Interview by Robert Urban for GAY GUITARISTS WORLDWIDE
Guitarist CHRIS TAYLOR formed his current band (the)fundamentalists in late 2003 from the ashes of the two famously unknown GLBT oriented groups (the) Crucible and Outland/. Based in Detroit, Michigan, the band's sound sound is an amalgamation of gay-oriented hardcore dance, heavy rock and deep darkwave. The new group's experience so far has mainly been in the live festival arena though they are in the process of writing and recording new material.
- What brand/model/year instrument(s) do you record and play out with?
I have two electric guitars-an Ibanez RG550 (late 80's vintage) and a Jackson PS4 (early 90's vintage) both stock. I also have an old Kramer Bass (that HAS to be from sometime in the 80's as it's a rather eye-watering day-glo hot magenta/orange color!) and a classical (nylon string) guitar that I picked up cheap at a rummage sale many years ago. Live it's the Ibanez and Jackson exclusively. Both my Ibanez and Jackson are strung with 8's and the trem set up to float. I'm not a HUGE whammy enthusiast (we all know what happens on that type of guitar if you break a string...!) but it's nice to have the ability to bend up or down as needed. I'm in the market for a decent "fixed bridge/tailpiece" style guitar. I've been eyeing up the "goth" SG that Epiphone makes...or thinking about a bc rich.
- What brand/model/year amps & effects do u use?
For effects I use the Boss GT-5 which is a sort of "all in one" floor fx unit. I've used this unit since it came out in the late 90's. It has a wide range of distortions and delays as well as amp modeling. It (in my opinion) is a really flexable tool for sound shaping-you are able to create "virtual" chains of effects in different configurations, you can set it up to function as a group of individual stomp boxes-truth be told, in the almost 10 years I've owned it, I know I haven't explored it to it's full potential. There are newer units out there, but I've not found any reason to change up, yet. Additionally, in the fx loop of the GT5 I'll patch in a Boss DD5 digital delay (for the reverse delay-an effect that I truly LOVE) and a Boss SYB-3 Bass Synth Pedal for the occasional sonic weirdness-it can add some cool oscillation/filter sweeps to your sound-but it's a bit demanding as to where it sits in the effects chain to get a useable sound out of it. Until this past year I was also using a Morley Steve Vai "Bad Horsie" wah-but I've kind of semi-retired that from my rig.
Amps? I'm somewhat embarassed to admit that all I have are a couple Peavey Bandit 112's! I've used these amps as well since the mid-late 90's. I have a matched pair. It isn't as dire as it sounds as I pretty much just pop my signal into the "return" on the fx loops of the amps to use the power amp section, bypassing the front end of the amp entirely. I use my GT5 to do the majority of my tone shaping. I've played some fairly large gigs with this rig and it's never let me down. I would like to pick up a tube amp at some point if for nothing else but recording. I gravitated to solid state amps when I first started playing because they were cheaper and easier to maintain-VERY important points when you're a poor teenager and your first electric guitar is one you ordered out of the JC Penney's catalog (yes, I cut my electric baby teeth on a "Global" Les Paul Copy-great LOOKING guitar but wouldn't stay in tune for more than 10 mins)! I've recently picked up a pair of OLD TOA compact PA cabinets (4-5" speakers and a horn per cab) that I'm toying around with the idea of using as my main guitar rig live-paired up with a PA amp to push the speakers, it works great in practice and produces some WICKED controlled feedback-pretty much on demand.- Who are your main influences as an instrumentalist? Which artists? Which bands? Instrumentalists?
I'd have to say Robert Smith from the Cure as far as guitar players go at this point in my life. I admire his songwriting and playing and how they seem to mesh perfectly with his vocals. I think Ron Romanovsky (of Romanovsky and Phillips) is a GREAT guitar player as well-I've had the opportunity to see him play live twice and while he's not someone who is a "flash" player, what he does on the guitar seems to perfectly serve the song. I also like Melissa Etheridge (especially her older stuff) for the sort of "percussive" sound she gets in her guitar rhythm playing. As far as bands-a very incomplete list would have to include, the cure, ultravox, siouxsie and the banshees, mark weigle, wire, the sex pistols, rush, melissa ferrick, black sabbath/ozzy's various guitar players (especially Randy Rhodes & Jake Lee) erasure, depeche mode, romanovsky & phillips, indigo girls, shriekback, yaz, world music, old country music-I tend to listen to and be influenced by all sorts of different music-even if it's not "guitar" music, per-se.
Any special/favorite instrument tones/effects/approaches/techniques you've used/discovered in recording and/or performance that you really like?
For the bulk of what we do in (the) fundamentalists, I use varying degrees/colors of distortion and a fairly "processed" tone. As both of my electrics are HSH pickup configuration when ever I use a "Clean" tone I tend to use the middle pickup by itself. Most of the time, however I'm happy using the bridge pickup as it gives me a decent "chunk" for rhythm and usually cuts through the mix pretty well for leads. As I mentioned before, I LOVE reverse delay sounds. Alot of times when writing, I'll throw a reverse delay on a simple drum machine rhythm and BANG, instant interest! You can really get some cool polyrhythmic stuff happening that way. I'm not much of a lead guitarist-I prefer to develop syncopated rhythms and arpeggiate chords. Most of the leads I DO play tend to be real basic blues style/pentatonic noodling-though I will throw in the occasional hammer pull tap thing just for grins...
Which artists/bands were your favorites in your youth?
As grandiose as it may sound-the one album that "changed my life" will always be bronski beat's "the age of consent". It wasn't a guitar album at all (mainly electronic/dance with elements of jazz-very unlike most of what I was into @ the time) I picked up that particular album on the advice of a friend back in '84 when I was in college and still living @ my parents house. I couldn't believe that here was a band that was OPENLY GAY and on a MAJOR LABEL and they were "Doing IT" musically!!! From that point on I was determined to be in a "GAY ROCK BAND". I figured adding heavy guitars to a dance beat/electronics would combine the two elements I loved the most into a great sound-well, I like it-I'm still using that same mindset 20+ years later.
- How many different kinds of stringed/fretted instruments do u play? (e.g. - guitars, banjos, madolins, basses, etc) Do you play any other instruments?
Stringed instruments I play-Guitar and Bass. I started playing guitar when I was about 15 (because all my friends were starting bands and I didn't have the cash for a keyboard-this predates by a few years the "personal keyboard/affordable synth" explosion of the mid 80's so I figured, I could afford a guitar easier than a keyboard-most of those bands were pretty awful anyway and it didn't matter how well you could play-just if you had the gear!) I started learning the bass about 4 years later. I started playing piano when I was 7. Most of our bass in the band tends to be keyboard bass-but alot of those bass patterns start out life on the bass guitar and get "translated" to keys. Nowadays I pretty much divide my time evenly between keyboards/synths and guitars as far as writing goes. Live, I handle all the guitar duties as well as sing lead and play some keyboard. My partner, Jim handles the bulk of keyboard parts and sequences as well as singing lead.
- Do you play/compose/record only your own original music? Do you do any other work in music - e.g. teaching, recording session work, hired gun, producing, etc?
At this point, we only record our own material. Live we do a mix about 70% original and 30% cover. Usually though when we do a cover you'll never hear it the "original" way. I love hearing a creative re-make and that's what we strive to do with any song we cover. Alot of times I'll listen to what a band does with their own songs in a live setting and use THAT as a jumping off point to "re-interpret" it. I've done some teaching on piano EONS ago but that's about it as far as my teaching days (other than dealing with a rotating cast of characters in the band over the last decade or so and having to teach them my songs-does that count??)
Does your playing appear on recordings of any other artists?
Haven't played on anyone else's material/recordings..yet-hey, I'm open!! Hit me up!!
- Is there a particular favorite solo or part you played on a recording, or a certain piece of composed music you wrote, that you feel represents your finest work?
I'm not too ashamed of the solo parts I played on "touched by u (4 jim)" (on our website available for free download-shameless plug...). Alot of that was fairly off the cuff. I liked what happened on the guitar rhythm with that song as well-when I started recording the demo I heard an 8th note type "palm muted" part for the rhythm, but it just wasn't working. Interesting how something more pared down can be more effective.
- Can you relate any special feelings or experiences about being a glbt player in the mostly straight music world... especially regarding your formative/learning years on your instrument?
I'd say, for me, knowing I was Gay but not knowing that it was possible to do "GLBT-Oriented" music held me back for a lot of years. It truly never occured to me (and some of that, I'm sure was environmental-I grew up in Merrill, MI-a VERY small blue collar town) that I could use the experience I was getting in those early bands to do music that spoke to the inner me. I know I was ALWAYS intimidated by players (usually straight) I'd come across that were better than me (heck, I STILL am!) and that kept me from getting involved in playing situations that might have raised my playing skill, faster. Quite honestly, once I got on a "mission" to form/be in a "GAY" band I really lost alot of interest in interacting with straight musicians. No, I'm NOT heterophobic, but I did have some experiences trying to get straight players interested in various incarnations of this group and they were by and large fairly negative experiences. Then tended to fall into two camps, either they answered an ad I'd placed and basically flipped out when I told them the focus of the group, OR they were initially cool with the IDEA of being in a Gay-Oriented band-until the time it came to actually GIG in front of an audience and...GASP..."wha..what if someone think's I'M GAY/LESBIAN??" (yes, that's an actual quote-sadly from more than ONE former "bandmate".) I can't tell you how much time I wasted trying to make the above situations work!
- Any special thoughts on your instrument, and what it's meant to you in your life?
There was a period a year or so when I had a terrible arthritis flare up and literally couldn't play-it was like dying a little. Of course, I'm also the kind of personality (disorder?) that if you tell me I "can't" do something or I'm "not supposed to" it only makes me want to do it all the more (bad old punk rock past, I guess) so of course I played and made it worse and had to take LONGER to heal up.
Seriously, though-being able to make noise on the guitar has gotten me through some tough times, as much as everyone else says this, it really IS a great outlet for emotions, situations etc. I don't think you ever truly "master" an instrument like the guitar (I know I certainly haven't!) or any instrument for that matter-there is ALWAYS something new to learn or refine or what have you. Playing guitar-and bass as well-have certainly opened up avenues for me as a songwriter that, had I stuck to just playing keyboards, I probably wouldn't have been able to explore. I wholeheartedly advise everyone to pick up a second or third instrument-it can REALLY get you out of a rut if you feel like you're getting "stale" on a particular instrument. There's things I'd do on guitar that just wouldn't occur to me to do on keys and vice versa-and sometimes TAKING those things that are natural to one instrument and attempting to re-create them on another instrument can open doors, creativitywise.
- For a glbt player - how does the overall music scene differ today from years ago? How have trans players/performers/singers evolved in recent years?
Again, just my observation, but I think it's not a WHOLE lot different. This is probably VERY tied to location, here in Detroit, if you are known as an OUT musician you will probably get some snickers from the "musicians club" (of course RARELY to your face) that tends to hang out at every Guitar Center or Music store you go to. One nice thing with living in a major metro area, if you get attitude because of a sticker on your guitar case or your guitar-you can go to a different store. On the other hand, it DOES seem like you hear about more gay performers-their actual musical ability moreso than the sensationalistic blather about their sex lives than you certainly did 20 years ago-so in that instance it has changed. Higher media visibility can be a great thing-at least it makes younger queer rockers feel less isolated. Again-this has just been my observation/experience living in Michigan-hopefully others have had MUCH more positive feedback in different areas of the country/world.
- Any advice for young glbt players?
DON'T-DON'T- DON'T- DON'T ever give up!! Don't listen to anyone that wants to tell you that you are less of a musician because you are queer or that you won't be able to make it doing "that" kind of music-they are full of crap! Listen to EVERYTHING you can get your hands on-ESPECIALLY queer music, women's music, men's music, dance, world, whatever-SUPPORT any queer artists you know personally or know of-especially if their music moves you! You guys are the next wave-it's your actions and projects that will take GLBT music into the 21st century! Play by your own rules-don't apologize for who you are and don't let ANYONE shove you into a closet. Write what is true to you and honest and you'll connect with an audience-you don't have to make EVERY song you write GLBT oriented, but don't forget your "people". Not every song you write is going to change the world but don't be afraid to tackle "big" issues in your songs-you have a voice and a microphone-USE IT! At our last festival gig I had a young guy come up to me and talk music for a few minutes-he was a bass player in a thrash/industrial band and the only gay musician in his group. I told him the same thing I just wrote. It was like having a conversation with myself-20 years ago (or the conversation I wish I COULD have had with myself 20 years ago...)
- What are your current and future musical projects?
Right now we're working on getting our first "formal" EP out. It's tentatively titled "exile from clubland" which appears to be higlighting the "dance" side of the band-WITH guitars, of course!! We're also working on our second EP which will focus on our more "political" side (that one appears to be shaping up as an angry, pissed off piece of work)-we like to have a couple of musical irons in the fire at any given time. We like the idea of working in the EP format as it gives (we feel) more focus to a disc-each disc has it's own sort of "theme". I see us working this way for the forseeable future. We have an upcoming appearance headlining @ the Ludington Pride Celebration in MI and a couple more "Pride" type shows coming up in September.
We have a track "wWjd?!?!" coming out on "Bear Tracks #3" a compilation produced through Woobiebear Music (you can find out more about the other Bear Tracks releases and affiliated artists @ http://woobiebearmusic.com/) Bear Tracks #3 is slated for release later this summer. We currently have two singles in the "top 10 request list" on Bearradio.net which is an AWESOME and diverse internet radio station-give them a listen (and us a request!) @ http://www.bearradio.net/ . We've been very well received by the Bear community (big furry hugs to y'all)! You can also hear us @ Rainbow World Radio (through Stonewall Society @ http://www.live365.com/stations/stonewallsociety ) and WVJW "the voice of dissent" (LOVE that tagline!!) @ http://wvjw.info/ . I have to say the internet is FANTASTIC for being able to DIY promote your own tunes-through the above outlets, we've had requests for our stuff from places as far away as Australia and Brazil! We intend to keep trying to spread our particular "gospel" (sorry, couldn't resist that-especially given our band name) as far and as wide as we can-eventually we'll get our own talk show and cologne, but until that day...
for more info on Chris visit www.soundclick.com/thefundamentalists
Go to GAY GUITARISTS WORLDWIDE Home Page
Read more GGW's "GUITARIST OF THE MONTH" Interviews
Go to Urban Productions Music & Arts Reviews
Return to Robert Urban Homepage