Though Chris Wyse has dedicated his life to rock & roll, he has always been more than a simple rock bass player. Not only does he excel at fingerstyle playing, picking, tapping, and cordial composition on electric, he is also a skilled upright player. Which is why when Wyse first moved from New York to Los Angeles in 1990, he became a first-call player for famed producer Bob Rock, which led to work with Ozzy Osbourne, Mick Jagger, Scott Weiland, Jerry Cantrell, and Ace Frehley, among others. But more than being a session player, Wyse’s true passion has always been playing in bands, so it was only natural that in 2006 he landed the role as the bass player for gothic-rockers the Cult.
These days, when Wyse isn’t holding it down for the Cult, he’s busy playing in his own project, Owl, an experimental rock group where his skillful chops and powerful lead vocals take center stage. Owl just wrapped up its third studio album, which features heavy power anthems with technically daunting twists led by Wyse’s often effected bass. This time around Wyse is layering electric and upright bass more than ever, as his distorted riffs are doubled with deep bowed lines. And while Wyse’s work in the past is nothing short of impressive, he believes that this material is his finest bass work yet.
How did you go about tracking the new Owl album?
Oddly enough, I ended up tracking the bass last when everything else was done. I scratch-tracked the songs with an old Spector bass out in New York to lay down the ideas over a drum machine, but those were just the basic concepts at the time. We put together the demos over a few sessions and then worked backwards. I had never done that before and it was really interesting to take that approach.
How is your writing different on this material?
For a long time I would write things on bass that were big classical compositions with endless changes using over-the-top chops. Now I still push the envelope, but it’s more rock & roll, and it’s honed a lot more. I still like to write nasty bass riffs in odd time signatures, but they’re songs that anyone can sing and groove to. My writing has more of a center now, but I do a lot of things that bass players will appreciate and things that you’ll only catch after listening to it multiple times.
How does your mentality change when you’re working as a sideman?
When you’re working with a new band or as a session player, you can’t just bulldoze in and do your thing and solo all over their music. You have to be smart and know their music and know what they’re looking for. Even in Owl, it’s a band, so all of the members have a say in what we write, and that’s all part of being in a band. With the Cult they already had a starting point, so I began there and honored their sound, and then over time incorporated myself into their music more. I’ve even pulled out the upright bass with them in the studio to experiment with things.
How do you approach upright bass differently than electric bass?
When I play upright I have to be so focused that I need to just trust that I’m going to hit the right notes, especially when I’m singing. But like anything, it becomes a locked-in, motorized type of thing. If your intonation is off, you might have to look at the neck a bit more. I like to leave my tuner on so I can peek down to see that my notes are on. On the projects that I play upright on, my tone has to compete with distortion and loud drums, so I always make sure my sound is big and dialed in.
Owl, The Right Thing [Overit, 2013]
Bass 1962 Fender Precision Reissue, Nash P-Bass, Customized 1995 Fender Precision, NS Design NXT Double Bass, 1950s Kay Upright
Amp Ampeg SVT-VR, Ampeg SVT 810E, Ampeg Micro-CL Mini
Pedals Tech 21 Sans Amp Classic DI, Dunlop Cry Baby 105Q Bass Wah, Electro- Harmonix Epitome, DigiTech Bass Driver, MXR Carbon Copy Delay
Strings D’Addario Helicore Hybrid, D’Addario Double Bass Strings