|Photo by Katie Franklin|
How have your shows been lately? You have mostly been doing "one-offs," correct?
Hilton: Yeah, I have been doing just "one-offs" really. This show (Atlanta) is the only one this weekend, but I have been doing shows every weekend in September. I am trying to do most every weekend this fall, because I'm recording the last season of One Tree Hill in North Carolina. So I am just doing things that I can fly/drive to really quick.
Speaking of One Tree Hill, are you able to work in some of your new music into the show?
Hilton: Yeah, they are being super cool about it and letting me play on the show, because I have this record coming out in January. I never know what's going to happen, until I get the new script but there have been three or four times now where I've gotten it and they have said "Chris Keller's playing a song in the scene."
I absolutely love the music that they pick for the show...
Hilton: They do pick some good music... Oh and note to self, the director of the show Mark Schwann always directs the show like a music video and I keep forgetting to ask him to direct a music video for me. I have to write that down.
How long has the album that you have coming out in January been in the making?
Hilton: Literally, I started making it in August. It's weird because I have kind of been working on it since 2004. The last record that I put out was in 2003 and for the last however many years that I have been trying to put out a record for Warner Brothers, it just ended up in these little dry heaves of EP's (laughs. I just couldn't get a (full) record out for the life of me. I wrote and recorded so many songs that weren't really coming out, because you have to get some many things "Okayed," by so many people just to do demos at a major record company. The longer I was there, so much red tape popped up when doing anything, even to just try some ideas. I left there in December and it has helped me ever since then, in some weird way. When I left them, all of the songs I had ready to go were tied up legally and I can't touch them for two years. I had a full album ready to go, and I was kind of left with nothing. At that point I was fed up with the whole music thing for a while, and I missed acting a bunch. So, I have spent since then slowly licking my wounds and writing some new songs again. I got together with some friends that I enjoyed writing with and like hanging with in L.A. This guy, Dave Hodges (formerly of Evanescence) and Steve Miller, who actually have a new band together called Arrows to Athens. All of these songs that we were writing together were so great and Steve had been laying guitar with me for a while, so I thought "why don't the three of us just do it?" We wrote a bunch of songs and began recording in August, while I have been flying back and forth recording One Tree Hill. We are finishing up the record right now, but it feels so fresh and it feels awesome because I just wrote the songs and I'm going to put them out. With the exception for one song from a demo session that I did in 2006, but I thinking of putting it on there. I love that song just the way it is because it is so acoustic, so I might just do that.
|Photo by Katie Franklin|
Hilton: No, because those were all Warner (Records) songs. Those were going to be on the record that was supposed to come out in the spring, on Warner, called The Storms We Share. In fact, my family says that I should have a slogan that says "The Storms We Share, The songs We Don’t (laughs)." I would love to put that record out at some point though, but you know. Patty Griffin has an album like that, that never came out. I don't know why it was never released, but it’s a full record and amazing.
So you are okay with letting them go? You had some stuff on that record that you had worked on with Lady Antebellum, correct?
Hilton: Yeah, some of my favorite stuff that I have ever written in my entire life was on tat record. I was super bummed, but sometimes you just don't have a choice. You have to roll with it and make the next best thing. In some ways it has been a really great lesson early in life to have. At some point I hope that I can release it, but you never know. I guess that's what happens when you get into something that isn't steady work. The risk is that it could end up like that, but there is also something exciting about the risk. Somewhere in me is a sadist that likes pain, I guess (laughs). I think this new record is super cool and it is nice that it is not over-thought and it just happened.
Do you feel like you are going in a new direction with the new songs?
Hilton: Yeah, it's funny because it has always been the thing that keeps me focused. I think one of the reasons that I love the fans that have stuck around, because I really enjoy writing different kinds of songs. I don't know if I write them well or not, but I can write them. They can be kind of jazzy, or country, or rock, or whatever. With this record, what kind of helped out with it was that I am only writing with my two friends. When we write together, I have a certain style that I write in and they have their specific style. It isn't specifically rock, but more Americana/folk-rock kind of stuff. Which is nice, and helps focus me. I love writing that kind of stuff and I think that I do it well. They just keep me focused which is cool.
Who is producing the album?
Hilton: They are writing and producing it with me. It is really cool. We wrote all of the songs together and so far we have recorded five of the songs. I am going to go back and record five more in November. I went back to L.A. for four days to record them really quick, they did the pre-production on them. I went back to L.A. to tighten some things up and then boom they were done. Which is so nice to just go in there and do it and be done. Pretty much the whole band, Arrows to Athens, is the band on my record. They are great!
Are you digging the independent side thus far?
Hilton: Yeah, I love it. It's great because I like to put music out and do things. I can't seem to do things when I'm on a label. I have often thought that if another label came to me and wanted me to sign with them; I can't think of a figure that they could give to me as an advance to sign. I can't think of that number, because with that amount comes a chance that I may not be able to release an album for five to ten years. It has been such a downer, to not be able to put out anything significant since 2003. That's where the quality of life comes into what you do. It has just been a harder road than I think it would have been if I had gone independent and possibly sold less records, but be happier for it. So that's where I am right now and it is so gratifying to know that this record is going to come out. It will be gratifying to know that after this record comes out, I could put out another record of Himalayan throat singing and there would literally be no one to tell me no. It's amazing. I went from living with my parents, to being signed out of high school. I have never, not had a boss, or someone else responsible for me. It is really cool as an artist to have that freedom.
|Photo by Katie Franklin|
Hilton: I have to keep reminding myself this, but one thing that is important in every stage of the game from the beginning to the end, is to keep writing, keep learning songs and you have to keep playing music. As an independent artist it is so easy to get caught up in websites, social media, merchandise, when I am going to put out an EP, fining a producer, finding a studio to record in and you have to remember at the end of the day you should be writing music. There are so many EP's out there filled with mediocre songs by mediocre singer-songwriters. A lot of people can figure out the social media aspect of it, or the merchandising aspect, or whatever and get enough momentum to start a career. To sustain it, you have to keep writing and you have to keep creating. That's what sets us apart. Of all the guys that started in coffeehouses, I don't how many of us get to go to the next level, and I don't know how many people on my level get to go to the next level after that. I think it is the songs that can take you there.
Speaking of song writing how is the process of writing a song panning out for you right now? Maybe even just for this record?
Hilton: With David and Steve, I will get together with them and say something and immediately everyone is on the same page. We will just start putting it together, and it is literally magic. I don't know how it happens. Today I was watch "Nannie McPhee" on HBO and this random song about my girlfriend popped into my head that I thought would be cool. It's kind of a rock-N-roll, Weezer, tongue-in-cheek song and so I was writing it here. Sometimes I won't right anything for a month, so I don't know if I have a process. It's scary because I still don't know how to write a song. I live in Nashville for a while, and I can go and sit down with people and write. But I don't know how to make magic. For most songwriter's that has only happened once or twice, and I don't know how to re-create that. I know that there are some tricks and tools, but the magic is the amazing part.
Are there any songs on the record that have really surprised you with how they came together, or surprised you with how they turned out?
Hilton: Yeah, there is one song that I am pretty sure will be on the record called "Ain't No Foolin' Me," and it is probably the most rock song I have ever recorded. I wrote it with Steve and Dave, while watching this amazing movie called "The Wonderful Whites of West Virginia." It's this documentary about a family that is famous for tap dancing, doing drugs and committing crimes. It's the weirdest stuff ever. I didn't know people like this existed. We were all sitting back watching this and we felt like bad southern dudes. We then wrote this song. I was like, "what are my fans going to think about this song?" Then I remembered, "Ah-ha I can do anything I want."
Speaking of the fans, you seem to have a really loyal fan base. What do you think is your key to maintaining a strong fan base?
Hilton: There are two things. One thing would be One Tree Hill, because those fans are so loyal, it's crazy. Without that show I'm don't know what about me that would draw people. I would hope that it is that fact that I love to play and talk too much. So maybe fans feel like they get to know me. I can't figure out why fans keep coming, maybe it's because they dig the songs. I can say that the fans of One Tree Hill have been so, so good to me and they are so good to everyone who is on there. That has been the most phenomenal thing fan-wise. "Walk The Line" was maybe a bigger project, and I have been on big tours, and I have songs do more on the radio than One Tree Hill. But there is just something about that fan base that is very sticky. It feels like one big family.
I'm pumped about you being on One Tree Hill this season. Do you happen to know why they wanted to do a half season?
Hilton: I think that they just weren't going to pick it up and offered just a half-season. With this one they were like "if you knew that this was your last season for sure, then how would you end it?" It is great because the creator is like "well I have nothing to lose, because there is no way that I am getting a tenth season, so I literally do whatever I want." I read the first page of the first episode at his house, when he was asking me to do the show and I was taken back. This season is going to be stupid crazy. The first episode of the season, even in the first two minutes you are like "what is going on?" It is fun to be involved in a big way. Usually I am just a guest star and this year I am in the whole season. I am woven into everything, and it's funny because you're thinking "how does Chris Keller get woven into this?"
I am a big fan of your roles in One Tree Hill and Charlie Bartlett. You seem like such a nice guy, so is it ever difficult for you to play the "jerk?"
Hilton: It's not, which is weird. I wonder if it's because everyone's holds an opposite within them and since I'm not really jerk in real life, that I love giving it out in auditions. It's just something about that type of character. I have tried out for bad guy roles before, and have not done a good job. There was something about that type of character that I really understood. I don't know why, because I never beat up kids. Something about that, I just really got. Oh, and I had a Mohawk randomly when I was auditioning for "Charlie Bartlett (laughs)." It just worked out.
Hilton: Definitely Cher (laughs). Just Kidding. There is something about Tom Petty live, that is great and that type of rock-n-roll.