Metalwood's Chris Tarry: In Conversation
When Air Canada Flight No. 706 lands at the gates of LaGuardia, a Canadian music story fuses itself (as so many other great stories have) to the legends of New York City. Chris Tarry, a multi-talented bassist of Canadian national repute, will carry his dream as far as he can take it.
Tarry has already experienced the national acclaim about which so many Canadian musicians dream. He plays bass in Metalwood, a Juno-Award winning group. He has been nominated for two Junos in the same category ' one for his solo album, 'Of Battles Unknown Mysteries,' and one for Metalwood's latest album, 'Chronic.' Tarry sells his first self-published book ('The Bass Players Companion') through the personal Web site that he maintains. Chris Tarry has it together.
Tarry wants to put it all together. The impetus to take on the New York music scene was born when Tarry played a gig in Edmonton (Alberta) with a group of musicians, one of whom commented on how much he loved New York City. At the same time, Chris Tarry's marriage was coming to an end. It was a bittersweet time ' musically liberated but personally upset.
'It made me think, 'Well maybe now is the time. I should really go with this','' says Tarry. His subsequent application for a funding grant from the Canadian government was approved. The native of Vancouver will take his dream to the land where dreams loom larger than life.
Chris Tarry and I met at a Vancouver coffee shop three weeks before the big trip to discuss his music, his students and his pre-New York state of mind. We're in conversation.
All About Jazz: You've got a solid reputation across Canada and you had a good gig teaching music in Vancouver. Why leave that relative security for New York at this point?
Chris Tarry: I think for me, I have to keep learning. I have to keep getting better. I just have to keep improving. And that's what this whole trip to New York is about. It's going there to keep improving, keep developing, keep exploring the bass.
I don't want to say rediscovering the bass but, in a sense, it's a bit of that too. You know, you get into a groove here, you miss that sort of inspiration that you had when you were 17 sitting down in your bedroom at your parents' house ' practicing the shit out of your bass. I still do that, but I want to rediscover that through a series of studying with various people and playing gigs.
AAJ: How has your song-writing process changed over the years? You have a few albums under your belt. How have things changed if at all?
CT: I tend to write from different instruments. Different instruments inspire different kinds of tunes. So, for instance, on my last record, we were doing a lot on the piano, not very much on the bass playing. Sometimes, I'll write a tune on bass and transfer it over to guitar and see how that sounds. Sometimes, I'll write things on guitars. I find when you go to another instrument, it inspires a different way of hearing things, and a different discovery: 'Oh wow! That sounds neat. What's this?'
AAJ: To what extent does arrangement change what you're doing, or positions change the arrangement? And the mix changes the arrangement?
CT: Well I'd say it's a combination of everything. Musicians are the most that change not really the arrangement but the aesthetic. I tend to like to go in to the mix where there's not any editing to do. So, I think the most important thing that changes is the picture in your head which is the aesthetic, really, of how it goes down. That's the most amazing thing. I love it. I just sit there, sometimes, after a recording is done, in which I'm a leader'you sit down and you go, 'Wow, this sounds so different, so excited. You know, this wasn't what I expected.'
AAJ: Who first introduced you to the five-stringed bass?
CT: I got into the five-string by listening to Gary Willis and Tribal Tech. He has, since, become and good friend of mine, and I've studied with him for a number of years. He played five-string fretless and, when I saw that, just the way he would play'and the way he played down on the low string really inspired me. That was my main instrument, five-string fretless, for the first many years. I have since been playing more fretted bass.
AAJ: You've had some business experience in music. The old question of commerce and art: how does it balance for you?
CT: Well for me, it's pretty much all art now. I sold my interest in the jazz label (Maximum Jazz) quite a few years ago ' to Bryan Watson, as did Shawn Pierce and Brad Turner. The three of us owned Maximum Jazz and we sold it to Bryan. He's done a great job of making it bigger. In Metalwood, Brad and I were sort of co-leaders. And then as soon as we got signed to a major (record label), it was a lot less work for me.
AAJ: If you were to advise a young musician coming to you, or a younger version of yourself, for example, what would you tell them about going on the road or that kind of life?
CT: I would tell them to learn every aspect of it if they can. When I found out that it was going to cost me, you know, a thousand dollars to have somebody do my CD cover, I got the programs and figured out how to do it myself. When I found out it was going to cost me, you know, a thousand dollars to do a Web site, I got the program and figured out how to do it myself. I taught myself. When I figured out that I had to go on the road to support my own project, I figured out how to get money from the Canada Council.
People get all wrapped up in wanting to have managers and big-time this and big-time that. There's a moniker among jazz musicians where, like, if you're a real great business guy, you're not a great player, and if you're a great player, then you're not a great business guy.
AAJ: Is that a myth?
CT: That's a myth. More and more ' I would say all of the great players I know'are all great business people at the same time. You know, especially the ones that play a lot. You know, they have to have some type of chops in order to get the gigs and keep coming back and to put bands on the road and keep doing it. And the fact they're great players and world-class players as well, it's the whole package. You have to have the whole package.
AAJ: You see that as the paradigm of the future then?
CT: Absolutely, especially now with the Internet and the way people are promoting their own things. A CD used to be the culmination of a career. Now it's just a knock on the door, it's not even a knock on the door. Everybody has a CD.
AAJ: What are some of the best qualities that you are seeing in the newest generation of bass players?
CT: You know, there's five or six things that you have to do. You have to learn how to read, you have to learn a lot of tunes, you have to learn how to play all the changes, you have to learn your history, you have to understand what your instrument is all about. And I don't think any player of any salt has not done those things.
I think that there are more influences in the music that are coming through. It's okay now to bring in a rap tune. It's okay to be a doing a gig with, you know, a DJ. I think that the word improvisation has extended into not just instrumentalists, but everything. The freedom that improvised music guarantees, I think, is a healthy thing that young musicians have really embraced.
AAJ: In what sense do you think the technological and information revolution is going to help that?
CT: I think it makes it easier for people to hook up and for people to play together. You know, on my new record'I was able to get one of my favorite saxophone players, Kelly Jefferson, from Toronto ' one of Toronto's finest. With the technological revolution, I was able to send them emails and have everybody on the same page in such an easy way. I was able to send a chart in .pdf format to everybody and send them in one shot.
AAJ: How do you feel, today, about your impending move?
CT: I feel really excited. (pause) I feel a little bit scared.
I'm not just looking forward to the musical things I'm going to learn in New York, but also the life lessons. You know, spending a lot of time by myself ' something I haven't done in a long, long time. And a lot of good and dark things happen when you do that. So, I'm really looking forward to the journey and enjoying the journey and not being in a state where I get back and go, 'Oh! You know what? This happened.'
I want to be conscious of everything that is happening while it's happening and enjoying it.
AAJ: In a city of ten million people, you're bound to bump into Pat Metheny. Say 'hello' for me (laughs).
CT: (laughs) I bumped into Pat Metheny once when I was in Boston, playing at a Reebok shoe store. We were playing 'Bright Size Life' and he walked in to buy a new pair of shoes. It was the most embarrassing moment of my life!