After a stellar music career spanning decades, Geisha frontman, singer, songwriter and producer Chris Doheny finally delivers his first solo album and is keen to tell AM’s Greg Phillips all about it.
When it comes to artistic output, prolific Australian singer, songwriter Chris Doheny takes the Jackson Pollock approach … throw everything at the wall and see what sticks! Among his myriad of current offerings, he has just released a single (‘I Love Everybody’) as the Demolition Crew, a collaboration with his industry mates David Briggs and Steve Strange. There’s another recording project called Slow Release Syndrome with Shaun Gardener. Chris also has a corporate act he calls Australian Made, a band which plays classic Australian rock songs, including hits he wrote with his 80s group Geisha. He plays regular solo and duo gigs, has a record label (Diamond Dog Records), writes songs for other people and produces other artists. On top of all that, he has managed to put together his first real solo album, Doheny, which is out on Christmas day.
“It actually frightens me sometimes,” he says thinking about his workload, “but look, it’s kinda cool too. Having my own studio, I am my own person and can take on whatever project appeals to me.”
As mentioned earlier, one of Doheny’s current projects is Demolition Crew. His partners in crime are David Briggs, an experienced producer who is also known as an original member of the Little River Band, and there’s Steve Strange, who came out of the 80s DJ scene and is known for his mix wizardry. The trio has just released ‘I Love Everybody’, an infectious, brassy, soul tune.
“We meet mostly on Friday mornings for breakfast,” he says in explanation of how the ‘Crew’ works. “We basically write and record and work on whatever is on the agenda for any given day.”
Slowly Does it
Slow Release Syndrome is Doheny’s other new recording project. It features guitarist Shaun Gardener and they have recently released a single called ‘A Lesson or Three’, a slow, brooding, passionate ballad. “Slow Release Syndrome… the name means basically that we’re not in any hurry to release records,” Chris states. “We did all the tracking for A Lesson or Three at my house and I left the mixing to Shaun to do in his own time. He mixed everything completely different to the way I would mix it, which is good.”
Finally … the Solo Album
The project that Chris is most excited about however, is his self-produced solo album ‘Doheny’. The album features 11 tracks including two previous singles; Gallipoli, which was released for Anzac Day this year, plus a reworking of his successful AFL Footy Show theme, More Than A Game. Opening with a new track, Oz Rock’s Glory Days, which mentions every iconic Australian rock artist you can think of, there’s a distinct Australiana theme to the album. Many of the songs were co-written with friend Ronny Addlem, who came up with some of the concepts and lyrics, while Chris fused it all together musically.
The album’s singular title and cover art is a homage to Paul McCartney’s first solo album. Chris has used McCartney’s back cover art as inspiration for his front cover, replicating the photo of Paul in fur-lined coat with a baby tucked snuggly inside it. In this case, it’s Doheny’s youngest daughter.
During his decades in the industry, Chris learned his recording smarts from the very best: Peter Dawkins (Dragon, Matt Finish), Richard Lush (The Beatles), and David Courtney (Leo Sayer) to name a few. The solo album gave him the opportunity to draw upon all of that experience and self-produce the album in the comfort and convenience of his own home studio.
“I’d been planning this album for a long time,” says Chris. “I think I’ve just been so busy with so many other things. There’s always been something that got in the way and I also moved around a lot. Finally I settled down and was able to move into a place with the space for a studio. Until then I’d be going to other people’s studios and in the mean time I was just recording on small gear and you know, breaking it down all the time. Now I’ve got a purpose-built studio that I can go in after everyone’s gone to bed and I can basically do my work and get on top of it. I can leave it set up and go back and do some more work on it whenever I like.”
“I’m still using Cubase SX3, an old system but I have had no need to upgrade,” he says of his recording set up. “I’m happy with all my plug-ins, especially the Waves plug-ins, the compressors are just amazing. I’ve spent a bit of money on microphones, I was hunting around for an old Neumann 87 for a long time but settled on a couple of good Rode and AKG mikes. I’ve got a Rode classic 2, a beautiful, massive, retro-style diaphragm microphone and couple of good older Rode condensers, which are great for acoustic guitars. I don’t do live drums at my studio, I have live drums done by my drummer Tom Hosie. He’s got his own studio specifically for drums and he works with Pre Sonus gear. I’ve got a Neve module, which was very expensive but I think it’s a good investment and pretty much just a tricked-out computer to deal with the DAW.”
“I’ve got some really old fashion monitors that I love that I’ve used for a long time, they’re actually old Celestions. My style of mixing and producing is time! I like to mix a track and then leave it for a week and then go back. What I was taught by so many other guys, was just listen to it in your car, headphones, whatever media you can find to listen to it on.”
Guitar-wise, Doheny’s favourite recording instrument is his Maton Federation, a guitar which never leaves his studio. “It’s got the Maton pick up, the AP5,” he explains. “It’s just a beautiful guitar … jumbo and it’s piano black with the Southern Cross on the scratch plate. It’s got an ebony fretboard, jumbo frets and records beautifully. I’ve got a bunch of Maton acoustics but that’s my favourite. I’ve also got two beautiful electric guitars from Maton, one’s a Mastersound 12 strings electric. It’s got that very unique sound not quite like a Rickenbacker or anything else and I’ve also got a Mastersound 6 string. It’s got bone tuning on it and I use that when I am playing slide on the album.”
Chris played bass on the album too. His musical roots lay in the British invasion and it’s no surprise that one of his basses is a Beatles style Hofner. “I grew up as a bass player,” he says. “I always wanted two basses, an EBO which is a Gibson ¾ bass which Free’s Andy Fraser used to play on and Ted Mulry used to play one too. It’s a tiny SG shaped bass guitar with a slotted head stock. I’ve used that … it just sounds huge for this tiny little size and also a Gibson Ripper, which I always wanted and found on Ebay but unfortunately it sounds like shit! It now just hangs on the wall. The Hofner is great though.”
For the brass parts on the album, Chris played some trumpet and called on his brother Lawry to lay down some sax and trombone lines. Regrettably for Doheny, his dad is no longer around to add some string parts, so they had to be sampled. “Dad used to play a lot of stringed instruments, violins, cellos,” he reflects. “I took up double bass later in life and I think I’ll put some of that on tracks.”
The guitar sounds on the album are quite clean, there’s not a lot of electric guitar so the focus was always about achieving a nice, bright string sound. “I’ve been recording acoustic guitars for a long time now,” he says. “I’ve been recording them for probably 35 years and I’ve recorded them with a lot of quite knowledgeable people and they all do it sort of similar. They record acoustic guitars quite close, maybe 2 inches off the strings with a good condenser,” Chris says of his recording method. “The Beatles and a lot of those 70s bands were my biggest influence, so I used to listen to that stuff and read all of the books. It used to drive me nuts how they got that great guitar sound. When I was working with Richard Lush, who worked with The Beatles, I used to drive him mad about it back in the old days. How do you do it? He said just mike it with a really, really good mike! And make sure your source instrument is good and that you’re a good player!”
After countless hours of passion, thought and elbow-grease, Chris is finally biting the bullet and releasing his album on Christmas day. As for his expectations …
“I don’t have any expectations,” he says calmly. “I’m just happy to be able to make a record and release it finally. I don’t care if it doesn’t get any real fame. In fact I never expect anything any more. I’ll put it out there on social media and stuff and I’ll do a couple of shows. That’s the beauty of being 53 and having gone through all the stuff I’ve been through … I don’t have any expectations and it’s not going to make me sad if it doesn’t get in the charts or nobody recognises it. It doesn’t matter to me and that’s a great place to be I reckon.”
Doheny is out Christmas day