“A sure thing reduced to a dream, and now its a dream come true” is how Chris Stills describes the evolution of his self-titled album, which is finally seeing its belated American release.
The album’s circuitous journey started off easily enough, when Stills’ manager mentioned his name to V2 exec Alain Artaud, who was a big fan. The next thing Stills knew, he was flying to Paris and signing with the label. Chris Stills got released in France, and then across Europe and Canada, in 2006. With advance critical buzz touting the disc as “melodic and beautifully executed album” and “sparkly, summery unkempt music,” Stills was anticipating its U.S. release earlier this year when V2 shuttered its doors in America.
Stubbornly the determined Stills couldn't and wouldn't, let this album die. The songs were much too close to his heart to get lost in yet another record label implosion. “...these songs grew out of an intensely important time for me just before I was signed to V2. I was about to throw in the towel on my musical career. I’d just spent the last few years shopping for a new deal and no matter how good I felt about all those shows....with all the love and support....I just wasn't catching a break.” But then Chris, rediscovering his Muse Heidi, saw his life changing for the better. “I remember sitting on the couch, so happy to be with her again. I said, ‘You’re going to bring me luck.’ Literally in the next breath, the phone rang and it was my manager saying, “We’re going to Paris.”
It makes sense then that the resulting album, Chris Stills, is a richly romantic affair, conveying both the ache and elation that love can bring. The songs capture, as Stills calls it, “the moment when you realize that you're falling in love while desperately trying to catch your breath”
In the opening track, “Landslide,” he describes love as “the best kind of pain/so don’t take it away.” The hurt that love brings also surfaces in songs like “The Story of a Dying Man” and “When The Pain Dies Down.” Stills calls the latter tune “a proud moment in songwriting for me.”
Stills also exalts the joyfulness of love on this disc. Tunes like the hooky, Steve Miller-ish “Flying High” and the percolating “Fool For You” are blissful slices of happy-go-lucky pop rock. Another straight-from-the-heart love song, “For You,” arose from a party encounter with Ryan Adams. Stills, who appeared on Adams’ Gold and Demolition discs, played at a piano while Adams chimed in lyrics. “It was a very Ryan moment. He’s just so frickin’ prolific.” Stills’ lyrics were about Heidi, who he wasn’t with then, and he only finished the song as they were getting back together.
Stills, seeking to break out of his more classic folk sounding ‘98 Atlantic Records debut....enlisted the services of producer Hod David, whose work with Maxwell he admired, drummer Matt Johnson (Jeff Buckley, Rufus Wainwright) and Mixer Juan Patino (Lisa Loeb, Jewel). Such combined talents spawned an album that helped to frame Chris’ songs in a surprisingly fresh Top 40/Rock landscape.
Music runs deep in Stills’ gene pool. While his father, Stephen Stills is celebrated for his work with Buffalo Springfield and Crosby Stills Nash & Young, his mother Veronique Sanson is a pop legend in France. He credits her for instigating his love of music. Chris recalls the night Veronique had received a huge Beatles box set for performing in a Paris Beatles tribute concert. She returned home and sternly suggested “listen to to this.” “Their songwriting was just so huge to me,” he says “I definitely rip pages out of their book.”
Stills showcases his French heritage on the disc, singing two songs en français. He calls the songs “experiments” that allowed him the opportunity to work with some French songwriters he admires. “Demon” is a twisted love song penned by Philippe Dijian and Steven Eicher, while “Kitty Kathy” (his favorite French track) enabled him to collaborate with one of his songwriting idols, Jean-Louis Murat, whom Stills hails as the Neil Young of France.
Stills’ fluency in French reflects his teenaged years that he spent living there with his mother.
Stills, who spent a good part of his childhood living in France and Southern California, has put down his roots now in Los Angeles. However, his musical interests still have a wide-ranging scope. While working on songs for his next album, he has been collaborating with such musicians as Nashville tunesmith Skip Ewing, electronica artist Victoria Horn and New York songwriter Jeff Cohen.
Although his future music projects intrigue Stills, forefront on his mind is his eponymous album’s upcoming American release. Having taken such a long time for it be released here, Stills is thrilled that it’s finally coming out and plans to hit the road to keep this music alive.