Chris Buck has been making up for lost time in a big way. His band Cardinal Black may have taken 12 years to release their debut album but they couldn't have come back any brighter, and the South Wales band's new record January Came Close entered the Amazon UK rock album's chart in the top position.
Prior to that, the rock and soul outfit have played London's prestigious Shepherd's Bush Empire twice in a year, supported Myles Kennedy (who recently told us why he's such a big fan of Chris's playing) and The Struts on tours, as well as their own headline run, and they're set to join Peter Frampton on his farewell UK dates. It's a far cry from their first outing as a band…
"I still vividly remember our first ever rehearsal back in 2010 in a freezing cold rugby club in South Wales," recalls guitarist Chris. "We only intended to write enough songs to get us through one gig - Tom’s [Hollister, vocals] final year university showcase - but Steve Winwood showing up to that show sent us on a brief but rather wild ride that felt like a bit of a runaway train for band that were so wet behind the ears."
We've talked to Chris before about the roots of the band before, and how Winwood's early patronage encouraged them to continue before life got in the way, as it often does where bands are concerned. Chris continued to carve a name for himself by showcasing his sublime playing on YouTube and with his other band Buck & Evans, winning MusicRadar polls in the process. But the feeling of unfinished business remained.
"The pandemic gave us another crack at the whip which ironically, has felt like just as much like a runaway train as the first time around!" Chris tells us.
Do any songs on the album go back to the earlier days of the band?
"Yeah, definitely. Quite a few of them have their genesis in older songs but pretty much the only track that made it through totally unscathed – without having been rewritten or repurposed – is called Tied Up In Blue, the last track on the album.
"We actually ended up cutting the album version in Abbey Road’s Studio Two which in retrospect, is very cool but oddly enough, wasn’t really the plan. We were filming a few songs there for a live session and for one reason or another, the version of Tied Up we tracked that day really clicked.
"We were fresh off the back of a tour with The Struts where we’d been playing the song every night which coupled with the magic and majesty of that particular studio, gave the session a sense of occasion which isn’t ordinarily there when you’re tracking an album. The audio on the track’s video is the audio that made it to the album, complete with us walking into the studio at the start!"
This record, and the band, are very much not ‘The Chris Buck Guitar Show’. There's plenty of great playing from you but there's the sense that you’re a band player and rooted in songwriting. Do you think some people who are used to your blazing solos on YouTube will be surprised?
"I think so, for better or for worse. As much as the temptation may have been there to turn the band into a vehicle for my solos, that never appealed to me in the slightest. The only reason I do that stuff for YouTube is that it’s quicker to turn around than fully-fledged songs, which when you’re committed to a video a week, expediency is very much the name of the game!
"I always knew Cardinal Black had potential to be more than just an excuse for guitar solos and it’s great to see that thus far, the songs have really connected with people, not just the instrumentation."
Can you tell us about your key gear for this album and where you tracked your parts?
"The bulk of the record was done at a small studio called Snake Mountain in the South Wales Valleys near where I grew up – we actually rehearse there fairly frequently so recording the record there felt like a very natural progression. In regard to gear, I kept it pretty consistent with what I’d been using on the road.
"As I said, we went into the studio straight off the back of a UK tour so it made sense to use my live amp setup – a Fender Pro Reverb and Victory Copper Deluxe. I’ve always been a firm believer that it isn’t necessarily about having the best gear but knowing how to get the best out of what gear you do have and having toured pretty religiously with that setup, I was confident in what it could do.
"The only real special sauce was a 1958 Fender Tweed Deluxe that a friend of mine was kind enough to loan me for the sessions; it’s near-impossible to get a bad sound out of that amp so we ended up leaning on that fairly heavily, especially on tracks like Tell Me How It Feels and I’m Ready - anything that felt like it needed a little bit of natural valve grit."
Did you gravitate to any gear that surprised you?
One pedal that ended up getting a lot more use than I expected was the Line 6 HX Stomp XL. It’s been in my live rig since we toured with Myles Kennedy in 2021 but I guess I kind of assumed that when it came down to recording, I’d switch it out for something a little more ‘authentic’ but it really held its own.
"There’s a song on the record called Warm Love and in chasing down the guitar sound I had in my head, I borrowed a Victoria Reverberato – a truly stunning piece of gear – specifically for its harmonic trem. Somewhat sacrilegiously however, I ended up using the HX Stomp because its harmonic tremolo had more control over the speed of the effect. I’ve always liked the Stomp but it wasn’t until listening to it back under a microscope that I realised quite how good it is!
Do you prefer to track in a traditional recording studio or the flexibility of recording at home and reamping if required?
"A little bit of both. I love the studio and the excitement that knowing you’re there expressly to create something brings and on certain tracks, it’s fun to try and capture that vibe and vitality in your playing - it’s definitely an energy you can feed off. But for tracks that are maybe a little bit more guitar intensive and require more thought as to your parts or how a certain tone will likely sit in a mix, it’s nice to have the time to dig into that without feeling that you’re wasting precious studio time.
"So, as much as certain tracks on the record were recorded with a ’58 Tweed and some cool old Neumanns we were lucky enough to borrow, a lot of it was recorded with my old knackered Sennheiser headphones and a Universal Audio Ox Box. Whatever gets the job done!
What songs and moments from this album are you proudest of?
"It’s great to hear Tied Up in Blue come to fruition after so long on the back burner, especially with a take that I think really captured its energy - it’s by no means perfect but it’s a real moment in time, recorded in a special place.
"Hearing I’m Ready take shape in the studio was also a very cool experience; we had a few of the people who backed our album on Kickstarter come down to Rockfield and having those sat in the live room with us while we recorded it really gave the recording a sense of performance that we wouldn’t have had if we didn’t have a real live audience! That was a lot of fun and I think that’s reflected in the take that made it to the record.
"It’s those kind of moments that make me proudest - not necessarily individual stand out performances (although Sam’s bass playing on the outro of I’m Ready is incredible) but moments where we managed to capture the occasion as well as the song."
Reflecting on your album choices, can you hear how the influence of them has manifested in the musician you are now? Perhaps in ways you didn’t expect or even notice before?
"Yeah, definitely. If there is a very tenuous thread running through all of my favourite records it’s that sense of having captured a band or an artist at a moment in time, be it the excitement of a first record or the desperation of a breakup. They’re little snapshots that may be far from perfect, but tell a story.
"That’s what I wanted for our record – to get away from the stress of ‘perfect’ performances and focus on the record as a whole and capturing the excitement of making a record that in some ways, we’ve spent over a decade in pre-production for!
Chris Buck: 10 albums that changed my life
1. Guns N’ Roses - Appetite for Destruction (1987)
"Undoubtedly the album that has had the biggest impact on me, to the extent that I still vividly remember the excitement of hearing it for first time. I was familiar with the big tracks from their Greatest Hits but it was the deeper cuts like Mr Brownstone and Rocket Queen that convinced me I’d just found the greatest record ever made!
"There’s so much angry, barely-suppressed energy in that record that it almost crackles. And save for maybe the reverb on the drums, it sounds as though it could have been recorded yesterday, it’s so fresh! "
2. John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers – Bluesbreakers With Eric Clapton (aka The Beano Album) (1966)
"It’s staggering to think how young Clapton was on this record. There’s an intensity in his playing that save for some live Cream recordings, I don’t think he ever matched.
"You can hear how young and hungry he is to make his mark, but there’s also a maturity and identity in his playing that’s incredible given he was only 21. Steppin’ Out is still the gold standard for blues rock guitar."
3. The Police - Outlandos D’amour (1978)
"This record is such a great example of perfectly capturing the enthusiasm and excitement of a band making their debut album. It was recorded on a shoestring in studio downtime but there’s such an infectious energy that spans the record, it sounds as though they banged it out in a day or two!
"The Police are also one of the few bands where each member is as musically strong musically as the next, but in such a such a cool, understated way so as not to be showy or in your face about it."
4. The Beatles - Rubber Soul (1965)
"It’s beautifully balanced with some truly incredible songwriting (In My Life gets better with every listen) but with a perfect amount of drug-induced eccentricity! It’s easy to hear why it was George’s favourite Beatles record."
Thin Lizzy - Live & Dangerous (1978)
"How much of this record is truly ‘Live’ (or Dangerous…) has been hotly-disputed over the years with both two thirds live and two thirds studio having been suggested by different personnel involved but whatever the case, it’s a masterpiece; a rock band at their height and having more fun than should be (or probably was!) legal.
"I’d have given anything to be at one of those shows. Or studio sessions…"
6. John Martyn - Grace & Danger (1980)
"I’ve always found John Martyn to be such an interesting paradox. How could the same guy who penned Hurt In Your Heart or Baby Please Come Home be the same bear of a bloke that could drink anyone under the table and start a fight in a phone box?
"Grace & Danger is the sound of a man who can see and acknowledge his wrongdoing but seems absolutely powerless to do anything about it. Johnny Too Bad by name and by nature."
7. Paolo Nutini - Caustic Love (2014)
"One of few records made in the 21st Century that I listen to on nearly a weekly basis!
"I love Paolo - not many artists would be given the freedom to take eight years to release a follow up to such a successful record but the quality of the songs and the marked evolution between each release is testament to the strength of his writing and musicianship."
8. Foy Vance - Hope (2007)
I discovered Foy totally by chance after a friend asked me to play Shed A Little Light as their first dance but he’s one of my favourite discoveries of recent years; Hope’s an absolutely brilliant record and his voice and ability to deliver a line is something else. He’s hugely underrated.
9. Alanis Morissette - Jagged Little Pill (1995)
"I was a little bit late to the Alanis party having been too young to appreciate her at her height but ended up with a copy of Jagged Little Pill on a borrowed hard drive, back when having the biggest iTunes library of your mates was a point of personal pride!
"Of all the albums I was given, Jagged Little Pill really stood out - I’d never heard anyone capable of such vitriol and tenderness in virtually the same breath! Perfect is so beautifully tender while You Oughta Know is visceral in its aggression. It’s the perfect light and shade record."
10. Deep Purple - In Rock (1970)
"If there’s a better start to an album that Speed King, I’ve yet to hear it; the suspense in that final Jon Lord minor-to-major chord is palpable.
"It’s criminal that Blackmore’s influence isn’t more widely acknowledged as well, possibly because he’s been so outspoken and divisive over the years. He was doing stuff that nobody else was doing, particularly with his Eastern and classical influences. He’s utterly unique and his playing on In Rock is sublime."
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