In Session: Chris Sanders
ALBANY – The path to becoming a musician is as personal a story to most in the industry as the ins-and-outs of the most intimate of relationships. For Chris Sanders, it took a life altering situation that occurred five years ago that led him to discover his path. With his back against a wall, music rose from the embers of what he was forced to deal with in life. It’s this incredible crucible-like moment that lit the flame of passion and gratitude within the artist; the flame that lights his way more and more to this very day. And, he’s continuing to make strong strides. Come April, Sanders will be going to Nashville to record his first song, “Ain’t the Life.”
I had a chance to sit down with the artist this past week. What follows is our conversation.
Lucas Garrett: Thank you for sitting down tonight, Chris.
Chris Sanders: Thank you, I appreciate it. This is the second time, ever.
LG: I’ve heard your name for a little while now. I’d seen your name on various things online. I finally got to hear from you the other day, and I’m glad I did. You have a very cool thing going for you.
CS: I appreciate it. I’m just doing my thing; I’m enjoying it. It’s unexpected. I didn’t think I’d be doing this ever, and yet here I am. It’s an exciting journey.
LG: You have this Gandalf vibe about you that is so cool.
CS: Ha, thank you! That was more apathy – how the hair started – and then I decided I liked it!
LG: Talk to us a bit about yourself and your journey as a musician.
CS: Well, I’ve played guitar off and on since I was a teenager. Badly. When I was in high school, I had a friend that put a guitar in my hands for the first time; this was the age of eighties metal. I remember him teaching me the riff to “Rock You Like a Hurricane” by The Scorpions.
LG: Oh nice.
CS: That’s how I started playing guitar. He was always much better at it than I was – it was always intimidating. I just fiddled around with it.
I joined the army right out of high school, and that pretty much eliminated the whole music thing for me. There was a lot of off-and-on guitar playing here and there, but there was a lot of off. Long story short, fast-forward to May 2018, and I went to my first open mic. In the months leading up to that, I was inspired to learn a song I’d heard on the radio.
For the first time in my life, I found myself able to sing and play at the same time. I don’t know why – I’d never been able to do it before. I was captivated that all of a sudden I was able to do this. I recorded myself over and over again – I probably played this song 200 times and recorded 20 of them. I happened to listen to the first one and then the twentieth. There was a noticeable difference.
I took that recording to a friend of mine where I worked. He’s also a local musician. He listens to it, and he goes, “Well, you’re no Freddie Mercury, but your voice has a good tone, and you sound pretty good!” I said, “Do you think I should continue?” and, he says “Yeah, absolutely!” So, I did.
In May 2018, I went to my first open mic at the Rustic Barn. Around here, for open mics, you bring three songs. I went to this open mic and didn’t know anything about it. There’s hardly anybody there. Brian Kane is the host, and if you know Brian, he’s larger than life.
LG: He’s a very nice man.
CS: He’s awesome. I got up and played my one song and got through it. I was so nervous and sweaty when I was done. I’m like, “OK, I got this done.” He says, “You got two more songs,” and I go “Huh? That’s the only one I know!” Brian says, “Then, play it again! You got the nerves all worked out. You got time; play it again!” It wasn’t any better the second time, but a couple got up and danced. That was it. I was done.
I started going to every single open mic I could make at Rustic Barn. That’s how it all started.
LG: What do you think inspired you to make such a drastic change?
CS: My life was falling apart.
LG: Do you mind talking more on that?
CS: I will not go into detail, but I’ll say it broke my heart. It was very difficult. It’s absolutely the genesis of the first song I wrote, “Ain’t the Life.” When I wrote the song, it was never of any mind that anyone would hear it. It’s a lot of the reason why I kept doing music; at the time, it wasn’t healing. When I first started, it wasn’t about the healing; it was about just getting through it.
I found myself meeting so many people and musicians and making so many friends. I had so much support. People could see that I wasn’t in a good place. People could see that I was not right. They were just there; they were supportive.
LG: Do you still sing that song today?
CS: Yes, that was the last song of the three that I sang on Sunday when we met. That’s the song when I go to Nashville in April that I’ll record in the studio.
LG: When you sing it now, how do you feel about it five years later?
CS: It’s surreal. It’s surreal that when I wrote the song, I was about as low as I ever was, and I wrote that final verse, not knowing that’s where I’d be today. So, the first verse sounds like just another sad “woe-is-me” song. By the end of the song, I’ve gone through hell to get here, and this isn’t the life I thought I’d live, but I’m living it. I’ve not only survived, but I’ve thrived.
I had an epiphany not too long ago, and I was talking to a friend. I had some really bad times; it was really hard. But I told him, “Knowing now what I know, if I had to do all of it over again to get to where I am today, I’d do it.” Because I’d not trade where I’m at today for anything.
LG: That’s pretty inspiring to feel that way, isn’t it?
CS: It is. It is.
LG: Sometimes, after going through shit, we find that we can inspire our own selves.
CS: I had to. I had to do it for my son. He’s fourteen now, and I call him my treasure because he absolutely is. The friends and people I call family now have helped me get to where I am today. It’s made me a better man and a better father. It wasn’t fun going through that, but it’s like any other trial-by-fire, you know?
CS: Whether you choose to go through it or not, it’s how you come out on the other side. It’s impossible to see that when you’re in it, but once you’re on the other side, and you can look back and say, “Wow, I did that.”
CS: in 2018, I would’ve never imagined doing any of this: getting on stage; singing to people; playing gigs; opening for bands like Skeeter Creek and Whiskey Highway. It’s surreal sometimes – I still have to pinch myself.
LG: Awesome. Is there any advice you’d give someone that wants to start over and start something new? You’ve admitted to yourself that you didn’t start out this way, yet you had the courage to say, “Alright, I’m doing this,” and completely picked yourself up. Are there any words of advice you’d have for anyone in a similar situation?
CS: It’s very personal, so it’s really hard to give anything specific, you know? For me, it was music. For somebody else, it could be anything, but the bottom line is, when you’re in that, find something to be passionate about. Find something that gives you a reason to get up and move and pursue it relentlessly. Never give up.
I think a part of it, too, is not to have any expectations. I’ve never had any expectations of what the music’s going to do. I have a day job and responsibility to my son. I have bills. No one’s looking for the next 53-year-old American Idol. I have no preconceived notions.
LG: Is there anything else you’d like to talk about?
CS: The big thing for me right now is I am going to Nashville in April. I’m going to record that song. On May 25th, the open mic happens at Rustic Barn, and I’m going to be the host that evening, the opening act. I didn’t even think about this until it started to come together. If my song is done in time, then I hope to make the open mic the release party for “Ain’t the Life.” That’ll be fantastic.
Another thing that made me really emotional is I got invited to play at the Dustin Mele Memorial concert on March 25th. I’ve met that whole family – they’re wonderful people. I’d gone the last few years and said to them last year, “If there’s anything I can do, let me know.” They remembered that, and it was overwhelming to me.
I’m excited to return to CM School of Fine Arts on March 19th for another original showcase. I hope to have another three or four songs by then.
LG: That’s fantastic. It takes me a very long time to write new songs.
CS: It’s weird for me; some things take time to work out. Last week, my girlfriend said something to me, and an hour later, I was smiling and writing furiously. Ten minutes later, I’m putting chords to it and grinning. I’ll be playing that on March 19th.
LG: I hope to catch that one!
CS: Hope so, too! It was a pleasure to meet you!
LG: You, too, man! I love stories such as yours.
CS: Thanks! I’ll talk to you soon.
LG: Have a good night. Bye.