Chris Traynor

By Leslie Michele Derrough
August 27, 2012

Chris Traynor is about to head to Amsterdam with his Bush bandmates the following day but at the moment he is in his car talking to me about his love for the guitar. For him, it is an instrument of monumental beauty. It’s shape, it’s voice, it’s whole essence is a seduction that Traynor cannot resist.

Coming into Bush following the departure of founding member Nigel Pulsford during the Golden State tour in 2002, Traynor stuck with Gavin Rossdale after Bush’s abrupt hiatus, playing with him in a project called Institute and then on Rossdale’s solo venture. But 2011 brought forth Rossdale and Traynor with drummer Robin Goodridge and bass player Corey Britz for the recording of The Sea Of Memories. And fans were just as happy to have them back as they were to see their fans, as the first single “The Sound Of Winter” scored at number one.

So after a few dropped calls, we eventually got to know more about this soft-spoken guitar player before the call of the road took him to Europe.

Bush did a big US tour recently and now you’re heading off to Europe before coming back for some more American dates.

I’m leaving for Amsterdam tomorrow morning but, yeah, we’ve been on tour. We went to Australia starting in, I think, before the end of January and we’ve been on tour almost the whole way since. I’ve been home for about three or four days and I’m getting ready to go out. I’m looking forward to it. I like my time at home, though, to be honest with you as well. I get to play all those guitars that I don’t have out on the road with me.

Yes, I hear you love your guitars.

I totally do. I’ve inadvertently devoted my life to it.

You said in your recent Guitar World column that “guitar has given me everything I’ve ever dreamed of and more.”

It’s totally true. It’s an interesting instrument to me. I’m sure other people have a similar feeling about their instruments but guitar is something that you can’t really master and it’s beautiful in terms of it’s look and the art of making it and the history of it. You’ll never exhaust the possibilities on the guitar. So it’s a life’s work.

Musicians are always working on something to improve their playing. What is something in the near future that you want to try and work on more?

Well, I got a publishing and record deal when I was nineteen, just super young. So a lot of the early music in my early writing with guitar was stuff that I could sit around and think of. And one of my goals kind of in my practice and my studies of the instrument now is to be able to have my own voice and original ideas off-the-cuff more, like how I’d be talking here with you. Having my sense of humor but not having it pre-thought out and not have it be riff by rote. So just to be more fluid and speak more openly in a language with guitar in like a free situation rather than less so in a writing situation. Does that make sense?

It does, wanting more improvisation and spur of the moment playing. I don’t know how you do it so fast.

Well, a part of it has to do with learning by rote, being able to see and hear chords and if you run over the pathways of things that you spend hours practicing in a jam session but there becomes those moments where you are hit up by inspiration and then you hear something in your mind right beforehand and you know exactly where to go to on the instrument to play those notes. And I think that’s a super special kind of skill to have and also an experience to be part of.

Where did you grow up and how did you discover music?

I grew up in Queens, both of my parents are from Queens, New York. I guess in terms of music, I was part of some of the first Suzuki music programs in New York City. Suzuki was a Japanese music teacher who had a very successful teaching program in Japan and brought it over to the United States, basically teaching music as a language. So he would teach music as a language to very young children and my experience of it was when I was very, very young, my parents used to take me to the city and they would have a violin sitting on a blanket by me and they’d play classical music and you learn how to deal with music in terms of like a language, a mother tongue. It’s something that I actually put my daughter in when she was growing up.

When did you finally get interested in guitar?

I started playing guitar very late in life. My parents tried to get me to play guitar when I was about nine years old and the guitar requires a certain amount of hand strength and can be a very painful and frustrating instrument to learn. So upon first visit I abandoned my desire to play guitar and I moved on to piano. And I played piano and trombone and drums. I didn’t get into guitar until I got in high school because obviously it was a cooler image; well, in my opinion at the time in high school it was a cooler image than being a piano player. So I started playing guitar maybe when I was in 10th grade. Pretty late, actually.

So you started playing guitar just because it was cool?

I just think the guitar looks so cool. The kind of physical way the instrument looks and what people look like when they’re holding them. I think it’s kind of an iconic American image and it’s got a lot of power. Obviously, when you’re younger and a teenager and your hormones are exploding, the guitar seems more of a sexual instrument than maybe piano might be. So it was just very moving, it moved me, the instrument.

What was your first guitar and how did you get it?

That’s a very good question. My first guitar was a pre-Gibson Epiphone devon arch-top, which was my great-grandfather’s, which I got out of my great-grandmother’s closet in Brooklyn when we were moving her out of her apartment. And I found it in the back of the closet and it had Jazz strings on it. I took it home and I stared at it for a few years but it was always in a closet and that’s actually the guitar I played the most over my life. It’s been with me since I was a little boy and it’s my favorite guitar to play and it’s been one of three or four things that I’ve kept with me my entire life.

Was your great-grandfather a musician?

I’m not sure cause I never met him. I met my great-grandmother and she passed when I was pretty young so I never got the chance to ask her about it. You know how it is with family history. If you don’t find out about it when you get the chance it goes away.

When did you get into rock & roll and who was it that impressed you the most?

It was my father. My father, who wasn’t a musician at all, loved music a lot and he used to do or try to be a roadie or a stagehand to try to get into the bigger concerts that came through New York City. And he told me this story one time where he saw the lead singer of Steppenwolf coming into the backstage of a venue and everybody kind of got out of his way and he snuck in behind him pretending like he was with him. Then in order to stay in the show he just helped people move cases around. That was back in the day when I think things were less professional and less strict. He had met Richie Havens and Richie Havens gave him a guitar string; he’d met Janis Joplin. So him having these experiences and I guess seeing how excited my dad was about it, really kind of made a huge impression on me. My dad used to take me in his car and I remember distinctly, you know when you have that moment when you just go out with one of your parents and it’s the special one of your parent’s time, he took me to a record store and he bought Steppenwolf’s “Born To Be Wild” on a tape and put it in the car and turned the stereo up to ten and just drove really fast on the freeway with me. That was a huge moment for me.

In terms of learning guitar, actually, my early influence on guitar, a cousin of mine got married and when he got married his wife insisted that he grow up and kind of get rid of all his childhood things. So he gave me his sacred entire Led Zeppelin catalog on vinyl. So I took my great-grandfather’s Epiphone acoustic guitar that I was talking about and borrowed a Fisher-Price record player from my sister and sat in my bedroom the whole summer and learned how to play Led Zeppelin songs by ear.

When did you decide to get some guys together and create a band?

I think in my junior or senior year of high school some friends of mine wanted to be in the high school talent show and they wanted to play hardcore music, punk rock music, and none of the other guitar players that could actually play were interested in playing that kind of music. So they co-opted me into their band and I started playing. They would take me to a lot of the kind of punk rock and hardcore shows in and around New York City and Connecticut and Boston and when I would go and see these bands it was different than seeing the bands that were big in the day. It was different than seeing bands like Motley Crue; that was a big band when I was growing up, even though I wasn’t like a huge fan of theirs. I’d go and see these bands and they were just like IT to me and I thought, I could do that, I can play what those guys are playing. So kind of hardcore and punk rock really inspired me to do it myself and make my own band, to make me want to be on stage playing for people.

You talked about your father meeting all these wonderful musicians. Who was the first real rock star that you met?

I don’t quite remember but I have a story. When I was younger I saw a band called Primus. Do you know who that band is? I don’t know if people still know who that band is.

Yes, I do

Ok, so I saw Primus out on the edge of Long Island before they kind of got big. There was about seventeen people in an old heavy metal club called Sundance that were there to see them and I was so blown away by how good Les Claypool was on bass. I became a huge fan of that band right before their first record came out. When I joined Helmet, Helmet had played with Primus a lot. We never played with Primus when I was in the band but when I joined those guys were friends and I remember being backstage at a Helmet show at a club and Les Claypool was talking to Page Hamilton, the lead singer and guitar player in Helmet. And I just waited around.

I wanted to meet Les so bad I waited for like thirty minutes to get an awkward entrance into the conversation. And I said, like a dork, “I just wanted to tell you that you were a huge influence on me when I was younger and you really kind of inspired me and I almost stopped playing guitar and started playing bass because of you.” And he said something like, “Oh yeah, that’s cool,” and turned away from me and it was really kind of disappointing to me. I’m not sure if that’s a summation of his character cause I only met him that one time but to me it was disappointing. So I’ve always been super shy about meeting people since then that I’ve looked up to. And also I try to remember that when I’m meeting people that are fans of whatever bands that I am currently playing in that come to meet me.

Ok, Gavin called you a perfectionist. Is that a fair assessment?

As a perfectionist I couldn’t say yes

And that’s your final answer?

Yeah, I don’t think I’m a perfectionist cause I think I rarely do things perfectly. It’s what I aspire to do but I think that I rarely accomplish that.

Last question: how far along into being a member of Bush did you get before you started making the songs your own and bringing in your personality to them?

A long time, because it took me a while to kind of feel comfortable with Gavin and what he was doing and I also wanted to be real respectful of the music to the fans. And it wasn’t until Gavin and I started doing the solo record that we really started to spread out. And when we came back into the band, into doing Bush again, I felt like I could add a little bit more of my flavor in to what we were doing. But I still try to be very respectful of the music and of the fans appreciation and knowledge of it. So I take it step by step. I try not to take too many liberties with the music.

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