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luckyPRICK Interview w/Chris Schleyer
By Todd Milenacker
Transcribed by Todd Milenacker
Recently, our resident interview, Todd, got a chance to exchange e-mails with Chris Schleyer. Chris was the guitar player for Prick in the 90's, and his guitar work has show up recently on Lucky Pierre's 2004 release "ThinKing". Chris has also played with the Kidney Thievez, Zeromancer, and recently he's started his own studio project, Affected. Let's see what he has to say about all this, shall we..?
Q: Starting out, where are you from? Unlike everybody else I've been talking to about Kevin McMahon, I don't think you're from Cleveland!
CHRIS SCHLEYER: I'm not from Cleveland. That is correct! I am originally from the Cincinnati-area. Right across the river is Northern Kentucky. I had to move to L.A. to meet all those people from Cleveland!
Q: How did you get into music and playing the guitar? Who were your early influences and inspirations?
CS: I am 36 and I've been playing guitar since the age of 10. I started out listening to bands like Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Van Halen… you know, guitar geek music!
Q: How did you and Kevin meet?
CS: When I moved to L.A. in 1992 I got a job working at a CD store called The Wherehouse. It just so happened that the store manager, Stu Sobol, was the guy managing Kevin. He knew I was a guitarist looking for a band and Kevin was looking to put Prick together.
I first met Kevin at the Sharon Tate house where Trent was recording the Downward Spiral and working with Kevin on the first Prick record. I had gotten a demo from Stu and went up there to meet Kevin and jam a bit. It was pretty nerve wrecking, but Kevin and I got along and it went from there.
Q: Do you remember much about that original Prick demo? How close did it resemble some of the stuff that ended up making the debut record?
CS: As far as the original Prick demo there wasn’t anything on it that wasn't on the record. I know it contained Tough, Communiqué, No Fair Fights... maybe an early version of Riverhead? And it was on cassette! The demos of those songs were pretty close if not the same as what ended up on the record.
Q: Was it even called "Prick"?
CS: At that time it was pretty much decided that it was going to be called Prick although Lucky Pierre was also being considered as the name. I think the demo said “Prick” and I think it's packed away in one of my boxes in the attic at my parent’s house!
Q: Did you play guitar on the Trent-produced tracks? I was under the assumption Andy and you flew over to the UK to record on the Warne-produced tracks only.
CS: I didn't play on any of the tracks that Trent produced. I did fly over to England to record with Kevin along with Andy Kubiszewski for 10 days at The Manor outside of Oxford, England. The parts were written at that time. It was just getting some cool tones to play them. We used mostly distortion pedals, a Whammy Pedal and an Eventide Harmonizer. Direct recording and amp mic'ing. We just rented an old Marshall Plexi with a 4x12, 30 watt celestions and a Les Paul.
Q: Kevin's obviously a fairly accomplished guitar player as well, how did you divide up the parts? Were the parts planned or did you improvise until something started to gel?
CS: Live I had to cover pretty much as much as possible. Just figuring out how to reproduce the sound of the record with a limited budget at the time.
Q: As a guitar geek myself, what type of equipment where you using at the time? There's a large number of unusual guitar sounds on the record!
CS: I was using a VHT Pitbull head that I borrowed from a friend of mine. I had a pedalboard with a few Boss pedals, a Quadraverb Plus and a whammy pedal. I was playing a HSS Strat at first. Then I switched to a Les Paul Studio.
Q: On that note, what's you current rig? I'd image as a guitar-tech you've become extremely particular about these things.
CS: Yes, I've got a bit nicer setup now! I still have the Quadraverb Plus (cool ringmod) and whammy pedal. I added a Marshall Super Lead 100W head, a Diamond Amplification head (www.diamondamplification.com), a JMP1 Pre Amp, Sans Amp PSA-1 Pre Amp, a dbx DDP Compressor/EQ/Gate, a Custom Audio RS10 switcher, some cool pedals like the Big Muff Phi, and the Experience pedal. The main guitars I use now are a Jeff Beck Strat with John Suhr single coils, and a Les Paul Studio with Dimarzio Steve's Specials pickups. I also have a couple of nice Yamaha's. A nice acoustic/electric and an electric Drop Tuning AES model with Dimarzio's Steve's Specials.
Q: Besides the amazing songwriting, one of my favorite aspects about Prick's debut is the collage/layering sound and disjointed/disorientating sounds springing up all over the place. Did Kevin ever express to you what he was going for in terms of production?
CS: A lot of the cool sounds that happened are mistakes. A harmonic happens by accident and it becomes the cool aspect of the part. Being able to digitally edit and manipulate the "mistake" into something cooler than if you tried to pre-think it.
I think Trent had a lot to do with the sound of that record. There was stuff taken off 4-track cassette demos and chopped up and layered. That is very Kevin. Then you throw in the production prowess of Trent along with it. It is an amazing record. I still think it is cutting edge!
Q: How was the PRICK live band put together? Besides Kevin you're the only constant member in the first incarnation of PRICK. At one point it went from a 5 to a 4 piece and things changed up quite a bit, didn't they?
CS: Yeah the line-up changed a little. The first incarnation was me, a drummer from another Ohio band (I forget his name!) and Sebastien on bass. We played with a couple keyboard players. Paul was the keyboard player that ended up touring with us up until the Sextacy Ball tour. Then the keys went on tape. At that point we switched to playing with a click and the drummer wasn't used to doing that so he was replaced by Garret Hammond, who was my roommate in college. When we were looking for a new drummer I had to insist we audition Garret. He drove himself to New Orleans where we were rehearsing at the time and got the gig!
Q: You toured that record for a couple solid years. What were some of your personal highlights in terms of shows/experiences? As a live band, when do you think PRICK hit its stride?
CS: The first time Prick opened for NIN was definitely a highlight of that incarnation. It was at the arena in St. Louis and, personally, I had never played anywhere that big before. I remember walking up the stairs/ramp to the stage (as you do on an arena show) and walking onto the stage that is 50 feet wide and seeing the rows of lights going up the rows of seats all the way to the nose bleeds at the far end of the arena. It was the thing you imagine when you’re a teenager dreaming of being in a rock band. At the same time the band kind of sucked! We really didn't have it together then! That was the first incarnation.
When we got Garret and did the Sextacy Ball tour we got really tight. By the time we were opening up for NIN and Bowie we were unstoppable. That's when Kevin decided to move back to Cleveland. That was the end of that incarnation.
Q: Rumor has it that Kevin, yourself and the rest of the PRICK live band attempted to work on a follow-up to the debut. Any truth to that? Can you tell us about those sessions?
CS: A few months later we did get together to work on some new material. Garret came out to L.A. from Chicago and we rented a rehearsal space with a Pro Tools engineer for a couple weeks. We did some demos but it wasn't what Nothing was looking for at the time. It was closer to what Kevin has done with his latest two releases. More alternative and a lot less industrial. Less NIN-ish and more White Stripe's-ish! Looking back it was ahead of it's time! If only Kevin had had a chick drummer and a red and white suit!
Q: In 1996, you left PRICK and joined forces with the Kidney Thieves and later Zeromancer. Can you tell us a little bit about your involvement with these bands?
CS: I got hooked up with the Kidney Thieves through Sean Beavan. They were looking for a guitarist, and I was living in New York looking for a reason to move back to L.A. and there it was! I was actually on tour with Marilyn Manson working as Pogo's keyboard tech when I met Free for the first time. After the KT thing ran its course I met the Zeromancer guys. I was fed up with L.A. and ready for a change of scenery and thought Oslo sounded like an interesting place to hang! So, I packed up my stuff and moved to the arctic-circle! Spent two years there recording and touring in Europe with those guys. We ended up winning an award in Germany for the best new alternative rock band in 2000 and released three records. After spending a couple years in Norway you can really appreciate what L.A. has to offer so I moved back to the sunshine.
Q: You've also been involved in some film scoring, soundtrack and session work. How did you get hooked into that circuit? It seems like a fun way to "pay the bills"! Also, I see you played guitar on t.A.t.U.'s big hit "Loves Me Not" - that's awesome!
CS: After moving back to L.A. I got in contact with a couple of old fellow Nothing peeps Charlie Clouser and Clint Mansell. Playing guitar on some TV show music and some film scores. Most recently recording the guitars and bass for the movie DOOM soundtrack. And the T.A.T.U. record! My buddy Andy Kubiszewski co-wrote that song "Love's Me Not" with Ed Buller. Andy had me come in and throw down some power chords and whammy dives! It was fun! I'm glad it made the mix when it came down to it. Andy also co-wrote a song with me on my new project Affected's debut EP!
Q: How did the Affected come to be? It appears as though this is your first time "stepping out" from the side-man role to main songwriter/bandleader. How has the transition been for you?
CS: The project came out of necessity really. I didn't have a band and needed to get some tunes off my chest! Plus, I needed to release something that was my own. Not having to filter my ideas through someone else. At first I was considering finding a singer but realized that it would delay the project too long. I had already sung the demos and was getting positive feedback so I decided to keep my vocals. Actually, it took a while for me to become comfortable with the idea of being the vocalist even though I sang quite a bit of backup in Prick. I like a challenge!
Q: For those that haven't heard it, how would you describe the music of Affected?
CS: I would say Affected is Alternative Modern Rock. Something like if you mashed Smashing Pumpkins, NIN and A Perfect Circle together. Although primarily guitar and drums based, it has elements of electro, industrial, pop, and experimental.
Q: How and where was the Affected EP recorded?
CS: A lot of the Affected record was demoed on the road when I was working for A Perfect Circle. I carry a MacBook Pro with Logic Audio and a Motu Ultralite with me so in hotel rooms and backstage you can pretty much setup anywhere and go. Then when I would get home in between legs I'd go into a space where I could mic up a cab and re-record the parts that I did while on the road and record the vocals properly.
Q: AffectedBand.com mentions Andy Kubiszewki and Garrett Hammond as collaborators. Can you tell us about their involvement and anyone else that helped bring this project to life?
CS: Garret recorded the drums at home in Chicago and would send me files to import into my Logic Session. A lot of file sharing! I would send him a mix of the tunes with programmed drums and a mix with no drums and click and tempos for him to record to. Andrew Kubiszewski also contributed to the record. We co-wrote a song together (Shallow Water) and he played some percussion on “Knocks Me Down”. There is also a remix on the Affected EP by Don Bodin. Don is a composer friend of mine and Garret's. Don also produced Kill Hannah and had a project with Garret called File Underwater. All three of us went to college together back in Illinois. I really couldn't have finished this record without their hard work and contributions.
Q: Are there any plans to take this project live? Is a full album already in the works?
CS: For now Affected is a recording project that is being released independently. There is more material in the works but no live performance scheduled yet. It is possible that there could be some west coast shows in the future though.
Q: As a songwriter, what makes you write music? Where do you find your inspiration?
CS: I get inspired from a lot of things. I get inspired by watching Trent every night on stage, I get inspired by watching the audience go crazy every night, I even get inspired by American Idol! If that doesn't make you want to put out real music that matters what I don’t know what will!
Q: How has the process of releasing and selling an EP independently gone for you? Kevin obviously has decided to go 100% indie with Prick/Lucky Pierre. Are you enjoying the process? Do you find the freedom worth the lack of "promotional muscle"? Is it harder/easier then you expected?
CS: I am enjoying the process of releasing the Affected EP independently. I’ve been in so many band with deals and bands close to getting deals that after a while, you just want to do something for yourself. Not because the label is telling you to, not because you have to, but because you really want to. No pressure. Just for the art of it. The biz aspect is what kills it. I'm having fun with it and that's what it's all about.
Q: Since this is an interview for a Kevin McMahon fan site, as a final question I'm required to ask if you've spoken to Kevin recently or have any clue what's happening with Prick/Lucky Pierre?
CS: I spoke to Kevin a couple months ago before the last NIN leg. He's in Cleveland working on putting a studio/rehearsal space together. I know he's working on some new material but I haven't heard any of it. Our mutual friend Andy Kubiszewski flew out to Cleveland from L.A. to play some drums for him. Whatever it is I'm sure it will be cool. And probably way ahead of it's time!