This month’s winner of our regular songwriting competition with ReverbNation is a Californian who blends rock and pop with ease…
enerally speaking, we try and avoid ‘elevator pitch’ descriptions of any artist’s work… you know, those quick and easy summaries along the lines of ‘A meets B’ or ‘the bastard offspring of X and Y’. It’s lazy. But as hard as we’ve tried, we’ve failed to come up with a better way of telling you what Chris Puckett’s competition-winning track Fire On The Dancefloor sounds like than ‘Hard-Fi with Duran Duran guitars’.
It’s an unlikely combination, certainly… but also a devastatingly effective one. Digging a little deeper into Chris’s work, we found this intriguing blend of influences mirrored elsewhere – not so much Hard-Fi and Duran Duran specifically, you understand, but rock and pop in general. Some of Chris’s tracks wouldn’t sound out of place at Download; others wouldn’t sound out of place on The X Factor. As we were to discover, this is probably a result not just of Chris’s own eclectic tastes and background, but also of his preferred songwriting method: collaboration, collaboration, collaboration.
But to quote the great documentary film-maker Marty Di Bergi – enough of our yakkin’! Here’s what 25-year-old Californian Chris had to tell us about himself…
For someone with such a rock-oriented sound, we were surprised to read that you attended stage school and have a background in musical theatre… can you tell us a bit about that?
“Yeah, I went to a performing arts school. Just an after-school thing, though I did attend LA Music Academy later on. I started taking lessons at an E3 performing arts school aged 10 –acting classes, dance classes, instrumental classes – and I just really loved it. And then the artistic director got me and two other boys together, aged about 11, and we started like a country boyband. We had one guy on guitar and two singers, we were called Little Brother, and we took it very seriously: we recorded in Nashville and we played for 8000 people at a 4th of July show in Bakersfield. And we got to go to Music Row and see what that was like, so I got started from a very early age.
“That band broke up – we’d been doing country music but I was getting more into rock and I wanted to be in a rock band, plus one of our guitarists ended up having to quit the band because we were missing too many days of school flying back and forth to Nashville. He was in high school, we were still in junior high, so it was more of an issue for him. So once he quit the band, I took that as an opportunity to do what I really wanted to do, which was rock.
“So then I was in a bunch of bands for a while, just trying out different things like reggae, nothing really serious until I got into a band called Vogue And The Movement. And it was also during that time, it was more for fun than to try and make a career of it, I did a lot of musical theatre. I played Danny Zucco in Grease, Tony in West Side Story and Troy Bolton in High School Musical!
So Vogue And The Movement was your first serious, grown-up band?
“That’s right. They already had small fanbase in Bakersfield, where I live, and they asked me join the band because they wanted to go… not completely pop but a little bit more pop-rock. And they felt that my voice would fit that. And we did have a fair degree of success: we had a management deal with My Chemical Romance’s manager, a publishing deal, had songs placed in TV shows, did an MTV commercial, stuff like that. But we split up in 2010.”
So what happened there?
“There were a lot of artistic differences, some conflicts with some of the members (at the time, though we’re all on good terms now) and there was a little bit of disagreement with our managers and how we wanted to move forward. It just seemed like it got to a point where it was time to move on, because our managers weren’t seeing eye to eye with us, and everyone was starting to get into their own things – like for me, I wanted to learn more about different types of music, and go off to LA, and not be stuck in… just learn more about what I can do with my voice.”
What did you learn, then – how would you describe your sound now?
“The sound that I make? I don’t really have a sound, except for this new EP that I’ve been working on. I’ve been taking it in more like a Motown, vintage direction. But as for other songs in the past, a lot of times how I write is I like to write the topline. People will give me tracks they’ve made – either a finished track or just a beat, or even a drum loop – and I’ll write what I think sounds good over it. That was the writing process in Vogue And The Movement, our guitarist Ryan would come up with a rough track and email it over to me and I’d come up with the lyrics and the melodies on top of that.
“And then a lot of times lately, with the new solo stuff that I’ve been doing, instead of doing it that way I do it the opposite way. I’ll pretty much throughout the day write down phrases that I’ve heard. It’s never like “I’m gonna sit down and write a song” – I’m writing all the time.”
Do you only ever write the lyrics, or do you sometimes write the music too?
“Sometimes I just write the lyrics and the melodies, but I play guitar enough to where a few times I’ve written a music chart out and then given it to whichever band I’m playing with… because they play a lot better than I do! As far as playing guitar live goes… I play well enough to do that but I don’t particularly like to, because I feel there’s more room for me to move around onstage and interact, with an extra hand free, and just be a frontman and be more mobile. So yes, there are songs I’ve come up with chords for, but usually I give them to the guitarist and he’ll say “Okay but why don’t we try this?”. Other times I’ll write a full song a capella and sit down with a guitarist and he’ll help me put chords to it.
Does that explain the variety in your tracks, do you think – because they’ve been written with different people?
“Yes, that probably has something to do with it! That and the stage school background I guess, and also just that my influences are all over the place. I love Sam Cooke, I love Elvis Presley, I love Johnny Cash. When I was in Vogue And The Movement,, Fall Out Boy was a pretty big influence, Panic At The Disco was a big influence, and The Killers, and Radiohead.
“Duran Duran is a big influence”
We can hear an 80s vibe as well… particularly the Duran Duran-ish guitar on Fire On The Dancefloor
“Wow! Well, Duran Duran is a big influence, so that’s a huge compliment to me because I love them!
The track Your Throne reminded us a bit of Fishbone – are you familiar with them?
“Yeah, I know Fishbone, in fact we played a festival with them in Bakersfield. That one was my reggae influence. I was born in New Orleans and my mom says that song reminds her of bands you hear in bars in New Orleans. It’s a lot different from my other songs, but I kind of like the vibe that song has, and it’s kind of an anthem for people who’ve ever felt belittled by anyone. It’s about a girl who holds herself up on a pedestal and she tried to knock you down… but you got back up.”
Okay, so much for influences… what are your plans going forward?
“Well, I just signed with an agency called DNT and they’ve gotten me some really cool solo gigs, some corporate gigs, and they’re just waiting for me to finish up this EP – I think it should be finished by the end of the holidays – and then we’ll push the release. But what you’ve heard on ReverbNation is just a tiny fraction of the songs that I have in my catalogue. I just haven’t released them, I’ve kept them kind of under wraps until I know what’s going to happen in the future. And I think some of those new ones, like Your Throne and Take The World, I’m probably gonna release them quite soon, just to get some momentum going until the EP is released.
Any plans for an album?
“Well, I certainly have more than enough songs. But right now I’m concentrating on doing the EP. DNT hooked me up with an experienced producer, and we’re working with this team who are all young and hip and fun and play lots of instruments, they’re called the Punk Aristocats, they’re kind of a songwriting team. They had the Deftones in their studio recently.
“Moving forward, I’ve also been practising with a band called My Dear Insanity. We’re still looking for one more guitarist, so we’re just really in the early stages. Me and my buddy Josiah got together, and they’ve been learning some of my tunes and some of Vogue’s tunes, and we’ll probably do some gigs locally for people who still want to hear the Vogue stuff. Because we had a pretty good following here. But yeah, I plan on doing work with that project, and finishing this EP, and then writing an EP with this band, and just kind of going wherever the world takes me.
“At the moment, I’m keeping all my options open”
“I’ve also done a lot of session vocal work, like I demo’d the theme song for an upcoming Disney-Pixar film… I can’t say the name but that was a really cool experience working with the Disney songwriting team. And I also sing for a jingle writer, he comes up with ideas and he hires me to sing them. And I do toplines for my publishing company that I’m still in contract with so I’m still sending them songs hoping to land some more placements. So really at the moment, I’m just keeping all my options open, not closing my mind to anything and we’ll see what happens.”
And what if fame came calling… you’ve had a small taste of that already with Vogue And The Movement. Do you think you could handle being in the full glare of the media spotlight, living life in the public eye?
“To be honest with you, all I want to do is be able to support my family doing something that I love. I love making music and I’m never gonna stop writing and perfoming, whether I’m playing for five or 5000 people. And if I happen to accidentally – or on purpose! – get famous, I’m not sure how that would be but that’s not the main aim. Right now I’m finishing school: I already have an associate’s degree *[equivalent to a DipHE in the UK] in business marketing, that I did online on tour with Vogue. So like said, I love doing this, and if fame came from it so be it. But that’s not why I do it.
With your acting background, what if someone said, ‘Okay, we’re going to make you a famous movie star, but you can never sing again’? Would you do it?
“Never sing again? You’ve gotta be kidding me. I’d tell them to take a hike… kick rocks!”
Interview: Russell Deeks
If you’d like the chance to be featured in an article like this on Songwriting, then the good news is, this songwriting competition is still ongoing! To enter, you’ll need to be registered with ReverbNation and submit your track via the competition page. We’ll listen to every entry and select the most promising artist, who’ll be the subject of an interview feature similar to this one.