“For the longest time I listened exclusively to 70’s rock.” Chris Kuskey could be considered a throwback, but that would be selling him short and taking away his autonomy. “My parents used to put me to sleep to Van Halen cassettes as a child, and consequently Van Halen became and remains my favorite band, and has likely had more influence on my music than any other artist.” Although you can hear vibrations of Van Halen, waves of Tom Waits, there is more to Chris’s music than his influences, which are many: 70’s rock, jazz, ska, reggae, hip hop, neo-soul, poetry, and prose. Though this shaped his sound – “I started noticing a culmination of those styles in my originals in the last year or so. The sound itself…just an organic amalgam of influences,” Chris has found his footing.
It is safe to say that Chris is an original, as he plays every instrument on his album, a process that took patience: “Having to record one part at a time…since I have no band, I would start each session by recording the guitar to a click track. Then I would add the drums, then bass, then I’d improvise a guitar solo, then I’d cut the vocals last.” Mastering his musicianship as early as the age of 5, “My primary instruments are guitar, violin, saxophone, piano, and bass, but I can get by on drums, steel pan, ukulele, harmonica, trumpet, tuba, flute, etc.” Aside from the lyrics and music, he also mixed and mastered the work himself: “Getting over the learning curve of digital recording, mixing, and mastering…I started playing around with home recording in November, so this project facilitated all my progress in mixing and mastering techniques. The hardest part about being so new to recording was, as I learned better ways to mix and master, my older recordings sounded obsolete in comparison to my newer recordings, so I’d redo the old ones, but by the time I finished those I’d learned more tricks so now they all sounded obsolete, and a cycle started to develop.”
What came out of an 8 month crash course in completing an album is “Overtones,” Chris’s 12 song compilation of creativity. “I recorded the first song, ‘Subway Platform at 2 A.M.,’ in November, and finished the last song ‘Selling Smiles,’ the week before the project was released.” Every song offers something, whether wise like in “Wishing Well” -“Devils and angels start looking all the same when they’re standing in the right light,” or wistful like in “Selling Smiles” – “I’ve got sunshine painted on the back of my eyelids. Does the blue sky know about your trying day? Could the sun care any less?”
It has guts, like in “Subway Platform at 2 A.M.” – “I’ll brave the worst she’s got for a glimpse of her best,” and grit, like in “Her Eyes” – “Her eyes are terrifying because they tell the truth, leaving nothing to be imagined as to her opinion of you.” In “Stepping Out of the Cold,” Chris’s influences intersect: “Putting words to the page like Chaucer on a bender, every time. Never wait for the ink to dry. Does the paper feel what it holds? Does the pen know what it writes?”
Although the similarities are under the surface – you can hear beats of the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, shivers of Sublime, even layers of Kendrick Lamar, Chris Kuskey comes through with an authentic album. In “What Do I Know” he writes, “Skyscrapers glisten while sidewalks below are full of cracks,” and he manages to bring both worlds together in his music. Chris is more than just a “Groove of the Evening,” although with so many skills and so much originality to offer, I do agree that, “Trumpets herald that I’ve arrived,” if this album is any indication. Like Chris in “I’ll Be On My Way” – “I’m desperate for a change of pace,” too, especially when it comes to music, and “Overtones” fills that void with a voice that is both familiar and new.
Though his sound may be an appendage of the past, have a Throwback Thursday-like feel, Chris Kuskey is much more than a weekly trend, with music that breaks molds and doesn’t get held hostage in hashtags. Being that Chris has “got some seven songs written to start recording a sophomore effort,” I have no doubt that he will graduate to much greater things. Although he says he’s only ever performed “a couple guitar ensembles at the Towngate Theater, got the opportunity to play rhythm guitar on the fly with the Wheeling Jamboree house band,” he hopes to find more stage time in the Fall. For now, you can listen to his album here, as “Overtones” is music that will leave its mark, a throwback first album that has a future.