Michael Green Interviews... Chas Slater
Here is a Q&A with musician & performer Chas Slater. He talks about his experiences in music.
Where did it all start for you getting into music?
I come from a very musical family. My dad has been a guitarist within bands and the industry for over 40 years and my mum sings in her local choir, their parents and siblings are also musical.
I was surrounded by guitars, music magazines, gear and imagery and of course the music itself from birth. Music really has been speaking to and out from my soul for as long as I've been able to remember.
My first musical memory is that of 'Forever in Blue Jeans' by Neil Diamond playing on the home stereo when I was around 4 years of age, I distinctly remember the sound of the finger picked acoustic guitar intro and being captured by the sound of that amazing, gravely voice. I've always loved to sing, I was always drawn to songs with strong vocal melodies and performances.
Growing up, I loved the music from the DreamWorks movie 'Prince of Egypt' particularly. Big dramatic sound and performance is where I found a lot of vocal ability and confidence and I guess it just went from there, however I didn't start playing the guitar until I was 15, oddly the singing part with the guitar came later as I was committed to just playing for a good few years. The Robert plant and Alison Krauss album 'Raising Sand' was also a real picture of a musical memory too. I think that's where the the seeds were first sewn towards traditional country and and bluegrass which I'll go into later.
Who are your influences?
My influences are broad and forever changing however Stevie Wonder is probably my pinnacle musical influence as a singer. If I was to say 'What does the singer that ticks all the boxes' on a personal level sound like it, for me, it would him, particularly from the albums 'Music of my mind' and 'Songs in the key of life'. Studying his wonderful singing range and control helped me to take singing more seriously, an art form, every word is a layer of colour or flavour to the message of the song. How singing with passion yet control can take a song from words on a page to an old friend talking with you about a chapter of your life. To a hand on your shoulder, to the voice that says 'I can't turn you loose' Stevie's message, presence and love for life helped shape me a lot as a musician and as a person. He inspired me to push boundaries that are just products of the mind, believe in yourself and to sing the songs and make the music that makes you feel grateful to be alive.
Bluegrass music is a huge influence on me and that is where I found my home as an artist. I felt like drinking water from a spring after wandering around in a musical desert if you will ( Very David brent) but you get what I'm saying haha. In bluegrass, I found truth and I found my tribe. In bluegrass I found the human spirit of perseverance hauntingly embodied in the songs that those men took with them and wrote into the wilds of Kentucky, Ohio and Mississippi in the 1800's, the lonesome expression of home being on your back, not knowing if you were to see your family again, not knowing if you were going to end up in jail or dead. Life was very tough back then, it was a savage time. The cliches are cheesy on the surface but they are embedded in historical truth and record and a connection to the past in which falls further away from us everyday for better and for worse. Bluegrass guitar is my main passion for sure. It was a eureka moment for sure when I discovered it was the canvas to create on to be the artist and player I wanted to be. My influences in this field are Tony Rice and Michael Daves. They're my favourite pickers although I love Billy Strings and Trey Hensley too and I'm always stealing their guitar licks haha. Radiohead and the Doors are also a huge influence on me. Two very different bands but both forever pushing the limits of sound and being able to expose the human condition, with it's strengths and weaknesses is a great ability they both have. I admire them for being able to make their albums as individual and personal to the energy they commit to that project yet never losing their identity in the process, in fact finding it more and more. That's rare for a band to find that space, sonically and spiritually.
I have a great love of Latin and flamenco influenced music too. Blues never cut it for me although I admire the craftsmanship and ability of the great blues artists and understand it's the foundation of modern music in every sense. However as a guitarist, I am always more excited to hear the ominous tones of the harmonic minor scale painting a Mediterranean picture in my mind and exciting and inspiring me more to play. 'Elegant Gypsy' by Al Di Meola is still one of my favourite albums, the blends of samba, Latin, fusion and jazz are always as exciting to hear for the hundredth time as it was the first! Django Reinhart and gypsy jazz is also a major inspiration and influence on my playing. I could honestly be here until the end of time listing influences as we've been so blessed to be alongside so many great artists in their journey's. However a few more would be the pitch perfect pop country delivery of Glen Campbell, the mystical presence and lingering sense of dread of The Doors, the beautiful message and sound of the human voice and natural world in it's purest form in John Denver. Also the jovial simplicity yet socially conscience spirit and awareness in the music of Bob Marley. Others would be Tony Rice, Michael Daves, Osbourne Brothers, Billy Strings, Rush, Michael Jackson, Neil Diamond, Sly Stone, CHIC, Curtis Mayfield, Paco De Lucia etc
How do you decide what songs to cover?
I always like to sing the songs that hold strong messages and melodies. When I first started performing and singing I used to love doing the reggae stuff particularly Bob Marley's tunes, I loved the melodies, he was so talented being able to create simple catchy melodies and also John Denver as I tended to have the range and vibrato to perform the songs.
One of my favourites is 'Love is in need of love today' by Stevie, the gospel and spiritual delivery of it's message is one of desperate pleading yet hopeful optimism held within a challenging vocal that always helps to keep me on my toes! All the old bluegrass standards 'Doing my time, Freeborn man, Muleskinner blues, It's mighty dark to travel etc' I love to perform too.
I like to take on songs that people don't typically do, not in a ego driven sense, more of a genuine curiosity of 'I wonder how that would sound acoustically with just voice and guitar' experimental attitude. Whether it be a more obscure number to a crowd pleaser, I love to do the songs that makes me feel alive and always try to capture the nuances of the artists voice, tone and range.
I like to put passion and performance into everything I do and that comes naturally when you're feeling every word with which you sing intensely or becoming one with sound in that brief period of time, which in most cases often just disappears when the soul is in full display.
How important is it do you feel it is to listen to current music as well as music from the past?
Important yet not as vital as some other musicians think in my opinion. Music is a spectrum whether it was made in 1958 or 2023, there's good, there's bad, there's indifferent which all comes down to subjective inquiry and interest and natural bias. Not all old music is amazing, not all new music is bad. Spotify despite it's critics is unmatched when it comes to their algorithm, I have discovered such great new artists through there. It really depends on the music your playing, some music is progressive and can't survive without the nutrients of experimentation it needs to thrive, yet some music is conservative and true to it's roots, like rockabilly and blues.
Some artists will walk into a studio with a sole identity of what they want and the album is a true naked exposure of who they are. Some artists also have that identity in what they want and who they are but they'll want a record or producer to find those sounds to recreate a true 70's punk record with all the bells and whistles for example. None better than the other, just different and the difference is what makes them unique.
Do you feel it is important to watch other acts perform and to watch other live music?
Yes, very much so. People are amazingly diverse and it's shown through music and art the best. You can really break ice with people by watching them perform and taking interest and inspiration from that. Jamming with others makes you better because you'll get your ass kicked when that ego starts to puff it's chest out a bit and you start to think you're getting good. They'll always be someone to bring you back down to earth but that's what separates and makes good musicians, the ones are able to see that kind of situation as a opportunity to learn and grow.
Finally what tips do you have for anyone starting out when it comes to performing live?
My tips to anybody starting out at performing live is to perform and play music which lights a fire underneath you. Charisma and passion are picked up on very easily even by people who are not particularly musical (punters) and it goes a long way. Sing the songs you love, play the tunes that hold special meaning for you and let the rest take care of itself. Your audience will feel and see it and you'll be able to take back what you allowed yourself to give.
Find out more about Chas at https://www.facebook.com/chasslatermusic
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