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10 Questions for Chris Ross, 10 years later

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10 Questions for Chris Ross, 10 years later (photo courtesy of the artist)

My first interview with singer and songwriter Chris Ross appeared in these pages 10 years ago this month. We’d met up at The Thirsty Whale in Bar Harbor on a Saturday for a freewheeling conversation centered on his debut album, “The Steady Stumble,” that soon morphed into a marathon dialogue about his decision to pursue music full time.

During that first interview, Chris shared illuminating stories about his influences, playing music, traveling, and the many colorful characters he’d encountered, some of whom I later learned wound up in his songs. The impression he left was of a fiercely intelligent young musician bursting with talent, a wicked sense of humor, and a deep hunger to have his music exposed to a vast audience.

Since 2011, Chris Ross has released four studio albums, the first two recorded as a solo artist in Nashville, and the next pair recorded in southern Maine with his band, Chris Ross and The North. Good Lord, what a band. I consider it a privilege to have observed them both in rehearsal and in standing room only live settings.

When you’re a traveling band packed like sardines in a van with all of your gear, it’s a true test of your commitment to the mission when it comes time to hit the road. The national tours undertaken by Chris Ross and The North made them even tighter as a musical unit and as friends.

Offstage, the four musicians trade quips and one-liners in a salvo of non-stop hilarity, with so many rapid-fire pop-culture references and inside jokes, it appears that they invented their own language. When they play, I’m reminded of the lyric in ‘The Music Never Stopped’ by the Grateful Dead: “They’re a band beyond description, like Jehovah’s Favorite Choir.”

Sure, Chris is a great performer, and that’s a key component of his popularity, but the principal reason for it can be traced directly to the fact that his songs are so strong. He has an extraordinarily high batting average when it comes to knocking out killer songs. If not for the strength of those songs, you wouldn’t hear his music on 100.3 WKIT or 103.1 WZLO, or any of the other stations that program his tunes. Nor would you find the venues where he performs so packed with fans each time he shows up to play. Let’s hope we’ll get to see and hear him in action again soon. 

I’ve interviewed Chris Ross many times over the last decade, most recently for a story that appeared in The Maine Edge two weeks ago devoted to the state of Maine’s music scene one year after the start of the pandemic. It’s time for a new, happier piece to celebrate the last decade of his music, and to bring the reader a little closer to his world.

The Maine Edge: What is your earliest music-related memory?

Chris Ross: When I was very young (born in 1984) the first music I fell in love with was early ‘90s country. Alan Jackson was my favorite, and when I was eight or so, my mom got us tickets to go see him. We got to the arena and found our seats, and then a man came out to the microphone to tell everyone that Alan was sick and could not perform. I was devastated. On the bright side, the original opener (Faith Hill) was replaced at the makeup show by Alison Krauss. To this day, I regard Krauss as musical royalty and I’m so lucky Alan got sick that day.

The Maine Edge: Could you cite one album, one book and one TV show that helped shape you?

Chris Ross: “Darkness on the Edge of Town” by Bruce Springsteen was the first album I can remember fully transporting me somewhere special. Leaning my forehead against the speaker and sitting in the passenger seat with him during “Racing in the Street.” I was only 16, but when he sang “Some guys just give up livin,’ start dyin’ little by little, piece by piece,” I felt grown, sad, and alone, and I loved it.

Stephen King has always been my favorite storyteller. If you calculated the percentage of my life spent with anyone in popular media, King towers (Dark Towers?) over all of the musicians and film directors and superheroes that shaped the way I view life and relationships. Too many favorites to name, but “On Writing” might be the most important thing he’s ever written.

I wouldn’t put it in my top 20 shows anymore but there was a time that the Kiefer Sutherland show, “24,” was my favorite thing in the world. This was in the days of DVDs, and I remember waiting for season 3 to be released. It was a show that took place in real time, with each season of 24 episodes representing one day. I wanted to try and watch it all in one day. I made it to 19 episodes. I hope my mom is proud.

The Maine Edge: When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Chris Ross: I wanted to be a comic book artist. I would practice drawing Batman and Wolverine all day. I can still draw fairly well, but now I think how much fun it would be to write comic books, to be able to puppeteer these characters of my youth and send them on new adventures.

The Maine Edge: What is one thing you wish you knew before you jumped into music full time?

Chris Ross: I wish I’d had a more realistic definition of success. When I first starting dreaming about it in the early 2000s, CDs were still selling, the idea of “being discovered” and “major labels” was still tangible. As the industry changed, I think for too long I kept unreasonable goals. Today if you talk to nearly any musician, I think you’ll find that all we desire is the ability to afford to have a life. To be able to afford to start a family. To be able to have health insurance and a reliable Subaru.

The Maine Edge: What is one thing you truly enjoyed, or accomplished, as a result of having your schedule cleared by the pandemic?

Chris Ross: I felt a great deal of relief early on. This job is small beautiful moments of meaning and joy, surrounded with oceans of boring highway, lumpy futons, and flat tires. I had needed a break for a long time. With that being said, I think three or four months would have fine (laughs). I started to learn some woodworking, got back into disc golf, and still obsessively throw darts for an hour a day.

The Maine Edge: Have you ever played a gig behind chicken wire like Jake and Elwood?

Chris Ross: Not chicken wire, but there have been plenty of shows which necessitated a hasty exit. People are never more drunk than they are during load out, and you’ve got to keep your head on a swivel. While we’re on the subject of chicken wire, I recommend everyone go back and listen to the music of Jeff Healey, he was a damn treasure.

The Maine Edge: If you were named “Boss of the World” what would be your first order of business?

Chris Ross: I understand we can’t pay teachers like NFL players, but holy friggin’ smokes, we can do better. Everyone I know can immediately list those teachers who made a lasting impact on their lives. For me, it’s Mr. Haskell, Mrs. Giunta, and Mr. Beardsley, and oh God, I know there are so many more. I don’t know what they got paid, but it wasn’t enough.

The Maine Edge: Could you cite a moment or incident from that last 10 years of your musical life that you’d like to relive?

Chris Ross: One time, this guy I know named Mike Dow interviewed Gregg Allman on the telephone for the release of his autobiography. He invited me into the studio to sit in and say hello, and holy shit, I was so thankful.

(Note: That interview was for a story in The Maine Edge (July 25, 2012). What Chris neglected to mention was how Gregg Allman so clearly enjoyed speaking with him that day. Gregg’s voice noticeably perked up and he became animated when Chris came on the line. Allman lived and breathed music, and it seemed to me that he was more at ease in the company of another musician. Gregg asked Chris to send him some of his music, and proceeded to give him his home address. It was very special for me to hear these two great songwriters interact.)

The Maine Edge: You have been chosen to have dinner with three other people. They could anyone from history, alive or dead, famous or not. Who would you choose?

Chris Ross: I only had one grandparent alive when I was born, so as much as I’d love to chat with Stephen King or Stan Lee or Levon Helm, I would choose those three grandparents that I never got to meet.

The Maine Edge: Everyone who meets your beautiful dog Jolene falls in love with her. What is her back story? How did she find you?

Chris Ross: I got her from a rescue in Arkansas. I had to fill out forms and do phone interviews with a very lonely old southern lady named Betty. I lied my ass off. I inflated by income by ten times and sent them photos of a fenced-in yard that I don’t have. Those were the best lies I’ve ever told, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

Last modified on Tuesday, 30 March 2021 18:26

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