I recently caught up with Singer-Songwriter Chris Gardner to talk about music and his new EP. Chris, thanks for taking the time out to speak with us today.
A: Thank you for taking the time as well.
Q: You’re a hockey player, a former baseball player, a locksmith, a father and an artist. How have you found the time to maintain a successful career in Roots and Americana?
A: There is definitely a gentle balance to it. I love staying active and I am very passionate about everything I do. Whether it’s skating down the ice, spending time with my kids, or writing and performing music. Going all in and being passionate about what you do keeps it fresh and exciting.
Q: You’ve listed a few high-profile names that’ve been huge sources of inspiration to your life and music. The Beatles, Bob Seger, and The Eagles are among those influences. But when did your career in the business begin?
A: When I was 18 there was a contest on the local radio station in Dallas called 12 x 12. They were going to choose 12 local bands each doing one song and make an album out of it. My song A Brighter Day was one of those picked out of thousands of entries. After the release it got a lot of airplay on some of the local stations and I thought to myself” “this is easy, you record a song and it gets on the radio.“. I would find out over the years it was not quite so easy. Took me 20 years to get back on the radio.
Q: When you were first recording “Belong” with noted R&B singer Sarah Dash, did you have expectations that your life and career were suddenly about to change?
A: I was working with Duane Taylor a publicist out of NYC. He heard Belong and thought it would do well as a duet. He knew Sarah Dash and played the song for her. She loved it and asked if I would like to do it as a duet with her. At that time, I only knew of Sarah from Labelle. I didn’t realize she had sung with the Rolling Stones, Keith Richards and the Expense of Winos, and Marshall Tucker. She was truly a legend. I was flattered and we recorded the song in New York City three weeks later. Back in the studio after hearing the mix is when I knew things were about the change. Radio picked it up and doors began to open.
Q: 2016’s Summertime was full of hit singles on Roots radio. What led to the creation of the album and how have fans responded to your songwriting evolution years later?
A: As Summertime was coming together, I knew we had something special. After we had finished, I got invited by Made in Texas Radio to be on their live weekly show. The showcase went great and shortly after I started working with Bill Wence out of Nashville. He did a great job of getting the music on the radio. All you can hope is that the DJ’s will spin it, and the listeners will like it. Fortunately for us they did and we had four songs chart off of that record. It was very exciting another high watermark after years of hard work.
Q: One thing that audiences and fans have always said consistently about your live performances is your ability to connect with a crowd. Where did the influence of your onstage demeanor come from?
A: I love the live shows. It is a great chance to interact with the audience. I’m the youngest of 10 kids and growing up I was always the class clown. I love talking with people and especially love making them laugh. A concert is like a shared experience for the musicians and the audience. It is great when you can have a rapport with them and feel like you’re all taking the journey together.
Q: After writing songs for Hangin’ On The Line, you paired with legendary producer Andy Bradley to start recording them at the fame Wire Road Studios. Bradley had renowned musicians for these sessions. How instrumental were Bradley and these other world class musicians into making this album a success?
A: Andy and I have worked on five projects together. Aside from being a Grammy winning producer extraordinaire, Andy is dear friend. These projects are just as much his as they are mine. That goes the same for the musicians too. I gathered together the top studio musicians in Houston and give them free reign on their contributions to the songs. These guys have been through thousands of sessions before they don’t need to be told what to play. When you give them that freedom, I think something a little extra comes across in the music. I feel incredibly fortunate to be working with Andy and these incredible musicians.
Q: Hangin’ On The Line had climbed to the top of charts of Roots Music Reports over the course of several weeks before peaking at number one. What was going through your mind with all the traction it was getting and how did you intend to follow-up the album?
Validation more than anything. All you can hope for as an artist is for your songs to be played on the radio and let the people make the decision whether they like it or not. Give them a chance. I have been influenced and touched by so many songwriters and musicians before me, that it is such an Incredible feeling to know that I have touched someone else out there and maybe influence them.
Q: Second Helpings included a lot of newer original songs mixed with some of your previous releases. Among the compilation was a duet with acclaimed blues/country musician Bert Wills on the track “Girl Like That”. What was it like working with the Texas legend?
A: Bert was incredible. I’ve been a fan of his for a long time and was introduced through Andy Bradley. Bert has such a unique style in his song writing and his voice. So authentic, it’s almost timeless. This song reminded me of something off of the Oh Brother Where Art Thou Soundtrack. One of my favorite soundtracks by the way. We had a blast recording it, and I love the song.
Q: Your connection with the fans has been incredibly important to you and your music reflects that. But what’s been the proudest moment of your career when looking back on how everyone’s supported you?
A: My connection with the fans is very important to me. I grew up listening to so many incredible singer songwriters that I connected with and who had such an influence on me. It’s cool to be on the other side of that now. My proudest moment was when I had my first #1 single. I felt it validated a lot of years of hard work.
Q: A video team recorded a live production for one of your latest audio CDs in front of a live studio audience. What was the experience like recording it in one take and why was it so important in doing it this way?
A: We wanted to keep it as close to a concert experience as we could, so it was very important to just keep the cameras rolling and do it all in one take. I had recorded other live shows that were broken down and done in clips, but in doing it that way you lose a little of the live energy. It just doesn’t come across the same. I am so proud of this video, it captured the spirit of the music.
Q: You’ve undergone various projects and branched out into a few mediums. But what led the inspiration of converting audio releases to musical screenplays?
A: We are always looking at ways to branch out and expand and try a new angle at things. The concept for the musical screenplay came from conversations with PR extraordinaire John in Houston. We have worked together closely for a few years now and I think that will be the new normal in the industry going forward.
Q: Your take-up on musical screenplays is exciting for Roots music. What other future projects can fans expect from you next?
I just released a new EP called Take Me Away. Some new songs and some reworked previously recorded songs. I’m excited about that and building on all the momentum we have from Second Helpings. I have a collaborative project with William Matthews called Gardner/Matthews, titled Made in Texas that will be released in the spring. Then sometime next summer I will release my yet to be titled new CD. I’m sure we will continue experimenting with new concepts, and mediums, and have some kind of surprise in store for the fans.
Q: Thanks for taking the time to sit down with us here at Roots Magazine!
A: Thank you so much for having me with you here and taking the time out to talk with me. I’m very excited about the new EP, and all the projects we have coming up. The world is starting to get back to normal and we are looking forward to getting back to normal as well. Thanks again!
Interviewed by Trenton Luber