A few years ago, I was running a local music website called Pharout Magazine.
Much like this column, one of our main goals was highlighting local success stories that wouldn’t normally be covered. This is an excerpt from an interview I did with Chris Constable, an AVC graduate.
This Valley is a small, linked community and Chris’s story is an important example of that. Along with engineering credits on Kamasi Washington’s debut album “The Epic,” Harper Simon, Booker T. Jones and Fitz and the Tantrums, Chris has served as a tour manager/live sound engineer for Save Ferris, the director of operations for Slate Digital and the associate director of career services at the SAE Institute in Los Angeles.
Chris Constable: I started at the age of three or four. My mom started taking me to music classes. I was kind of forced to play piano for a long time, but I ended up thanking my mom for it later because the music theory knowledge carried over. I went to Antelope Valley College and started taking classes around the Commercial Music program. Started hanging out with Laura Hemenway, Dennis Russell, Jeff Bretz and all the people who were running the program at the time. I started playing in the jazz band under Lee Matalon and playing in Test Flight with Dennis and Laura. Through that, I met Nate Dillon and ended up playing in Dead Rats and ended up doing a lot with No Exit Records. We were all building our own PCs and started recording local bands like Zero Box, The Kris Special and Dead Rats.
Through that, I met up with this guy named Hector or “Dr. Ramirez.” Hector ran a studio way out on the East side (of town). He had a serious Protools rig and a separate live room. He saw how much everyone at No Exit had done for the music scene, that he decided to give back to us and record our album for free.
I fell in love with the process of making records and engineering. Around that time, Laura brought John French, Captain Beefheart’s drummer, into Test Flight. John came in and listened to some of our songs. He gave us some feedback and then a clinic. We all went to Denny’s afterward, John and I hit it off and that’s when he told me he was getting The Magic Band back together.
They signed to Proper Records, an English label and were getting together to go on a tour of the UK. John wanted someone to both run Front of House and do live recording. If you don’t know how to do something, say yes and figure it out. Did I know how to run a recording rig at the time? Not really. I had a week to bone up on it really quickly and let him know what we needed. We used stuff that was all in-house at different venues. That was also where I learned how to really advance a show. I did all that before I ended up going to the Conservatory of Recording Arts and Sciences in Arizona (laughs).
I was in an odd position at school because I went in knowing more than almost anyone else there. The reason I chose the Conservatory was small class sizes. They wouldn’t have more than 12 students per class. I purposely took the afternoon class so I wouldn’t be at school until 3 p.m. to 7 p.m., go grab dinner, come back and hang out while other people were in the studio. No one wanted the 3 a.m. to 9 a.m. sessions, so I would book those. I’d be in the studio doing whatever, I didn’t care what it was. I’d find someone to record or check out tapes because the first four months of the program was still analog and two-inch tape.
There’s two secrets or keys to getting work in this industry. One is always being available and sticking around. The other is being willing to take on things you don’t quite understand yet. Everyone I know who is good and has stuck with it is also working. It takes a long time and it’s not a quick thing.
I’ve been doing it for 10 years and I’m still out hustling gigs. My phone doesn’t ring off the hook, you know? I just worked on Kamasi Washington’s album (“The Epic”) and the response on it has been really good. Fantastically so because it’s a great record. He did something that is actually making something new out of jazz.
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