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CHRIS FOX: AT ODDS WITH THE WORLD? INTERVIEW BY MELANIE SMITH

 
Chris Fox is a very talented singer/songwriter and musician from Warrington, who Mudkiss have been following closely for well over a year. We last saw Chris fronting the band Kindest Of Thieves but in the past few months, they have gone their separate ways and Chris is currently on a voyage of discovery as a solo artist, with his own brand of melancholia and kitchen sink dramas. Chris is booked to play our Mudkiss Showcase Night next week, so anyone heading down there will be in for a treat when this 20 year old gets his mighty Gretsch wired for sound.

I chat to Chris about his new album ‘Serial Mothers And Terminal Hunchbacks’, his image, and matters of the heart, plus other stuff. As usual he is refreshingly honest and open, and still as awkward as ever, but that's what we love about him.

MEL: What's the theme of the new album and where did the quirky title come from?

CHRIS: The title of the album came from the song of the same name. Like almost all of my songs, each one starts with a concept/story or thought. 'Serial Mothers and Terminal Hunchbacks' came from my musings about the future and whether or not I think I’ll lead a typical kitchen sink life. I look at young families and I don’t see a picture of happiness, I see desperate people trying to find happiness in the most obvious of places. I sound absurd, but reluctantly, I must admit, that it’s the way I feel.

I hope people will discover the songs for themselves and hopefully find something they like in the songs, without me saying exactly what each are about. Overall though, the album was originally a collection of songs routed in the banality and the element of routine in human relationships; but in my head, the songs seem quite dark at times. When I listen back to the album, I hear a bitterness to it, I’m almost mocking the characters and their situations, whilst at the same time, as sick as this sounds, I hope one day to be in such an intimate relationship, that I'll experience the hardships which I’ve written about.

MEL: Talk us through the kind of production you used on this album, its quite different and stripped back. You didn’t use an acoustic guitar but a gretsch?.

CHRIS: Yes, I decided to make things very stripped back and retro. I recorded this album with one acoustic guitar and did everything live to try and get a great performance. I used two ribbon microphones, one on the voice and one on the guitar and played stood up, so you can hear faint foot taps etc, which I like, and of course as always I recorded onto analogue tape. I took this really stripped back approach because I wanted to leave the songs completely exposed. A friend of mine, a recording engineer, once said “If a person listens to a song and talks about the musical technicalities then they’re not listening properly”. I agree 100% and so decided to record this way, to make it impossible to listen to anything but the song in its rawest form.

I use the Gretsch live because:

1) I’d really miss playing electric guitar if I was an acoustic artist
2) It fills out the sound really well
3) And because it separates me from 'singer songwriters' like James Blunt… We all know that’s rhyming slang.

I imagine my next set of recordings will be using the electric guitar and perhaps using additional instrumentation. However, I’m a fickle man, I change my mind every day.

MEL: I really like the artwork on the covers, who designs them, do you have much of an input?

CHRIS: I’m glad you like them, they’re done by a young illustrator called Jake Donlan, and he’s very talented. I have input, I tell him what the songs are about, the mood I want to convey with the cover and any rough ideas. Jake then, goes away, uses his own incredible style and creativity to create something that is both mine and his.

MEL: What’s this new concept album "GUTTER SONGS" all about, and when can we expect it to materialize?

CHRIS: Ah you’ve been snooping around my facebook [laughs]. 'Gutter Songs' might never see the light of day; see I told you I was fickle. I’m still weighting it up in my head. It’s a compilation album of songs I wrote for the band I was in prior to being a solo artist, but I re-recorded them, so they’re 'one man and his guitar' versions, much like the album we’ve already spoke about. I’m not sure if I want to put my name to songs that I feel are lacking in lyrical dexterity and aren’t as well written; however on the other hand, I know people like these songs and they’re lighter, straight ahead pop songs. Today, I like the idea of releasing it, but tomorrow I’ll probably be against the idea. It’s sat in my house with all the art and everything ready. I just need to make a decision. 

MEL: Not meaning to sound too patronizing but where do those wonderful macabre, twisted and melancholic lyrics come from in one so young?

CHRIS: I experience periods of downs and depression and most of the lyrics come from the self-analysis that eats at me through those periods of time. Exhausting as it can be, it’s a great source of material. I’m my own little fucked up Muse [Laughs]. People are also very inspiring, but very rarely in a positive way. I hope this changes though; it’d be nice to be surprised. That made me sound like a bit of a hopeless misanthrope didn’t it?

MEL: A lot of your songs appear to come out of being lonely and having no real success in love and romance, does that reflect your life at all?

Yes, entirely!

MEL: Why don’t you have successful relationships, have you tried? Where does this sense of feeling down and depressed come from?

CHRIS: I always manage to keep very long relationships with my friends and I’m thankful that they put up with me. I haven’t met anybody I’d like to share my air with intimately for a long stretch of time yet. When I do though, I’ll be keen to give things a whirl. I think its partly that I think I’m a difficult person to bare, I find it hard to tolerate a lot of people and I find meeting new people incredibly stressful. If a person is right though, I’m quick to dedicate myself.

As for the other stuff, I find I’m always disappointed in humanity (myself included). That’s why I keep the good ones (the ones I already know and love) close.

Chris performing with the band - for the Autumn Road Session

'How To Be Lonely'

MEL: Do you feel at odds with the world or your sexuality?sorry…had to ask!

CHRIS: [Laughs] I’ve never felt at odds with my sexuality. It’s been clear to me all my life that I’m a straight man and I’m romantically interested in women. Other people seem to be at odds with my sexuality though, but that’s fine. I find it amusing. Life is long, if they want to pass some time, questioning my sexuality, let them go at it. As for the world, not really, my views on ' the world' aren’t quite so dramatic.

MEL: Are the people you write about in your recent recording real or fantasy?

CHRIS: The songs tend to be a combination of character based stories and completely autobiographical songs. However, even the character based stories, have at least some truth in them, or I’d start to find singing them hard. If I don’t mean it, I begin to sound like I don’t mean it. I think writing this way, is partly a natural way of working, but I think perhaps my influences might have influenced me to write this way. Morrissey, writes quite autobiographically predominately, although he writes from different gender perspectives (I’m completely generalizing here, there are exceptions). Where as Nick Cave and Tom Waits write lots of character based songs. Some of the songs on the album, I am the characters, either in the future, past or present, or the characters are fictional based on a personal situation, feeling or thought.

MEL: How do you begin to write a song – lyrics or music first?

CHRIS: Lyrics are always first, they’re often written quite quickly while the inspiration is fresh, and then the music and melody comes second.When I have something that resembles a song, I demo it roughly, live with it for a few days, tweak it and re-demo the final version.

MEL: Now that you’re a one-man band why are you still calling yourself ‘Kindest Of Thieves’?

CHRIS: I’m using 'Kindest of Thieves' as an alias because, as real and as honest as my music is and as I am as an artist, I want to separate me in my everyday life from my music. I think a lot of my lyrics come from being incredibly analytical of myself, and the choices I make in life, and I address these in the songs I write. I think I’d be wondering around like a depressive wreck if I didn’t separate the two entities.

MEL: Do you have plans for the group to reform in the future at all?

CHRIS: Currently, I’m enjoying being a solo artist, and I thrive from the aspect of vulnerability that being a solo artist creates. However, I am not against building a band around myself in the future. As for who the members would be, I thoroughly enjoyed playing with Benjamin and Joseph (The Thieves) over the past few years and I wouldn’t rule out playing with them again. It’d depend on our situations. I know Joseph has a lot he’d like to do, and he really is enjoying not having the struggle of being a member of a band and the uncertainty of it as a career choice. Benjamin is on the other side of the world travelling, but has said if he returns, he’d like to play together again. I’d also enjoy this. Playing with some new people would be interesting too. I find meeting new people hard and so sharing such personal stuff would be a challenge, but I’d have to try and be professional, should this situation present itself.

MEL: What happened to all those early KOT songs, which were what you termed 'popabilly'? I loved them so much, especially live.

CHRIS: Thank You, I’m glad you liked them. The answer though, I’m afraid, is a boring one. I’m embarrassed by those songs, the naive lyrics, the lack of depth to the writing. I’ve recorded them, and have up to date re-visited versions of them (Possible future release maybe?) but currently, I have them for publishing and boring stuff. When I think I might release them, part of me asks why I’d bother, when from a “song” point of view, the new album is better. At least in my opinion it is? I’m sounding like an arse aren’t I?... I’ll shut up

MEL: Your personal style seems to be developing nicely since we first met.

CHRIS: I do feel like I’ve progressed, yes. I feel my writing and particularly my lyrics have matured and I think how engaged audiences have been with my latest album. The shows I’ve played recently, have been really encouraging. I hope to continue developing and maturing as a writer over time and I hope to continue to grow a loyal audience of my own.

MEL: A couple of tattoos have been appearing dotted around your body lately. Do they have significant meanings or any real significance and do you think you'll be adding more?

CHRIS: I have three tattoos.  I’ve read that tattoos are one of the ways that a person validates their body to themselves. Another way of doing this is through sex, but as somebody who has practised celibacy for most of their teenage years, I’m not qualified to comment on the latter. My first tattoo says “Viva Hate” and it’s on the left hand side of my chest. “Viva Hate” was the name of the very first Morrissey solo album.

My second tattoo is on the right hand side of my chest and reads “Stretch Out and Wait” which is a Smiths song. I’m a huge Morrissey and Smiths fan and that’s my reasoning for those tattoos. The second one in particular, is not only a beautiful song, but I felt it’d be ironic to have it tattooed on me.

The most recent tattoo I had is on my left arm and is of a Venus symbol, which represents the female gender. The reasoning behind this one is quite lengthy. [sucks in air] From being very young the company I am most comfortable in is the company of women. A lot of my closest friends are women and I love them dearly, I feel I can relate more to women than I can to men, despite having some fantastic male friends. This tattoo was not only my sad little tribute to my female friends but also an acknowledgement of my own femininity. Since school, It’s been brought to my attention that I’m not the most masculine of men, but as a straight, man of 20 years old I’m learning to feel comfortable in myself now and I find that I actually like that aspect of me.

I’m booked in on Friday the 5th to have “Still Ill” tattooed on my wrist. It was the first tattoo I wanted, but I was afraid that it sounded a little shocking. “Does the body rule the mind, or does the mind rule the body?” is a lyric in the Smiths song, and it’s a question I’ve been asking myself for years.

MEL: It's great that your in touch with your feminine side Chris.

Your personal image changed quite a bit since last year, but also your musical style quite a few times over.

CHRIS: I love the idea of each album being a little bit different, to keep people guessing, but having common threads through each release. I’ve found I do the lyrical melancholia thing quite consistently but I like to mix things up by adding various degrees of musical elements like rockabilly, pop, blues and 60’s style ballads etc. I also think, I’d get bored of doing the same thing over and over again, it’d begin to feel like playing a character, which wouldn’t be genuine.

MEL: You have done a lot more shows since our last interview, you used to take the piss out of yourself on stage, probably due to feeling a bit self conscious at that time maybe? How do you view your stage presence now?

CHRIS: Strangely my stage presence could almost be described as “barely having one” [Laughs]. I find being my usual, awkward, slightly annoyed, sarcastic and insecure self works for me, and puts the audience at ease too. It probably takes the edge of what are quite heavy song topics. I think if I took to the stage and attempted the whole “HELLO WEMBLEY, YOU LOOK BEAUTIFUL TONIGHT”, the audience would 1) see through me and 2) find it boring, they’ve heard that a million times before. I hope my awkwardness is refreshing.

MEL: And it is Chris, its most charming. So how long have you been playing guitar, and who was your guitar hero when learning to play?

CHRIS: I’ve been playing guitar for 9 years, so I should be a lot better than I actually am [Laughs], but song writing became more important than 20 minute blues solos (which used to be primarily what I enjoyed playing), so all the fancy stuff has fallen by the way side… for now.

My Guitar heroes when learning to play… used to be guys like Robert Johnson and BB King – The real great blues players. Now, sounding like a stuck record, I can sum it up in two words: “Johnny” and “Marr”.

MEL: I can imagine you have quite a stock of guitars. How many do you own and which is your most treasured – and why?

CHRIS: I own 2 Martin acoustic guitars, 3 electric guitars made by Burns London (who kindly endorse me – Thank You to Barry Gibson), 1 electric Duesenberg guitar and 1 Gretsch electric guitar. So 7 in total, over the 9 years I’ve probably owned around 20 guitars, but I swap and change a lot. I’ve found Burns and Gretsch guitars to be the ones that really work for my sound. I then use a very simple Fender Blues Junior amp (or any Fender one channel amp). I’m a firm believer that amps work best when they’re pushed into over drive rather than distorted by pedals. I push my amp with slap back delay units, to get that great retro rockabilly sound. I could talk all day, but I won’t, it’s geeky.

MEL: Are there any other musical instruments that you'd like to play?

CHRIS: So many. I’d love to be able to play upright bass, so I could play it on my recordings, but I’ve found it to be a very difficult instrument to master. I’d also love to be able to play Blues Harmonica so I could wail away at it for some different instrumental sections to some of my songs but again… my skills fail me.

MEL: Do you think coming from Warrington has been a help or hindrance to your foray into music?

CHRIS: I don’t think coming from Warrington has had any effect on my music. Warrington is a very hard place to grow up if your interests are on the fringes of society. A rugby town, a hard town, and industrial town. At this age, I feel like it’s my home and I’ve dealt with it, but when I was younger and at school, I felt a huge hatred for the place and felt like I didn’t fit in particularly well with the majority of its people. It was quite unhealthy, but things are better now.

MEL: Are you very ambitious, where do you see yourself in five years time?

CHRIS: I am very ambitious, but to a point. I don’t have any huge dreams of owning huge boats and private jet planes etc. I’d just like to be able to support a modest life style from a living earned in the music industry, and a nice little cult following across England and Europe would be lovely. If anything happened beyond that, then that’d be an added bonus.

As for where I’ll be in five years? … Hopefully a little apartment in France after a nice long tour, consuming copious amounts of Chardonnay.

MEL: Finally what's next for Chris Fox, the ‘Kindest Of Thieves’?

CHRIS: I’ve been gigging lots recently but am coming to the end of a busy schedule and backing off for a few weeks to write and hopefully record, then I’ll be back booking gigs, All Gigs can be found on the website, plus I also take bookings via the contact page on the website.

I’m writing a collection of songs currently that I’m very excited about. I don’t want to give too much away, but I hope to get into the studio to record them soon. I’m going to be playing a session and interviewed on BBC Manchester radio for the Introducing show on October 17th. 

If people should want to keep up to date then, www.kindestofthieves.com and www.facebook.com/kothieves  are the places to find me.

And you can find Chris Fox playing this coming Friday at the Mudkiss Showcase event around 8.30pm - details on the home page flyer. 

Interview & photos by Melanie Smith

www.mudkissphotography.co.uk