bands that each of us have been associated with (Lo Pro, Dark New Day, Snot, Device, etc) then what makes us stand out is simply that we aren’t those bands…for better or for worse. If you’re a fan of Pete Murray’s vocals, this will be for you. If Will Hunt is your particular taste in drummers, I would highly recommend checking out him and John Fahnestock as a rhythm section. If you’ve ever jammed a Ben Grosse mix, you know what kind of sonic treat you are getting with “White Noise Owl”.