Ten of the best: questioning guitarist Chris Szkup

Back when I did a lot more work with bands, creating album art and making a general nuisance of myself, I was fortunate to cross paths with a performer who I still hold in a special place.  For those who have attended any of my exhibition launches since say 2013/2014  you will know of course that I’m talking about Chris Szkup.  He has been my musical companion through all of those journeys, a gifted musician, incredible guitarist, calming influence, shared connoisseur of fine films and TV, and a super nice guy.

I first got to know Chris around the time he was preparing to release his first solo album Pieces of Eternity back in 2008/2009.  Instantly likable, I found Chris not only super easy to work with, but I was struck by how laid back he was and yet at the same time knew exactly what he wanted the visual representation of his album to be, which as graphic designer, I found really helpful.  A cool part of working with him was his knack to let me come up with things I felt I got out of his music, another helpful aspect was, hearing the music before it was released and using it to create the artwork, It really helped me get into a shared head-space.  Since then we’ve worked on many other projects together and it’s always been a pleasure.

I also always found him so patient with my (at times) quite peculiar requests for assistance.  Perhaps the most memorable was late one night asking if he could recreate my favourite David Bowie song Moonage Daydream for my exhibition Archipelago where I was putting together a play list of music for the launch that reflected my islands theme, without a heartbeat of hesitation he said “sure man” and he set to work.  What was to come was an amazing track. Chris utilised his excellent musicality and enlisted the vocal talents of collaborator and friend, Norwegian power vocalist Roy Bratbakken.  When I heard it I almost couldn’t believe he’d pulled it off. I have since lost count of how many times I have listened to it over and over.

So when I began putting together my new website, I thought it would be a great platform to interview and share a bit of love with people who have been there for me and been so helpful on a personal level, so without further ado, I sat down armed with ten questions for my friend, the great and powerful Chris Szkup.

1. Ok, so where did you grow up, what are your roots and how the hell do we pronounce your surname correctly?
Hey THANKS for asking me to do this my friend, I will try not to bore the hell out of your readers with my answers.I grew up in Claremont, which is a little suburb in the Northern suburbs of Hobart, Tasmania (Australia) maybe most famous for the Cadbury factory, which I believe is the largest chocolate factory in the Southern Hemisphere… or the amount of drinks people from there can consume. I’m not sure which is more famous haha.Is a beautiful part of the world, but once I started visiting Melbourne in the early 2000’s, I knew it wouldn’t be long before I had to relocate, which I finally did in 2004 and have been here ever since. Most of my family is still back there as well as many friends so it’s always good to make it back on a visit.

The “Sz” is more of a “Sh” sound, and the “u” rhymes with the “oo” in the word “cook”. So I guess “Sh-k?p”.  It’s not a very Aussie lingo friendly kind of sound, so you end up with a lot of variations haha.

2. What are your earliest influences, what sticks out?
Well as far as music goes, a lot of the credit has to go to my mother Irene. She was in a record club where they would send a catalogue each month, and you pick what you want and they would send it out to your house.When us kids were starting to get a bit of an awareness of music, she would let us pick out stuff to add to the orders. I remember getting some Beta format videos this way, as well as some vinyl. There was stuff by Queen, Bon Jovi etc which I still love and appreciate to this day, as well as some stuff where that isn’t the case so much shall we say – stuff that was popular at the time like Bros, Poison, Salt N Pepa etc haha.

(NB: I think Chris is secretly a huge Bros fan – Dan)

But as well as this, when I came up with the idea that I wanted to learn guitar, she was hugely into that. I remember we went straight down to our school (possibly the day I mentioned it even) and spoke to them about lessons. Unfortunately we had missed the timing for that year and couldn’t be added to the classes due to them being full. So she was determined that we would find another way to start right away. We looked into private lessons, but then there was a family friend who knew some stuff. Somewhere along the way my older bro Mathew also developed an interest in learning as well, and we did one lesson with this guy. It was definitely cool, and he also found me my first electric guitar after my father asked him to, but I think Matt and I just had the inspiration that we needed and ended up learning a lot of stuff on our own without the guy, so it was never more than that one lesson. We always seemed to do ok on our own, so we just kept chipping away at that.Sharing with each other, competing with each other. Is a great way to learn. A few years later we were doing high school bands together.  Great times.

3. How long have you been playing guitar, who taught you the most valuable lesson and what was it?
This all started in 1990, so I guess 29 years of playing. I think those early years of learning your favourite riffs and solos at home are so fun and exciting, but the time you REALLY start learning is when you are playing in your own bands. That’s when such fundamental things like rhythm, timing, groove and tuning really come in to play, when you’re there with other musicians in the room and not just playing in your bedroom anymore. So I would say the most important  lessons came from all those people that we played with in those early bands.

 

4.How many bands have you been in or are still in?
At the moment I have a Melbourne based metal band that is kind of a part time thing we do when everyone is available, and there is also a Hobart based band that has gigged under the names of Seventh Sons (doing Iron Maiden music) and Cunning Stunts (doing Metallica music).

Cunning Stunts

While not a traditional “band” as such, we also do a little thing called The Feckers where all of our members are based in different countries around the world. This was started by my mate Richard Anderson and I after we started writing songs together through the internet in the late 1990’s. There have been other bands in the past, most notably a metal band in Hobart called Jigsore, and some cover bands and duos etc.

 

5. Who are your top 5 favourite performers or bands, what makes them special to you?
Wow this is a tough one. I will do my best here and this would probably change from time to time.

Cheap Trick – Recently I realised that I’ve seen these guys 10 times since 2008, including some “mad dash” type trips to attend their gigs in other states of Australia and Japan. The thing with them, and probably is true about most of my favourite artists is that not only does their music rock, they are genuinely good people and don’t have any ego whatsoever. I could give countless examples of their coolness as people. That is the most important thing, and these guys absolutely have it covered!

Left: with Ron 'Bumblefoot' Thal., Right with Robin Zander of Cheap Trick

Left: with Ron ‘Bumblefoot’ Thal and right: with Robin Zander of Cheap Trick

Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal – Just an absolute freakazoid musician, but also a wonderful guy. I randomly came across his music on the Internet in 1998 and knew right away that I was listening to one of the greats. Am glad the world
finally caught on to that. I will never forget being backstage at two nights of GNR concerts in 2007 when he was in the band, being kinda nervous, cause “shit – it’s GNR” (and not to mention this was the first time Ron and I were meeting), and having him introduce me to people in the crew and band as “my friend Chris”. This man always has my support!

Graveyard Train – Hands down the best band from Australia for my money!! My mate’s Dad (also a good mate) randomly found them on Youtube one day and casually showed us. “WOOOOOOOOW” – what a band. And when he said they were from Melbourne as well? Mind blown. We have seen a bunch of their shows, which sadly aren’t very regular these days, but at the last one, after the band finished, two of the members came right up to my mate and I and started talking and thanking us. Come back guys!

Sara Bareilles – Man, I like Sara so much that I purchased a ticket that said “Maroon 5” on it just to see her play. Had seen Youtube stuff of her live before that and knew that she always nails it, but the stage banter and everything
is absolutely hysterical. It’s almost a comedy show as well as a music show.

Death Angel – Have only seen these guys live for the first time last year, but MAN was I impressed. Definitely have to do it again as soon as I can. The amount of time these guys have been around and they just continue to get better and better every time, and absolutely deliver live.

6. Do you have foundation artists that inspired you who you return to all the time?
Definitely Queen, Megadeth, Bumblefoot, The Beatles etc.

 

7. If you could see one performance from any time, who or what would it be?
Any show from late 70’s / early 80’s Queen would be amazing. I love that band, but I’m not quite at the nerd fan level to be able to pick a specific show from that era (or know the date), but they were always incredible and did really interesting set-lists and performances, so you pretty much couldn’t lose with any show from that timeframe.

 

8. What is your favourite achievement so far?  The one that gives you the most satisfaction, or brings a smile to your face?
I think my first album “Pieces Of Eternity” that a certain Dan Verkys provided the artwork for, it was such a journey. At the start of it, I didn’t really have much money as I was just settling in Melbourne around that time, but thanks to my brother Matt, we did the first session at Red Planet Recording in Hobart with Stew Long, and that really planted the “seed” as far as this whole creating and bringing my songs to life, which I’ve been doing ever since.That album was also the first time in my history that we were able to try any crazy idea that we had, be it a trumpet part, seven vocal tracks in a tribal chant, or whatever it was.

Previous to this, it always seemed like there was some reason why we “couldn’t” do something anytime a crazy idea came up, but that isn’t the way it should be at all, and being in the right situation to follow through with all those crazy ideas finally was a great thing.

 

9. What do you have planned coming up in the future?
Right now we are in the final tracking and then mixing stage of the second album from The Feckers which is called “Live To Fight Another Day”, and I also have around 5 songs that I recorded for the TCSO lineup (The Claremont Symphony Orchestra) I put together that has been putting out the occasional single release over the last couple of years, which will hopefully come out before the end of the year as an EP.Aside from these I will just continue to do what I do, with The Feckers (we’ve started writing the third album already), and with the occasional solo release where I play most of the instruments myself.

10Where can people find out more about you?
www.cs-songs.com is my personal site and www.thefeckers.net is the official site for The Feckers.

Thanks so much for having me man!

 

No problem mate.


Ok everyone, so there you have it, Mr Chris Szkup… Shkoop… Shkup.. Sk?p…  Oh well you all know him now, so get out there and get behind your local artists, whether they are painters, craftspeople, or musicians like Chris, support them and they will support you back with cool stuff.