Review Fix chats with singer/songwriter Chris St. John, who discusses his origin in music, influences and new single, “Hey Siri.”
About Chris St. John:
On a roll these past months with three international hit singles – “I Called Her Rose,” “I’d Send You My Heart” and “A Box For Jewels” – rising high on the Euro Indie Music Chart and World Indie Music Chart,singer-songwriter Chris St. John’s latest track, the uber-infectious “Hey Siri,” perfectly captures the zeitgeist of our techno-crazy modern world, humorously yet pointedly addressing both our addiction to and frustration with Siri, Alexa, Facebook and Amazon while lamenting the loss of simpler times before the cell phone/social media age.
Over a lighthearted, playfully rolling, whistle-infused African styled groove reminiscent of Paul Simon’s classic Graceland vibe, the fast emerging multi-faceted Americana, folk, soft rock and country influenced artist shares insightful lyrics we can all relate to – and will no doubt be singing by the second chorus: “Siri’s unavailable, Alexa won’t stop talking, texts and emails coming, our children text for talking/I can’t remember my passwords/Days run like a river/My phone is like an organ./You’ll kill me if you take it away.”
Produced by industry legend Stephen Wrench, who has worked with everyone from Lynyrd Skynyrd and Tom Petty to Bob Seger, Bonnie Raitt and Ozzy Osbourne, the buoyant track was recorded at Omni Studios in Nashville with some of Music City’s most renowned session musicians. Wrench, also a powerhouse radio promoter whose company Musik Radio Promotions caters to a network of over 250,000 stations in 180 countries, worked with St. John’s earlier singles – and was so impressed by his latest batch of songs that he signed as his producer for the current project.
“Hey Siri,” a compelling video for which is still being shot, is the first lead single from St. John’s still in progress album Fly Away. Expected for release in early 2022, it’s the follow-up to the singer’s debut collection I’m Dreaming, which dropped earlier in 2021. “I Called Her Rose” from that collection reached #3 on the Euro Indie Music chart and #8 on the World Indie Music chart.
“Hey Siri’ is a song I wrote in less than a half an hour, early one morning at my office,” says the Long Island based St. John, who began writing songs at age seven but set his musical dreams aside for years as he pursued a successful career as a prosecutor, judge and, for many years, an attorney and owner of a large law practice. “I heard an upbeat melody in my head and added lyrics about the blessing and curse of modern technology. I knew I wanted airy dancing guitar and that it wouldn’t be a typical folk or rock song – and when I sent it to Stephen, he said don’t change a thing!
Review Fix: How did you get involved in music?
Chris St. John: At a very young age I became intensely aware of music. I used to listen to songs with my great grandmother on her stand-up Victrola. She would play records from the 1920’s through the 1960’s. The songs I remember were “Yes we have no Bananas”, “How much is that Doggie in the Window”, “Come Back Nanny” and “Hello Dolly!”. She would let me sip coffee with milk and sugar from her saucer. I was very small then, but the songs and those times made me feel like I was 10 feet tall.
In 1970 I discovered the Beatles just after they had broken up. One of my older siblings was playing a record, I loved what I heard, and I became a fanatic. I collected all their record albums, memorabilia, and had a book of magazine and newspaper clippings. I spent a lot of time listening to everything on those albums from Meet the Beatles through Let it be, and I remember praying at night they would reunite.
I wrote my first song at 7 called “My Dream Girl”. The only lyrics I remember are “My dream girl is running from me; I can’t catch her and she won’t catch me.” I got my first guitar at 15 or 16. I took one lesson and began teaching myself chords. My fingering wasn’t always perfect, but I got the chords right. Over time my playing improved, and I really began to learn how to sing and play during summers at Watch Hill, Fire Island. I’d often be at the top of the dunes or in residence playing alone or for my friends. I started to seriously write songs at 16 or 17. I was influenced by the music I heard, including music from the 60’s and 70’s, artists like The Eagles, Pink Floyd, Jackson Browne, James Taylor, Cat Stephens, and the Grateful Dead. The Grateful Dead were a great influence, because they played songs from many different genres, folk, rock, rhythm and blues, country and psychedelia. They also introduced me to Bob Dylan, as they played a lot of his covers. I went back and started to listen to music from my parents’ era, the old country stars including Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Patsy Cline, Motown, Frankie Valli, Nat King Cole and songs from the Great American Songbook. I guess my answer is that I got involved in music by listening, writing, and playing. Music became a soundtrack to my life, because when I hear songs, they take me to the places I used to live and the people I was surrounded by.
Review Fix: What’s your creative process like?
St. John: For most of my life it was a very intense experience. I could only write when I was inspired. Most of the times I had no idea where my songs come from, because I felt like they were coming from a place inside me I don’t understand and can’t describe. When I write my best work, I feel like I’m a conduit, a pass through from another source. I feel like uncomfortable, angst ridden, because I know I need to release it fast, putting the lyrics on paper, and then connecting it to a melody before I lose the song. During these times I try to give the moment immediate attention; I’ll leave a conversation, pull over the car, wake myself up, or pull away from whatever I’m doing and start writing. I often write lyrics and the music at the same time, but I’ve also written lyrics first or a melody first.
Thankfully, I’ve gotten better at purposefully writing songs on command without waiting for inspiration. I’m starting to feel like I can write a song about anything at any time, and that’s a necessity if I want this to be a career. I want to write prolifically, and that’s what I’ve been doing lately.
Review Fix: How does it feel to have three international hit singles?
St. John: It was exciting and quite shocking to me at first, but now I’m just enjoying the ride. It feels nice knowing that my music can bring other people the same joy I feel listening to the music I like. I’m grateful, humble, and happy.
Review Fix: What inspires you?
St. John: Everything. I write to celebrate my joys and release my sorrows. I look at life as a collection of significant moments of joy and sorrow, intertwined with everyday experiences like humor, frustration, hard work, rest, and play. Our lives take place in a world of incredible beauty and unfortunate ugliness. There is so much available material to work from. We will never run out of things to consider or ways to observe them.
Review Fix: What are your thoughts on our dependence on technology?
St. John: The single “Hey Siri” says it all really. Technology is a gift because we can be so much more productive, better connected, and informed. On the flip side we are captives to our phones, social media, texts, emails, and technological advancements. It’s a blessing and a curse. As someone who grew up in a small town, without modern advances, I had very different experiences than today’s children. We lived in the moment and connected directly with one another. Now everyone lives their life with a phone in their hands, never present where they are. I don’t think these advances are healthy for our progress in the way electricity, running water, the automobile and the refrigerator were. In today’s world, technology has a dark side to it.
Review Fix: How has CO-Vid affected your art?
St. John: Like everyone else, COVID has been a difficult time, especially in the beginning, when everything was uncertain, people were dying at a high rate, and there were no vaccines or effective treatments. Like all Americans it’s been a period adjustment, struggle, and mourning.
Strangely, the quarantines gave me a lot of time to write, play and record. A lot of the best session players were unable to tour during COVID, so they played with me and on my recordings. Musically, COVID gave me time and space to write and record songs.
Review Fix: What does music mean to you?
St. John: Music is a universal language of life, love, suffering and joy. Songs start a conversation; they tell a story. Music serves to connect peoples of all countries, colors, nationalities, genders, and ethnic groups. It’s so powerful that totalitarian regimes ban much of it because they fear that the power of music will take away the power of their offices.
Review Fix: How would you describe your sound to someone who has never heard you?
St. John: I would say my music is brutally honest and tackles a lot of things people are afraid to look at or discuss. My genre is Americana, influenced by folk, country, rock, rhythm, and blues. I am very particular about my lyrics. I want them to be poetic yet sensible enough for people to enjoy whether they carefully listen or simply enjoy. I try to leave the listener enough room to interpret what I have to say and give it their own meaning.
Review Fix: If you could pick anyone else to sing your music, who would it be and why?
St. John: James Taylor. He’s a master at interpreting other people’s songs. His guitar playing is impeccable and vastly underappreciated, and his voice is soothing and velvety. His lyrics are carefully constructed. I can’t remember a cringeworthy phrase from his vast catalogue. I’d love to hear him take one of my songs for a spin.
Review Fix: How are your live shows different from your studio work?
St. John: The energy in a studio can be powerful when you are in a groove with other musicians. There really is a natural high you can reach by having those magic moments when everyone is listening to each other and playing like we are all different organs supporting one living organism.
Playing in concert, when everything is working, the audience becomes an equal participant. The band and the audience feed off each other, sending energy back and forth. You leave the world behind for a few hours to live in a sacred place. The world can wait.
Review Fix: What inspired your latest single?
St. John: I’m always having trouble with my login passwords. They all have different criteria, you must change them on a regular basis, and even if you write them down, they seem to stop working. I’m always kiddingly yelling out to my staff “I can’t remember my passwords.” Then I started to thing about technology and thought how Siri is never available when you need her. Alexa keeps talking after sounding the wake-up alarm. I’m inundated with calls, texts and emails 24/7. I thought back to my childhood while sitting at my desk one morning and the song came out very quickly. The lyrics and melody were finished within a half an hour. I sent them to my producer, the legendary Stephen Wrench, and he said, “don’t change a thing.” I thought, “maybe I’m on to something.”
Review Fix: What are your goals for the rest of 2021?
St. John: To enjoy every day. My son just went off to college, inspiring the title track to my upcoming album Fly Away. The album is mostly finished but I’m working hard on polishing the finished product because I want it to be special. I want people to really enjoy it. The album should be finished in November 2021, and I expect a release date in January 2022.
Review Fix: Where do you plan to be musically by this time next year?
St. John: Well with the new album out early next year, I’m excited to tour and to write the next album.
Review Fix: Anything else you’d like to add?
St. John: I’ve been very blessed to have traveled extensively around the world to many of the poorest places. I studied and taught in China as a young man, and the charity I started, HALO MISSIONS, has provided me the opportunity to provide hands on medical care and educational assistance to orphans in Africa and Central America. I wish all Americans would understand how lucky we all are to have been born here. A life of gratitude is a life well lived, and we have much to be grateful for. We need to start appreciating what we’ve been given. Then we can achieve what we all want — a prosperous nation with citizens who respect and love one another.