Interview in Blues in Britain Magazine
By John Mitchell
Chris Antonik – Canadian guitarist tours UK for first time.
Q: Hi Chris. Tell Blues in Britain readers a bit about yourself.
Hey John, thanks for the opportunity to speak with you! My name is Chris Antonik, a blues guitarist, singer and songwriter from Toronto, Canada, and I am really thrilled to be doing my first UK tour this July.
A little background to start. I released my debut, self-titled record in 2010, which really opened a lot of doors for me, including garnering me a nomination for Best New Artist at Canada’s national blues awards. In 2013, I released my second record “Better For You,” which opened more doors both at home and in the US in terms of touring opportunities. Now the show is coming to the UK.
Q: I have heard both those albums and really enjoyed them, but for someone hearing about you for the first time, how would you describe your music?
I would describe it as “song-focussed,” original blues/blues-rock. By that I mean songwriting is most important. Guitar playing, while it’s my thing, needs to serve the song. I don’t feel the need to have a guitar solo on everything. The music is blues with elements of rock, soul, Americana….I try and push the genre, innovate and bend the rules.
As a guitar player, some of my biggest influences are Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy, Otis Rush, Duane Allman and the Three Kings - Albert, BB and Freddie.
Growing up, in addition to blues and rock, for a period I was also into classic hip hop, (late eighties, early nineties), which I feel has had some influence on my lead guitar style in terms of tempo/groove/attack. Looking back, it’s interesting because a lot of classic hip hop used blues, soul and R&B drum samples from the 60’s and 70’s. In fact, for the my third record, which I am currently working on, my producer (Ted Onyszczak) and I are exploring this relationship even further, with respect to drum patterns and recording techniques.
Q: Your first UK tour is this summer; what should people expect to hear?
I’ll be playing material from my first two albums, as well as some songs from my next album, which is currently in production. There will be some covers as well, including a funky version of Big Bill Broonzy’s “Key to the Highway” as well as Derek and the Dominoes’ “Why Does Love Got to be So Sad?” Essentially, I will be introducing audiences to my body of work to date, instead of undertaking a specific album tour. My hope is that everyone who comes out to hear the show will have a great evening and become a fan of the music.
While this is my first tour of your country, I have had some nice UK exposure to date, in that my first two records were received quite well by the UK blues music press. There has also been some solid radio play in recent years on the BBC. So it’s about time I come to Britain! It’s just taken a while due to the economics of touring as an independent artist.
Q: Who will be in the band and what are the dates?
I am thrilled to say that there will be a notable UK component to my band. Both the second guitarist, Ben Fisher, and the drummer, Marc Wotherspoon, are from Basildon, Essex. My regular bassist from Canada, Guenther Kapelle, will fly over with me.
I’m really looking forward to playing with these guys and, in particular, to doing these shows with my friend Ben Fisher, who is a remarkably talented and inventive guitarist, singer and songwriter (from the UK roots band Jenny Wren and her Borrowed Wings). While Ben has been a key part of my creative team for several years as a co-writer, we have never actually played our songs together. In fact, we’ve only hung out together on one occasion, which was in New York City a few years ago. So, this will be one of those rare musical experiences for me and I am really looking forward to it! I also think it will be a rare musical experience for audiences that will bear witness to this first-ever live collobaration. I can’t wait!
The backstory here is really cool. Years ago, Ben and I became fans of each other’s music on MySpace. Remember when MySpace was a thing? (Laughs). We started exchanging half-finished songs, lyrics, demos, etc. over email and have continued to collaborate since then. It's amazing how the Internet can facilitate creative collaboration, it really is. Ben contributed some key writing to my 2013 album “Better For You” as well as to a few songs on the upcoming album. He also introduced me to his friend Mike Mattison (Tedeschi Trucks Band), who graciously did a lead vocal on my last record. I am very grateful for his contributions.
In terms of how long we will be in the UK, it will be for about ten days. The tour has shaped up well with an appearance at the Upton Blues Festival as well as various club dates around the country.
Q: What are your expectations about playing in the UK?
I know the UK blues scene is vibrant and well supported by an incredible fan base. Many of my fellow Canadians have had success touring there (e.g. JW Jones, Matt Andersen). I hope we can continue this!
In terms of British musical influences, the guitarist that has influenced me the most is Eric Clapton. I have studied his playing more than anyone else’s. His “soulful economy” and no wasted-notes mentality has always resonated with me most strongly.
Another British connection of note - back in my University days, I lived in London’s Camden Town for four-months as part of a study-abroad program. I wasn’t studying music at the time, but economics. Have gone in a different direction I guess (laughs).
Q: What does the future hold for Chris Antonik?
So far this year, in addition to playing in Canada, I have been touring in the US. One of my recent tour stops was at Buddy Guy’s Legends in Chicago, which was a real dream come true for me. The recent US touring has been drawing new fans to my music, and is paving the way for more US opportunities in the future. I have also been working away on my third album, which will be out very early in 2017. By fall, the touring will slow as I have a young family. This will also allow me to finish the new record in Toronto. I'm kind of a perfectionist so I really want time to focus on it.
Thanks, Chris! See you ‘down the road’ in July!