Blood, sweat, and guts. These are three of the core elements required of artists who set out to make music that’s steadfast, honest, and true. And if you’re going to make the kind of music that’s embedded in the finest, deepest-rooted Southern rock traditions, then you better be ready, willing, and able to deliver the goods straight up, no chaser.
Christopher Shayne knows this stratagem inside and out, having long traveled the crossroads where rogues, renegades, and thieves are tossed aside and only the best hard-livin’ and hard-rockin’ sound practitioners get to move forward. Fact is, the Phoenix-born, whiskey-tinged vocalist/guitarist is more than up to the task. “I want to deliver something that people out in the world have both heard and not heard before, in a way that everybody can grasp onto,” Shayne explains. “That’s my personal goal. As an artist, I want to take those ideas and really remind people what guitar harmonies and passionate vocals sound like in a real rock setting. I want to develop something musically that feels like home but is still kind of fresh.”
Shayne and his rock-solid band have handily met that aural challenge head-on with a ball-busting new EP, Ten High, which is set to be released via Carry On Music on January 22, 2021. Ten High builds mightily on the gritty sonic template set forth on Shayne’s 2015 independent release — the kick ass first, ask question later barnburner known as Turning Stones — as well as its 2019 digital followup EP, the relentlessly raucous Broken / Scarred. Gnarly, gutbucket tunes like the frenzied snarl of “Give a Damn,” the furious flow of “The River Revival,” and the unbowed stance of “Broken / Scarred” have all served as storm-brewing sonic harbingers of things to come.
As the holy grit and hellfire groove of Ten High amply proves, Shayne and his band of road-dog brethren are more than the sum of what would happen if ZZ Top and Lynyrd Skynyrd dove head first into a Cuisinart together without missing a beat. “For the newer stuff, we wanted that old-school, AC/DC, Highway to Hell kind of sound, so we stripped away some of the production layers to see what that would sound like,” Shayne reports. “And what came out was music that’s as raw and as human as possible. Making sure we had an extra tinge of soul in there too made it much more interesting in the rock setting we wanted this music to have.”
Shayne readily admits that it took getting to the other side of the EP’s first single, “Any Given Sunday” for him to realize both he and his band mates had entered into an exciting new phase in their songwriting growth — and that their creative floodgates had burst open even wider as a result. “It’s like opening a door into a house you didn’t realize was there the whole time, which gives you a whole new thing to play with,” he details. “To be able to ride that wave moving forward, and get to go down some different avenues that have opened up for me as a songwriter is really exciting. I’m now exploring all these different kinds of spaces I didn’t even know were there.”
The proof is in the actual beating heart of the song itself. While the memorable organ fills may bring you into “Sunday” church, Shayne’s genuine “Lord, I know we don’t speak often enough” prayer section takes you right up to the rough-hewn altar. “The version that’s in the final mix is literally the demo of that speech, because it was one of those lightning-in-a-bottle situations, and we just caught it that one time,” Shayne details. “And that’s all we needed to do. It was all just made up on the spot, and that was it.”
Another key track on the EP, “Pour the Bottle,” according to the straight-shooting Shayne, is “a pure guitar-muscle song.” Not only that, but “Bottle” is a track that further solidifies how the golden-throated vocalist deftly blends the personal pathos of Chris Cornell with the wizened sagacity of Doug Gray of The Marshall Tucker Band into a style that’s wholly his own.
The infectious fist-pumping joy each of the Ten High EP’s good-time guitar riffing and instant-sing-along songs naturally induce is no accident. Shayne realized long ago that he needed to get down in the dirt, so to speak, in order to get the right message across to his audience. “I’m not a fan of recordings that are pristine and perfect,” he acknowledges. “I would much rather be somebody who’s just going for it and feeling it in the moment, because that kind of emotional fire and resonance carries so much more weight with the audience than just about anything.”
Making that type of direct connection is what Shayne strives for with every song, and with every performance. “I love it when bands are able to deliver like that,” he continues. “There’s something inherently amazing about feeling it — and you’ve got to feel it! You just know performers are in the moment when it’s like, ‘This is what I’m playing. This is what’s right, and this is what I’m going for.’ Whether it’s a right note or a wrong note, they don’t really care. And neither do I.”
Besides being a force-of-nature lead singer, Shayne also displays some mighty beefy chops whenever he’s found brandishing ESP guitars, citing the likes of Aerosmith’s Joe Perry, ZZ Top’s Billy F. Gibbons, and Megadeth’s Dave Mustaine as being among his top-tier axe heroes. “I started playing in all these open tunings and doing some of the more showy stuff so that I could feel a little different,” he asserts. “I also love listening to those old blues tones and that slide work, and everything else that goes with it. That all came with the Southern-sounding tradition in music, and that’s why we are what we are — because of that blues tradition and listening to what all those artists were able to do. But you know what? I’m also going tonna shred a little bit too, and see if anything else awakens in me.”
Performing on the live stage is where Shayne feels he and his band mates make their bones, and it’s also a key factor for how they’re able to win over new fans and continue to satisfy longtime Shayne Gang supporters alike. “I love playing to, seeing, and meeting as many people as I can,” he emphasizes. “Southern rock has gotten this pigeonholed vibe to it, and there’s a lot of space right now for a band to come along and take the reins from that era and that sound, and really do something modern to it. I’d love for us to be the ones who deliver the kind of sound that reaches as many people as possible.”
To that end, the music you’ll find on Ten High is as sincere as it gets. “There’s a lot ofroom now for rock bands that wasn’t there 2-3 years ago,” Shayne believes. “I just want to hammer that point home and deliver something as real and as honest as humanly possible, in those veins. The fun is in the struggle and in the challenge of doing that. Music can be anything it wants to be — but it has to mean something to you. Making that happen for our fans is something I’ll be focusing on for the next handful of years, I think.”
The songwriting growth and compositional muscle that are on full display on Ten High place Christopher Shayne squarely at the forefront of the next generation of rockers. And that’s something you can raise a glass to… every day of the week.
Photo: Daniel Miller