Chad Ross, it is always such a pleasure to hear his voice. Whether is is in his early band Quest For Fire, his current vehicle Comet Control, or his side project Nordic Nomadic, he sings to soothe, to embalm the listener into a soft and kind state of inebriation. With Skull Creator he presents us with his first full on solo project, and man am I glad it found its way into these ears.
In the Balloon Factory studio of Destroyer‘s Dan Bejar Ross started to work his magic with producer and (ex-) Black Mountain drummer Joshua Wells , and later he asked his friend Isaiah Mitchell of Earthless fame to help out on guitar as well. The result is bigger than the sum of its parts, as in this smaller, more fragile and emotional space Ross’s voice gets the full attention and mandate to speak personally and directly to the listener.
Whether he sings about getting high on mushrooms or the death of a close friend, Ross always sounds profound, sincere, and in a way otherworldly, like a ghost voice speaking to you from the inside of your skull. More than in his heavier projects his voice touches you deeply this time, whispering soft poetry in your ear while the music gently weeps…
Some times it is time to rock hard and blast magic, and sometimes it is time to contemplate and enjoy some beautiful quiet music. Chad Ross offers both in his many endeavors, but this time he offers the latter. I can’t think of a better way to get down and out at the moment.
I had the absolute honor and pleasure to ask mr. Ross some questions that were burning in my mind. Here’s what he made of them:
How are you? How have you been during the pandemic and how did you spend most of your time?
We’re doing really well living in rural Ontario. In April of 2020 my wife Nicole, who is also the bass player in Comet Control, and I had a baby girl, so our lives have been filled with raising a child. It has been really challenging and beautiful. Life as a musician was on hold but Comet Control still released Inside the Sun and I managed to finish this solo record during the first lockdown. I also build furniture and do custom carpentry for recording studios, which has kept me very busy. We can’t complain, life is good despite the state of the world.
I really enjoyed your last album with Comet Control, which I reviewed as well I think it is really cool that it is so quickly followed by your first solo work. Can you tell me how the separate entities can live next to each other?
Comet Control is really a collaborative process between Andrew and I, we work pretty fast together and it’s all about the riff/hook. My solo work is all acoustic/fingerstyle based and I find it takes longer to finish and arrange the songs. However, I instinctually know what songs fit where. I was working on both records at the same time when the pandemic hit, and they both sat finished for a while… it just seemed like the obvious decision to stagger the releases slightly.
After two Quest For Fire and three Comet Control albums, what made you decide the time was right for a solo record? What was your main focus?
Ive always been working on solo acoustic works. I released 2 Nordic Nomadic LPs and an ep during the existence of those bands but I finally decided to go under my own name for this one. The reality is, being in a rock band takes it’s toll on my mental health and doesn’t often mix well with my
addictive personality. I need a quiet, solitary creative process. My main focus has been becoming a better acoustic guitar player and not taking the music so seriously. It’s become more of a meditative process in the warmth of my home.
Can you tell me how you know Joshua Wells, and what role he played for Skull Creator?
My very good, old friend Matt Camirand was the original bass player for Black Mountain. They were looking for a roadie and Matt asked me if I wanted to tag along for the ride. I ended up doing 3 or 4 of their early North American tours. I became good friends with all of them, and we’ve remained in touch and toured together in various bands over the years. Josh has always been one of my favourite drummers and his musicianship expands far beyond the drum kit. He ended up recording, mixing and co producing the record with me…. As well as playing drums and keys. Truly a gifted human.
How did you manage to have Isaiah Mitchell and Aaron Goldstein on the album as well? Will they join you on stage as well?
I’ve known Isaiah for years. Earthless stayed at my house in Toronto the first time they ever played here. QFF opened the show and Witch played as well. That was right around the time QFF got signed to teepee. We’ve always stayed in touch over the years and Comet Control toured Europe supporting Earthless in 2018. I just reached out during the first lockdown and sent him the tracks… very happy he was stoked to do it. Aaron is an amazing producer/engineer based in Toronto and a go-to on the pedal steel. I was happy that he came along for the ride as well. I’ll probably end up playing solo when I get around to playing shows…..everyone who played on this record is very busy with their own musical endeavours, and functioning at a much higher touring level than myself ha.
You are from Toronto, right? But the album was recorded in Vancouver, which city was more important for the way it sounds do you think?
Josh and I recorded the bed tracks at the Balloon Factory in Vancouver, the home studio of Dan Bejar of Destroyer. Just drums and electric guitar. I recorded acoustic, vocals, bass and electric guitars myself, when Nicole and I lived in a small Ontario city called Guelph in 2020. In that regard, it’s got a bit of Guelph and Vancouver mainly … but also a touch of San Diego, Toronto and Chicago if you count the other remote recordings.
Where did you draw most of your inspiration for the lyrics?
I had a list of song titles stored in my phone that made me laugh. When I thought of something I would write it down. The goal was to make the process less serious and semi autobiographical while making fun of myself. No one really needs to hear another middle aged singer songwriter with the blues. But the things that made me laugh took a more serious turn when juxtaposed with the production….it almost backfired and I was stuck reflecting on addiction, past lives and really beautiful and dark moments in my life. I think the experiment worked though….unintentionally.
Can you elaborate on the addiction part?
Luckily most of the subject matter on ‘skull creator’ comes from a joyous part of my conscience. Buzzin in the Bush is about bush parties, Takin a Dip is about swimming on
mushrooms, Wrong side of the Sky is about staying home with my wife instead of going out to the bar, Skull Creator is about my skull literally multiplying on my first paranoid acid trip when I was 16. Awesome silly shit really, and kinda funny and unintentionally dark. But On Golden Pond kinda sums up the whole record, a tribute to my oldest childhood friend who died of a drug overdose 3 years ago. When you’re young, innocence doesn’t really understand addiction and mental health. I’m seeing things through rose colored glasses on this record, of course, but it’s hard for some people to see where the party starts and ends. I’m feeling very grateful these days.
What happens now? Will you play live shows? And when and with which band(s)? And important for me: will we see you in Europe (The Netherlands especially)?
I haven’t played any solo shows since 2019. Just starting to reach out to people now. The pandemic pretty much pulverized a lot of small bands. Comet Control was comfortably touring Europe once a year before the pandemic hit… but I’m not sure how that would play out now. We got dropped by our booking agent because they could only really focus on their big bands. Things appear to be back to normal… but I’m guessing that’s a facade. I’d love to play some solo shows in Europe….but time will tell.
What is your ultimate bucketlist goal? And where would you like to be in five years?
It’s a boring answer, but my goal is to continue to make records. To this day, I’m still amazed that people are still interested in putting out my music. When I started off playing in punk bands in my teens, I would have never believed you, if you told me id have all the opportunities, that I longed for then. In five years I will have liked to tour Europe again… at least once.
What should the Weirdo Shrine reader do immediately after this interview?
Take a deep breath and make some art…. or a plate of spaghetti.