March 9, 2023 – For the past 10 years the Indiana blues-rock band The Cold Stares have toured all around the world as a “bare bones” guitar and drum duo featuring frontman Chris Tapp and drummer Brian Mullins. The band recently added bass player Bryce Klueh to the mix for their 6th studio album VOICES scheduled to release March 10th via Mascot Records.
This past Valentine’s Day, I had the opportunity to chat with frontman Chris Tapp about the new album, adding a third player to the mix, his songwriting and so much more…
Digital Beat Magazine: How are you doing tonight? Thank you for taking the time this evening to talk to us being a holiday and all.
Chris Tapp: It worked out. My wife’s a little under the weather today so we’re celebrating this weekend. It’s all good.
DBM: When I first read your bio, it said you were based out of Indiana. Being an Indiana girl myself, how did you end up based out of Indiana? What’s the music scene like down there in Evansville?
CT: Oh, there’s not really a music scene here, actually. (laughs) Brian and myself were both from the State of Kentucky and lived about 30 minutes south of Evansville. We both married ladies that were from Evansville…So we got dragged across the Ohio (River) up into Indiana (laughs) so we’re kind of Kentucky guys (laughs again), but there’s not really a scene here. You know, when we were first starting out, there was a little bit of a scene and some great local bands. Mock Orange is a band that did pretty well in Evansville and we had some success early on but that’s been 10 years ago now. There’s not really any kind of local original stuff left.
DBM: So for our readers who might not be familiar with The Cold Stares, how did you and Brian Mullins get together as a band? And why just a duo until recently?
CT: Well, I met Brian when we were super young (like high school), and he was starting out on drums. He wasn’t very good at the time. (laughs) He came and tried out for a band that we had and I thought, “I’m not that impressed” (laughs) Then I didn’t see him for a long time. About 10 years later, we had a mutual friend that had a band and asked me to help out. Brian was playing in that band and he was great now! He had really worked on his craft in those 10 years. So, we played in that band for a minute to help our friend out, then decided we should just do our own thing. We had a band prior to The Cold Stares that we played in for a few years and we had some record label showcases and were really close to getting a deal; and then we didn’t get a deal. We both thought we were going to hang it up at this point. Then we got a call from the same guy a couple months later asking us just to open for him. We were both broke at the time, so we were like, “Okay, well, we’re not gonna get a bass player, cuz if we get a bass player, it’s a legit band. If it’s just the two of us, it’s not legit”. I was one that never really cared for the White Stripes because of the lack of the bass player. I didn’t think it was realistic…Anyway, it was just the two of us and we played and everybody loved it. Then we had a friend that asked us to play in the Hard Rock Cafe contest in Nashville. We played and out of like 1500 bands, we ended up winning!
DBM: That’s great!
CT: Yeah. It was nothing planned. I think with the prior band we were trying so hard to get a record deal; I think I was writing for the record label instead of just writing for myself and this band. I was just writing stuff that I thought would be fun to play, and that, in the end, is what came out to be successful. So I ended up figuring out a way to play the bass and the guitar in the same capacity on the rig that I was using. Once we started and had some success, then we were kind of stuck at the two-piece band for a while.
DBM: You’re getting ready to release your sixth studio album March 10th via Mascot Records. This is your second collaboration with Mascot and producer Mark Needham. How is working with the label different from independently releasing your music like you did with your first four albums?
CT: The biggest difference is when we can release it. The record label likes to drag out the releases a little bit longer. You know, if it was up to us, we would release a record every six months. We’re very proficient at writing and recording. I feel like nowadays it’s beneficial to have new music pretty often; at least new songs but the label wants to stretch it out. Other than that, creatively, they just kind of stay out of our way and let us do our own thing. We haven’t had any issues per say. We specifically signed with them for that reason knowing that they would allow us to do our thing. We’ve known Mark Needham since we first started. We had a production deal with Mark. Early on we had some record labels interested in us and Mark facilitated all that. We’ve been really good friends for 10 years. So if we’re gonna pay somebody to mix the record, you know, might as well have Mark do it. He’s well renowned for that and he’s also a good friend.
DBM: Sounds like a win-win situation. So you touched base a little on your songwriting. What inspires your writing? Where do you pull from when you’re creating?
CT: It just depends on what I’ve been soaking up around that time. Sometimes it’s movies. Sometimes it’s thinking about something that’s happened in the past. Sometimes it’s me putting myself in somebody else’s shoes. It was a little easier starting out because I was writing about the things that were the most pertinent in my life at that time. And now, because I write so much, I’ve kind of covered so many bases. You know, I have to stretch out a little bit and sometimes think differently; put myself in somebody else’s shoes to write. I think the main thing about writing is always trying to be honest. And sometimes that honesty comes from how you would react in somebody else’s situation, you know. Putting yourself in somebody else’s shoes. I do that sometimes. This record, I covered a couple topics that I had kind of shied away from in the past. I just kind of felt like it was time. I was okay to tackle a few things probably from a maturity level aspect.
DBM: What do you find yourself gravitating towards when you’re in that creative mindset?
CT: You know, I’ve heard other people say it and it’s really true for me too. You’re just kind of like an antenna. I have learned that when I have that creative moment and I’m feeling creative to stop doing what I’m doing and write. Because it’s not always there. You’re not always in that mood. You don’t always have that flow that’s coming through you to write. I’m more inspired in the morning when I’m writing but you just kind of never know. There were times in the past that I would have a creative moment and think, “Oh Man. I’ll just play with it later on”…and then it’s gone. I’ve definitely learned to stop in the moment and write it down.
DBM: So to be safe, do you carry a little notepad for when these moments hit?
CT: (laughs) Yeah. I used to but now it’s this stupid phone. I’ve got so many notes on this phone. I’ve got a couple songs from the last record, “Heavy Shoes” and “In The Nighttime” that I wrote while waiting in line at the school to pick up my kid. A song just kind of came to me so I sang it into the phone. I’ve still got the demo on my phone (laughs) which is hilarious. It’s just me singing. You gotta take it when it comes and just let it flow.
DBM: Being credited as the songwriter, do you write both music and lyrics and present it as a completed demo to the band, or does that happen in the studio with both Brian and now Bryce?
CT: I’ll write everything out and then we all arrange it, you know. Brian’s got great ideas as far as arranging; he’s a good arranger. So I’ll write it and then we might shorten things or lengthen things and tweak it a little.
DBM: And with the new album Voices, you’ve added Bryce Klueh (bass), how has that changed the dynamic of the band?
CT: It’s been a long time coming! A couple times over the last decade we had talked about adding a bass player. We tried a couple guys that were really nice but they just didn’t fit for whatever reason. This last year we were touring Europe and our record label was there and saw a couple shows and they were like, “This is amazing, but man, we miss you playing the guitar solos.” And I just couldn’t cover all of it live as a duo and so we talked about it. We have known Bryce for probably 15, 20 years and he’s one of the only really good bass players around this area. And he is just a nice guy. He was a big fan of our band. He was already coming out to shows and we knew it would be a good fit. So when we came back from Europe we didn’t really try anybody else out. We just offered a gig to him. We did a couple shows and we went right in the studio to record Voices. I knew it would work with him just because I knew him and knew his playing. The thing it did more than anything was allow me to kinda write the record based on knowing that it was gonna be a three piece. That was nice cuz in the past I would write stuff a lot of times and be worried about how we’d pull it off as a two piece. It was nice not to have to worry about that anymore.
DBM: What I have heard so far is really good! Now that Voices is a completed project with the first few singles released, what are you most excited for the fans to get out of this album?
CT: Just to finally have it! We’ve got the vinyl in and the CDs in…I don’t know how old you are, but when I was in high school, you could go to the mall and buy the CD. You just went and got the music whether you’ve heard anything off it or not. Now it’s like you drop a single and then next month you drop another single. So there’s four or five songs already out and we’ve drawn this out over four or five months. I just want to release the album. It’s like I said, I would drop music much more often if I could. I hate for the fans to have to wait for the music; it’s such a long buildup. It’s gonna be nice just to hear everybody’s reaction to the rest of the record.
Track Listing: VOICES
Nothing But The Blues
Come For Me
Got No Right
Sorry I Was Late
Waiting On The Rain
Throw That Stone
Thinking About Leaving Again
DBM: Your tune “Mojo Hand” is the trailer song for the action video game Cyberpunk 2077. What has it been like working with the gaming community versus the music community and how do you feel it’s expanded the band’s audience?
CT: It’s definitely brought in a lot of younger people into the audience. Our demographic was kind of 25 to 60 for the longest time cuz that’s where Blues and Rock sits. It’s brought in a lot of 13 – 15 year olds who dig the music because of the video game. When we were first contacted by the Cyberpunk people (I forget the company (CD Projekt Red) that makes the video game but they’re out of Poland) they didn’t allow my publishing company to tell us what the video game was or anything else. They just said we’re fans of the band and asked if we had two songs that we hadn’t released yet? We had “Mojo Hand” and a song called “Suffer Me” that we didn’t put on the record cuz we didn’t think it was good enough for the record strangely enough. So we sent those over and then we didn’t hear anything. I had completely forgot about it and then two years later, they messaged and said not only did they want the songs, but they wanted to use “Mojo Hand” for the trailer of the whole video game. We were freaked out! I don’t really play video games so we didn’t know a whole lot about it. When they finally told us what it was, we learned Keanu Reeves was in it. We knew then it was gonna be a big deal. It was pretty life changing for us to have the first song in the video game. We were the only really rock band on the soundtrack. We are just very fortunate to have landed that. It’s one of those things you’d never expect in a million years.
DBM: Along those same lines, what is it like hearing your music in a commercial for Chevy or in a popular TV show like TNT’s Animal Kingdom? You’re sitting at home and you turn on the TV and you hear yourself…I mean that’s gotta be pretty surreal.
CT: It’s like winning the ballgame! (laughs) It’s a visual and audio clarification that you’re accomplishing what you have set out to do. I mean, it’s always great because we have people message us stating “Hey man. Somebody ripped off your song, man. It sounded like your song in the Chevy commercial” and I’ll be like, “No man, that’s us. That’s me you hear!” (laughs) Even though we’ve posted that was going to happen a thousand times on socials; but we still get the messages and calls. It’s great! We’ve been very blessed to be able to nail some of that stuff down. It never gets old!
DBM: Any endorsements or current sponsorships that are in the works that you’d like to mention?
CT: Nothing coming up for any kind of TV shows or commericals. We’re always pitching stuff for TV and commercials, so hopefully, we’ll have some more good fortune to what we’ve already had. I’ve got an endorsement with Fender Guitars. I played a lot of Fender stuff so we’ve got that going on but that’s kinda it at the moment.
DBM: Nothing wrong with that…Fender’s good! I see you’re headed to Europe May through July; Any U.S. dates in the work to support the new album? Can we expect any festival sightings this summer?
CT: We’ve got some shows between now and May with a couple runs in the Midwest and then when we get back from Europe, we’ll have a tour that’s gonna go through the Southwest and Texas. We’re gonna try to get back out to California at some point this year. We’re always in talks with a couple other bands about going out and supporting them, but you never know how that’s going to go. There’s just not as many rock/blues bands out touring as there was, you know, 20 years ago. We did a tour with Larkin Poe last year but those are hard to grab. It’s hard to find those tours. We’re hoping that something opens up with that, but if not, we do really well in Europe; much better than in the States. So as long as that continues, we will continue doing that.
DBM: Well, we hope to see you sometime up here in Indianapolis (Hey HI-FI, Vogue, MOKB Presents, Forty-Five presents, Slippery Noodle). I’d love to photograph the band and catch a show. I don’t get down around the Evansville area much but hopefully, you’ll make your way up to the 317 soon. *(Since this interview, The Cold Stares were in Indianapolis at the WTTS 92.3 Sun King Studios be sure to watch for highlights on WTTS)
CT: Yeah, we are always playing Midwest towns like Columbus or Toledo (Ohio) and we drive through Indianapolis every time. I always tell our agent we gotta get some dates on the books in Indy. It’s definitely a goal!
DBM: So winding down here Chris, I always ask anyone that I interview – what are you listening to? What’s on your playlist right now?
CT: So I’ve been listening to Mark Lanegan (Screaming Trees, Queens of the Stone Age, The Gutter Twins) who passed away early last year. I’m listening to Dirty Streets – some friends of ours from Memphis, TN that have a great band. And I’m always listening to old blues stuff, think Robert Johnson or Son House; I always have something in rotation…
DBM: Can’t go wrong with old blues – A solid foundation that a lot of “houses” have been built on.
DBM: That’s all we got for you tonight. Chris, Happy Valentine’s Day! We hope your wife gets feeling better soon. Thank you again for taking the time tonight to sit down and give us a chat. We really do appreciate it. Congratulations on the new album. We can’t wait!
CT: Sounds good. Thank you.
Interview Date: 2.14.2023