By Carl Begai
During the last quarter of 2013 and into the Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s North American tour, guitarist Chris Caffery took time out of his busy schedule to tease and please his fans with a few new songs released as digital singles. It was a long time in coming for Caffery’s diehard followers, who have been waiting for more music since his House Of Insanity record from 2009. The new tracks are a precursor to his forthcoming full length album – dubbed The Twisted Truth for the moment – and Caffery’s ongoing development as a do-it-yourself artist. As in, doing as much as possible on his own, creating a down-to-the-bone solo album in fact as well as name.
“I think I’ve grown a lot as a businessman and as a musician,” Caffery says of his solo career, which has been on the go since 2004. “I learned a lot of things that I don’t think I would have learned if I hadn’t done things on my own. You always respect where you are more when you go off and do things on your own. Now I’m able to approach writing and playing music more creatively. My singing has gotten a lot better, and that’s the cool thing about doing these new songs before the TSO tour. I had people listen to the songs and a lot of reactions were ‘That’s awesome! Who’s singing?’ (laughs). I know now when I do this stuff that my voice is at a level where it’s able to express what’s in my head. My voice has matured, and I’ve matured as a writer and a singer. I know that if I could have taught myself to sing when I was 20 I’d be headlining this arena myself (laughs). I thought singing was something you either had or you didn’t. I didn’t know you could train your voice, so I spent all those years looking for a singer that I already had.”
“People are always asking me about going out and doing a solo tour, but I have a very successful band that I tour with every year. I want to do solo shows, but to put it up and get it going is a lot of pressure. I know what Paul (O’Neill / TSO director and co-founder) deals with; everybody looks to you for everything. It can be stressful when you’re trying to go out there and play music and enjoy it. For me, it’s more important right now to be the artist just making the music. I’m going to finish my new record this year and I want it to be great. If there’s a demand for me to do shows I’ll approach that when the time comes. I’ve got my own studio, I’m doing it myself, and we’ll see where it goes from there. I just want to make a record that I’m really happy with.”
As a long time member of Savatage, Caffery is no stranger to the critics’ poison pen. Launching his solo career in the wake of Savatage’s (still) unofficial demise, every Caffery solo venture is put under a microscope. It’ll be the same procedure when the new album finally surfaces.
“Every record I’ve done, people have liked and disliked things about it. I thought it was quite humorous when my best solo record, Pins & Needles (2007), was just too weird for some people and they jumped on it. I listen back to that record and I can see why it went over everybody’s head. It was too weird and too involved. You can’t get that album on the first listen. There’s an album’s worth of work in certain songs on that record, like ‘Sign Of The Crossed’, that are just so involved.”
“The funniest thing is that when I put out my first record (Faces in 2005), I was so anxious for people to hear my music that I put too many songs on it. I just wanted them out there and the biggest complaint was ‘Too many songs.’ Really? Is that worth complaining about? I also had to deal with ‘He doesn’t sound like Jon Oliva.’ No. I sound like me. Sorry (laughs).”
Caffery isn’t doing himself any favours by taking on the vast majority of his next album by himself, especially if there are deadlines to be met, but he says it’s a matter of keeping himself disciplined and focused to get things done his way.
“I like the way I did things last year, where I wasn’t working on an album’s worth of songs all at once. That’s hard to do when you have as much stuff on the go as I do because you have to do a whole album’s worth of bass, guitars and vocals. I did the drums for the two new songs, and when I do the record I’ll have the drums re-done, but when you’re committing to an album’s worth of songs you’ve got to get the drums done first. I’m probably going to do what I did for the previous album and just have somebody play to them.”
“I’ve got so much going on, but if I want to work on a song for three hours I can, and I can come back the next day and do something else on it. I figure that by May I should really be able to start working on the album, and it should be finished by the end of the summer. It’s just a matter of me staying disciplined.”
While the new music is on the go, Caffery is also looking after a lucrative hot sauce business in partnership with High River Sauces. Launched in 2011 with Tears Of The Sun, he has since unleashed a second concoction dubbed Grapes Of Wrath to rave reviews. Like music, Caffery’s passion for hot sauces and cooking turned into a professional platform.
“It’s fun,” he says of the business, “and it’s not that different from music in that the critics rip you apart, probably even worse than they do in music (laughs). I think it’s the same kind of thing. Anybody can listen to music the same way anybody can eat. Some of these opinions on taste are the same as sound. Some people may know something about food, some people may know nothing, and in the end it comes down to the individual’s taste. The response has been really good and people really seem to like High River Sauces. There are a few more sauces that I want to get out and my partner Steve (Seabury) has a plan, so I’m being patient with him because he’s doing a great job. I’m not trying to force the issue and he’s working at it all the time, so I’m letting him go with his gut on it. I think I’ll have another hot sauce out by Halloween.”
Which is pretty much guaranteed to find a home on what is a seriously competitive market. Caffery’s track record and High River Sauces’ growing presence speaks for itself. Case in point:
“There’s an expo in New York City this year called the New York City Hot Sauce Expo; go figure (laughs). We did one last year and they had 3,000 – 4,000 people a day paying at the door. It was crazy. I was in Esquire Magazine’s Top Ten Celebrity Hot Sauces, I went to our first High River Sauces party at the end of the year, which was sponsored by Jägermeister and Maxim, and it was clear that something is definitely going on here. There’s a buzz building and the hot sauce world is aware of who we are. The company’s got a lot of potential, we just need to take it to the next level.”
There are numerous musicians and assorted celebrities that dabble in the world of food and drink, but many of those ventures seem to lose steam (pardon the pun) after the initial star-power buzz. Caffery is part of a minority that has seen his sales remain constant and actually increase over time.
“That was the whole plan behind not putting my name on my first hot sauce. That would have dated it. By calling it Tears Of The Sun people don’t look at it as my hot sauce. They look at it as Tears Of The Sun, they like it and they want more of it. Every year people order more and that’s where it’s getting the longevity. Unlike music, where you can download something for free, if you want hot sauce you have to buy it and if you want more you have to buy more. I remember the title for the last article you did, my quote that everyone uses now: ‘You can’t download hot sauce.’ It’s still true (laughs).”
“I made hot sauce royalties within the first couple of years,” he adds, possibly sounding a little bewildered by his own success. “It took me a hell of a lot longer to make music royalties. It’s developing, it’s fun, it’s artistic, I grow the peppers, I get to be a part of these hot sauce conventions… it’s a cool thing. Plus I really like working with Steve. He’s a great guy and we’re making a lot of the other hot sauce companies nervous because we’re getting a lot of attention really fast. That’s because of one thing: the sauces are good. If they weren’t good we wouldn’t be able to get the attention we’ve been getting. We have great marketing ideas and we’re both hungry.”
Go to Caffery’s Bandcamp page here to check out and buy his new songs ‘Death By Design’, ‘Over And Over’ and ‘Glitter’.
For information on High River Sauces go to this location.