Chris Marshall

“August Light” from Portland, Oregonbased Ameri-rock artist Chris Marshall is more than a labor of love – it’s one of the most important milestones in Marshall’s life. He’s always had his eyes on the prospect of his first record, an effort easier to talk about than to actually execute. Marshallhowever, has executed in impressive fashion, assembling a who’s who of Portland’s finest musicians to create “August Light”, including bassist Allen Hunter, former Decemberists’ drummer Ezra Holbrook, pedal steel player Paul Brainard and well known director and producer, Jeremy Wilson.

“August Light” comes to us off of In Music We Trust Records, and Chris handles the description of his sound best: “I guess its best described as my own interpretation of the American musical tradition. There are definitely elements of what you'd call country, in addition to elements of rock, folk, blues and gospel. But I also feel like there are pop sensibilities that I don't mind giving some ground to, and I think that is what gives it a contemporary feel.” Pick up and album and give it a listen – some great stuff. Marshallwill be out on the road doing what he does best, so check out the schedule. There’s a lot more to get into, so keep reading for all the answers to the XXQ’s.

XXQs: Chris Marshall
PensEyeView.com (PEV): How would you describe your sound and what do you feel makes you stand out over the others in your genre?

Chris Marshall (CM): I guess it's best described as my own interpretation of the American musical tradition. There are definitely elements of what you'd call country, in addition to elements of rock, folk, blues and gospel. But I also feel like there are pop sensibilities that I don't mind giving some ground to, and I think that is what gives it a contemporary feel. If there's anything that makes it stand out, I think the fact that the sound borrows from older musical vernaculars, but the pop sensibility keeps it from being fairly classified as simply throwback or retro.
PEV: Calling Portland, Oregon home, what kind of music were you into growing up? Was anyone your main influence?
CM: The whole "grunge" thing had kind of become a caricature of itself by the time I was in middle school, so I missed out on the more authentic elements of that wave and was more into the sort of post-grunge alternatives. Along with a brief foray into the hardcore/punk scene, I was turned on to bands from the northwest like Sunny Day Real Estate, who were inspiring a lot of us in the direction of what was sort of loosely being called "emo" at the time. The one thing I came away with from that scene was the freedom to check out everything musically that seemed authentic and inspiring, no matter what genre it came from, and that's really how I came to discover Johnny Cash for myself during my senior year of high school. His "Unchained" album had just come out a year or so before, and I bought it simply because the cover kind of spoke to me; he seemed to communicate some gigantic level of importance just by standing there by himself. I still remember spinning that disc for the first time in my Dad's truck, and I sat and listened to a song called "Spiritual" probably 3 or 4 times straight through. That connection gave me the license to check out everyone from Willie Nelson to Merle Haggard to Woody Guthrie and then Bob Dylan. But the guy who has really inspired me the most is Elvis Presley. Once I figured him out, there was no one to compare. More than anyone, and more spiritually than stylistically, he is the artist that continues to inspire me the most.
PEV: Having played in the business for a good time now, what was it like for you when you first started out?
CM: It's hard not to think of myself as still starting out, because I'm still learning a lot and growing, hopefully, through my experiences thus far. I've  got a ton to learn and I want the journey to stay fresh and inspiring. I'm just taking a lot of my artistic impulses and trying to hone them into something that matters to people.
PEV: Do you remember the first time you thought to yourself – “I am really onto something!”?
CM: It wasn't that I thought "I'm really onto something," but I do remember the moment where I felt a kind of inner voice say to me, "It's time to go for this." I always knew I'd have to at some point, and I'd been messing around with some songs I'd been writing, demo-ing them on a 4-track player I had and toying with the idea of putting some people together to see it through. I was in the basement of my Dad's church offices and I just felt a clear message saying, "Go on and go for it." It just felt like a pure instinct. And although looking back at where I was at that point and knowing now how raw and inexperienced I was, how from an outsider's perspective I literally had no business believing in myself, I'm really glad I dug in and commited myself to take a shot. The joy is in the journey, for sure.
PEV: With that, what can fans expect from a live Chris Marshall show?
CM: They can expect that I'll definitely be there, present and in the moment. I'll sing my tail off and I'll work as hard as I possibly can to connect with folks. It's really the one thing that has kept me going, performing live. It's really where I feel most capable of presenting all that I've got to bring and offer. It's where the whole deal makes the most sense to me.

PEV: What is the first thing that comes to mind when you step on stage?
CM: Mostly just technical stuff. Is my guitar in tune and my capo on the right fret? Boring stuff like that.
PEV: What was the underlining inspiration for your music? Where do you get your best ideas for songs?
CM: I can’t say it's any one tangible thing, but I do prefer music that moves me in some form or fashion, and so I try to engage myself that way. When I'm listening to music and when I'm performing it, my goal is to move and be moved.
PEV: Tell us about your debut full-length, "August Light" (In Music We Trust Records). What can fans expect from this work?
CM: It's the first time I've been able to go into a studio with an album's worth of songs and execute a recording with the goal of making a full-length album. I'm proud of the songwriting and the work I was able to do vocally on certain songs. And I'm proud of the group of guys that producer Jeremy Wilson was able to bring together to flesh out the arrangements. Ezra Holbrook, Paul Brainard, and Allen Hunter are all Portland-area heavyweights in my book and they did such great work on these songs. Paul wrote the string arrangements for three of them and I think they are brilliant. I also love the contributions that several of my friends were able to bring, including my friend Ashley King on the violin and my dear friends Spank and Janice Hopkins on backing vocals.
PEV: When you sit down to write music – to write this album – what type of things are going through your head?
CM: Well, for better or for worse, I very rarely ever sit down with the intent to write a song; I just haven’t had any success doing that, and I'm still learning to trust myself as a legitimate songwriter, the kind that works at it day in and day out. I do most of my writing in a constant kind of brainstorm exericise, where I sort of compose songs in my head throughout the day, everyday. I'll put something on loop and let it run until my brain takes a certain part and just does something different with it. If it seems worthwhile to explore, that's when I'll sit down and start working it out. It mostly starts with a hook or a lyric and then builds from there. Sometimes it takes an hour, sometimes it takes years. There's songs on this record from both of those camps.
PEV: Do you ever find yourself getting writer’s block and if so, how do you get over that?
CM: I do and I have literally no idea how I get over it. Sometimes it might mean giving up on a particular song if it just isn't working. Or it could be experimenting by combining different incomplete ideas into one song, seeing if there's perhaps a puzzle worth putting together. I also will just take a line that sounds like a title and write it down, even if I can't think of a melody to combine it with, and then just sit on it for as long as it takes to see if something evolves from it.
PEV: What’s one thing we’d be surprised to hear about Chris Marshall?
CM: I'm like Uncle Jesse from Full House about my hair; totally obsessed, even though it's super average and doesn't even really do anything. Not even worth comparing to Uncle Jesse. For some reason though, I tend to channel my anxiety through it.
PEV: Was there a certain point in your life when you knew that music was going to be a career for you?
CM: I don’t think I've ever forced myself to see it as a "career," but I can definitely look back and say without exaggeration that it's always been at the forefront of my heart and head. I think that the pursuit of it feels completely natural to me and navigating the business side is always endurable because of the love I have for performing, writing, and engaging with other musicians and people that just love music.
PEV: What one word best describes Chris Marshall?
CM: Alive.
PEV: How is life on the road for you in the music world? Best and worst parts?
CM: I'm not quite a road warrior yet. I've done some touring solo in the western states and had the chance to play some really meaningful shows in Nashville and the like. I've got a lot of miles yet to notch though.
PEV: Is there one area you wish you could travel around and play that you have not yet?
CM: Yeah, the eastern coast of the United States, as well as all of Europe.
PEV: How have all your friends and family reacted to your career? What’s it like when you get to play at your hometown?
CM: I've always been really humbled by the support of my closest friends and family. I feel like you ask a lot of them to get behind an artistic endeavor like this and at least make the effort to remain interested, but it wouldn't be worth doing if it didn't give some measure of joy to the folks around me. I always feel a little sheepish about constantly promoting local shows and hoping to see everybody at all of them, but it's been cool to get feedback and encouragement from the people I love the most.
PEV: What can we find you doing in your spare time, aside from playing/writing music?
CM: I've got a beautiful wife who makes life fun for me. We share a love for film, food and Oregon wine, and that's how we fill a lot of our evenings. I also have a bounty of amazing friends and family, and there's really never a dull moment as a result. I substitute teach at the high school level to pay some of the bills, and I actually really enjoy it. Everyday is a journey and I'm digging it.
PEV:  Is there an up and coming band or artist you think we should all be looking out for now?
CM: There's a bunch. Here in Portland there is a band I adore called Horse Feathers. They're not exaclty up and coming (they have three full-lengths out, I believe), but they definitely deserve as much attention as they can get. Everyone should have heard of Tallest Man On Earth by now, I would hope, but if not, he's a genius. And as far as folks I know personally, Shane Tutmarc out of Seattle and now Nashville is one of my favorite artists and is an incredibly gifted songwriter.
PEV: If you weren’t playing music now what do you think you would be doing as your career?
CM: I'd be a professional hobo. Or, I'd be doing what I'm doing now, most likely: Substitute teaching.
PEV: So, what is next for Chris Marshall?
CM: All that's left for me to do now is thank you for asking such good questions and for taking the time to highlight the record. I genuinely appreciate it.

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