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Chris Isaak: "Anyone who complains about being famous deserves to get their ass kicked".

Chris Isaak at Noches del Botánico 2023
Chris Isaak
Carlos Pérez de Ziriza

The legendary American musician, eternally compared to giants such as Roy Orbison and Elvis Presley, will be at Noches del Botánico on June 22, as part of a double bill with Puerto Rican Gabriel Rios. We had the opportunity to interview him a few days before about his career, his life and his relationship with Spain.

Hi Chris. There is a quote of yours on your official website that says the following: "I've never tried to join any trend, and I've never had to leave any trend either". Do you feel like an artist out of time? And if so, does that give you more freedom than most musicians?

No, I never felt like an artist out of time. I'm really happy to be in the music business and making music in the moment I'm in - there's no time like the present!

When people talk about you, you are always compared to Roy Orbison and Elvis Presley. But I would like to know if you had many other references besides them when you started in the music world. 

Simon & Garfunkel. No doubt about it. I met Paul Simon in Los Angeles, in the course of some kind of party, around a food table. I said to him "people always compare me to Elvis and all those first generation rock artists, but I listen to Paul Simon as much as I listen to any other musician." 

Is there any album in your career that you are particularly proud of?

Forever Blue (1995). I'm very proud of that album because it came out of one of the hardest moments in my life, after having broken up with my partner, and I had the feeling that everything was going wrong. My ex-wife had sued me. I remember I was sent to see a lawyer, and when I walked into his office I saw Axl Rose there, completely dejected. I looked at him and said, "Is this where rock stars get sent to court?" I'm proud that I overcame that tough situation to get something positive out of it. And in the end I ended up having a good relationship with my ex-wife. 

Fame and movies

A successful album is like hooking a tiger by the tail: it's just the beginning of the fun. 

It can be said that the success of your song "Wicked Game" in 1990, after being included in the soundtrack of the movie Wild Heart (David Lynch, 1990), was a turning point in your career. Did you expect such a rise in popularity?

I had fantasized about it, as everyone would, I'm not going to kid you. But no, I didn't expect it. I remember my producer, Erik Jacobsen, telling me that it's like a career that, no matter how much you win it, you never get to relax and enjoy it, because when you have a hit of that caliber, you immediately have to get on a plane and go on tour, and it never stops. A hit record is like hooking a tiger by the tail: it's just the beginning of the fun. 

And are there any unpleasant tolls that fame has generated for you? Anything that particularly annoys you about it? 

Well, the truth is that there is nothing wrong with being famous. And anyone who complains about being famous deserves to get their ass kicked. In my experience, everyone has been lovely to me. Yesterday I was eating in a restaurant and a guy came up to me and told me that he didn't want to bother me but he was excited to say hello. I was delighted. I am lucky enough to make a living traveling the world and singing with my friends. Should I have any complaints? Not one!

You have worked as an actor in films such as The Silence of the Lambs (Jonathan Demme, 1991), Grace of my Heart (Allison Anders, 1996) or The Informers (Gregor Jordan, 2009). How did you enter the world of cinema and what is the most rewarding experience you have had in it?

Jonathan Demme called me without knowing me at all. He had just released an album and had seen me on TV. He called me, asked me if I'd be interested in auditioning, and I did. Then he called me again and told me he wanted to cast me in a movie. I called my older brother, because at that time I didn't even have a manager, and he said "I thought you were recording an album". I said "I'll do that too". Then he said "you have to have that record done by such and such a date in such and such a year, and you don't want to be one of those musicians who can't meet their deadlines, do you?". So I obeyed him, called David Lynch and said "I can't do the movie, I have to make a record". It was my first experience auditioning as an actor for a movie, and in the end it was Ray Liotta who got the part that was meant to be mine, which was much better for Jonathan Demme, of course. Ray Liotta was a much, much better actor than I was. The film was Blue Velvet (1986). Fortunately, I was lucky to work with Demme many times after that. Pick a moment? It's hard when you've had such sensational acting experiences. I've been very lucky. Bridget Fonda was my wife. I met Keanu Reeves, a guy who couldn't have been cooler, charming and unassuming, no-nonsense, just a regular guy. And Harry Dean Stanton, an actor who when I worked with him and he saw my guitar, he suggested I go out in one of my trailers and play music. It's been a lot of fun being an actor. 

Your last film was in 2008. It's been fifteen years, do you miss cinema?

I like it, but it's something that when it comes to me, it comes to me without looking for it. I hope someone calls me. When they do, I'll be ready. 

It's just rock and roll

In 2022 you were awarded a lifetime achievement award at the Americana Honors, presented by the Americana Music Association. How do you feel about that? 

I don't really understand the word American very well. I guess I would qualify mine as rock and roll because it has American roots, but in reality there are rock and roll bands all over the planet, so I'm part of that too. 

Speaking of Americana as a genre: in what ways do you think it has evolved over the last thirty years? Do you have a favorite musician?

I tell you, I don't really like the definition of Americana. Yes, I can tell you that I worked for years with Erik Jacobsen, who is a great producer, with a long history in rock and roll and pop, and also with Dave Cobb in Nashville, who also won Americana awards but has a history rooted in rock and roll and pop, so I can't tell you much about that label. I'm just lucky to have been able to work with so many talented people. 

You were a judge in the seventh season of the Australian version of the TV talent show X Factor, along with James Blunt and Danii Minogue. How was the experience? Did you discover new talents?

James Blunt was hilarious. Danni Minogue is even more wonderful in real life, I couldn't take my eyes off her as she sat next to me. At first I thought the contestants in the contest couldn't be great artists, but then I was blown away by what great singers some of them were who were only fourteen or fifteen years old, tremendously versatile, tackling rock and roll, ballads or hip hop. It made me call my band and tell them that we have to try harder, that there are very young people who are better than us!

Spain and playing live

I've always loved going to Spain, it's my favorite place.

How do you feel playing in Spain and do you think there is a special energy from the audience?

I've always loved going to Spain, it's my favorite place. The people are warm and good-natured, and remind me of the best of the California I grew up in, and the food is fantastic! I feel bad for the Spanish when they go to North America: the food there is not very good, even if it is always served in large portions. 

What can we expect from your concert in Madrid? Will it focus on classics from your discography?

Well, the truth is that we don't go to Madrid very often, so I'll try to play things like "Wicked Game" or "Blue Hotel", which I'm sure people want to hear. I like to listen to the audience and try to find out what they want to hear. I love playing live. In fact, we get told a lot that we look like we're really having fun, because we really are. We are rehearsing right now, and very excited about our trip to Spain. 

Are you accompanied by Silvertone, your usual band?

Of course. My drummer, my bassist and my guitarist, who have been with me for almost forty years now. 

Your last official album was Everybody Knows It's Christmas (2022), are you working on a new album?

We're working on it. I have a handful of songs that I'm already working on and I feel like a little kid who has to do his homework. When I have them all, I will listen to them again to select the 16 or 17 that I like the most, which are the ones that will be part of the album. 

What kind of music do you listen to lately, even if it's just for pleasure?

I've been listening to Amália Rodrigues, a Portuguese fado singer, I'm a big fan of hers. I have also been listening to Dwight Yoakam during this week, I am always surprised how good his lyrics are. 

You've always said that being single and childless is like your natural state, given that your lifestyle involves a lot of recording, touring and traveling. Have you ever regretted that work is your main priority in life, or on the contrary do you think it was worth it because it's like a dream come true?

As Frank Sinatra used to say, regrets, we all have a few. But I also tell you that I have very few that I can mention. I see people with their families and sometimes I wonder what my life would have been like, if I had had a wife and kids and a different life than this, but I have rock and roll and music, and my family is my band and my audience, and I love that!

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