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A Backstage Chat with Christopher Ames

The CHRISTOPHER AMES BAND was born out of the frustrating lack of volume and numbers inherent in a singer/songwriter’s life.

Christopher Ames Traveled the country for over 20 years as a solo performer and doing his level best to wring every drop of emotion, faith, honesty and truth out of the stories he sang and the guitar he played.

Traveling the country for over 20 years as a solo performer and doing his level best to wring every drop of emotion, faith, honesty and truth out of the stories he sang and the guitar he played, Christopher Ames simply got tired of doing it all alone.

And without an amp.

Now throw into the mix Danny Clausen (drums) and JB Mckinstry (bass) and you start to get the feeling that something is going on here. More than just adding rhythm and low end, more than just a launch pad for Christopher’s guitar (and that amp), and more than just another Syracuse power trio, this band of brothers gives skin and bones to the songs that Chris writes; doing them justice live the way the studio did them justice on CD.

And at the end of the day, it’s always about the songs. Songs born out of life, out of experience, out of mileage, out of our stories … speaking to this Christopher says, “The more I hear people tell their stories, the more I recognize that our lives are mosaics interwoven with threads of grace. The edges are sharp, there is joy and heartbreak, but in the midst of it all, there is God calling.” It is these mosaics, these stories and this God who inform the songs of the CHRISTOPHER AMES BAND.

While you can still find Christopher Ames playing solo dates now and then, you will never see him happier than when the full band counts off the first song of the night.

I caught up with Chris at a recent show where we were hanging out backstage waiting for our respective performances to occur.

Chuck Schiele: How did you get started in music?

Christopher Ames: The earliest music memory I have is coming across Elvis Presley’s Hound Dog on a 45 in my grandparents house. It belonged to my aunt, she the was the 50’s sock hop type who became the cool 60’s chick once the Beatles arrived. I latched onto Elvis first with vague childhood thoughts of being a singer. A buddy of mine in elementary school named Chip introduced me to the Beatles in 4th grade and that is when it got serious —I found a tennis racket and started spending serious hours in my parents room in front of the mirror singing along with every Beatles record I could get.

The Christopher Ames Band is currently working on their next album with Bob Halligan Jr. producing, tentatively titled Emotional Tattoo.

CS: Haha. I used to jump on the bed rocking out to records with my best pal Mike Kane. We played the hell out of our Hot-Wheel tracks. But we weren’t opposed to badminton racquets now and then. You’ve been steady ever since.

CA: I traded the tennis racket for a guitar —capitalized on being an introvert by spending hours in my room practicing … high school bands … music major in college … college bands— graduated and spent 23 years full time on the road playing everything from ice cream parlors, book stores, and back yards to churches, camps, coffeehouses, bars, and military bases. I made a bunch of records in different group configurations. Moved to Syracuse and started a band here and currently pay the bills working at Guitar Center. I sell guitars during the day, play guitars at night.

CS: What did you listen to? Tell us about the music that shaped you and your direction.

CA: The Beatles are the biggest and most obvious. But, other folks that have influenced me over the years include Lightning Hopkins, Phil Keaggy, SRV, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Tom Petty, Foo Fighters. More recently I have been gleaning some ideas from the bands my sons listen to. Best thing I have learned is that every player I come across has something to teach me.

CS: Tell us about the projects you’re involved with now. Name names.

CA: Currently I am fronting my own band: the Christopher Ames Band, a trio with Danny Clausen on drums and JB Mckinstry on bass. I have had the extreme honor of being a part of the BeatleCUSE family, playing with so many great local musicians. I am also involved with a couple of side projects, a song writing group called the Outlet and some acoustic duo work with Jeryl Payne.

CS: Please share with us some of the highlights of your career.

CA: I have played for a long time and been all over the country, recorded in Nashville and Dallas and other places. I’ve had some successes and some failures, but the two big highlights for me have been 1) that I have always been able to make my living from a guitar and 2) so many of the people I got to meet along the way became more than just cool stories and influences, but friends and family.

CS: How about some of the weird stiff. Can you share a funny war story?

CA: I was booked to sing the National Anthem for the Syracuse Crunch followed by a solo concert on the ice immediately after the game. I sang the anthem a capella for a sold out hockey crowd, 5,000+ I think. The applause and yells at the end –(for the country, not for me!) were amazing. After the game as we got set up for the concert, you never saw 5000 people become only 35 so fast!

The Christopher Ames Band (From left to right) features Danny Clausen on drums, Christopher Ames guitar and vocals and JB Mckinstryon bass.

CS: Ha! the big time, baby … What are your thoughts on the CNY scene?

CA: I love it —eclectic and alive. In one week alone I played a solo acoustic gig at Wegman’s, an outdoor show with all the great musicians from BeatleCUSE, and a Christopher Ames Band gig sharing the bill with 4 local hard core bands. Each gig was as different as night and day, but they were all Syracuse!

CS: You were telling me backstage at the BeatleCuse event that you’re working on a new album. We didn’t have enough tie to go into it. But, we do now.

CA: We are currently working on our next album with Bob Halligan Jr. producing, tentatively titled Emotional Tattoo. The material for the record coming out of the idea that life marks us heart, soul and body the same way the ink marks our skin. The last couple of years have been a roller coaster and we rewrote the record a couple of times as different events shook our lives and new songs came about, but we finally said all future upheavals would have to wait for the next album! We are recording the tracks at More Sound Studio in October. No doubt it will be out just in time for your Christmas shopping convenience!

CS: Your thoughts on song writing?

CA: The best song writing advice I ever got was simple­ —write about what you know. That has been my touchstone for hundreds of songs. To write about it, I have to find a place or a perspective or an experience where I can write honestly. Otherwise, it sucks.

CS: No kidding. Hm. I come from that exact same place. I really look forward to hearing your album. What’s in your near future, musically?

CS: Big thing at the moment is finishing up the record, gigging it hard with the band, and then taking over the world. In that order.

CS: Where can we find you?

CA: Our band site is www.christopheramesband.com, we are also on Facebook and ReverbNation.

Chuck Schiele
Chuck Schiele is a lifelong, award-winning musician, art director, producer, editorialist, artist, activist, member Quatrocollective.com and fan of the CNY music scene. To be considered for this column, please write chuck.schiele@gmail.com.