You may not know his name, but you have probably heard - and quite possibly hummed to - his music. Chris Pierce released his effort, "Static Trampoline" (Prana/Mailboat)in September of 2005 after paying his dues as an almost-lifelong musician.
Singer-songwriter Pierce focuses mainly on acoustic jazz with R&B and rock influences. As a teen, he played in Los Angeles clubs and appeared on the TV show, "Big Break" several times. In high school, he played with Grammy-nominated guitarist Jon Butcher. At 19, he toured with Sonia Dada. Since then, Pierce has played on bills with a long list of musical who's whos, including Terence Trent D'Arby, Chris Isaac, Barry White, Neneh Cherry, Ben Harper, Macy Gray, George Clinton and Digable Planets. More recently the Banana Republic ad campaign on the Bravo series, "Project Runway," featured his tune, "Are You Beautiful," which was also used in the motion picture soundtrack of "Crash." We spoke just after Pierce had completed touring with Seal.
Pierce grew up in Southern California and is now settled in Los Angeles.
"(At 18) I started doing some touring and got a scholarship to go to USC. I did jazz studies there, so at that time I moved out to L.A.," Pierce says.
This prompts me to ask if Pierce might be interested in going into music education in the future.
"I was a jazz studies major. It's funny, my grandfather laughed when he heard that I was a jazz studies major," Pierce chuckles.
I ask him about his childhood and Pierce tells me that he has been writing music since he was five.
"We had a piano in the house and I think that was probably my first instrument," Pierce explains. "We had an upright piano that my mom and dad would always play. I started fiddling around with that. But I always would just come up with melodies in my head and my dad started running tape recorders and taping me just singing, just making things up and that's how the whole process came. He'd play them back to me and it got to be one of those things where I learned how the whole writing process goes and how to build on ideas."
"So how do you write today?" I wonder
"Kind of the same way actually," Pierce laughs. "I get ideas all the time and a lot of times what I end up doing when I'm out of the house is I'll call my home answering machine and I'll leave myself messages with ideas and then when I get home I'll sit down and build on the ideas.
"But when I'm just sitting here, I'll run a mini-disc recorder and I have stacks and stacks and stacks of little 20 second ideas," Pierce goes on. "It could be a year or two before I go back to that idea or it could be a day or two if it is something that I'm really inspired on.
Then I just sit down and do it.
"And napkins, for some reason, when I'm sitting in restaurants, I always come up with ideas and that's classic for musicians. I come home and reach in my pocket and I think it's a piece of tissue and I always check to see if it has something written on it," Pierce chuckles.
Being on the edge of making it, I know Pierce has had to work to survive.
"I've worked in record stores and I've done a lot of different things. I was a bouncer for a while on Sunset at a club which was a pretty interesting experience. I worked at Virgin Mega Store, I've worked at the Hollywood Bowl, but it's all just been jobs to keep my music alive. Music's always been the main thing, so I've just taken jobs over the years to keep investing in the music; investing in rent. I guess that's not an investment is it?" Pierce laughs.
For recreation, Pierce enjoys hiking, especially in Eaton Canyon in Altadena and Runyon Canyon in Hollywood. He goes to Griffith Park too.
"Other than that I just listen." Pierce says, "I listen to so much in my spare time. I like listening to records. My dad passed a few years ago and he left me thousands of vinyl records, so I have stacks of them and in my spare time I just listen and dissect different sounds from these great old records."
Pierce has worked both solo and in with a band, so I ask him how the two compare.
"It differs a lot because when I did work with Sonia Dada for instance, I was on the road with her for a little while," Pierce tells me. "It's different because for me, singing and connecting with something that came straight from my heart is totally different that getting out and being a part of somebody else's vision. It's like a deeper level. Emotionally it's a lot deeper for me. Even though in a perfect world you try to give your all with whoever you're playing with and make a connection if you can, when it's something you sat down and wrote in your living room about an experience you had, it means so much more to me that people might be able to gain an perspective from my perspective."
So how does a fairly local dude garner a supporting spot on a huge tour with Seal?
"That was amazing." Pierce recalls, "The whole thing was like a fable or something. I met him at a party randomly playing in a living room, there was like 20 people there. The next morning I got the call to go out to Europe in a week.
"I went out there with a backpack and my guitar and a box full of CDs. He let me hop on his buses and go along for the ride," Pierce continues. "I was there for a month just opening solo acoustic in front of these huge crowds. The crowds were great, they totally gave me a chance and really appreciated the fact that I had something to say. By the end of each show I would have the whole crowd singing along. It was one of those things where I was waiting for a bad show to happen and it didn't happen. I learned so much on that whole journey.
"Then we got to come back here and I got to take some of the guys from my band along and do the U.S. leg." Pierce goes on, "And then Seal asked me to go back to Europe solo in July. I got to do four legs total and it kept getting better and better. Really, really cool."
OK, that seemed phenomenal enough, so how does Pierce get his material on soundtracks and in commercials?
"I did some commercial jingles through college and spots for local TV where they advertise TV shows with little singing stuff and I'd play on those too." Pierce explains, "Living in Hollywood, so many people from the TV industry come out and hear your music and it's been people approaching me from different producers for music for this and music for that. This last year I hooked up with a company that that's what they do. They take music and try to get it placed and then call you to see if it's something you would be interested in and then they place it. That's how the Banana Republic ad came about."
We discuss the music scene from Pierce's perspective.
"I've been really pleased with the L.A. scene especially over the last couple of years." Pierce says, "I've been making music around here so long and finally it's really starting to feel like a community again. I feel like there's been a gap, a six or seven year gap, where it was kind of every man for himself and I'm seeing a lot of the same, especially the singer-songwriter scene, a lot of the same cats inviting, 'Hey man, you want to do this gig together? Let's build a night together.' With the tsunami and Hurricane Katrina there's a really great sense of community with people getting together. Doing fund raisers and donating instruments and figuring out ways to help. It's been really cool lately, at least for me."
"Where does jazz fit in today?" I ask.
"I think jazz is extremely important," Pierce states. "It laid the foundations of a lot of the American music we hear. I don't think that you hear as much straight-ahead jazz or traditional jazz on popular radio, but you hear elements. Anybody who knows anything about music can hear the different structures and different scales and different inflections of jazz. I use it all the time and I can tell when I'm using it. I'm like, 'Hey, that sounds like a Charlie Parker lick,' when I'm sitting here with my acoustic guitar and I'm singing something. But I think that a lot of people who didn't go to USC and didn't study jazz probably don't recognize those things, but yet it doesn't mean that it's not a huge part of popular music."
Pierce and I talk about the Internet, which has helped his career tremendously. The Banana Republic even put a link from their site to his and it has helped him sell more than 5,000 CDs. The Web also enables Pierce to communicate with his fans all over the globe. He enjoys posting monthly updates at his site, as well as his poetry and thoughts. He has a second site on MySpace.com.
I can't resist teasing Pierce that he could also use his computer to write his music rather than napkins and he laughs, admitting that he doesn't use the computer to write. We both agree that there is something special about putting a pen to paper.
Pierce has spent the remainder of the 2005 touring the East Coast, as well as performing as ski areas and making local television and radio appearances. Now he is working with his label to get a spot opening for a larger artist. Despite his career goals, Pierce is not a "all me" kind of guy.
"One of the things that, as time goes on, I will have access to work on, I definitely want to help with music education, especially locally," Pierce states. "I want to help bring instruments to schools and make sure the kids know that there are options out there. I know that there was so much that we had when we were young that just isn't out there in the schools now and it's a tragedy."
Pierce works with Artshare L.A. helping kids. He does workshops and also does mentoring locally with children, especially orphans.
"I'm known for sitting out on my porch and some of the kids in the neighborhood come over and hangout and sing. I'm kind of 'that guy in the neighborhood' when I'm around," Pierce admits.
One of his influences to paying it forward is his mother, who taught eighth grade English for 30 years and now teaches at-risk students. She works one-on-one with students who need assistance and finds it very rewarding.
Before we part, I can't help but comment on his beautiful songs, such as "Love is Within Reach," which are juxtaposed on his album by humorous cuts, like "She's Trying to Kill Me."
"One of the great things is being able to poke fun at myself, situations that you can't change," Pierce says. "That was my way of laughing at the situation. Music is therapy for me. I sit down on my 'therapy couch' and I write songs, get it all out."
I turn back to "Love is Within Reach," and shyly admit that the tune brought me to tears.
"I wrote that with a friend, Marvin Patione, who's a great songwriter," shares Pierce. "It's about letting go of things in the past and realizing that things in the past can't hurt you any more and the minute you let go of those things... There's a lot of people out there holding on to so many things from the past, they're not allowing themselves to love. And that's the whole premise for the song-- let's move forward and allow ourselves to let love into our lives and that can be a lot better that way."
Don't miss this good guy musician, you may find his music moves you too. Check out Chris Pierce at www.chrispierce.net
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