From Farm to Fame: The Journey of Chris Vos and The Record Company

It would be a mistake to call Chris Vos an overnight success. If you just focused on the last decade, it would appear that things have magically come together for him. Less than a year after leaving his home in Wisconsin and heading to Los Angeles to try to make it in the music business, Vos had formed The Record Company Band with two other musicians: Alex Stiff and Marc Cazorla. Roughly a year later, the trio had released their first album, been nominated for a Grammy, and were opening for the likes of Bob Seger, B.B. King, and John Mayer.

Right now, the group is on tour with a stop next month at Wilmington’s Greenfield Lake Amphitheater. Recently, Chris sat down for a telephone interview with The Scene.


Question: Did I read this right, you opened for B. B. King? What was that like?

Vos: It was amazing! It was December 12, 2012. That was a big gig! It was the first year we were a band. I remember getting that call; it was astounding. You know, it was near the end of his life, but he still had the voice and he could still play. So, yeah, that was a huge honor. We’ve been very lucky. Not only did we open for B.B. King, but also Buddy Guy- actually several times for him, Bob Seger took us out on his retirement tour. When you are around guys like that, you learn lessons that are extremely soulful, maybe even spiritual, about what music can be to people… what it can feel like, and look like coming out of people who are pure vessels of it… because they’ve figured something out, that a lot of us are still looking for. When I am around people like that, I just try to absorb the vibration of who they are because they are so much more than just their name. They have access to a great source of inspiration and purity… whatever you call it, it’s there and it’s in them.

Question: So these performers have influenced your style?

Vos: Sure, in a huge way, but at the same time, we live and make music now. So we are making music that is influenced by previous generations, but we are doing it our way for this time. So, our sound is influenced from performers going back to the 40’s, 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s and beyond. That could be B.B. King to Waylon Jennings- but we are modernizing it and making it something that applies to now.

Question: Let me tell you a story from last night. I was listening to your song “Feel so Good,” and my 19-year-old son came into the room- he and I don’t agree much on music- but he came into the room and stopped in his tracks. He was like ‘Who is that?’ And I told him, and about 20 minutes later I heard him playing the same song on his phone. And I am wondering what is it about your style, or maybe that one song, that can grab the attention of a middle-aged man and a teenager.

Vos: Wow! I am really happy to hear that. And there is more and more of that happening. I am seeing that in our shows, and it gives me hope. I can look out in the audience and see a 21-year-old kid with a mohawk, standing next to a guy in his 60’s wearing a Dead shirt, and I sometimes think ‘what the heck are they both doing here?’ And the only thing I can come up with is we try really hard to cling to the roots of everything. For instance, I used to teach music before I moved out to California, and anytime I had a student who really got into a band, I would make them listen to something that his favorite band probably listened to, and we would work back like that, and we kept going deeper and deeper, to find the roots of what appealed to the student. I had one kid who really liked Green Day, and we started working back and eventually got to Muddy Waters- and he became a huge Muddy Waters fan. You understand? He learned how it was all connected, right there at the base of the tree. And as a musician, if you’re true to all these roots, if you’re pulling from all of them, then I think you are going to attract a guy your age as well as your teenaged son.

Question: Well, let me tell you how my son connected you to the tree. I asked him what he thought of your music and he said “They’re bluesy, but they are also kind of funky, or maybe it’s more like punky, like punk rock?” Is that a fair assessment?

Vos: Tell your 19-year-old that he hit it right on the head. We’re definitely influenced by punk music- like The Kinks – they were punk rock even though they preceded it, The Ramones, Iggy and the Stooges, The Violent Femmes, I think all of that is in our music. I think what all three of us in the group have in common is that we like pure music. We like punk, but it’s the original and early punk. We like the blues, but it’s the pure blues. We like the early electric stuff, early rock n roll. And for me, you know I grew up on a farm, so there’s also some pure country influences, too.

Question: Actually, I wanted to ask about that. I have it in my notes. You grew up in rural Wisconsin… so how does a kid on the farm dream of becoming a blues performer?

Vos: Well, long story short, music was everywhere in my family. This was long before the internet. So I grew up in kind of a time warp. There were only four kids in my class- but musically it was very diverse. My father listened to rock-n-roll, my grandfather was into what they would now call outlaw country- basically classic country. Granpa could play the accordion and harmonica, and he was always singing. He was actually in a barbershop quartet and had a great voice, And then my mom was all about Motown, her parents, my other set of grandparents, were 100% Italian, so they really liked the crooners like Dean Martin and Sinatra. So, I was surrounded by all of it! Which gave me the opinion that you don’t have to hold to any one thing. So, when I became a teenager on the farm there was no mass culture around me telling me what was cool… I got to figure out for myself what was cool.

Question: But eventually you left the farm and went to the big city. I’ve done a number of interviews with local musicians here in Wilmington, and for a lot of them, that’s the goal. They dream of making it in a bigger pond. So, talk to them, What do you wish you would have known before you pack up and moved to Los Angeles?

Vos: Well, I first moved to Milwaukee. Which is not a New York, Los Angeles or even a Nashville… but when you come from rural Wisconsin, Milwaukee is this huge, scary metropolis. But I managed to put a band together, and we did local shows, and then regional shows, and then we even launched a small tour where we got to play at clubs in bigger cities. And I was content at that level. I was happy teaching music, and playing in smaller venues… and then my wife got offered a job at the L.A. Times. And I was like ‘We can’t say no to that.’ So, she is really the one who moved us out here. But I knew that if I was going to move to the biggest entertainment city in the world, that I would pursue this.

Question: This sounds like an overnight success story. You moved west, met some guys, formed a band, and within a year you’re opening for B.B. King… that’s quick.

Vos: Well, you can’t forget about all those years of mistakes that I made back home. If I would have moved out here right away when I was 18, it wouldn’t have worked. I had to go through the entire process of learning how to write decent songs, figuring out who I was and what I wanted to express. And that’s what I would tell the local musicians in Wilmington. People are going to tell you that there’s a lot of competition out there… and they’re right. You will be going from a smaller town where you are really good, to a bigger city where it feels like everyone is really good. But that doesn’t really matter if you know the reason you want to pursue it. If you are just after the fame, and the money, and the good time… maybe it’s not worth leaving…. because you won’t sustain the suffering that comes with being ignored. But if you love it, and you just can’t live without the pursuit… then that is the purest reason to go. Just embrace who you are. If you feel like you are standing out like a sore thumb in Wilmington- great! Standout more. Be yourself! Be your unique self. Write like an individual, think like an individual, listen to your heart and be inspired. And just remember no matter how big you get there’s always going to be someone bigger- so, never make that your motivation. If your motivations are from a pure place you will weather the storm a lot better.

Question: So, you moved to California not knowing anyone including your current bandmates?

Vos: Didn’t know anyone. I met the other guys through a Craig’s List ad. I kicked and screamed the whole time I was working on the ad, but it was my wife’s idea. She talked me into it. You have to listen to people when they are smarter than you. I remember reading that this is how Guns and Roses met, through a newspaper ad. So I agreed to try it… because when I got here, the city is so huge. I didn’t know how anyone would ever get to know me. It’s so big that you have to throw out a few hooks in the water hoping to get any response- and it worked for me.

Question: The other two members knew each other right before reading the ad.

Vos: Yes, they had known each other for at least a couple of years but we all knew what we wanted to be, and sound like. And the funny part is those guys can play any instrument in the room. They can both play the drums. They can both play bass. They can both play the guitar. And Marc can also play the banjo. The point to all this is our drummer was a keyboard player in his last band, and Alex was the lead guitar player and singer. So, when we all got together I was kind of shocked. Because I thought Marc would want to stay on the keyboard… and he was like, no I will play the drums. And Alex wanted to move to the bass… so, it just all came together.

Question: The Record Company just released its fourth album- appropriately called The Fourth Album, how did it turn out. Are you happy with it?

Vos: We did this one ourselves, just like we did the first record- meaning we recorded it ourselves in a living room. And that fits us. That works for us. We did our first album that way. The second record was a much bigger concept, and then the third album was really big studio production. So, for the fourth one, we really just wanted to get back home. And it turned out great! I love this record. The first single we released, “Talk to Me,” hit Top Five on the Triple A (Adult Alternative Airplay) billboard. That’s always nice, but more importantly, people are coming to the shows and they’re enjoying the tunes. They’re having a good time, singing and dancing along.

Question: So, you’re coming into town next month. If folks have never seen you live, what should they expect?

Vos: It’s just a good time. It’s just sticks and strings and it’s fun. I think you’re going to hear the roots of what inspired us. It’s fun music. It’s really just meant to bring people together. And the crowd is this living and breathing thing that we play off of, that adds to the atmosphere. At a really good show, and hopefully this will happen in Wilmington, there’s a vibe from the band and another vibe from the crowd and magically they become one. That’s when you have one of those very special nights- just a strong connection. Because we are doing what we love and we’re hoping that people are loving what they’re experiencing… when that happens it’s a really good gig!


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