You've probably been listening to Chris Sholar for a while now. Remember Kanye and Jay-Z's No Church In The Wild? John Legend's Love In The Future? Nina Revisted? These are just a few of the projects Chris has helped shape the sound of as a producer and guitarist. Over the course of the year, Chris has contributed to Solange's A Seat at The Table, his own project Work Songs with Jamieo Brown Transcendence, and most recently A Tribe Called Quest's We Got It From Here... Thank You 4 Your Service. With a resume filled with credits ranging from Kanye West to Mariah Carey; Gregory Porter to Ledisi, and many others, Chris has made a name for himself in the music industry as a reliable source for production and guitar expertise, becoming one of the most sought after session musicians. Following the release of Tribe's album I caught up with Chris for a discussion of his musical influences, recording with Tribe, his work with Jamieo Brown, and more. Here's our conversation:
Thanks so much for doing the interview! What was your introduction to music?
Thanks for having me, Stanley. My introduction to music was my parents. My mom played piano at church and my dad was a bassist. There was always good music playing around the house. My parents had records from different genres, ranging from artists like Aretha Franklin to Earl Klugh, to Marvin Gaye and Michael Jackson, etc. I didn't realize it at the time, but it was a great lesson in versatility for me. Hearing diverse sounds gave me a big pool to draw from when I later became a musician.
You studied Music at William Patterson in NJ. How do you translate your training in Music to hip-hop and R&B gigs?
Yeah, I studied Jazz at William Paterson. Jazz is an intelligent musical art form. It gives you so many tools to improvise over different styles. It was an easy transition because a lot of early hip hop sampled jazz and funk records. I understood what was happening musically, but i still needed to study the "feel" of hip hop music. Once I got the "feel" right I could connect the dots.
You've played for wide range of artists. As a musician/producer, what do you contribute your versatility to?
I attribute my versatility to listening to different genres constantly. Having different sources material to draw from. I love guitarists that are versatile. People like George Benson, Chet Atkins, Jeff Lee Johnson and Jimi Hendrix. As a producer I used the same method. I listened and absorbed versatile producers styles like Q-tip, J Dilla, Timbaland, Salaam Remi and Kanye.
Speaking of Q-Tip. You've been Tip's right hand man for a while now. How'd did y'all meet?
We met through a drummer name Jonathan Blake. Q-tip was looking to put together a band. There was a little jam session at Jonathan's house. Q-tip came with Weldon Irving and hung out listening to cats play. Afterward, Tip asked me about going on tour with him, and of course I said YES! From that moment we hung out every day shedding together and listening to records. I would go to school in the mornings and spend the evening at Tips house listening to his albums and shedding. We would also watch performances of Funkadelic, James Brown, Sly and the family stone, Led Zepplin and the Police. We'd study everything! We did this for about 2 years.
What was the experience like working on Tribe's album?
I went through a range of emotions working on this album. First it was amazing! Everybody in the world had been waiting for another Tribe album. The sessions were so much fun because everyday I would see one of my heroes in the studio. People like Busta Rhymes, Kanye West, Swizz Beatz, D'angelo, Queen Latifah, Chris Rock, Andre 3000, Lauryn Hill, etc. -- Hip-Hop royalty.
Then Phife died...and I can't even verbalize what that was like. It was very tough to say the least. There was such an outpouring of love and appreciation from fans and other artist. Still It was very difficult to resume work, but everyone worked extremely hard to finish what we started. I could see that Q-tip wasn't sleeping much those days. He was like a man possessed on a mission. I have so many memories of happiness and pain working on this project. There was such an atmosphere of unity when we were working. There was no ego in those sessions. Everybody was listening together, vibing together, and cheering each other on. It was beautiful. I will never forget that. I felt like I was apart of something very sacred and special. I wanted to do everything I could to contribute my musical gift and assist.
There was no ego in those sessions. Everybody was listening together, vibing together, and cheering each other on. It was beautiful.
We got it from here... feels really warm, sonically. How much of a role did analog equipment play in the making of this album?
Yes, we used tons of analog equipment on this album. We used an old Neve Console (Same one that was originally owned by the band BLONDIE). I ran my guitars through Vintage Echoplex tape Delay Machine for most of the album not to mention using old Synths (Juno, Oberheim, Moogs, Farfisa,). Q-tip has all of this vintage gear in his studio. Blair wells (the engineer) is a genius at putting those things together. He has a great understanding of sonic frequencies. Q-tip also has a deep understanding of sonic shaping.
Man, yeah, the tone on your guitar felt really good. Melatonin is an incredible song, which really features you on guitar, and you can really hear the Echoplex working. Was the chord progression/guitar riff something you came up with?
Yes I came up with that riff. It was a small idea I was working on…Louis Cato also added his magic to it. Then Q-tip put it all together in song format. Tip is a master at taking a small music idea and painting a big picture with it. He has a great sense of where to put things. I've learned so much from him in that aspect of making music.
Tip is a Master at taking a small music idea and painting a big picture with it.
Changing gears a bit. Your work with Jaimeo Brown is phenomenal. Specifically, your project "Work Songs" where you all take samples of inmates from a Mississippi Farm Prison. The project is so powerful, especially with our recent increased awareness about mass incarceration. I don't really have a question, per se lol I just think the album is incredible and innovative. But can you talk about the inspiration for the album?
Thank you so much. Yeah that album is special. I'm always trying to challenge myself with new musical concepts. The inspiration for that album came from working close with the "Gee's Bend Quilters." We absorbed their way of life, the music they sing, their stories, their history; all these things really influenced me to create music with that same "feeling." Music that soundtracks the soul of the Black American history. Listening to those chain gang prison recordings touched me.
Alan Lomax recorded those songs to document american history. They weren't necessarily recorded for the purpose of entertainment. They were work songs that helped get these men through the day in those harsh prison, working environments. None of these inmates were musically trained, yet there is a beautiful sense of harmony and rhythm they display. I can hear the blues; I can hear African roots in them. It was amazing. I realized that people sometimes use music to help them deal with trials or joys of life. So I wanted to take those samples and create music that would bring those sounds to present day. I think we did a great job with that.