Unified Theory – Interview

unified theory

Picking up the pieces with unified theory

The story of how Unified Theory formed is more a tale about fate. While Chris Thorn and Brad Smith, once members of the infamous groove and jam band Blind Melon, were sleepless in Seattle looking for a lead singer to front a new project, Chris Shinn’s life was falling to pieces. How would you like to have your house burn down with all of your possessions and two members of your band leave? All of this happened to Shinn in a matter of a few months. Shinn’s fate would take a turn for the better when Thorn finally tracked down the voice he had been searching for. The timing was perfect because Shinn had no place to go, and Turner was itching to start a fresh new band. Within a few weeks, the band was solid and Thorn and Shinn discovered a common musical bond as well as a hidden friendship.

Calling from the deep south, guitarist Chris Thorn told the tale that is Unified Theory.

Do we have a connection?

Hello? Chris?

We are here in the van and we’ve been having trouble with our cell. If we get disconnected, I’ll call back when we get to a better area. I think the connection is better now.

I can hear you. Where is the van headed?

We are headed to Spartanburg, North Carolina. We are in the midst of a nine or ten hour drive from Mississippi.

Where did you guys start out at?

We started in Los Angeles and we have been just going everywhere. We went up the west coast into Canada, into Denver, then to Texas. We have been out on the road for like a month.

So how does it feel to be back out on the road?

It feels great and it makes me feel like we are working. I love being in the studio, but the live shows have been going great. It feels good to be playing live in front of people. We were so isolated for a very long time making this record, it feels good to get some feedback on the stuff we did.

Have you been running into many Blind Melon fans? Hopefully turning on some new people as well.

Yeah, you know what? There is always people at the shows that were Blind Melon fans. And what’s great about it, I was just saying this to Brad (Smith, bassist) earlier, that some people come with the notion, ‘Well, I did not think I was going to like it but I was blown away and I love it.’ That’s the best compliment you can get.

Was it a little weird getting back up on stage not as Blind Melon?

No, I would not say that. It has been a long period of time and I have done a few gigs, I played with Live, and Brad and I toured with his guy Gus for a while. So, I mean, I think it would have been if it were right after Blind Melon had ended, but I think it’s been such as long period of time that this just feels like a fresh start, which is a really good feeling.

I’m very impressed by the lead singer, Chris Shinn. He has a unique vocal delivery, and I like bands that have something else to offer, whether it be vocally or guitar style. When I heard Chris’s voice, it reminded of a guy by the name of John Mann of Spirit Of The West. Similar deliveries with ranges of the voice.

I have not heard of them. I should go check them out. Spirit Of The West?

Yeah. They are out of Canada. The song that stuck with me was “Full Flavor”, because he sings so high and the voice is very soothing, so I thought it was a female singer on that song. When I looked in the liner notes, I could not believe there was no female compliment.

That’s cool. I have to check them out and I’ll tell him (Shinn) about that as well.

See if you can find the record Two Headed. That’s a good record.

Chris has just an amazing voice and it just blows my mind, and back to us playing live, I’m completely floored with what he’s doing live each night. He sings it better than on the record.

Just for the record, he uses no vocal effects?

Absolutely. He’s that good of a singer.

How many auditions did you go through before you finally stumbled across this guy?

It was not really like that. We have listened to thousands and thousands of tapes when Blind Melon was still trying to continue, but then I felt like that was not going to work. Chris was not auditioning at all, I just heard his cd and fell in love with his voice. He had no plans of changing of what he was doing, he was in a band called Celia Green, so I heard his voice and met him. Then I invited him up to my home in Seattle to come up and hang out and write some songs with Brad and I. The band sort of developed out of that and it was not like he was auditioning for the band.

What kinds of bands was he in before?

(the cell phone cuts out so Chris arranged to call me in an hour from a stationary place)

Hello?

I think I finally got ya.

Yeah, I can hear you better this time around.

I’m just going to walk outside. The bar’s playing Kenny Rogers really loud in there. Oh shit! (laughing) They are playing it really loud out here too! Oh well. Can you deal with it?

I can deal with it. My question is, can you?

What were we talking about?

I was going to ask you what types of bands was he in?

He was in, it’s hard to explain. He had his own thing going on for sure, he was writing a lot of songs and his project, they were heavy and very melodic. Luckily for me, I caught him at the right time because as I said earlier he was not looking to join up with anybody. I found him and just loved his voice and asked him to come up. It was good timing because his drummer and guitar player got an offer from Everlast to go out on tour. So it was perfect because he was in a transition period. That’s why it worked out. Chris always says that six months in either direction it was possible that this would have never happened.

Describe the first rehearsal you guys had and what came out of that?

He flew to Seattle, and that first day I think we started working on “Passive”. I had the original riff for “Passive” and we just sat in the studio to work on that. Dave (Krusen, drummer) happened to be in town so that worked out well and he came over the next day to lay the drums down. I invited him (Shinn) just to see what would happen, and if we did not write anything that we loved or we did not feel proud of, then that would have been it. He would have gone back to doing his project and I would have gone on to do something else. We wrote “Passive” and a song called “Cessna” within the first couple days and that was the proof to us that this should be a band.

It seems that you and Chris have formed a good friendship already?

Yeah, and that was the other thing. When I first met him, we both felt the same way about music and bands that we liked. We laughed a lot too. We had some good times just cracking each other up. When he came up to Seattle, it was more of the same thing. He also hit it off with Brad as well. What’s cool is when the band first started, Chris came up, and at that point I had committed to working with Live for a couple of weeks. I took off and Chris lived at my house and got some time to hang out with Brad.

Were you playing rhythm guitar?

I did a two-week tour with them and then I played on their last record. I played some rhythm and slide stuff, they were looking for another guitar player and it was a great experience and a wonderful offer. At the same time, I met Chris and I wanted to do my own project, but it great touring with them and they’re great guys.

You and Brad have your own home studios.

Yeah. We made our record in our studios.

What did you do at your house that was different from his house?

Well, it’s not as easy as that. For the most part, we would track drums over there and sometimes the drums and bass, and then do the guitars and vocals at my house. But, you know, some days we would be back and forth between the studios more than once. I don’t know, that’s a good question though, I don’t know why things where done in certain orders. We liked his drum room better, we did the drum tracks in his dining room, but my studio was set up more for the finishing and mixing, and the guitar equipment was at my house.

I think it’s great that technology and music are coming together to allow musicians to work in their own homes. Did you feel less pressure in making this record because you had your home studio? If the press would have heard early that the old members of Blind Melon were going into the studio in LA or New York, do you think that would have caused some invited pre-hype?

Well, we did not have any of that because what we did is we did not tell anybody what we were doing at all. We were in our studio for about a year recording and writing songs before anybody heard of us or knew anything about us, so that definitely eliminated any pressure because no one knew or cared because no one knew what we were doing. I think having your own home studio allows you to be more creative, and we don’t have home studios, we have professional studios with vintage equipment from the ’70’s.

That would describe some of the more rich sounds on the record.

I think it allowed us to be more creative and it allows us to really over think the songs in a really good way and not be pressured into anything quickly. I really don’t believe in that method. I love just working and reworking the songs by adding things and subtracting things and to just keep painting a landscape of sound.

When I listen to the record, two songs that really bring out what you just said are “Self Medicated” and “Passive”.

“Passive” was the first song we had ever written together as a band. There’s some cool orchestration in there. Speaking of both studios, I was working on guitar parts and Brad had taken a two-track mix of it over at his house. He worked on the baritone and flute in that song and he worked on that. While Chris and I were in my studio, and he came over a couple hours later and played it for us. We were like, ‘That’s fucking amazing.’ We flew it into my tape machine. As far as “Self Medicate”, it was jammed out in the studio.

“Wither” is a tune that fits perfectly on the album.

Yeah, I think so too. Thank you. That was a song that Brad had written. His demo is quite different and it just came alive when the band started to add their personality to the song.

Why did the band pick “California” as the first single?

We didn’t. Those are things for people in business suits in record companies to figure out. My feelings about singles is that we wrote of the songs so it does not matter to us what our record company thinks they believe will get played on the radio. I did not go to business school to be a guy working at a record company or in radio. For me, it’s like we write songs. It’s up to the record company to get them played.

This is kind of a personal question. Why did not you ask the other members of Blind Melon, Roger Stevens (guitar) and Glen Graham (drums), to keep going?

We auditioned a couple people, and to tell you the truth, it never felt right. That’s the bottom line. When the four of us were in the room with somebody else, it always felt like someone was missing. The only way for us to move on was for us to separate. Brad and I have been doing production work together the last few years, and just from proximity because Brad lived down the street from me. Roger was in New York City and Glen was in New Orleans at the time, and it just made more sense for us to go our separate ways.

Do you guys still keep in touch?

Oh yeah. Best friends with Roger. Glen just disappears every now and then. I talked to Roger a few days ago and we’ll see him in New York City. We are playing in New York City at the Mercury Lounge and he’ll be playing across town that night. That will be fun.

Has he got a band or is he solo?

No, he’s in a band called Extra Virgin.

You and him were a great duo on guitar.

We had a great chemistry together and a great career. For me, I wanted to evolve and change. It was a lot harder for the four of us to change. We did something very specific and without Shannon it just did not make sense.

Will you be doing work on Brad’s solo album?

Brad’s solo record is finished and I worked on the whole thing. I engineered and co-produced the record, and that’s been done for a while, but it’s sort of taking a back seat because this project has finally taken off. It will probably come out this year. The record is very eclectic and Brad is an amazing songwriter.

When does the tour with Live and Counting Crows start up?

That I believe starts either September ninth or twelfth in Wisconsin, mainly on the west coast. Our plans are to tour the whole year through. We are having a good time out on tour so far.

That’s what I like to hear. Chris, it was a pleasure speaking with. Take care.

It was good talking with you. Thanks for helping spread the word.

+larry sarzyniak

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