Multi-instrumentalist, Recording Artist and Producer, Owner of High Lonesome Studio
“First and foremost, Chris is a Craftsman–musicianship, songwriting, music production, even custom silver jewelry-making are all approached with a focus on excellence in craft. In the studio he uses dreamy tones, flawless engineering, easy-going vibe, and personal service to craft a great studio experience–and you can hear it in the music that comes out of his place.” – Tim Chinnock, The Adobe Collective
By Lisa Morgan
This Saturday, October 3rd, at The Hood Bar and Pizza in Palm Desert, Chris Unck will simply be one of the hand selected artists performing, chosen for their stellar songwriting and musical prowess. With his kid-like joy for the music and his breezy demeanor, you would never suspect that this man has performed throughout the US, Canada and Europe, at times for audiences of 80,000 opening for P!NK. He has performed, recorded and/or written with other renowned artists such as Lisa Loeb, Victoria Williams, and Gavin DeGraw (the short list). He has worked on Island Def Jam Records, and performed live with Butch Walker and The Black Widows live on David Letterman. Making the best of my allowed space, I will share some of Unck’s amazing stories from the road, his hard earned wisdom and how it has all brought him to our desert. But even at my best, I can only tap the surface. I highly recommend coming to hear him perform this Saturday, and meet this approachable, incredibly talented, troubadour to the core, in person.
Unck grew up just outside of the small town of Helen, in the even smaller town, Sautee Nacoochee, a still unincorporated community near the Appalachian foothills of northeast Georgia. Given the “smallness” of his community, it didn’t take long for him to figure out he was different than most others. His Uncle and Step-father played guitar, and his Dad was an aspiring producer, but it was made quite clear that music was what someone did AFTER work. To want more than that from music, was considered in Unck’s words, “Sadistic”. His relentless fascination with music, and pursuit of making it, would definitely bring him some hard earned lessons, but it ultimately gave him a wealth of knowledge and some larger than life experiences. Today, however, all roads lead to Joshua Tree. There, he has found his tribe, his heart, and his sanctuary, and has built High Lonesome Recording Studio where some of Southern California’s most promising singer/songwriters have recorded their art.
CVW: Tell me about how you were motivated to learn so many instruments.
Unck: “I was first listening to ‘Echoes‘ by Pink Floyd, and all the different parts fascinated me – the bass line, the slide, the drums; all of it was equally blowing my mind. How they recorded it blew my mind. I had to know all of it.”
CVW: How, exactly, you came to tour with P!NK in Europe?
Unck: It was completely insane. She was a fan. We were over at a band member’s house in Malibu, playing around a patio fire pit, and she came over in her casual hippie clothes, hung out, and we did some songs together. I didn’t say anything, thank God, but I didn’t even recognize her – I waited until she left to ask. But on her way out she said, ‘You guys should come on tour with me.’ Then she actually followed up – she really meant it. So we went from playing clubs of 400-500 people, 2000 at the most, doing two tours of the U.S. and Canada and then went straight to Germany to join her. We couldn’t believe it, and we really didn’t understand the level of extreme. It was 6 months at the top of the top. We didn’t even have the money to afford most of the tour, so she emptied out one of her luxury buses for us, saying, ‘Just put it on my tab.'”
“She’s the real deal. I’ve never met anyone in my life that is as real as her as far as rock stars go. I’ve met some ego maniacal psychopaths out there. She would treat us like family and then go step out on stage and command 80,000 people to a pin drop. She refused to sing to tracks. With all that dancing and flying around, and all the “help” she was offered, she used a real mic. ‘Nope, my band plays live,’ she’d say. There was no Pro Tools rig. I saw every show; I saw them have awesome shows, and I saw them screw up. I saw them play to the crowd and play longer when it was fitting, and I saw her fly around, singing over the crowd. I also saw the rig break and slam her onto the stage. She about broke her neck, but she refused to cancel the shows. ‘The only thing I’m cancelling is the rig until I can feel physically well enough.’ She could have gotten many people fired or sued them, but she didn’t. She walked through it all like it was nobody’s business. I’ve never seen anything that good from behind the scenes or out in front.”
CVW: After playing to the accolades of thousands, how does it feel to play to such smaller audiences now?
Unck: “Accolades are interesting. People always say, ‘You’ve done this’ or, ‘You’ve done that.’ But those things aren’t as memorable as what’s important. Opening for P!NK, touring the world in Europe to sold out soccer stadiums where there are humans as far as the eye can see, that’s a pretty cool experience. But those are the far off mountain peaks. Yeah, they’re beautiful, but some of the most beautiful things are the smaller things. It’s important to be aware that it’s not always about the mountain. When I’m performing for 100 people and we’re connecting and feeding off of each other – that’s the flower; that’s right here up close and now. That’s the real deal. Don’t be disillusioned by all that 80,000 people stuff. Because actually what happens is this: you’re on this giant stage, you can’t hear anything, you’re in this weird vortex of sound that does not sound good at all. You’re trying to have a moment with your band and there’s just too much air and space. The closest guy’s like 40 feet away and you’re looking at his hand hitting the snare but the sound is coming at you way later and it’s tricking you out. The people you’re playing to are far down and far away so you’re not having a connection with that festering pool of flesh.”
CVW: You have been all over the US and Europe. What brought you to settle in Joshua Tree?
Unck: “Joshua Tree is moving up in the world. More and more people are coming here, like me trying to find their creative tribe. I’ve never lived in a place where the musicians are all amazing, and they actually all want to help each other. The truth is, a lot of music communities are cut-throat. Nashville, Chicago, LA, Brooklyn, they are all waiting for you to fail so they can step in your place. It’s interesting how many people out here are willing to help, actually follow through with it, and are genuine in doing so. It’s the first time I’ve been in a place where the way I feel in my heart and soul is a mirror of the musical community. The people I’m around are genuine. Don’t get me wrong, there is always the Ying to the Yang, but I’ve seen some of the most beautiful exchanges of love I’ve ever witnessed between two people around here.”
CVW: What advice do you have for younger, want-to-be up and coming artists?
Unck: “Work fair and know what’s fair. Know what people are getting paid. Get an entertainment lawyer. If you don’t know and can’t afford a lawyer, learn. If you don’t learn the easy way, you will learn the hard way. You’ll find out very quickly if you’re not cut out for this. Because when it comes to blows (and it will), that’s when you’ll decide if you even want to get back up.”
CVW: So what now. After all you’ve done and experienced, what is left?
Unck: “I’m not so much into the touring as I am into helping people with outcomes for their music. I do a lot of licensing for TV and Film. I also write and have a band, Lucky Bones, with my girlfriend, and am involved with several different projects. I LIKE making records. I’ve always been into it.”
“I just went down to LA, and I’ve got so much work coming in. I have two publishing deals: one as a producer/composer that umbrellas every artist that enters into the studio (which is what I was hoping for), and one as an artist, myself. For example, every artist that comes through here has an option to get their music into TV and film and get it placed. So with me it’s like, ‘Look, here’s the terms. I’m under the same contract. I’ll even show you the email exchange.’ That just hasn’t been done until now. Traditionally, no one really knows or understands the terms or what is even fair. Artists have been treated like idiots. The business is really ridiculous. I’ve been playing ball with it for a while. I understand it, and I’m translating it as purely as possible. I do the same thing when I record. I’ll tell someone, ‘You probably don’t want to sing like that, because people are probably not going to like it.’ It’s not always negative. It’s also positive reinforcement but truthful… none of that passive aggressive stuff.”
“Ultimately I’m here as a service. The studio is here as a service. It’s a place to come where there’s not that much judgment. We still have to think about the music but not oppressively or negatively. I’m a fan of about every kind of music, I’ve experienced a lot, in all places of the world. It’s not something to just brag about; I’m just very lucky. It’s something to share. The studio’s MO and what I’m all about is this: to share whatever experience I have to with whoever needs it, and empower them to further their quest into this insanely ridiculous music industry…this music business and everything that it entails. There’s a lot of stuff. The recording process is almost the byproduct.”
“Sadly, after putting in my two years into this place, the owners of the property are asking a ridiculously large amount of money to stay. So unless someone says ‘Hey, you’re song was chosen to be in some super popular TV show that everyone loves,’ I just can’t afford to stay. So at the end of this year, I’m going to have to find a new place for the studio. I’ve put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into this place, and people have come here and bled music into these walls. But, I’m confident things will all work out.”
CVW: Highlight of your career to date?
Unck: “I’ve been allowed to do some recording at the reservation. We do mission work, take the kids flutes, clothes, and I also get to record their songs – Navajo blessings, peyote medicine rituals, and the beautiful explanations of their culture. Not many people get to meet a medicine man, much less record them in their native tongue. That’s probably the most amazing thing I’ve recorded in my whole life, period. This is the rarest thing I’ve ever experienced and purest thing I’ve ever seen.”
Chris Unck will be performing with his band, Lucky Bones, this Saturday, October 3rd at the Hood Bar and Pizza. This will be a rare opportunity to hear and meet this incredible tenured musician. Joining him will be High Lonesome Recording artists, Mikey Reyes and Bryanna Evaro with their Desert Rhythm Project, The Adobe Collective and Rick Shelley. The free show starts and 9 pm and will be as much an experience as it will be a display of our desert’s most incredible talent.
Album dedicated to his sister’s recovery from cancer: