Chris Chaney - Studio to stage and back again

If your resume indicates that you have worked with artists like Alanis Morissette, Slash, Shakira, Celine Dion and Jane’s Addiction – you are completely off the charts on the diversity scale!

For bassist Chris Chaney, being well-rounded is paramount to success as a musician. In 2013 alone he has appeared on albums from Cher, Josh Groban, Tegan & Sara, Joe Satriani and the raucous Live in NYC from his full-time gig with Jane’s Addiction.

“I sort of pride myself in being diverse. Being adaptable is one of the keys to staying busy and working in this crazy music industry! In every genre of music there is greatness, so you have to do your history and dig into those styles and be prepared. I’ve barely scratched the surface on what’s out there but I’m a ‘lifer’ here - you can’t fill my head with enough!”

We caught up with Chris this past summer at Jane’s Addictions’ tour stop in Indianapolis to talk about the gear he brings to sessions, working on film dates and the value of reading music.


How has this tour been going?

We’re on tour with Alice in Chains right now and it’s a lot of fun! We haven’t done many shows this year so it’s fun to actually get out and play consistently, five shows a week!

Your tone is huge on stage! What does your rig consist of?

My current touring rig is two DB 751’s and two DB 810’s. I use a slew of Aguilar gear in various situations and I’ve never had anyone ask, “Hey, do you have a different amp”! (Laughs) It just knocks it out the park every time! You know, I started endorsing Aguilar before you guys made cabinets! Once Dave (Boonshoft) told me they were making cabinets, I said “goodbye” to what I had been using!

How about for studio sessions?

Usually if I’m not using a big setup like an 810, which I rarely do in the studio, I just use the GS 112! And actually, dare I say, the head that I really love is the DB 359! It’s an older head but they are awesome! I also use the Tone Hammer 500 and the AG 500. For a lot of the sessions I do – like film dates – I just bring the AG 500! I did that movie Identity Theft, and I used the distortion channel on the AG 500 anytime they needed that sound and it was great, I didn’t have to add any pedals to my signal chain! I just dialed that tone in and it sounded amazing. I blended that with the clean DI signal and that was it!

One recent recording project for you was Joe Satriani’s Unstoppable Momentum album. I’m curious how those sessions were as the album is incredible!

Working with Joe was a great experience – he is such an unreal musician! I would say that we stuck pretty hard to the demos but there was flexibility within that. Joe was looking to embellish and inject our styles and energy into his songs. But arrangement-wise, those were the songs. We did a song, and I’m spacing out on the title, I think it’s the only song in 5/4 on the record – it’s the title track actually – and we were at Skywalker Sound and on one of the takes, at the end song Vinnie and I just started playing a little deeper rhythmically. We were almost soloing over this ostinato phrase and it took a life of its own. And Joe said, Oh man, why don’t you take the last 16 bars and make that your solo”! And for me, (laughs) playing those last 16 bars – if you listen to Vinnie too close, you’ll get lost! He is just dumbfounding-ly good!

How do you prepare for the sonic aspects of an album session?

It varies from session to session based on what I like to call the “clients” or different producers that I’ve worked with. If I’m working with someone who I know will want a real rock bass tone with a pick or fingers; that will usually make it easier. There are a few things that I will always have and ninety-nine percent of the time that includes a P-Bass with round wounds, but I always bring a handful of things. I’ve learned at this point – even on sessions where I’m just doing a track or a couple of tracks – I always bring a Hofner with me, I always bring a P-Bass with flats and one with round wounds, I always bring a Fender Jazz, and a five string. And then effects wise, I use the Tone Hammer pedal and a bunch of other pedals that will vary depending on the session.

I generally try to play a four-string as much as possible and depending on the key of the song or the range, I’ll tune down. If the key is ‘D’, I will drop it down to a low D but if I need to get below that and the string gets too floppy, I’ll grab a five-string. The only reason I do that is I’ve yet to find the perfect five-string! There are certainly a slew of builders out there making great fives but there’s a resonance or a tonality that you get on a four-string that doesn’t seem to exist of a five – especially in the upper register.

Can you share any “a-ha” moments that you have had in your studio experiences?

One thing that I’ve found is that playing with a lighter touch gives a bigger sound! So, whether it’s with a pick or fingers, you just get more resonance, more tone out of the instrument. You also don’t choke the notes – if you actually look at the waveform, the decay is smoother when you play softer. Obviously you can really dig in and go for something – like those old Stanley Clarke solos; you want that real ‘snappy’ kind of sound but I would compensate in that case by turning down the amp or the gain on the DI. I’m pretty adaptable in that regard and I don’t use a lot of compression because I like to say that, “I compress myself”! And I do in that regard – I play pretty darn soft, so I’m not getting lots of ‘peaks and valleys’.

How important is reading for you?

It’s huge! I learned to read when I was little and that has afforded me the opportunity to get into film dates. And you can constantly get your fingers to go to new places – that they ordinarily wouldn’t go to - by putting a chart or some notated music in front of you!

What qualities are required for film work?

For the film dates, you have to shift gears constantly – you try to execute what the composer has in his head, deal with the notes on the page and occasionally, you are given a few creative liberties. Many times, the composer will hand out the charts and they want a ‘deviation’ – so you have to be able to read the paper and then jump off the paper and be creative with it. Especially when you see something like, “Bar 39 – add you own fill”!

You also need to be able to turn on a dime and react to any changes. Sometimes you will get it in your head that, “This is the part” or “That’s what I’m hearing” and the producer or the artist might have a totally different idea and say “That’s great but what else can you do”! They might even have an idea of their own and will sing a line to you.

But this is where I think I’ve gained a little experience in the studio – at the end of the day, it’s just understanding and giving a producer what they want. When I go into a session, my goal is to make whoever hired me stoked!

Thanks for talking with us today Chris! We’re sure 2014 will be just as busy!

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