Chris Combs talks about “Combsy,” top records & the music biz

by Chris Snyder

You composed/arranged your new debut album “Combsy” all by yourself. How did this come about?

I’ve worked with a variety of bands in many different genres over the last 12 years and I was ready to write and produce an album on my own. It was fun to pour my whole personality into something with no creative or aesthetic restraints. Over the last few years I wrote a batch of compositions and was holding on to them for the right project. Last summer things started to fall into place concept-wise and I booked studio time in October 2016.

Who were your musical influences when you were growing up? Did you come from a musical family?

Yep, I came from a musical family. My dad’s whole side of the family either played or sang and mom’s side of the family is from New Orleans and instilled an early love for jazz and improvisation. My dad played guitar and made sure I was well versed in the rock & roll classics. I remember my parents listening to a lot of the Beach Boys, The Beatles, and Tom Petty. One of my earliest memories is learning Petty’s “Last Dance With Mary Jane” with my dad.  As a kid, I was hugely obsessed with Michael Jackson, Queen, and Aerosmith.  When I got to middle school those obsessions turned into Led Zeppelin, The Allman Bros, Nirvana, Soundgarden, and whatever else was on the radio…I just soaked it all up. I bought a Duke Ellington CD from Circuit City in 8th grade. It came out of a bargain bin and I think was $2.99 or something… “The Gold Collection.” Its amazing…haven’t been able to find another copy of it since. It was all the earliest Ellington recordings and I fell in love with how rowdy and beautiful the compositions and playing were.

Why did you decide to record the album to 2″? Does it give it a different sound?

Yes, the short answer is that for certain things tape just sounds better.  There’s a natural compression and EQ that happens that just sounds great on drums. We recorded the core tracks (guitar, bass, drums) live to tape and I’m pretty happy with what we captured sonically. I had a killer rhythm section on those sessions (Andrew Bones on drums, and Aaron Boehler on bass) and the performances were great. One of caveats of working with tape is it is much slower and harder to edit than working in ProTools or something…so the performance has to be there first.

Is there any advice that you have for younger musicians?

Do what you love and play music because you love it. The music business is brutal and its easy to lose sight of yourself or what you set out to do. Try to only take a gig for at least one of three reasons: A. its fun, B. you can learn something and better your playing or professionalism, C. you are making good money.

What are your top 5 albums of all time?

Oof…that’s an impossible question. My “top 5” probably changes every week…and there’s still so much music I haven’t heard. I’ll say that these are 5 of my top albums of all time. I have each one of these albums as featured playlists on the Combsy Spotify page if you’d like to check them out.

J Dilla – Donuts – This album kind of perplexed me the first time I heard it. There weren’t really songs or raps in the traditional sense. It played like a mix-tape, with all the tracks being 1-2 minutes long…but the grooves and beats are unmatched and the melodic phrasing of the samples is brilliant. Dilla gets labeled as a beat maker (as is deserving…one of the greatest of all time) but his ear for melody is at least as strong as his take on groove. He was dying as he made this record and created almost the entire thing while in the hospital. Donuts was released three days before he passed away and it is an eternal classic. There are some beautiful messages threaded throughout…its an uplifting listen. Dilla’s feel and production has changed music forever…its hard to underestimate his influence.

Radiohead – Kid A / Amnesiac – kinda going to cheat on this one…since its technically two albums. But I heard them around the same time and they made a massive impression on me. Kid A was the first time I found myself sitting back and thinking about sonics and production. I was a sophomore in highschool and I remember not being able to tell what was making some of those sounds. I had been a big fan of Hendrix, Zeppelin, Sabbath, etc..all of which included interesting and psychedelic production techniques…but Kid A was something far and away different and I just lost myself in it. I found Amnesiac next and then later learned that they were recorded at the same time. Amnesiac struck me as quite avant garde…horns, synths, strings, samples, and interesting song forms.

Charles Mingus – The Black Saint And The Sinner Lady – This album is just brilliant. Powerful compositions and fearless arranging. It was way ahead of its time and utilized new recording techniques and dramatic tape edits…things that are rarely heard on records in that era of the jazz world. This album came out in 1963, 6 years before Miles released In A Silent Way. I love the smash-cuts between full band and classical guitar. I love Mingus and Dannie Richmond together. I love the tones, dynamics and sonic space. Its aggressive and brazen and soft and sincere. A true masterpiece.

George Harrison – All Things Must Pass – Big, open, dynamic recording and great songwriting. I love Harrison’s writing. The story goes that he had been saving up songs for years and had a hard time getting his songs on the Beatles albums…seeing as how the other two songwriters in the band were Lennon and McCartney. Every track on this album is a gem. Phil Spector co-produced and I think his “Wall Of Sound” approach is apparent in places. I love Harrison’s slide guitar playing. I love the steel guitar throughout…Pete Drake did most of it…he’s a fascinating musician. The personnel also includes Tulsan Carl Radle who is a godfather of a modern Tulsa music revival that has been taking place over the last 10 years.

D’Angelo – Voodoo – This album changed everything for me. I remember the first time I heard it. It was playing at a party and the feel and grooves were so far back on the beat…it was almost disorienting. The more I listened, the more it made sense, and the deeper it became. The production is classic and overall this album is a masterpiece. Questlove and Pino Palladino…AND Charlie Hunter. Some of the grooviest moments are when Charlie is playing bass and guitar at the same time on his 8-string. I love all the minimal horn work from Roy Hargrove. Dilla was supposedly there for most of the sessions and kind of “ghost produced” parts of it…which is maybe why the vibe is so heavy. And of course D’angelo’s singing and performance is one of the greatest of all time.

How has the music industry changed since you broke into it?

Hmmm…I didn’t start touring professionally until 2008 and the music business had already collapsed, the country was in a bad place economically, and streaming services had just begun to really take over. It was a pretty hard time to be a touring band. In many ways, I think things have gotten better. We’re all still learning to cope with the streaming/free music landscape…but you basically have to adapt or die. I’m seeing more artists get creative with merchandising, licensing, and crowdfunding to overcome some of the financial challenges. This is a great time in music…so much good, creative music is being made and released. Hopefully the industry can change and adapt in a way that supports artists and develops long-term careers.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s