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Christopher Ames Brings Us Outside the Machine

Christopher Ames qualifies as one of the area’s true triple threat musicians, possessing tip-top chops as a singer, guitarist and writer. Throw in a natural knack for wit and humor in his onstage banter and the result is a complete, compelling artist.

And in a world that has become replete with short attention spans, disinformation, ruled largely in the name of self interest, Christopher Ame’s new release, Outside the Machine, cuts right through the din and nonsense of a collective global cacophony with a relevant, empathetic and human message. There is something about songs that are written by someone who has the strength to be vulnerable in the honesty required to write material that is useful to a listener – by writing music that makes one think about their own lives. This is one of those albums.

Besides that, it rocks.

It’s a guitar-driven rock sound that demonstrates loyalty to Chris’ influences spanning a range of influences from power pop to a 90’s rock edge, per this guitarist’s point of view in a way that manages to be fun. It sounds good played loud, so, well, you know.

Chuck Schiele: Congratulations, Chris. You’ve got a new album out. Life Outside the Machine. How would you describe the sound on this outing?

Christopher Ames: Musically, we wanted this album to pick up where Emotional Tattoo left off – guitar heavy and delving more into our rock roots. I am a writer who wears his influences on his sleeve so I can listen through and hear all the great bands who made a mark on me in their music. And I am just nerd enough to bore the curious with a line by line explanation should anyone corner me.

CS: Great, provocative title. I know you enough to know that you rely on and work from strong inspirations. Tell us about this one.

CA: I started working on the initial songs in 2019 and the title of the album came to mind pretty early. The last record (2018’s Emotional Tattoo) dealt with some heavy subjects including a divorce and the death of my son and so I was already in pretty deep water. On top of that, we were in the middle of the Trump administration so everything was already feeling pretty dystopian. So, I dove into it and got ahold of all things dystopian – the books, the TV shows, the rock opera LP’s – sort of like a Dadaist poem, I took bits and pieces out of each, shook them up in my head, and sprinkled them throughout the lyrics on the record.

A lot of people have asked me what the Machine is and I think it is going to be different for each listener. It could be relational, familial, political, ideological, theological…we tried hard to be both vague and specific on the album – leaving hints, Easter eggs if you will, so I have specific thoughts on the Machine for me, but unlike my writing when I was younger, I can let the results and meanings rest in the hands of the listener and not have to chart it out to get them to my end.

The joke with the guys in the band is that I always promise the next record won’t be a concept album and then a theme or a concept forms. This record is not a strict concept album in the sense that there is a tangible storyline and characters. But at the same time, it is not a collection of songs around a theme either because there is a motion from one place to another across the songs. I would say it is a ‘conceptual album.’

CS: Heh, I must admit that when you approached me with your new work, my first thought was, “I wonder what Christopher’s concept will be this time.” Inspired people have strong visions by practical means and you’re one of them. This is what concepting is. I can also tell – or suspect anyway – that you edit a lot in your writing process. Cool. As a songwriter, do you feel that these times are especially ripe for subject matter?

CA: I do because events are happening so fast and so bluntly in our faces via social media and the 24 hour news cycle. There are so many machines all around us! Those things you once thought provided you with structure and balance can upend in one moment or crisis or tragedy and all of a sudden you find yourself on the outs with your own people or family or community. Songs help us deal with and make sense of that – they are definitely therapy for me as a writer.

CS: Who’s in the band?

CA: Dan E. Clausen on Drums, Jabare Mckinstry on Bass and myself on Guitars and Vocals. We had several guests come in and play on the album – the mighty Bob Halligan Jr. played keys on ‘In The Afters’ and Mark Westers from the Barndogs dropped some Harrison slide on the song ‘10 Seconds Either Way,’ just to name two.

CS: With the fresh release, I imagine you have a steady summer scheduled to support it?

CA: You would think so, but this record represents more of a bookend for the band. Both Dan and Jabare had life opportunities that took them out of Syracuse. We literally finished recording the basic tracks on a Saturday and by the following weekend, the boys had left town – one to the east and one to the west! They did make it back the weekend the album was released and we played a Release Show at the Cafe@407 in Liverpool. That was a great night and super special as the Cafe was the first place CAB ever played back in 2007. So, a bookend record and a bookend show. I am trying to coax them both back this summer to possibly make our first ever music video for one of the tracks.

CS: What were some of the challenges in making this album?

CA: For me the challenge was two fold. Knowing that the guys were leaving was always in the back of my mind and heart and this was our moment to make our statement. The other challenge is just about going beyond where you’ve gone before. Not being safe and not being afraid to let the songs lead, trusting your own vision and skills and jumping without a net.

CS: I’m curious to know what guitars and rigs you used?CA: I played equal parts Telecaster and Les Paul on this record. A Tele outfitted with Phat Cat P90’s and my red Les Paul Standard. I blame the drummer for influencing me towards Les Paul’s. Also, there is plenty of big, thick acoustic guitar on rhythm – a couple of different 6 strings and a 12 string here and there. Very few pedals this time around, just a mix of signals through a BadCat and a 5150.

CS: Who recorded, engineered, produced the project?

CA: The album was recorded and mixed at More Sound. Jocko Randall was Engineer and he co-Produced with the band. He is so great to work with because he has a vast musical knowledge that is different from mine and because he was not up to his eyeballs in the songs the way we were, he could hear them with fresh ears and no baggage. Sometimes he talked me out of ideas that were suspect, but usually he talked me into trusting my vision for the record.

CS: I am purposely refraining from offering my opinion as to let the artist and music speak for itself, but, yeah: I really dig it. I for one appreciate the intelligence – which is immediately obvious – permeating the lyric as well as the musical choices you make throughout the album. It’s tough being an artist reflecting on your own work sometimes. How do you feel about the turnout?

CA: I can honestly say for myself that this is the best album I have been part of to date – from the writing to the recording and seeing the dream/vision fulfilled. I am completely satisfied with it. Seeing the band go on indefinite hiatus sucks, but if we have to – this is a great final statement.

CS: How do we stay in touch with you and your music?

CA: The usual suspects – our website is www.christopheramesband.com and you can follow us on Facebook. The album is available all over the place for download and streaming – hit us up on Spotify and put it on Endless Loop… see what I did there?

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.