Switzerland - Full Moon 82 - 06/14/03
The Sad Riders
- an interview with Chris Wicky
The soft side of Favez
You may know Chris Wicky as the lead singer and guitarist in the Swiss emocore band Favez, but
for his new album Lay Your Head On The Soft Rock he took an entirely different approach.
Released under the new band name The Sad Riders, the album doesn't offer any loud guitars and
angst-ridden lyrics. Instead we great singer/songwriter pop, reminiscent of great bands like R.E.M.,
The Jayhawks or even Neil Young. But not only the sound of the music changed, the lyrics are quite
different, too. For this record, Chris recruited some Favez members and his brother Greg (who is
the singer/guitarist in another great Swiss band, Chewy), so it certainly wasn't the people around
him that made him decide to go "solo". Luna Kafé recently had the chance to ask him about
his motivation to start The Sad Riders and here is what he had to say.
LK: I guess most people start side projects because the feel limited when it comes
to their "main" band's sound. but after Favez have done an acoustic record, too, that doesn't seem
to apply in your case...
Chris: "Well, we found out that what we really wanted to do with Favez as a rock band was
to put everybody in the band on the same level as far as the dynamics and the melodies of the song
were concerned, so basically, no one comes to rehearsal with a tune or a riff and tells the other
guys what to play; we all jam, it takes hours, everybody has his say, and at the end, we have a
song that's every member's baby. On top of those songs, I write lyrics (none of the others speak
English), and I have to respect what we did during the compsition process, I have to stick to the
rhythm and phrasing of the vocals that I had when we wrote the song. So basically, I felt I wanted
to write songs that were lyrics based, and that wasn't possible with the way we work, and, as none
of us has any wish to change the way Favez is, I had to do it in another context, and that's the
main reason why I did this (and probably a few more) Sad Riders record. I really wanted to write
songs that told stories and it would have been against the ethic of Favez to impose my stuff as
a basis for songs."
LK: You mentioned on the press sheet, that you just "had" these songs, that would
probably interest a little more "grown-up" audience - was that change in songwriting style prompted
just by life in geneal or was there a specific turning point?
Chris: "There wasn't a real turning point, but for some reason (old age, I guess), a couple
of years ago, I just started to pay more attention to what people had to say in their songs. It
sounds pretty lame (and I guess it is), but I'd sort of always discarded lyrics as a vehicle for
the vocal melody line, a sound that you had to make in order to put a voice on top of the music.
One of the bands that was influential on my refocusing on the song as a whole words and tune entity
was The Weakerthans. I didn't think much of them at first, but I would listen to their "Left and
Leaving" song from time to time, and suddenly the line 'The
city's still breathing but barely it's true / through buildings gone missing like teeth"
just totally smashed into me, sucked me into the song, and I just felt really really good, like I
was breathing with this guy's lungs, like this little piece of life he was singing about had suddenly
become mine. It was the same kind of feeling I had when I was listening to "Melody Lee" by the Damned
or "21 Again" by Mega City Four when I was a kid and it had been quite some time since music had had
that big an effect on me. So basically, the lyrics thing totally renewed my interest in music, it
changed my way of listening to the song from a very adolescent way of the dynamics/melody perspective
to a broader, more personal and three dimensional point of view, and of course, pushed me in a more
lyric orientated way of writing songs."
LK: Is the more traditional/storytelling way of writing songs something you think you'd
want to continue in the future - and maybe follow a two way path with both Favez and the Sad Riders?
Chris: "Yeah definitely, as long as rocking out feels good, I'll do Favez, and I can't see
myself not writing songs that are born from stories, facts and little anecdotes, so the Sad Riders
thing will definitely be something I'm going to keep doing. It's not a heavy burden, I don't have
to tour, it's not like Favez where we have people expecting to see us live, where we really have
to work at it, play a lot, tour constantly, so I can do both without any fear of tiring."
LK: So there is no potential (for the lack of a better word) "risk" that you wouldn't
want to continue to write any more "emocore" (whatever that means) songs and the Sad Riders will
become your main focus instead of Favez?
Chris: "We've been playing rock music in one way or the other with Favez for the past thirteen
years and it's something that's necessary to my life (and to the other guys' lives too). We already
played acoustic shows before, and even though it's fun, it's very far from the rush of positive
energy you feel while playing a rock show. It would be sort of like asking a heroin addict whether
he might be considering quitting the dope now that he discovered these great tasting menthol
LK: You've been on tour together with chewy recently. Maybe i just haven't been paying
attention, but is this the first time you played together outside of switzerland?
Chris: "No, we did a horrible, disorganised and under promotionned tour in the UK and Holland
a couple of years ago, but that sucked soooo bad that we felt we had to do a good one at least once,
just to wash of the stink of that previous affair... So that tour we just finished was really great,
we could learn to play on stage again (we hadn't played live in six months...), see Chewy every
evening, have a great time in the bus... It definitely wasn't our finest hours on stage, we were
a bit shakey and still finding our marks, but it was fun, and a good warm up for the festivals and
the promo tour for our next record in October."
LK: How was working with your brother Greg on the album?
Chris: "I really wanted him to play because he's such a fantastic guitar player, we have
the same musical basis, I can ask him to play anything from a Dick Dale style solo to a David
Crosby lick and he'll always know what I'm talking about... When he agreed to do it, he also agreed
to be used as a tool for what I wanted to do, which was really fun for me, because I'm not that
good a guitar player and I could basically try out everything I wanted but couldn't achieve on my
own... And as he's my brother and the boundaries were really clear (i.e. my record, my choices)
it was just a wonderful experience. Of course, if we continue to do stuff together, which we might,
it'll be on more equal terms, and we'll probably end up hating each other, but for that record,
I think he enjoyed being bullied, and I definitely enjoyed being the almighty godlike producer
LK: For your previous records both you and Greg recorded with Jon Agnello in the
States. Did you deliberately chose to make the Sad Riders a more low key affair or would you have
liked to hire, say, Ethan Johns (who i think did a terrific job on the last Jayhawks album) for
this album if you would've had the budget?
Chris: "I really wanted it to be simple and personal, with real flaws, no cheating, no
cosmetic studio tricks to cover up the human weaknesses... I wanted it to be light, fun and easy,
which it couldn't have been with a big guy that you pay a lot. But of course, in the future, I'd
love to work with a guy who would bring his knowledge and inspiration to the record, but I must
say that I enjoyed working alone with Yvan in his small studio..."
LK: I love the way the record sounds so "authentic", yet keeping a very personal
non-American touch ("J-M" comes to mind first). Was that kind of masterplan?
Chris: "Definitely! The non-american touch was THE masterplan. I truly believe that what
we consider to be "American folk music/americana/country/alt.country/whatever you may call it"
is in fact not very different to the music we had in Europe a century ago. The Americans were the
first to use the combination of recording technology and business to make the music widely available,
thus flooding the world with their vision of popular music. This music is now regarded as something
typically American, but from what I know of the French singer/songwriters of the 40's down to the
last Jacques Brel records in the 60's, they were doing something quite similar as far as the tunes,
vocal melodies and stories were concerned. Even the instruments they used were pretty close... So
basically, what I'm trying to do on my very modest indie level is to pick up a worldwide traditional
songwriting genre and adapt it to my surroundings. All the Sad Riders songs are about people I've
met, people from Lausanne or people who could come from around here, not Detroit bad boys or
Louisiana bayou alligators... I really tried to root the music as deep as I could in my hometown
soil, and I try not to fake it and not to give an "american gimmick" feel to the writing because
I believe that we can take back and "Europeanise" folk music, take it down the road it could have
travelled if the US had not been such a big cultural influence at such a crucial time in European
history. Yep, I'm on one hell of a big important mission here..."
LK: Are there any plans for Sad Riders live shows?
Chris: "Not really, everybody plays in a touring band so it's a bit hard to find rehearsal
time and free touring days... I'll play a few shows on my own, but that's not really like the album,
it's way way quieter..."
LK: Thanks very much for your time!
Chris: "Thank you for the questions, I really enjoyed answering them!"
Copyright © 2003 Carsten Wohlfeld