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That’s The Life of Christopher Wright
Or, How Three Guys From Wisconsin Learned How To Stop Worrying and Release One of the Best Records of the Year

10/07/09

Mark Sullivan

I find myself sitting here, it’s late; my old soft deadline passed days ago and my new self-imposed one is coming to light with the morning that’s only hours away. I’m listening to the first EP from the Eau Claire, Wisconsin-based band The Daredevil Christopher Wright.  Released in 2005 to little fanfare outside of the greater Eau Claire area, the EP is worth paying attention to if for nothing else than it being a sign of things to come. The band teases the ear buds with four songs giving a taste of what we can only come to savor after listening to their first full-length release. With hindsight you can hear them as a young band firmly planting themselves into the musical scene, ready to establish roots—and with patience and honest dedication, to emerge as a fully matured musical troupe.

Fast forward four years and we come to the real reason we are here, the reason I am still sitting up late at night and the reason you should stop whatever else you may be doing at the moment and pay attention. In Deference To A Broken Back is the debut long player from the Daredevil Christopher Wright, a record that is the first in what one hopes to be many bold announcements of the band’s presence and relevance.

In Deference… is a record that manages to tackle some heavy themes without coming across as a “serious” record. And while the band is certainly serious about their craft, a listen to the album reveals a trove of songs that remain uplifting either in spite of or because of the subject matter. “A Conversation About Cancer” is a journey through the emotions of someone facing crisis, of someone suddenly confronting such a personal Goliath. The band manages to convey the tragedy without ever giving into despair; instead the song lifts you up with its unyielding faith in something better yet to come. They sing, “Heaven is the place that we’re going/ We won’t have to be dealing with what we’re dealing with here.” Glimmering signs of hope abound throughout, some unsaid but nonetheless understood in a way that would fall flat in less capable hands.
 
    Any attempt to classify by genre and influence is difficult—from the rolling carnival waltz of “Acceptable Loss” to the jazzy “Sloop John B” doo-wop in “A Near Death Experience At Sea,” the band takes the same leaps as their namesake, a purely fictional stunt man (immortalized on this disc with a recollection of his feats and daring do).  “We’re Not Friends” begins like something that would fit comfortably on a new Spoon record before it takes you into space; soaring atmospheric guitars back a story of an unrequited love. Perhaps the standout track, “Clouds,” is a request for clarity and understanding in the world that seems a fine blend of equal parts Iron & Wine and Dinosaur Jr., though with the main ingredient being, of course, the Daredevil Christopher Wright. It seems fitting that the highlight of this record conjures up the image of great white clouds floating quietly in the wide, deep sky—gently moving, never pushing or pulling but always maintaining the same basic core while constantly changing in subtle ways.

Press photo by Coley Beekman.

I recently had a chance to speak with drummer Jesse Edgington, an old friend, about the new album, their current tour, the evolution of the band and what it means to “go for it.” 

You guys just embarked on your lengthiest tour to date, playing about 40 shows in 50 days.  How are things different from when you first started touring and what’s it like now?

When we first started touring we were more or less weekend travelers, where we’d just book maybe a Thursday but then a Friday and Saturday, get as far as we could on Saturday and drive back on Sunday. We began to play Milwaukee, Chicago, Madison – it’s a whole other thing to book several weeks in a row and try to do a whole trip. You have to come to the people and hope that they kind of meet you halfway, so to speak.


When I saw you in Ohio this past June you told me that the band has decided to “go for it.”  What do you mean by that?  Is “it” success?  Why is this the right time for you to be diving in?


Well, we had this album (In Deference…), that we’d been wanting to release for some time and in the process we spent a lot of energy in trying to release this in the best way possible—involving other people in things that we didn’t have before, like a label, a booking agency—we thought that now that we have this full length album, that’s typically when you are more attractive to an audience. When someone can go home with a good 40 minutes of your music and they can sit down with it and get a better idea of what we’re trying to do. Before that we had one EP we were selling to folks, four songs, which was good to have, but when you can send someone home with a full length record it makes a lot more sense for people to pay attention to you and for people to come out and see you. Part of doing it right is getting the word out, and that meant getting a good publicity campaign behind it and also touring behind that. I think at this point the idea of success and the idea of “going for it” are two different things.


So going for it has become a full time gig for you?

Right now our only job is to spend the days getting shows and promoting our music by playing and practicing and writing material—so in one sense we’re going for it because all we’re doing is music, and we’re able to commit full time to travel if we need to. We’re putting as much of ourselves into the music as we can and if that will yield a success, I don’t know, but we all measure success a little differently. I think in order for us to be living off the music we create, I think that would be something that we all wish for, though it’s not necessarily the goal.


Just briefly, I know that you guys get a lot of questions about Justin Vernon (aka Bon Iver), a friend of yours and fellow Eau Claire denizen, who mixed the majority of the songs on your record. I would wager that many people don’t quite know what that means. How would you describe mixing, and Justin’s role in your record?

What Justin did, and what mixing does, is basically to take all the different tracks from the song and give them clarity, to bring the vocals out and give everything a space. Often what you end up with is a sound, raw from the recording sessions and coming across as very muddy, meaning it might be hard to understand what exactly is going on all the time. Mixing allows ways to distinguish the sounds, to keep the paint in the lines, so to speak.


What is the present day-to-day focus of the Daredevil Christopher Wright? Is there a second album in the works?

Right now there are no immediate plans for a second album. There’s material that’s been written and is in different stages. Some of our live sets include songs that have never been recorded. But the main focus is more on writing in general and staying focused with promoting the album, staying in the moment and taking it as far as we can take it. At this point I see us as gathering our sea legs in terms of touring and promoting and just getting this music outside of Wisconsin. 


The Daredevil’s efforts are refreshing, in an era of a singles-driven music industry, to hear a band put such an impressive effort into creating something whole. Each track on In Deference… is solid yet remains more than just the sum of its parts. There is something to be said for a band that is able to produce something both so personal and accessible and to offer it in such an honest and humble way. This is a band who appears to play music for its own sake, for the sheer love of it and out of a desire to share those feelings and inspirations that seem to come from some other place. It would do us well to promote and encourage this kind of musicianship, where it is the self that is devoted to the music and egos cease to get in the way.

Since this interview took place it was announced that the Daredevil Christopher Wright will be opening for friend Bon Iver at the Riverside Theatre on October, 11 which will be their biggest show to date. It remains to be seen what’s in store for the band’s future though at this point the wind certainly seems to be at their backs and momentum on their side. Ultimately though, the appearance of a band like the Daredevil Christopher Wright calls for a more open-minded music scene and a willingness to take a step in a different direction. It asks us all to be more like the clouds, to not fight the wind when it comes along to shape us into something new, but instead to embrace it.

When I asked drummer Edgington why people should come see them play he said to me, “I think people should come to our show in Milwaukee because I think they might enjoy themselves, or at least find out what some other kids in their state are doing, and if they like it then maybe they’ll support it.” 

As they sing in “Clouds:” “Is that too much to ask?”

You can stream the full album, In Deference To A Broken Back at:
http://www.myspace.com/thedaredevilchristopherwright

The Daredevil Christopher Wright will be performing at the sold out show with Bon Iver at the Riverside Theater on Oct. 11 at 8 p.m.
http://riversidetheater.org/boniver


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