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Articles Home » Interviews » Big Smile - 2000 Interview with Chris Brockway
 
Big Smile - 2000 Interview with Chris Brockway
INTERVIEW: Big Smile (Feb 2000)
Ex Wrabit man Chris Brockway introduces us to Big Smile.

In The Spotlight - Big Smile
Interview With: Chris Brockway
Written by: Gdazegod (Feb 2000)

This is the 'In The Spotlight' page. The spotlight falls on Canadian band Big Smile. Big Smile is not a band name that comes to mind straight away to the average rock fan. But mention the name Chris Brockway and you'll recall his stints with Canadian melodic rock band Wrabit as well as 'Metal Queen' Lee Aaron. In more recent times however, Chris has been working with vocalist Phil Habib and a few other musicians under the title of Big Smile. Their new album 'Going Vertical' is due for release very shortly. The lineup is currently:

Chris Brockway - bass, vocals; Phil Habib - vocals; Anesti Karantakis - guitar; Stacey McGregor - keyboards; Tom Concan - drums


Gdazegod catches up with Chris Brockway to look at the past and present tense.

Thanks for the opportunity for getting something down in writing Chris. I suppose my earliest recollection of you would have been courtesy of Paul Suter (staff writer for UK Magazine Sounds) who reviewed the debut Wrabit album as far back as 1981. But really, you go back even earlier than that under the band name Telemann. Tell us how you guys in Telemann came together.
Thanks George and to Paul as well, for his support through those years. He was always a fantastic supporter of Canadian music and musicians. Really, I was kind of abducted into Telemann from another band, I was playing in, at the time by an agent friend, David Kirby, who had a personal interest in the band and matching me with it. I think I was selected because they needed one more strong singer, they had a concept and they had some record company interest. When I joined Telemann they were a cover band that did mostly Journey and Kansas stuff. They had a few of their own tunes, but they were a bar band. We changed all that!

When did MCA Records/Attitude Records come onto the scene, and what prompted the name change to Wrabit?
The Wrabit thing began a bit of a venture for me with MCA Records as, after that band expired, they scouted another group called Hanover that did only one record. I liked that band but, it was kind of riding the metal wave and not too innovative. It sounded a lot like AC/DC on acid, if you know what I mean? Attitude Records was a management company really! They had no other acts except Wrabit. They wanted to distribute records, much like the Indie labels do now, but at that time could solicit big advances from bigger labels. There were 2 guys.. Mike Rosen and Elliot Steinberg, who wanted to manage a successful rock band. We were very good at the time. They had great personality for dealing with record companies and so it went. They saw the success of Loverboy and Harlequin and thought that we could follow right along. There were a couple of wrong moves that stopped that from happening. The name change to Wrabit was their decision and we paid several thousand dollars to buy it from a friend of theirs who had copywritten the name. Do you see where this was going? We were signed. What could we do? There were some promises that were delivered and we went along with it. We all hated the name. We thought we were going to be a Bugs Bunny cartoon band.. not what we had in mind at all!

It appeared for a while that the debut album was doing great things, and had gone some way into the charts particularly in America. Did that surprise you guys? Given the positioning of the bands name and also the name of the album stateside being called 'Wrough And Wready' perhaps may have bordered on being slightly tacky?
It killed the record. The record listening and buying audience are not stupid. We were not going the way of the Partridge Family or the Bay City Rollers. We thought we had some good music for a rock audience. Maybe the same audience that liked Journey and good harmony bands of that time like Yes, which is still a favourite of mine! That's all!

Producer Paul Gross is a bit of a legend in my books having worked with the likes of Saga, Reckless and Lisa Price. How did you find it working with him on the first 2 albums?
In my opinion, Paul is an under estimated guy. He always gets artists in their beginning stages and is asked by companies to develop them. He does a great job, often enough. I learned a lot from him and respect him to this day. I also worked on Virginia Storey, Lee Aaron, Worrall Brothers and some others (that you may never hear about) with him and he is the perfect catalyst in many situations, which is necessary for a producer. He can make an average situation seem spectacular. I never liked his mixes though! Big Smile's are better!

Did Wrabit get out on the road and tour in North America to support 'Wrough And Wready' and with whom?
You bet, almost to the death! We toured heavy with Rush, Triumph and Black Sabbath and any one else, that would let us do support! We had an amazing time and met some fantastic musicians and crew personnel. It was a fantastic experience which I will always remember. Sometime, I will tell you some REAL stories!

A couple of lineup changes for the second album 'Tracks', bringing in Gerald O'Brien and Gary McCracken and losing Dave Aplin in the process to Lee Aaron. Most people who have known me well enough since 1982 know that I rate this album very highly. But by and large, did these changes adversely affect the bands sound and direction? As it seems to have heavied up quite a bit from the debut.
Loaded question! In some ways it was great. Gerald was a great keyboard player, but a little over extended as his real abilities were in playing Tony Banks style music. He wanted desperately to write a hit song. It was frustrating for him, when I think about it in retrospect. Gary on the other hand, was game for anything and we had a great time. He had left Max Webster and was glad to do so. His playing was smokin' at the time and we did more stuff together later with Lisa Price. (We did some great fishing too). It did heavy up the band, but if you ask anyone in it, it was the band's swan song, as we felt that it was the best album we could do collectively. We wanted to try and say something, that was a statement. It turned out, that it was! John's guitar playing on that album is cool! My song 'Run For Cover' is still a favourite, even though I have better and more of the same stylistically with Big Smile.

Yes, I gotta say that 'Run For Cover' is a favourite of mine too! What a pomp bombast! When we look all the way through Wrabit's three album history, it seems that Lou Nadeau was the principal songwriting machine. Did you yourself get a chance to contribute to a majority of the material?
Majority..no. I always came up with my own bass parts and keyboard stuff, but really, I was an added member and John Albani had a better 'in' with that than me. We developed a friendship at that time that led to him calling me, for Lee Aaron though. I think John is a highly under rated guitarist, as I have heard him play like the best of them. He is an amazing singer as well. He has had some personal traumas though, some of which I was there for. I love John and will always wish him well. Landshark (Landshark Studios in Nashville TN) is doing well for him, so I understand.

Moving on to your time with Lee Aaron, it seems for a while there it a was a revolving door policy of musicians coming and going all the while during her career. Did you and John move over to work with her simultaneously? and what was that period of your career like?
John went to work with Karen (Karen Greening .. Lee Aaron's real name) soon after Wrabit. I was doing session work with other musicians like Lisa Price and The Worrall Brothers, etc. One day, Paul Gross called and asked if I would like to sing on the 'Call of the Wild' album. I went to the session and it was cool. They asked if I wanted to do a European tour. I had never done that and of course said, okay. We left three weeks later, and did every concert hall from Amsterdam to Berlin. That was a real great time. I miss those days with that band. I met some really cool people like Tommy Resch (German drummer) and Reiner Hansel (German agent for Lee Aaron). There was some talk of working with Michael Schenker and the Scorpions, but it never happened, much to my dismay. We opened for Bon Jovi and really had a great audience for all of our performances. They (Bon Jovi) were not very happy with the great reception we were getting, but that is Rn'R! We didn't make too many friends on that tour. It is dangerous to be a cool opening act. As for musicians coming and going..most guys wanted to be in their own show, and playing back up to the Metal Queen was frustrating for them. They left when they realized they wanted to sell insurance or have their own band. That is only a guess, as I know it was a great paying gig with lots of travel, if that is what you wanted. It is difficult for any band to get members that will believe in what you are doing and stick with you. Times have changed, as have the caliber of travelling musicians available to the touring rock artist. The good ones are much more expensive.

That trademark guitar sound of John's is quite distinctive, but your role as a bassist is no less vital. What got you on to playing bass, who were your heroes that inspired you and what gear do you use? (for our resident bass tech-heads out there)
Really, I came from a musical family that forced me to listen to music from age 3...or so I remember. I was inspired to play bass by Paul McCartney and then Jack Bruce. I later got into Jaco Pastorious, who made me take the time to study jazz. The biggest influence however, has to be Chris Squire, who was and still is a great innovator in rock bass playing. I listen to Marcus Miller a lot, some Mark Egan and some John Pattitucci for his amazing 6 string playing, but I always go back to Squire and Paul for their songwriting abilities, which still reach so many people. My favourite all time bands are Clannad and Yes, depending on the day.

Your latest vehicle Big Smile had it's beginnings around about 1994 if I'm not mistaken and started out as a collaboration with singer Phil Habib. For me, it appeared that another version of Frozen Ghost (two man band with singer and predominant bass player) was about to be formed which was fine by me. Musically though, you guys hit it off obviously?
The comparisons to Arnold and Wolf's project are a compliment really, as I know those guys and saw them play , both in Sheriff and the Ghost. We did not intend Big Smile to be a band. It (the 1st CD) was only supposed to be a demo for Phil. After we got some friends together and finished it, we wondered what it would be like to hear it played with a real band, as I had done all of the drum and keyboard programming. We did that, and realized we should continue with a real CD, and band, and that is what we are doing now. We have played several shows around Toronto (Canada) opening for bigger acts and sometimes headlining to small clubs. Our new CD 'Going Vertical' promises to be something that is not currently happening in Canadian music... much like Wrabit 'Tracks' did really, except we do not have a major label like MCA behind us.. .yet!!

Was this born out of a need to express yourself musically that you weren't able to do previously with either Wrabit or Lee?
Absolutely true. I have been a support guy for so many great names over the years, that I thought that the material I was coming up with, especially in collaboration with Phil, who is such a great singer, was worthy ,that we should try and do it ourselves. The worst that could happen would be that we release a great music album for listeners.

You released your debut album a few years ago and you now have your second album 'Going Vertical' due for release in the not so distant future. Tell us about who's playing, a bit about the sound and style of the band, and the songs themselves..
This CD is more directional than the first 'Out of the Blue' CD. There are some good songs on there, but not much of a band direction for reasons, I described previously. This CD has a very positive message to all of the songs with some, what we feel are great melodies, writing, singing and featuring the guitar playing of Anesti Karantakis, who in my opinion is a name that will be remembered for his innovative style and technical abilities. We have worked very hard to make this a CD that is not a 'flavour of the month' and one that we hope listeners will pull out and listen to, ten years from now!

Do you have any firmed up dates for release and details on the actual distribution of the album?
As of this date, we are still finishing tracks, so we cannot say for sure. We wanted it out last summer , but all of the songs were not written that fit this particular CD. We want to make sure that the audience has the best of what we can do! We expect it to be out this summer though, and that is our intention.

And lastly, where do want to take Big Smile as an entity? Considering all these issues in the music industry regarding mega mergers (EMI and Time Warner the most recent), the artists ability to now record, and market their own product via the Internet, the whole MP3 explosion .. do you have an opinion on the totally different outlook to the music recording industry as it stands today?
We would like to have an audience that tells us that they would like to hear more of new material we would like to write for them. As artists of course, we would like to keep going with this project. We hope we receive enough support from listeners and live audiences to continue. We do not have any pre-conceived ideas of stardom or that kind of thing. We just want to make the best music we can. We thank you, George for the opportunity to let your listeners know what we are doing. We will ensure that you have a copy as soon as it is available, so you may give us and your audience your feelings on this CD. Keep on 'Going Vertical'.

Thanks for your time and well spoken words Chris. We will be in touch again.





Well there you go people. Straight from the horses mouth. We would like to thank Chris for his contribution to this article, and hope all goes well for the release of Big Smile's 'Going Vertical'. Check out Big Smile over at: http://www.bigsmile.net

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Comments
#1 | reyno-roxx on July 17 2008 12:37:38
The Virginia Storey album that Chris played on is well worth investigating.
 
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