On Thursday, November 12th, Chris Roberts is bringing his blend of “rock n’ roll-hippie-country” to The Creek Stage @ The Rookery. Roberts, who currently resides in Colorado, began writing songs in the corner of his Aspen Hatter shop before deciding to pursue music full-time. COVID-19 began shuttering venues and sidelining tours this past spring, but Roberts seized the opportunity to advance towards the recording studio and assemble a debut album of new material that features an array of world-class talent. As rooms around the country begin to test the waters with socially distanced shows, Roberts and his band– guitarist Eli Wulfmeier, bassist (and Perry, Georgia native) Adam Arcos, drummer Matt Tecu, and keyboardist Jake Abernathie– are primed to share their collective sound.
AI- Originally, you’re from Austin, Texas. Is that right?
CR- Yes, sir.
I imagine it’s very tough to grow up in that town and not play music.
Well, to be honest, no, it was never like that for me. I loved music and listened to the shit out of it all the time, but I didn’t ever think that I would be playin’ any of it. That wasn’t my deal. I played sports and I played baseball in college and I was supposed to be this big athlete guy– and then that didn’t work out so good. When I got hurt, I picked up a guitar, the cheapest guitar I could find, and I learned a few chords. I still didn’t think much about it. I wished that I could, but I didn’t think anything. I just kept fiddlin’ around every once in a while. And now I’m talkin’ to you! I don’t know. Shit, that was 19 years ago, man! But I’ve only been at this game and I haven’t played… I’m still a fresh young pup at this game.
What led you to apprenticing with a hatmaker? How did you get into that vocation?
I wanted to look cool ’cause I thought maybe I’d play the guitar someday (laughs)! And nobody could get me the right hat! Nobody could find the right hat that I thought was cool enough, that had the style that I wanted. So I said, “Damn it, I’ll go make ’em myself!” I started makin’ some stuff in my garage… I saw one lady almost get run over by a car crossing the street to flag me down sayin’, “How can I get a hat?” And I thought, “Oh shit! Maybe this is real! Maybe I should do this!” So I went and figured out how to get machines. I figured out how to make ’em and I opened up shop! Then I opened up another shop (laughs)! And then once I got people that were good employees, I sat in the shop most of the day and I played my guitar. It was very simple. I sat in the corner and I was like, “Hey, what do y’all need?” If they needed me to stand up and say like, “Hey, this is how it’s done. Hey, no, you need to do that with that hat…” If I could, as the boss, I basically sat in the corner and wanted to play my guitar. And then people said that they liked it. They liked the songs. And then I said, “Oh , shit! What now?” Then I met Cory [Lashever] and he said, “We gotta play songs!” And that’s what we’re doin’! We’re playin’ songs now.
When you were sitting there in the corner at the shop, had you already begun writing? Were you playing original songs or did you have some favorites?
It went over for a couple of years, now. So the first year I absolutely only knew covers songs and I didn’t really play them very well. It wasn’t any good. It was no good. I guess people said it was good, but I don’t like playin’ cover songs that much. Then I wrote my first song– which I didn’t even know I could do. But then I realized, “Holy shit, this is easy as shit! I can write! Are you kidding?” ‘Cause once I wrote my first song and people liked it, I realized like, “Man, you guys like when I just say shit? Okay!” Things have gotten a lot better, a lot better since. The first song was okay and whatever, but things have gotten a lot better because of course, it takes time. It takes time to get good. And I’m not sayin’ I’m good now, but it’s definitely gotten tremendously better because I’ve had a minute more longer to practice at it, and I’m kind of a fast study. That’s how I roll!
What do hat design and songwriting have in common creatively?
It’s art. It’s the same. It’s art. When my voice gets to do some art like that, when [hats] are made, it’s an art piece and my voice is still on it. I don’t even care who’s singin’ or what voice it is or anything! It’s just about the final product– and did people have a good time and do they like their hat? Everything’s supposed to be good. The hat’s supposed to be custom made. And this son of a gun playin’ music is custom made! Boy, that’s all I know! That’s it! We’re all custom!
Let’s jump back to March 2020. The pandemic was just ramping up– and am I to understand you were actually down in Texas tourin’ and doin’ the rooms down there?
We were tryin’. We were out on the road, we were breakin’ new ground– and then the new ground broke, which was the COVID! And we got sideways! My last gig, bro, I’m playin’ on a big stage with smoke comin’ out and I’m watchin’ while I’m tryin’ to sing, watchin’ them sanitize the chairs. So it got sideways. We went to California and were tryin’ to figure out what we could do and that was the best decision I could make. We got us a place and we made some new songs.
Tell me about that decision because that’s a huge leap to go from doin’ some shows, the pandemic explodes…
Well, what else? That’s the way we get down! I don’t lay down. I don’t lay down– and not to mention that there’s a bunch of other guys that thought that they had a job for a certain amount of time! And so I needed to figure out what we were doin’ and the best use of our time. The best use of our time was to get them closer to their home. Man, you put us in a studio or anywhere, we have a hard time not playin’ music. We just come up with shit all the time. Every day, somebody’s got a new idea and that’s all we do. That’s our thing, man. You wanna hear it? Listen to this! You want to hear it? They’re still out here right now![Guitar/drums sound]
(Laughs) Here we are! I’m talkin’ to you and they’re still playin’!
Had there been a plan at that point to actually get into the studio or was that an off the cuff decision to go ahead and do that?
No, there was no plan, man. COVID hit and we had zero plan. Everybody just had big eyes! We’re on a bus and it’s like, “What the hell are we supposed to do?” And a lot of eyes were lookin’ at me. And so I asked Cory, my manager, to get us a place. I said, “If we can find a place in Joshua Tree that has a studio and a house connected to it, so we can still stay COVID-free and also get to make music that would be our best choice.” He made it in about two seconds and we turned the bus around and went there.
What studio was it?
It was called Skylab Studio. It’s not much of a studio. They’re like kinda gettin’ on their feet, I would say, but they’re tryin’. They have stuff, but they were still puttin’ up boards and shit, you know (laughs)? They’re tryin’… But it’s called Skylab Studios and it was something for us to do because we all thought that we were supposed to be on the road for another month. And then all of a sudden we weren’t! So I said, “Let’s go write some new songs.” And we absolutely did! We made better songs! Shit, we don’t even play the old songs no more!
You do have a fantastic band. I’ve been listenin’ to the tracks that have been released and some of your live videos. Tell me about the band– who are the guys and where did they come from?
They’re all based out of L.A. They come from different places. Eli Wulfmeier is originally from Michigan. He plays in some different stuff. His actual name is Leroy if anybody wants to know (laughs)! But they all live in L.A. You got Jake Abernathie on the keys. We got Adam Arcos on the bass. On the album and some of the other stuff you might hear might be a different drummer, but right now on the drums you got Matt [Tecu]… Shit, he plays with Bob Dylan’s son! The drummer has always kinda come in and out a little bit, but they’re workin’ on it. The main band of the guys that have been together, that wrote these songs is myself and Eli Wulfmeier, Jake Abernathie, and Adam Arcos.
I think Adam’s actually from around our neck of the woods, down the road in Perry, Georgia, if I’m not mistaken.
He is. He’s actually from Macon.
It’s gonna be a bit of a homecomin’ when you guys come to the Creek Stage next week!
Yeah, I think that he’s pretty down to go back to his home place and play these songs. He’s played with a lot of big people, all these guys have played with really big people. I’m the littlest person they’ve ever played with, but they also know what the songs sound which direction we’re headed. So they wanna do this deal.
So the album is gonna be called Feather? Is that right?
No, sir. I don’t think I want to call it Feather.
But there is a full album in the works?
Oh, we got more songs than we know what to do with! It’s ridiculous! There is a feather on the front of the album, for sure, but I don’t think I’m gonna to put the label of “Feather” [on the album] because that feather that you see that’s on that album, it’s also everywhere. It’s on my arm… It’s me. It’s my brand. It’s not just this one album. So I’m not just gonna put a name on it.
Do you have a release date in mind?
Well, we got the other song comin’ out. Cory could probably help you more with this, but you know how all that stuff goes… Do we release one song at a time? I want to release all of ’em, but we gotta build up a little bit of stuff because nobody knows who the hell I am! They’re tryin’ to do their business job of how it goes out. For me, I’m just like, “Man, get this out there!” But the music side of the business is a different deal.