Meet The Cold Stares: Nashville’s Hottest Rock Band

by guitarkadia on May 3, 2010

in Interviews, Q & A

John by The Cold Stares

Before I go further, are you listening to the song above? (Lyrics and gear info at the end of this post)

There’s no need for a full intro by me of The Cold Stares. Lead guitarist and vocalist Chris Tapp shares his and his band’s history in such detail and care that anything I write will look weak. I will tell you, however, that the moment I clicked play on the first track ‘Release You’ on their MySpace page, I was hooked. The least possible words I can use to describe them is: “that shit is tight!!” Very scientific though.

A friend of Guitarkadia, Dean Campbell, introduced me to The Cold Stares. What pleasantly surprised me was the band comprises of no one else but Chris on guitar & vocals and drummer Brian Mullins. I don’t know if you’re ready on your end or not, but The Cold Stares is coming to everything near you. Very soon.

The Cold Stares:  Site + MySpace + Facebook + Twitter + YouTube + EP

Interview with Chris Tapp of The Cold Stares.

G:  When did you start playing guitar? Do you play any other instruments?

CT: I saw Jerry Lee Lewis on TV when I was 5 and was hooked, started taking piano lessons around that time. I remember my grand-dad always said if you learned piano you could have any woman you wanted. I do remember my piano teachers would get mad at me because I would listen to them play and then play it by ear back rather than reading correctly. I quit piano around 8th grade and taught myself to play guitar.  I can play a little of everything, although my drummer will tell you I’m no drummer.

G: What were some of the influential guitar players, albums you grew up with?

CT: First guitar player that I really took to was Hendrix. I remember when I was very young visiting some of my parent’s friends home, and their son had this poster of Hendrix on the wall, and he looked like song magical king from another planet with that Strat.  I can remember in high school when everyone was trying to play a 100 miles an hour, and listening to hair rock- I was still obsessing over creating sounds, like Hendrix did. First time I heard Zepp’s “Kashmir” I thought I’d discovered a new kind of music, I was obsessed. Like everyone else that really loves guitar, one door opens another.

So Hendrix and Page led me to Buddy Guy and Peter Green, who led me to Muddy and John Lee Hooker, who led me to Son House, Bukka White, Skip James, and that pure vein of blues.  There has been times in my life that I felt like I couldn’t handle things, and I could put on Robert Johnson or “When Can I Change My Clothes” by Bukka, and feel like I’d been dipped in the river and brought up a new man. Probably the other heavy influence on me guitar wise was folks that also draw from that same well, Doyle Bramhall,  Luke Janklow, Rich Robinson, and obviously Page. To me Page is probably the perfect example of a guitarist who has a reverence for the roots, but has really taken it to new places.

I can’t imagine what the guitar landscape would look like today minus Page and Hendrix’s contribution.  I went on a church retreat when I was 16, and some kids had smuggled Black Sabbath’s first record and Led Zeppelin 2, we went in this basement and played it on this old dusty record player- and they were both just so powerful.  Certainly changed my vision. And early Billy Gibbons, jeez, if I owned a town I’d name it after that guy.

G: Can you talk a little about your gear & setup? How would you describe your sound? Was it easy/hard to find it?

CT: Gear. Well, it’s really been an evolution over the last couple of years. Currently I’m playing Campbell American Guitars exclusively. I’ve owned a lot of guitars, and as Dean [Campbell] says- they are tools, but for this gig nothing else really would work. The Transitone’s are really my guitar.  First of all I needed something unique, because this band live just is really different than other bands you’ll see live.

Custom Brown Tung Oil Transitone

Secondly, I needed something that could push the amps well, but also something that wasn’t overly mushy. It’s just me up there,  and there is no safety net for me to rely on if I’m off, so I really have to depend on the guitars and amps.  My number one is a Nitro finish lilac, 59 in the bridge that is just early Gibbons’ balls.  My number two is a tung oil Transitone with two Duncan Phat Cats and Americana looking pickguard. I use this guitar on songs with more clean parts.  It’s very 335ish, but has a nice thick  bottom end bite on it.  It’s got that Mississippi Queen tone as well.  Also use a Terrasonic sparingly. It’s more of a studio guitar for me, as it can really cover ANY sound. Got a fatback early Tele style neck and really sustains for years.

De Isle

de Lisle 30P Tube Amp

For amps I’m using a de Lisle custom 30 head for my main tone.  Jer, the owner really dials in his amps to be “there”, and did that for me based on my style. He custom built me a head that is really a piece of art, sonically and visually.

de Lisle Custom Switching Pedal

He’s also brilliant with electronics in general and designed a custom switching pedal for me that did away with the ground hum’s I dealt with on the Morley’s. Both Campbell and De Lisle are really artist based manufacturers. I feel like both of them do well because they really are intent on making the artists rig come alive.

My sound?  Well in my head we are always playing “Highway to Hell” and I’m playing Angus, Malcolm, and Cliff Williams. Angus starts, Malcolm drops in, and Cliff drops in  the bass via the chorus.  I use 3-4 amps on stage, and I weave them in and out and kinda think of them as other players.  That really monstrous sound that we get is the unison lines rolling with every amp lit up. I can’t quite get away with chording with the bass amp and other amps all on, although I do have some tricks.  So I’m standing in front of all those amps, all voiced in different tonal areas and octaves, and all blasting a unison line it’s quite “Iron Man”, or “Dazed and Confused”.

I probably took me a year to really get the amps/sound dialed in.  It’s rather unconventional,  and it really wouldn’t work with just a mess of amps.  Each amp is voiced different, and really cover a lot of sonic ground.  My signal flow goes from guitar, to my custom designed De Lisle channel switcher pedal, to the guitar amps, and then one signal goes to a on-stage laptop with a custom program that converts the guitar signal 2 and 3 octaves down and through a Ampeg simulator.  That signal then gets split, one to the house, and the other to my old Peavey Bass stack that has built in distortion. I think the bass amp was on the road with Molly Hatchet mid seventies.  It’s loud and furry.

I had been using high watt fenders as my main tone prior to the De Lisle custom Jer built me.  The De Lisle really has improved the sound, rounded it out, made it more warm, and less harsh than the fenders. It’s the most responsive amp I’ve ever played. It really make its feel like you, the guitar and the amp are all dialed into the same power circuit.  It FEELS as good as it sounds.   It’s the one amp that is always on, and really the main element to my tone along with the Campbells.  If my tone is a cake, the De Lisle and the Transitones are my eggs and sugar.  Took about a year of playing out, and trying different things to land here, but I really think we have gotten to a place that’s different than anything that’s been done before, and I am very proud of that and extremely thankful to Campbell and De Lisle for helping me get here.

G: How did The Cold Stares come to be? Why decide it to be a duo and why that name? Despite the MySpace description of the band’s sound, what gives your music the ‘The Cold Stares’ sound? Also does being a rock group in Nashville have its dis/advantages?

Brian Mullins & Chris Tapp

CT: Man, great questions. I’ll keep it simple. Brian and I had played in other bands, had gotten very close to record deals before, and had some good success with other projects.  I always felt like we were trying to do what was expected of us in those types of bands. Listening to labels, or managers that were trying to mold you into the flavor of the month. I had given up on anything that resembled success, and just wanted to jam. More than anything, we just love to play. So we didn’t want to add a bass player into a project when we were not really setting out to play a bunch of gigs, or try to get signed,etc. It wasn’t long before we had gotten excited about playing a few of these songs we were jamming out in the garage, and suddenly we were missing the bottom end to fill things out.  Rather than try to pull someone else in, I started experimenting with covering some of those parts, and it just really led to a unique sound. And it just felt so much better to be playing things that came naturally.  When I’ve sat down and picked up a guitar since I was in high school, riffs like John, Jesus Brother James, and Kings are just what naturally come out.

The name came from a Black Crowes song I love, “Stare It Cold”.  And it fit, because we’d walk on stage and folks would think we were Simon and Garfunkel with just the two of us, and then we’d sound like Black Sabbath backing Muddy Waters- which would always leave folks mouths open and generate The Cold Stares.
Sound wise, it’s just the only thing we can do. And I’m glad of that. Glad to be in that group of bands that just does what they do, AC/DC, Black Sabbath, The Black Crowes,etc.  You won’t be seeing us doing love songs, wearing guy liner, or doing something that we’ll be embarrassed of in ten years. We melt faces as our friends Carswell say. All these other bands can try to be Muse or Coldplay and play disco.  We play our brand of heavy blues and we live and breath what we play.  Nothing more exciting that to see someone that belongs doing what they do.  As Cheap Trick said, no one else is as good at being Cheap Trick than Cheap Trick. We are proud of who we are and feel the same.

Nashville. Well the problem with Nashville is Nashville.  It’s about money.  I mean seriously, there is only a select group of folks really playing Country anymore, and God Bless them for it.  The rest of them are all failed pop stars, ex christian rock singers, or retired hair rock bands.  They all think that adding fiddle to a 1/2 cooked Journey song is going to make them rich.  And maybe it will.  But there is a counter-culture in Nashville that really has nothing to do with that scene.  And it’s full of the most talented folks I’ve ever been exposed to.  Clubs like 3rd and Lindsley and the Hard Rock Cafe are really committed to showcasing the cities talent outside of that cookie cutter country scene, and so many folks are working together to give the under belly of the city a voice.  I’d put this cities non-country talent up against any city in the world and we’d hold our own. Radio stations like Lightning100 have huge cult followings because they are true to cities real sound, which is actually VERY eclectic.

G: What are some of the best moments you remember from recording ‘The Cold Stares’ EP?

CT: Shit. Pizza from up the road from Paul’s studio. LOL.  We blew into Cleveland, spent a afternoon recording, and mixed the next morning. Was great just being in a room where such magic has been made, but in the end, we were in and out too quick to really enjoy.  We love Cleveland, and had a great time getting out and seeing the city.  She ain’t no Nashville, but a close second….

G: Congratulations on winning the Nashville chapter of ‘Ambassadors of Rock’! What would it mean to win the big prize?

Ambassadors of Rock - Winners Nashville

CT: Would mean everything. I mean they are really offering you everything that everyone wants as far as being successful in music.  Doesn’t get much better than playing at Hyde Park in front of 100 thousand people, opening for McCartney, Pearl Jam and Stevie Wonder. Thing is, if we didn’t go further than Nashville- we are still honored.  We played against some bands that I would pay money to see 5 nights a week, and won. But now that we are here- we want this for us and Nashville more than anything.  May 25th through June 6th you’ll be able to go onto www.hardrock.com and see the five city finalists videos, vote for your favorite city, and give some band the success that all bands work for.  It’s narrowed to around 20 cities now, and after the celebrity judges vote it will be the final 5. We hope, believe and pray that Nashville will be there,  and we ask you all to please vote for Nashville if we are. We have the best fans in the world, seriously, and a support team around us that is insane. We really hope we can win it for all of us.

G: Tell us how you’re active in the social media world and how we can keep up with the goings on of The Cold Stares?

CT: Well we are on all the sites, MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube.  We are really trying to put together a drive for adds on our Facebook and twitter so we can update fans in the event that we make the final 5. So if your reading this, please check us out on Facebook and send us as many friends as you can! (all links at the beginning of this post)

Behind the Song: JOHN from the EP The Cold Stares

I was listening to Son House’s “Levee Camp Blues” when this song came to me.  Those old delta songs just play like a movie in my head, and hearing Son talk about his lady waiting on him to come off the dock with the dough, just put this story in my head.
I wrote the song once I got the notion in about 5 minutes.  Music is just riff based, and keeps it pretty simple.  Just a nice heavy groove.  Basic story line is, guy has his girl, and he works on the gulf. After his pay from working on the boat is gone his girl moves on, and he finds out while he’s been gone his girl has taken up with “john” who works as a local gravedigger.  So he tells his girl he’ll be gone back to the boat, but comes home and waits for John to show up. Takes John down to the river and has him dig his own grave, shoots him and drops him in it. Decides that’s not right, and heads home and brings his girl back to stay with John. Classic delta folklore.

Gear used:

Transitone through a ac30 is the main tone, a fender and the bass amp. I use a envelope custom pedal to get the weird 2nd guitar tone in the break. We cut this one, one take in Cleveland at Suma. A favorite live.

John by The Cold Stares

Lyrics-
“Had me a job on a boat, sailed on the deep blue sea
everytime I come home, she was waiting on the dock for me
when that boat didn’t sail, and the money was all gone through….
she found her a boy named john, they said john had dug a grave or two.

john won’t you dig that grave
john won’t you dig that grave
john won’t you dig that grave
gonna bury you in that hole someday

gave my love a kiss, told her I was gone
snuck back home that night, and I waited there for john
and to johns surprise, I had a gun when he arrived
and we took us both a ride, down by the riverside

john won’t you dig that grave
john won’t you dig that grave
john won’t you dig that grave
gonna bury you in that hole someday

john dug a hole too deep
didn’t want him to be alone
so I drove back home that night
and I brought that bitch along
and when that sun did rise
and when that cock did crow
I laid her by his side, down there in that hole

john won’t you dig that grave
john won’t you dig that grave
john won’t you dig that grave
gonna bury you in that hole someday

** Photos, song, and lyrics courtesy of The Cold Stares. [Thank you!]

Mike G. May 3, 2010 at 1:29 pm

Definitely the buzz right now in Nashville is based around these guys. Kind of a straight rock revival. Reminds me of what I’ve been missing for quite some time.
MG

Brian May 4, 2010 at 12:21 am

Great post and really digging these guys right now. Nicely done.

emon May 5, 2010 at 11:18 pm

Thanks for the comments, Mike and Brian!

Cody June 6, 2010 at 10:04 pm

Wow! This stuffs great! I managed to pick everything out but the solo how bout some tabs out their guys?

rastraff June 8, 2010 at 2:57 pm

People on here seem to like it and I don’t think it’s bad at all, but rock revival? What are these guys doing that hasn’t been done (and done better possibly) over the last few years by, say, the Black Keys?

pete conn September 3, 2010 at 4:37 pm

not sure about a rock revival either, thats black rebel motorcycle club.

but- the Cold Stares are phenom, and they sound nothing like the black keys.
comparing them to the black keys is like comparing the beatles to the sex pistols just because they both have four members.

I hear the cold stares as much more hard rock and punk and the black keys as much more soul. I would be very surprised if the cold stares don’t break out in the next couple years into something very big.

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