Alumni Profile: Chris Chaney '91
While there are many lamenting the current uncertainty of the music business, others have committed themselves to finding a way to make a go of it. Los Angeles studio bassist Chris Chaney is a case in point. Still only in his thirties, Chaney's résumé lists world tours as a member of Alanis Morissette's band and Jane's Addiction as well as sessions with some of the industry's top artists, producers, and composers for albums, film scores, and video games like Guitar Hero.
Raised in Marin County, north of San Francisco, Chaney picked up the bass when he was 12 and, musically speaking, jumped into the deep end of the pool immediately. "In junior high, I had a friend who played drums and was into progressive rock bands like Yes, Genesis, and Rush," he says. "Another friend, Greg Haldan ['89], played guitar, so I got the bass chair by default. We played together throughout high school until I went to Berklee." It was Haldan who enrolled at Berklee first and convinced Chaney that he should come along too. (Haldan now operates In the Pocket Studio in Forestville, California.)
At Berklee, Chaney studied a variety of bass styles with Whit Browne, Greg Mooter, and Joe Santere and took ensembles with Professor Ed Tomassi, whom Chaney recalls as "on fire, really passionate about music." After Berklee, Chaney ended up in Los Angeles in 1991 and began playing at the famed L.A. jazz club the Baked Potato and at the Dragonfly in Hollywood. As a member of the house band at Dragonfly, Chaney and company backed a variety of singers and played a range of material from r&b to jazz standards to songs by Soundgarden. "I like all styles; if it's good, I like it," he says. It was the perfect apprenticeship for a future studio maven.
|"Before I went in, I sat with my bass in the front seat of the car with the neck sticking out the door and learned the parts."|
In 1995, word reached him that the then-unknown Alanis Morissette band was auditioning bassists. "It was a fluke that I even got into the band," he recalls. "On my way to the audition, I stopped by her manager's office and got the tape of three songs she wanted us to play. Before I went in, I sat with my bass in the front seat of the car with the neck sticking out the door and learned the parts. I got called back for a second audition, and then she picked me for the gig."
Drummer Taylor Hawkins (who currently plays with the Foo Fighters) was also in the band. Chaney and Hawkins became musical compadres and formed a rock-solid rhythm section. "Taylor opened my eyes to the über-powerful rock drummer," Chaney says. "Alanis started out playing clubs, but she got a buzz going pretty early after her single was picked up by KROQ. A crew from MTV was at our second show of the club tour." Chaney was onboard during Morissette's meteoric rise to fame as she went from playing clubs to theaters to stadiums around the world. Until 2001, he played with Morissette's band and made four records with her.
After seven years, though, Chaney sought a change. He produced an album for Ben Taylor (the son of James Taylor and Carly Simon) and played on rock sessions with Tommy Lee, Andrew W.K., and others. In 2003, Stephen Perkins, the drummer for Jane's Addiction, recommended Chaney when the band needed a bass player. Because Chaney was finishing a tour with Ben Taylor, he didn't go through an audition process and had only one day to rehearse. "Perry Farrell [the band's singer] called and said, 'Just tell me you're going to come in and nail it.'" Chaney says. "I learned the tunes in the van going to gigs with Ben. The Jane's Addiction tour started with a string of a summer festivals in England at 80,000-seat venues. I was the new guy, so there was a lot of pressure." Indeed, Chaney did nail it, and ended up staying with the band for two and a half years.
In 2005, Chaney decided to tour less, spend more time with his wife and two children, and concentrate on getting studio work in Los Angeles. "It was hard to develop work in town when I was gone so much," he says. "These days I'll do short tours with [guitarists] Michael Landau or Robben Ford, but they only go out for three or four weeks. Now that I have a family, I don't want to do a tour that lasts for a year. I don't want to be the kind of dad who is gone all the time."
The transition has gone well, and Chaney has recorded with a range of artists-including Rob Zombie, Shinedown, Shakira, Nelly Furtado, Céline Dion, Glen Campbell, Anna Nalick, Sarah Bareilles, and Gavin DeGraw-and has played on scores for the movies Drillbit Taylor, 300, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Watchmen, Doomsday, and more. For Chaney, the work is challenging, eclectic, and has put him together with many industry icons.
"I remember listening to my dad's LP of The Wall by Pink Floyd, but never imagined I'd work with Bob Ezrin, that album's producer," he says. "I've gotten to work with some of my heroes, including drummers Vinnie Colaiuta ['75] and John Robinson['75] and producer Don Was."
Chaney continues to cultivate side projects, including the band Taylor Hawkins & the Coattail Riders. Like many musicians for whom practicing is almost an addiction, Chaney constantly works at bettering his playing. "I consider myself a lifer in music," he says. "I'll be studying some aspect of it a little bit for my whole life, because it is never-ending."