It’s easy to be swept away with all the fast lane nonsense in the world to which we refer “the music biz.” It’s an exciting place to be, after all… the creativity, the colorful characters involved, the newest buzz. Folks come and go. Scenes come and go. The underlying politics shift constantly based on how one might perceive their “who to know” list. Even though it is my chosen industry for all its healthy, artistic and sometimes glorious opportunities – like anything it comes with a lot of the same down sides as other industries, including those who take themselves more seriously (ugh!) than they do their craft. Shucks. At times I’ve even probably been that guy.
Christopher Dale is not “that” guy.
Even at first glance, his modesty is obvious. He’s a casual dude in flip-flops, jeans, t-shirt… maybe a ball cap. He’s the guy blending in with the collective laughter of those cool folks across the room taking in the music. If you pass by him while navigating the room, he’ll say, “Hi, how are ya?” in neighborly fashion while engaging you in ordinary conversation that is light yet relevant, sharing a few laughs with you. One might even think (assuming you’re meeting him for the first time) “cool, dude… wonder who he’s here to see, tonight.”
And then, pretty soon, you see him approach the stage with his guitar and boyish smile only to commence slaughtering you sweetly with one super-catchy song after another. You find yourself singing along by the second chorus and then notice four days later that you’re still humming these hook-heavy tunes.
And that’s when you realize how cool it is that your bro, Christopher Dale, is actually an enormously gifted songwriter who has the ability to translate something profound while singing about ordinary stuff. And, often with a sense of humor and fun.
Make no mistake, Chris is a helluva singer with great guitar chops. His songs are the stuff that sets him apart from the pack. In fact, my experience playing in [my former band] the Grams included covering Chris’ material. This was equally due to the fact that his tunes are a blast to play (we were huge fans) and even though we are all friends, he’s still a great writer, and we could learn something by playing great tunes.
He’s garnered nine San Diego Music Awards nominations, sang the national anthem at a Dodger’s Stadium Independence Day event, and is generally gigging his butt off in much of the city’s scope of events. He tours. Writes jingles. He even uses his music to do good things for the city or charity events.
And while he’s established himself as a San Diego music staple, he remains your “bro” first.
Chuck Schiele: I think of you as a “great” songwriter. You usually have fresh subject matter when it comes to writing songs. Where does it come from? How do you do that? How do you cultivate your inspiration?
Christopher Dale: Well, it comes from many places. Experiences, self-therapy, interactions, something that was said or that I saw, some messin’ up, and my butt. Anything’s game! As much as possible, I like to draw on or write from the common experience perspective. Sometimes interesting concepts or contrasts take me for a ride. Many times, I start with an idea and it comes out as something else.
As a songwriter, the message or story and the melody it fuses with is most important, then the production. When the melody and chord changes come into play, I start to tweak words and syllables. I re-write, re-write, and re-write. I believe that’s the core of the songwriting process. There’s different ways to say the same thing and I really enjoy exploring that phase in order to try and present the lyrical content in the most interesting or descriptive way possible. I also like when an opportunity allows me to try and be clever or humorous. Lately, I do most of my productive writing between three and seven in the morning. Something just seems to wake me up and away I go. No text messages, Facebook, or anything else vying for my time and attention.
The overall craft of songwriting is like fishing. You have to have patience. Some days you catch something worth keeping. Most days, you’ve gotta throw ’em back or use them for bait. Then there are those days when you’re just out there drinking beer and enjoying the scenery ’cause it just isn’t happening. You keep coming back trying to land a BIG one. You experiment with different hooks, lines, and sinkers. Then one day you realize your freezer is full.
CS: You’re a full-time musician. What does it take to survive that challenge?
CD: Toughskin Jeans and the tentacles of an octopus. You have to have your grubby little hands in a lot of different cookie jars. Lots of gigging, jingles, and a music-in-elementary-schools program. Mostly local stuff the past few years though, as I was the primary caregiver to my musician grandpa. I do a lot of solo stuff and private events. Spending a larger length of time in one geographical area creates the need to diversify even more when it comes to performing in local venues. Playing music in sports bars was easy money but I found it hard to explain to the patrons that they are supposed to clap at the end of a song, not during.
These days, I pretty much create and produce all my own shows. I have a band and also collaborate with many talented musicians that call San Diego home. Mixing and matching makes every show different. I’m particularly excited by the new variety project, FUNNER, I have going with long-time friend and piano man J.D. Boucharde. It’s heavy on the crowd participation using mash-ups, sing-a-longs, and parodies. It’s an opportunity for me to really test my passion for being an entertainer as well as showcase a different style of songwriting. We have this chemistry that allows us to playfully tease each other and have a lot of fun.
CS: You’ve been at this a long time. Share a few highlights from your music career?
CD: We’ll, there are two things that stand out to me, which happened within days of each other. One involved performing; the other was the action of a fan.
First, a female fan, whom I met while on tour in Ohio, visited me in San Diego and went as far as riding her unicycle for two miles, in rush hour traffic, to the station of San Diego’s #1 morning radio show. The net result was that she hijacked an hour of live air time to promote music she believed in: mine. So amazing and unique was her stunt that the segment was replayed throughout the rest of the year as part of the “Best of the Jeff and Jer Show.”
Second, two days later, said fan accompanied me to Dodger stadium for what would be my first ever performance of the “Star Spangled Banner” in conjunction with the Dodgers Independence Day Fireworks Celebration baseball game. As I finished singing, “and the home of the brave,” a squadron of jets flew overhead and I was in such awe that the coordinator had to come out onto the field, tell me to wave to the crowd, and lead me off. God Bless America!
CS: What do you look for in a good song, generally speaking? Can you name a perfect song?
CD: Lyrically speaking, a good song is one that I immediately connect to, usually through a common experience or a story that is descriptive to the extent that you can paint a picture of it with your eyes open. It could also be a song that provokes an emotional reaction or opens my mind up to something new and interesting. Production and dynamics can really take it all to another level. That being said, there are songs I didn’t even know what they were talking about but loved them for their musicality and the way that made me feel.
CS: Name a “perfect” song?
CD: There are so many different moods that I feel, it’s more like it can end up being the perfect time when hearing a particular song. There are quite a few songs that are perfectly written from a cohesive standpoint. A few of my faves that come to mind at this moment are “Thank You” [Led Zeppelin], “God Only Knows” [Beach Boys] and “Hallelujah” [Leonard Cohen], with Jeff Buckley’s rendition being the definitive version.
CS: Do you have a favorite that you’ve written?
CD: I’ve written in a variety of styles covering many different subjects that have served me well. Again, music, mood, and the moment are such determining factors. Because of this, my favorite song is ever-changing. I could narrow it down by the number of requests I get for a song, to two in particular. “Here I Am” is a ballad that basically proclaims, “take me as I am,” which is heartfelt and universal. “Waitress” is an upbeat pop song that depicts a quirky love story and has a crowd participation element to it, i.e., “he’s in love!” Both songs are around 10 years old and it seems no matter how many times they hear these songs, the audience reaction is always like it was the first time. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of playing them either.
CS: I love “Waitress. Enough to make reference to it in one of my own tunes, So, what’s the best moment in your career?
CD: Best moment in my career? That’s a tough one! I guess I’d have to say it was playing a show, early in my solo career, at the Belly Up. It was packed and people were singing along. It was then that I could see by the look on my mom’s face and by her subsequent comments that she understood that I have to do what I’m doing and, thankfully, people want to come along for the ride. My family’s support has been nothing short of incredible! They come to as many shows as they can because they truly enjoy it. They really are my biggest fans. If it’s a venue I regularly perform at, before my 91-year-old grandpa even sits down, the server sets a beer in front of him.
CS: Your worst gig war story?
CD: Aside from occupational hazards such as the occasional crappy soundman, rude staff, or drunken idiot, I tend to have dreams about gig mishaps more than actually experiencing them. Since you threw the word “war” in there, I can think of a few times I was actually wounded, but the gigs weren’t bad. There was the time on my birthday that I decided to jump off a pool table during the gig and sprained my ankle with still yet another set to go and a half-hour drive ahead of me after that.
CD: Happy Birthday to me! The other time was at a charity golf tournament sponsored by Hooters. I was in the middle of my set and some drunken dude decided he wanted to grab the mic while I was singing and as he pulled it off the stand, it hit me square in the mouth and gave me a fat lip. Good thing a bunch of beautiful girls in orange Dolphin shorts came to my aid quickly, giving a couple of ex-NFL football players the time needed to escort said dude from the premises before I had a chance to tear him limb from limb, like a chicken wing. Wait a minute, I’m a lover, not a fighter.
CS: You obviously love what you do by being in the biz. What keeps you going?
CD: Being able to follow my passion has been an amazing journey I’m absolutely grateful for. It’s taken me all over the U.S. and as far away as Australia. Connecting and interacting with the crowd is so much fun and extremely important to me. I write songs and perform them in a certain order with the audience in mind. I’ve noticed that certain styles and tricks of the songwriting trade lend themselves to people joining in and singing along, sometimes as soon as the second chorus the first time they’ve ever heard the song. I didn’t even really think about it at first until I started seeing it happen at my shows. I was like WOW! I should pay more attention to what it is I’m doing! I honestly believe it’s really not about me but us. We’re in this together. We experience the same feelings and emotions. Let’s escape the everyday routine and live in this moment. Once you’ve decided to spend your time with me, I have to make sure I give you something to hold on to or do, so you’re glad you came. To see you enjoying yourself makes me happy. When we sing, laugh, dance, and sometimes even tear up a little, we remember the time we had and can’t help but feel alive. I’m a music fan first and foremost. As a listener I’ve learned that if you give your attention to music, you can get back so much more. Whether you apply it to yourself, experience a different perspective, or just appreciate the creative expression. As they say, “Art imitates life.” And we’re living it.
CS: If you weren’t a musician, what would you most likely do instead?
CD: I’d probably be a teacher. My grandmothers were teachers. My mom is a triplet and all three were teachers. Elementary school is when and where I knew I wanted to be a musician. I started listening to American Top 40 at an early age. One day I attended an assembly featuring some of our counselor’s high school-aged guitar students. They played a song by the band Yes and I said, “YES!” It was then that I finally took action. I started guitar lessons with him and by the 7th grade I had written and recorded my first two songs. Let’s hear it for TEACHERS!!!!! I’ve since visited and performed for many of the classes my family members have taught in hopes that the music will inspire others as it did me. And how’s this for an interesting side note? While on tour in 2002 I stopped by the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio. I’m looking through the Doors exhibit and there’s Jim Morrison’s 6th grade report card from Longfellow Elementary School in San Diego, the same school my mom still lives nine houses from. The very same institution I once snuck a Playboy into for kindergarten Show and Tell! WTF! How did I not know this sooner! The Lizard King and I went to the same school! That’s rock ‘n’ roll legend!!!!
CS: One of the things that defines you is your activity in charitable events.
CD: I probably donate my time to an average of 12 charity events a year. They vary. Many are for friends in need.
A couple of the most recent ones have been in support of Susan G. Komen breast cancer foundation and Project Walk, which is a rehabilitation center that trains patients with spinal injuries to maximize their strength and mobility. Some even walk again. I have two friends that have suffered spinal injuries in past few years.
Project Walk also used my song “Places to Be” to promote an event I played at the Belly Up last February and also made a video of training sessions that were synchronized to the song.
CS: Thoughts on the San Diego music scene?
CD: It’s a bit more spread out than say Austin or Nashville, but there are a lot of places to play. Ultimately, San Diego has such a variety of goodness to offer that one may have to look for live music somewhere between sunshine, sea, and tasty cuisine. I find that to be a positive thing, though, because you have numerous opportunities to create your own special niche, event or unique combo. I’ll have the number three: music and sand castle building with a side of chocolate-covered bacon, please.
America’s Finest City is rich in talent! I’ve had the honor of sharing the stage and/or collaborating with world-class musicians of all genres and spanning an age range that makes you wonder if that’s milk or Ensure that they’re nursing? It’s a treasure to experience and learn from the craft of the seasoned veteran as much as it is to watch the evolution of the next generation. San Diego will always be home and my kinda scene.
CS: What’s the plan for Christopher Dale’s music future?
CD: Record the next CD and start touring again in early 2014. I’m really excited about the new batch of songs! Drummer and vocalist Bill Coomes moved to Nashville last May and so remaining bandmates Matt Silvia, Jeff Johnson, and I have started working with the very talented Nicki Carano behind the beat and harmonies. It’s kind of funny to think we’re moving on musically with a blast from my past. That being the fact that I had escorted Nicki to her Senior Prom when we were at Clairemont High and hadn’t seen her until I bumped into her brother Joey in early January 2013; he invited me to a gig they were playing together. Turns out I used to hang with her current boyfriend at my Beachcomber shows back as far as 2000 as well. Sing it: “It’s a small world after all…” The instrumental chemistry is there and we all get along great so here’s to the future! Thanks for asking!
Christopher Dale performances in November:
Saturday, November 16, 8:30pm-midnight
Par Lounge, San Vicente Resort, Ramona
Friday, November 22, 8-11pm
Bay Hill Tavern, 3010 Clairemont Dr.
Chuck Schiele is an award-winning musician, producer, award-winning visual artist, writer/reviewer, activist. He is officially recognized by the California State Senate for civic efforts through art and music. In addition, Schiele is a two-time San Diego Music Award winner.