To follow their 2012 full-length album, Waiting For Something, Oak Street Blues are taking a unique route: recording two seven-song EPs. Band founder, vocalist, songwriter and guitarist Chris Hall selected Warren Huart (Aerosmith, Jennifer Hope) to produce the rock project; Skip Saylor (Snoop Dogg, Tom Petty) is overseeing the electronic disc.
It’s a different approach, but not that removed from OSB’s previous work, which merged Hall’s many influences, from pop to country, into one package. Compartmentalizing the music into two separate EPs makes sense, he says, while at the same time offering the many musical sides of Oak Street Blues.
How do you transition back and forth between two very different projects and stay in the groove with each? Are they connected in some way?
Waiting For Something was kind of rock, but it has a lot of synth and things like that on top of it, so I see this as doing the same thing, but instead of incorporating it all into one album, I’m splitting it up. I guess there is a common thread because all our songs are catchy and lyrically pretty simple with easy choruses. That’s the common thread on both. Other than that, I split my mind up between the music.
Are you recording with the band?
I tend not to. The live band consists of me on guitar, Stephanie [Sheer] on keyboard, Jenny [Arias] on the bass and Alejandra [Arellano] on the drums. For the recordings, on the rock album, Alejandra plays drums and I play guitar. I usually do most of it myself. I play the bass and Warren will do some guitar. I don’t use the live band to record. They only come in for vocals and things like that. I like to use different people to see what they’re going to bring to the table. The electronic album is me singing and the girls singing backup. The band doesn’t have much to do with it at all. I programmed electronic bass lines and synth and Skip is adding embellishments.
You spent fifteen years playing almost every genre of music. Were you trying to find your niche or trying to pay bills?
I think it’s just me getting bored with things over time. When I first started out, and I think everyone starts out the same way, I was into classic rock — Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and those kinds of bands. Over the years I got tired of that and I moved into indie rock. It’s always evolving and it’s me getting bored with the sound. Also, over the last fifteen or twenty years, technology has really improved. Recording digitally is so simple — you just take your mouse and click wherever, move a few knobs, and the simplification over time has caused us to go with a more synthetic, computer-oriented sound, versus a more organic, straight, plug into a guitar amp and rock it out. I still like that classic rock sound, but you can either go forward and listen to newer stuff or go further back to stuff you’ve never heard before, and I’ve kind of done that, listening to George Jones, the Flying Burrito Brothers and older stuff.
Where does the new material fall in?
For the rock we pull more from going backward, because I’m really not the biggest fan of newer rock. There was a time period in the early 2000s when it seemed like the bands all complained about how their moms didn’t give them cookies and they were all disturbed because of it. I can’t relate to that.
Because your mom gave you cookies?
Yeah, my mom gave me cookies, so I’m pretty happy about that! And I always liked songs that I could sing along to. You can turn on KISS FM, listen to Nicki Minaj, it gets in your head and you sing along to it. A lot of rock songs, you can’t sing along, so I go back to older rock songs, like any ’60s rock songs and all the Beatles songs.
Did you just confess to singing along with Nicki Minaj?
Come on, Nicki Minaj ain’t that bad!
What’s been key to keeping this band together?
I’ve noticed that there’s a two-year life cycle of people being in a band, no matter what. Everyone goes through this process where you add them in the band and they’re really grateful, and by the time they leave they’re like, “This guy owes me because I’m in his band and I’m playing his tunes.” I rarely noticed a difference between having guys and girls in the band. They seem to go through the same cycle. The only thing I have noticed is that when you get to the end of their time in the band and they’re not enjoying doing it anymore, and finally you decide it’s not working out and they have to leave, the guys take it better. They’re upset, but they’re over it, while the girls will go on Facebook and say, “I hate this band!”
Are you at the two-year mark yet?
This group is probably the best group we’ve had. Everyone seems like friends. Jenny is coming up to her two-year very soon, but there haven’t been any signs of resentment and she’s been extremely consistent. Stephanie and Jenny went to elementary school and junior high together, so they’ve known each other for at least twenty years, and my wife went to elementary school with those two girls. We’re in a good spot with a connection that’s been going on forever, so I don’t think it’s going to end rough. Alejandra, on the other hand — I get in a fight with her every day, but she’s not going anywhere anytime soon and she’s been here at least four years now. So much band drama!
If most of your band members leave after two years, are you sure it isn’t you?
You know what, it could be me! That’s what I would say about everyone else: “Don’t they realize this cycle keeps on happening?” It could be me. But, on the other hand, these people don’t join other bands. They just kind of end it. Through past experience I think I’m not the crazy one. But who knows. Let’s not rule that out!
As the new projects progress, how do you see them as the next step?
The great thing about Warren is that he’s done this so much that he knows, “This guitar and this amp will sound great here.” He has the whole sound landscape in his mind. He knows what he wants. With the last album, I went to a studio, recorded the drums and the vocals, and then I went to my home studio and recorded most of it using my gear and my computer. It was a very isolated experience. Once I recorded Waiting For Something, I found a guy in the Philippines, I sent him all the tracks through the Internet and had him mix the whole album. He sent it back, we went back and forth, I never met the guy, but the final output was great. I liked the experience because it was very different. With this one, I took the songs to Warren. We bounce them back and forth, he has all these great ideas and experience, it’s a little more organized and it will make the project ten times better. Working with Warren is extremely comfortable. That’s the growth — the experience and one-on-one interaction in person will make it awesome.