"From songs like Willie Nelson’s plucky, euphoric 'On the Road Again' to the Highwaymen’s snarling and sinister 'Highwayman' and Chris Stapleton’s soulful burner 'Traveler,' surmising one’s journey on the literal and metaphorical road of life has been a pensive and sometimes bewildering journey in country music. Newcomer Chris Wills might still be seeking his redemptive place in this world, but it sure sounds like he found the right path."
-Jason Scott 'B-Sides and Badlands'
Hard work and hard luck are not necessarily paradoxical and both often play a major role in eventually achieving a goal. Determining what that goal actually looks like – and mapping out a plan of action to get there – is often an arduous process of swings and misses, or in musical terms, striking the wrong chord. For 22-year-old singer-songwriter Chris Wills, knowing that making music was going to be his calling didn’t take him long at all. It seems the New Jersey native has packed a lifetime’s worth of experiences into the six songs on his forthcoming debut EP This Place Ain’t For Me, due August 11, 2017 and produced by Grammy-nominated engineer Koby Hass (who has produced or engineered for Matt McAndrew, Mali Music and Lupe Fiasco's Lasers, Rihanna, Kanye West, Paul Simon, and Lady Gaga).
Wills struck gold when his song “Please Don't Turn Out My Light,” was the featured song in the 2016 Coca-Cola and Regal Films program grand-prize winning film “Blindfold.” The film was shown nationwide in Regal Theaters for three months (October to December) in 2016. Teams from Coca-Cola and Regal selected three finalists and gave each filmmaker $15,000 to create a 35-second film. The director of “Blindfold,” The School of Visual Arts’ student Ameer Kazmi, worked closely with Wills to mix the 35-second spot.
Lest one assume that Wills’ road to the release of his six-song statement was without proverbial potholes and detours, he’ll be the first to admit that, although he chose his path to pursue music at the tender age of 13, the ride so far has been less than smooth. Perhaps the lyric line that seemingly sums up This Place Ain’t For Me the best is, “And there’s no way to know if I’m bound to fall/But I’ll take what I have and I’ll bet it all,” from the song “Please Don’t Turn Out My Light.” When asked if he agreed with the assessment, Wills was confident and concise in his reply: “That is it. You nailed it!”
He was once a potential poster boy for the “troubled teen saved by rock and roll” scenario experienced by so many of his predecessors whose likenesses on posters undoubtedly adorned his bedroom walls. He went to court three times when he was a minor for bad behavior. “I had a real problem with authority or people telling me what to do,” Wills recalls. “I had to do a lot of community service, and my parents didn't let me leave the property for an entire summer.” His time spent at home that summer was the catalyst for his future: “I got really into the guitar, and I truly believe that music set me on the right path.”
Now based in New York City, Wills has played guitar and sung in a litany of rock and blues bands since age 13. Wills’ personal and professional career path started to come into focus in the form of his prover- bial Beatles on Ed Sullivan moment while listening to the Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main St. on car trips with his parents and three brothers. As he recalls, his brothers would be sleeping in the backseat, but he would “always be in the front just singing along to it.”
“I’ve always been a song guy,” Wills continues. “Bands and artists who have content and something im- portant to say or something that sounds deeply personal, and I think Billy Corgan's Smashing Pumpkins lyrics really stood out to me when I was in 7th grade and opened up my perspective on what song lyrics could be. I suddenly knew what to do with all the folded pieces of paper I kept in my dresser drawer in my room. When I heard ‘Disarm,’ something went off in my head. Same thing with the Strokes. Some of their lines stopped me in my tracks and I felt like I was a church bell that just got struck by a mallet.”
Not long after rolling down Main Street with the Stones and his epiphany with the Pumpkins, he began playing in bands with older kids. And it wasn’t until one memorable session kicking out blues jams that the focus sharpened and his path was cemented. As he recalls, he let loose on a solo and “let go of all my self-consciousness and everything that was going on and I just felt like I went to that place that I’d been trying to get to forever.”
At the ripe old age of 19, Wills made the astonishingly bold and equally mature musician’s decision to abandon the band life and set off as a solo artist when he found his bandmates weren’t as focused and dedicated as he was. “I’m pretty Type A and really determined,” Wills explains. “If I make a commitment to something, I’m all for it – just sign me up, till death, whatever!” He told himself, “All I wanna do is play music, so I’ll just do it myself.” In the title track to This Place Ain’t For Me, Wills sings, “And I don’t know where to go/But I know this place ain’t for me.” In the EP’s opening track, “Nowhere To Go,” the protagonist confesses he has “nowhere, nowhere to go.”
One telltale sign that Chris Wills most definitely has somewhere to go as he continues on this long road to the top is that he cites as influences both relatively current artists and classic acts alike, including John Prine, Butch Walker, The Band, Ray Charles, Dan Wilson, and Gary Clark Jr. With that kind of wide spectrum of keystone artists as musical and lyrical guideposts, he notes that the common thread he sees running through each of these impactful artists “is just them being themselves. They just let themselves be who they are, and then the songwriting’s always great.”
Great songwriting is at the core of who Chris Wills is. As he explains, in the lyrics for “Since You Said Goodbye,” he attempts to express the sense of longing and desperation found in, say, Roy Orbison gems like “Only the Lonely,” “Crying” and “I’m Hurtin’.” Sonically, the song channels the feel of some great Irish acts like The Waterboys, Hothouse Flowers, and Glen Hansard of Once fame. In “Don’t Have a Lot of Time” Wills seizes a carpe diem mentality, and wander-lust wanders back into Wills’ pen and psyche in “Tonight.”
Passion, persistence, patience and professionalism all seem necessary characteristics any artist needs to have in abundance to succeed in the increasingly tough task of succeeding in the music business. “I’ve been writing songs since I first picked up the guitar when I was 11 or 12, and I don’t think that’ll ever go away,” says Wills. “That’s what gives me the energy to get through my day. In my head, I’m committed to doing this. My main goal is to grow, learn, and develop as a human being and make great music that reflects that.” Chris Wills is in the right place, with tenacity and drive as his companions on the road ahead.
For more information, please contact:
Krista Mettler, Skye Media