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Meet Chris Fossek

Today we’d like to introduce you to Chris Fossek.

Chris, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I was born and raised in Santa Barbara, CA and I started playing music when I was really young, around three years old or so. My dad sang in his church choir and he would take me along to choir practice with him. I was so small I would just hang onto his pant leg and listen to the music. Then at home, I would go to our piano and figure out the melodies I had heard. That was my introduction to hearing and playing music.

From then up until my early 20’s my main musical focus was on classical piano music and composition. My favorite composers were the big Russian piano composers like Prokofiev and Shostakovich, and the French impressionists like Ravel and Debussy. They all used every aspect the piano has to offer to twist and stretch piano music into new territory. Take a piece like “Jeux D’eau” by Ravel for example. It only makes sense on a piano. You can analyze the music traditionally all day long but it’s really about the textures, rhythms, and impressions expressed through what that specific instrument has to offer.

In college, I moved to Italy to continue studying music and ended up living there for about five years (Italy is the best!). However at a certain point, I needed a break from piano and the classical music scene. A friend of mine was living in Spain at the time and offered me a room for rent right on the beach in Valencia for $100 a month! Our neighborhood was a spectacular mix of colorful characters including quite a lot of gypsies (the Spanish gypsies that have been there for hundreds of years). I could hear them playing flamenco on the beach outside our apartment in the evenings and I would take off my watch, leave my wallet at home, grab a 12 pack of beer as an offering, and go hang out with them to learn more about their music. They were very kind and generous with me and were also always making fun of each other and having a blast of a good time. Flamenco music had always been intriguing to me and I found flamenco guitar playing mysterious and hypnotizing. I had seen and listened to Paco de Lucia and couldn’t believe how all that amazing sound and deeply intricate music could come out of one nylon string guitar. Flamenco techniques exploit almost every possible sound you can get from a nylon string guitar. Like classical guitar technique, the ‘strumming’ hand in flamenco playing uses all five fingers for plucking and strumming, but also adds incredibly intricate uses of the thumb as well as a huge palate of strumming textures and percussive ornaments. In Spain, I stopped playing the piano and started playing the guitar.

I later moved back to the U.S. to pursue my master’s degree in guitar performance and composition and I found an amazing program at CalArts, which is located ironically in Valencia, CA. There I studied with one of my all-time favorite musicians on the planet, Miroslav Tadic. Although he is an extremely versatile player, I was most influenced by his arrangements of Balkan folk music that incorporate the techniques of flamenco and classical playing, along with improvisation.

So thus my music now is a blend of classical music, flamenco, Eastern European folk music, and a little rock ‘n’ roll…basically a reflection of my upbringing, where I’ve lived, and the fantastic people with whom I’ve studied and collaborated.

I embrace performing as a soloist and love playing with my good friend Peter Slocombe who is a stellar saxophone player and improvisor. I also recently collaborated with singer Little Warrior, creating acoustic versions of two of her songs, which are originally in an electronic/trip-hop + chill-wave type of vibe. I also just acquired a beautiful baritone flamenco guitar made by Miroslav Tadic himself, so stay tuned for more stuff with rich and deep tones!

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
There are struggles and there are challenges. Musical challenges are joyous and inspiring. Making music a successful career is also challenging in a business sense, and that challenge definitely yields rewards in unexpected ways. What I struggle with the most is not having enough time to manage my business (all that incorporates keeping it going and advancing) while simultaneously working on the creative and technical side of my musicianship. I have so many ideas I want to tackle but can’t find the time to get to most of them these days. You have to be very efficient with where you focus your energy when you are a working professional. If you are young and/or in school and can study and practice for 10 to 12 hours a day, do it! Do it now while you have the time.

Can you give our readers some background on your music?
My style of music is very specific and very specialized. Because I started playing guitar rather late in life, I never had the chance to explore a wide variety of styles the way most guitar players do. Flamenco guitar techniques take a long time to develop, sometimes years just to get a certain technique to a proficient level. And those techniques have to be maintained as well with constant practice. Professionally there is an advantage to being so specialized; whenever someone is in need of original intricate nylon string guitar playing with a Mediterranean vibe, I’m your guy! It allows me to perform my compositions as a soloist in concert settings, as an entertainer for a wide variety of events, and as a recording artist for projects ranging from my own releases to playing a solo for a hip-hop artist to working with composers for film and TV, etc.

What were you like growing up?
I feel like I’m still pretty much the same as I was growing up: super curious about everything and constantly amazed by people who perform at the highest level, be it artistic, or athletic, or scientific, etc. I’ve always loved connecting with others and nature on an intimate level, I never cared much about big crowds. Santa Barbara is a great place for a curious kid. There are plenty of places to play, from the ocean to the mountains, and culturally there’s a lot happening for a city its size. My family strongly encouraged exploring different cultures by traveling and learning foreign languages, which has contributed enormously to who I am as a person and as a musician.

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Image Credit:
Carlos Mascherin, Kyle London, Andre Yew, David Bazemore

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