A conversation with Chris Pierce and Jared Faber of the blues duo War and Pierce
(Los Angeles) Seldom do I have the opportunity to talk with one, let alone two, artists who are as interesting as Chris Pierce and Jared Faber. They cross boundaries of music, production, television and film, writing, speaking and even wine making. Chris Pierce, the Pierce in the blues duo War and Pierce with Sunny War, is a global music force with 7 independent albums, headline performances, tours with the likes of BB King and Seal, and even has Ted Talks under his belt. Jared Faber is a songwriter, bass player, producer, Grammy winner, Emmy nominee, film and TV composer who has partnered with Kool Kojack on a Cuban music project and done many, many other things. Most important for today is that he is the genius who bought Chris and Sunny together to form War and Pierce – which is really a trio with him in the creative mix. The music is wise, addictive, and down-home blues that rises from the very heart of American musical history, but is every bit as current as today’s headlines or Billboard’s This Week’s Top Ten.
Patrick. Chris and Jared, it is hard to know where to start; there are so many interesting things to talk about, but I think it makes sense to hear about the creation of War and Pierce – Jared, what told you that Chris and Sunny would work well together – and how did you do it?
Chris. Jared and I met in Prague when I was touring with Seal, but I will let him tell the story.
Jared. I met Chris when he was touring with Seal, so I had known him for a few years. I had met Sunny War through our mutual friend, Patrick, Marthin Chan. One day I was thinking about Sunny and I went to see Chris and wondered if he and Sunny knew each other because I thought they could be kind of magical together. He told me he did not know her but said he would like to meet her so we all got together at my studio and wound up playing music and right there we wrote “Any Day Now”, the first song on our EP.
Patrick. Anyone who listens to that song realizes immediately why you thought they could be magic together. I can see why this is an exciting project for both of you – for all three of you. What a blend of inspiration, blues, and storytelling. Who wrote the lyrics?
Chris. That is actually a very good question. We get together – the three of us at Jared’s place –it is an experience of fellowship – and we get everything together, together. Everything from the lyrics to the music to where things will be placed. We have been writing the lyrics and music and recording the songs in the same sitting. We will do that for one song, and then get together for another one – that really makes the spontaneity and the rawness of the song.
Jared. “Any Day Now” was recorded entirely live, as is most of the music on the new album, War and Pierce. The majority of the music on the record is recorded live and all in one take. Some songs have overdubs, but usually we just sit down, work it out, and record a bunch of takes and pick the best one.
Patrick. Chris, in your Ted-X talk you talked about losing your hearing and then getting it back in one ear after surgery and literally relearning to hear. In that talk, you said something that really struck me: “ music is a place of open arms that would always let me in”. Is that the healing power of music – that everyone is welcome and it can work its magic on all of us?
Chris. Absolutely. I believe that is something that we can all realize, whether if we make music or support it, that music is a place of refugees, a safe place for all of us, and place that will take us in. It is a place that will cover us, be open to listening to all of our emotions and feelings, our innermost secrets and things we need to change about the world. Losing my hearing at 15 after being heavy into music was devastating to say the least, but I always knew I get it back. It was a lot of work, a lot of time and patience, but music will always be there for me and all of us.
Patrick. Jared, your journey through this place of open arms has included writing, playing, producing, composing for film and television, creating various projects. When did the music world begin to open its arms to you?
Chris. I think that like a lot of people you begin to identify your personality with music in adolescence and find an identity there. I specifically remember seeing the documentary Hail, Rock and Roll about Bill Haley – I was a freshman in highschool and I went with my dad to see it. I left that theater saying this is what I want to do.
Patrick. I remember Bill Haley and he called to me too. In your album there is a song that is very open-armed and positive called “On and On”. Its lyrics tell us we gonna walk/we gonna crawl/we gonna make it through it all. I can’t decide if it is a spiritual, an alt rock song, or blues or if it matters. How do you blend all these genres and make it work so well.
Chris. Sunny and I and Jared talk about that a lot. Our music is – and I hate this term – “crossover”. We hope it reaches people for different reasons. All three of us come from unique musical places. Sunny has such an incredible story. She is a brilliant musician who plays everything from punk to rock to blues and folk and is one of the best finger pickers I have ever heard. So we just want people to like our music no matter what they call it. We used the term 21st Century blues at one point.
Patrick. Who are your blues inspirations?
Chris. As a harmonica player I listen to a lot of Sonny Terry, Big Walter Horton, Jimmy Reed, even Stevie Wonder. BB King said it best, “The blues is the blues” – anything that takes me to the place that I need to go to.
Patrick. Jared, speaking of boundary crossing, you produced a Latin Grammy winning album for Beto Cuevas and you and Kool Kojack produced the Urban Legends Cuban music project and Alex Cuba. can you tell us about your adventures in the world of Latin and Latin fusion music?
Jared. It happened when I was working with my partner Kool Kojack in about 2005 or so and we were messing around with general electronic music. We found ourselves playing with something vaguely Latin and we liked that direction. Coincidently we got an opportunity to go to Havana for 10 days and I brought these tracks with me and we linked in with a bunch of musicians and we got a recording studio and we recorded track with singers and percussionists and others. We did this Cuban electronic and hip hop – I was into Cuban hip hop. When we released the record it got a bit of attention and I met a number of people in the emerging Latin fusion movement in LA and one thing led to another and that’s how it happened.
Patrick. Quite a story. Chris, I think you have quite a story too. In the song “I lived to tell about it” you sing They dragged me in corner with a weapon in my face/ I had nowhere left to run ‘cept that hill of pride and grace/ I lived to tell about it. Was that song from personal experience?
Chris. Yes it was, unfortunately, or maybe not unfortunately – it makes you stronger. Many years ago in the town over from the town I grew up in I was pulled over and beaten pretty bad, taken to jail. I ended up not getting it on my record and two of the policemen got suspended after a short trial. There is truth in that song. As a black man who grew up in a small town where we all knew one another, to have that happen in the next town was pretty shocking. There is truth in the words for all three of us – we lived to tell about it.
Patrick. Do you lend your music to political activity?
Chris. Absolutely. I exercise writing everyday both on my own and with War and Pierce and I write a lot about my political feelings and especially introspective stuff . In my unique experience can be helpful
Patrick. Well, I am sorry we did not get a chance to talk about some of the other folks you have produced Jared, and about Chris’s alternative persona, the Rev. Tall Tree, and his wine, Ledbetter Syrah, but thanks for stopping by and chatting with us.
Chris and Jared. Thank you