Meet Chris Blackard of Astral Kitchen

Written by on November 17, 2011 in Interviews, November 17, 2011 - 1 Comment


Chris Blackard

Astral Kitchen was formed by Chris Blackard in the mountains overlooking the sleepy little town of Glen Ellen, Calif, the product of three creative Napa-based musicians tired of playing in cover bands and looking to make music of their own. After deciding their musical direction, they entered the studio, resulting in the self-titled Astral Kitchen being released in 1991, selling a remarkable (by indie standards) 20,000 units. 2003’s Diabolic Design was reviewed favorably by Rolling Stone and Billboard Online, among others.

All Access Magazine recently spoke with Blackard.

AAM: When did you first start playing music?

CB: I listened to the radio every night for as long as I can remember. All of that music subconsciously melded into my mind as I slept. By the second grade I begged to play the drums, but my mother, and my music teacher would have no part of it!…My mom said “ I do not want you to play music, you’re just like your Father! “ My teacher told me everyone wanted to play drums… we have too many!… and handed me a trumpet! After torturing him with horrible squeals from the horn, he relinquished and told me to buy a pair of sticks, and a practice pad… I never looked back! Today, after years of study, and hard practice, I am multi-instrumental, and write songs. In my heart though, the drum set will always be my love, and the rhythm will always be my muse.

AAM: Who do you cite as some of your primary musical influences?

CB::I go so far back into “Rock” that I have to say I am influenced by all of the great rock (and pop) bands of the seventies/eighties. The bands that I rehearsed to while I was leaning, and growing were bands like YES, Jeff Beck, Argent, Chicago Transit Authority, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, and AC/DC, to name a few. Later I got into solo artists, and lyric-based material like Cat Stevens, Jim Croce, CSNY, Collective Soul, and way too many others to mention!

AAM: Talk about your group, Astral Kitchen. When did they form and how did that come to be?

CB: AK was formed about 1990, as an alternative to the “cover bands” that the members were playing in. We all needed a creative release for our writing and performance needs. We put together an EP that was first released on cassette only, and used that to get work. Later as that EP was re-mastered/released on CD (2001), did we find the true value of what we had created. Unfortunately Mark Yeske our original bassist, and dear friend, had passed away from diabetes, and left original members Norbert Mazari and myself to pick up the ball and make a run with it. At that point we created Dirty Things a conceptual CD that is still in print (AK Debut was taken out of print in 2007). Later in 2006, AK released a CD called Diabolic Design that was progressive- driven, and controversial in subject matter. The CD Elements is AK’s most recent contribution to the catalog, and will be Mazari’s last contribution to the Astral Kitchen body of music. He passed away April 15th 2009, just before the final production took place on Elements. I have decided to carry on with AK, in respect to my fallen friends, and the music/ message we started. I know that we are all in tune with that, and I know that they will influence my music written for the final chapter of this band.

AAM: Regarding the songwriting process: What goes through your mind when you sit down to compose a tune?

CB: Composition of a tune for me is both complex, and simple. Most of the time the tune/lyric come to me so fast, that if I do not write them down, it is lost forever. I often wonder how many great tunes I missed by not being able to write them down. Sometimes, a riff will stick in my head and drive me crazy until I record it. Even then, I listen to it over and over, and start to feel it blossom; I call this process a “hard birth” (laughs). I have to admit though, some of my best work has arisen from this process i.e.; (Breakthrough, Diabolic Design, Do or Die). It is not how I like it to materialize but I am happy it does!

And I am sure there is more to come!

AAM: What’s the current state of the live music scene in the area where you live, Sonoma/Napa, Cal.?

CB: Well, the current state of Napa is getting better! Sonoma is about the same (not so good), and from what I am gathering Sonoma is losing one of its best places to play (Little Switzerland). It is rough throughout the music scene, for both venues, and bands/solo acts. I can really appreciate the venues that provide a “guarantee” for the bands because so many are not. Can you imagine heading off to work wondering if you were going to even get paid for it? That is the low state that musicians seem to be regarded as. Bottom of the food chain… chum for sharks. At some point a change in the process of music entertainment compensation must change or we simply will not be able to afford to do it, and will have to go back to a 9-5 job that does not allow us to create the music that seems to make people so excited! What a loss that would be… Think of all that music never happening!

AAM: You also have a recording studio, when did you open that for business?

CB: In 2001, I built a nice studio in the basement of my home in Sonoma. The studio was able to produce big sounds (Diabolic Design/ Elements). I have now moved the studio to a place in Napa. There is a lot of great gear available for a fair price. I realize that almost anyone can make a good recording these days, but what I provide is a producer’s ear and experience along with a great environment to record. A recording does not need to be complex to be great. My job is to assess the needs of the artist and the sound they are searching for. That makes it come alive in a way that is ear candy to the listener!

AAM: What do you think your contribution to music, and its independent distribution has been?

CB: It is difficult to imagine a band nowadays getting the attention we had when we first started. There are SO many quality bands that have strong fan bases… yet… the leveling of the playing field has created a over-saturation of talent! I think AK simply showed that three guys and a sound, combined with a message, could move some minds. When we started we were so raw! But our delivery was tough, and to the point! We spoke of things that, years later, fans mailed in and said “this changed my life.” That was when I started to “get it;” people actually listened to the words! .It was a humbling experience! I am not sure of what the end fate will be, but I do know, I will carry on the message, and the heart felt feeling of my brethren! We were all one, .and I feel that to this day! As far as distribution goes, I think it is now “every band for itself;”… do not rely on a record deal like back in the old days… get out there and “do it yourself”… and as soon as you have some success, get others involved that are good at what they do! That is the key… surround yourself with “like-minded individuals” who are in this to HELP YOU. And it is OK if they are looking for a step up… aren’t we all?… may all of us gain perspective on my words… for they reflect the thoughts of  the one and the many.

AAM: Looking down the road, what are some goals you have for both yourself and Astral Kitchen?

CB: Myself and Astral Kitchen have seemed to merge into one. The original members have (besides myself) passed, and I see myself as moving forward with both Astral Kitchen, and solo material. The latter is a bit different than my former band-mates might have endorsed, so I will continue the writing/recording, and releasing music for the band Astral Kitchen, in 2012. I am also going to try something new to me, and that is a solo act. I have been in the past a musician whose mind set was to be in a band, and give it a collaborative energy. I am still in that mindset, but now I am exploring some of the “roads less traveled” in my approach. I feel that this will be an extension of places that the Astral Kitchen might not have gone as a group. I feel privileged to be in the collaborative mindset of my previous band-mates. I will carry on the forward thinking and writings of AK. Until I feel it is no longer thought provoking, and enlightening.