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Exclusive interview with Chris Isaak

Rockabilly singer, Chris Issak chats about his current projects and singing with Lisa Kudrow.

Written By:  Katie Quine

Photographers:  The Tennessean

The handsome crooner came through Nashville recently and we caught up with him on the road (literally) to chat about his current projects and setting pianos on fire.


Nashville Lifestyles (NL): Your last release was a live DVD in 2012. What are you working on these days?
Chris Isaak (CI):
I have a bunch of songs started and I have a kitchen table covered with songs...so I can't eat without working on something. It's all about rewards...write a verse, get a sandwich. I think that's how Chopin and Hank Thompson did all that great writing.

NL: You've said once before "I'd met all my heroes and worked with most of them, and I didn't hear anybody else doing it the way I wanted to do it." How do you like to make your performance style different from what people have already heard?
CI: I think I'm a throwback to a time of pretty melodies and singers trying to sing easy. My heroes were Elvis and Dean Martin and Mac Wiseman, and I still try to write songs with a good melody and sing it nice. It seems simple, and it is, but a lot of people go in other directions. They scream, or they want angry, atonal music. I like that sometimes, but it's not what I do best! 

NL: A lot of your music harkens back to the 1950s and rockabilly. What contemporary artists do you enjoy at the moment?
CI: Nicole Atkins, she is one of the best new singers I have heard in years. Great songwriter and singer. I love singing with Michelle Branch. She has such a great way of blending her harmony, and when I listen to her I always believe what she sings!

NL: Do you have a favorite story from the road you'd like to tell?
CI: I think the people that do all of the outrageous stuff are usually drunk. I don't drink, so I never throw TVs out of windows. My brother is out on the bus with me now and he is opening up some of our shows. He sings and plays great. But he can make me laugh whenever he wants, so he will sometimes come out during our show or I'll come out during his...and then he starts making side jokes to me that make me have to turn around or stop singing. I'm thinking of carving him a wooden microphone...

NL: Your drummer and longtime friend Kenney Dale Johnson is battling cancer and isn't with you on this tour. How's he doing?
CI: He is doing great. I just saw Kenney and though he still hasn't got the okay to travel, he has sat in on some local shows and he's swinging as ever. I think only Kryptonite could hurt Kenney. He never complains and he is always the nicest guy in the room.

NL: Who does the drawings for your website? They're great! Is that you?
CI: I do the drawings. I always liked to cartoon and I still draw every day. I'm not Picasso. I'm trying more for Charles Addams...I buy colored pencils and brush tip pens whenever I go past an art supply store. I didn't have money to get that stuff when I was younger, but now I'm addicted! I love trying out new pens...ya gotta have toys, right?

NL: You once guest starred on Friends and sang the hilariously iconic "Smelly Cat" with Lisa Kudrow's character Phoebe Buffay. Do you still get that song stuck in your head like we do?
CI: I kinda remember the song, but more I remember how nice Lisa Kudrow was in real life. She was very sweet, easy to talk to, and didn't have a bit of star attitude. And in real life she is gorgeous. I think they sort of played down her looks in favor of her comic talents on TV...I had fun singing with her!

NL: What other hobbies do you enjoy when you need to unwind on the road?
CI: I walk around town. I usually go to architectural salvage shops and secondhand stores. Today I couldn't find much in a small town but was killing time and walked into a "head" shop that sold dope products, tons of pipes, and apparatus that I don't even have a clue what it's for. I haven't ever smoked pot or a cigarette. I walked around the store and looked at some sunglasses but that was about all they had that I could use. I would rather find a guitar store!

NL: I imagine you've been through Nashville a time or two - what are a few things you 'have' to do when you're in town?
CI: I always like to go by the Ryman, and I love the Ernest Tubbs record store. I'm a longtime fan of real country like Ernest, Stonewall Jackson, Mr. Dwight Yoakam...so Nashville is home and the E.T. record shop is packed with great music and things to see. I even saw Marty Robbins' stage shirt there on display, and it didn't cost a dime!   

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