Chris Stamey | MUSIC: Rock & Roll Quarterly | Indy Week
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Chris Stamey 

The music lover

The Music Lover He remembers being 5 years old when he made his first recording. Chris Stamey may not have been born to produce music, but he took to it pretty quick. Whether listening, playing or recording, music's been a part of Stamey's life since early on.

"I grew up around classical music. My father was a pianist. Not professional, but, we used to go see the orchestra a lot when I was growing up in the '60s in Winston-Salem," Stamey says. "Mitch Easter and I had a little studio in his parents' basement, and we would make our own recordings."

In the mid-'70s, while attending UNC-Chapel Hill, he founded the pop trio Sneakers, which would grow to a quartet with the addition of Easter. Several years later, he founded the dBs with Winston-Salem chum Peter Holsapple. Their catchy pop style would be a harbinger of the coming Southern pop renaissance, headed by REM. By 1983 Stamey had quit the dBs to pursue a solo career, but after several albums, including a reunion with Holsapple in 1991, he moved toward producing full time. For the last 15 years, he's worked with such local acts as Whiskeytown, The Backsliders, Glory Fountain, Mayflies USA and Trailer Bride, to name just a few.

Though some have suggested Stamey is one of the 1980s' great power pop progenitors, he chafes a bit at the suggestion of his work or that of Big Star being grouped with that of the Raspberries or Eric Carmen.

"I grew up with classical music and Mingus, as did Alex Chilton, and I don't really think of those Big Star records being pop albums," Stamey says. "When I was growing up I listened to albums by bands like Traffic and Cream. Even though I see it's not without its flaws, I really liked the Blind Faith record. And they weren't really pop albums, but there was an idea behind music when I was growing up--Phil Spector would say you make a contribution or you try to take it further harmonically or lyrically. I like people who do that."

As a producer, one of his guiding principles is doing what's necessary in service of the song. While he appreciates rich, full recordings, he suggests there's a point of diminished returns.

"The thing you have to remember sometimes--and I have a hard time with this, I think I didn't do it so well on my record actually--a record is like a little box, and you look at the speaker and it's not that big. And think of it as a room you're decorating. It's hard to live in a room with a lot of little cute things," he says.

Last year's solo album, Travels in the South, marked Stamey's first release in almost a decade and has been followed up with a recording with Yo La Tengo (under the name The Chris Stamey Experience) and another new record for which Stamey's already recorded 18 songs.

Asked about what led to such a long hiatus, Stamey admits, "I don't think I have a printable answer for that.... I never got into show business wanting to be a record star; I only did whatever I have done because I like being around music. If you're looking at a past in terms of a career trajectory, that's fine, I just never looked at it that way. I like being in love with music whether it's mine or someone else's. I feel that, and I like working on it, then having it come out. It almost doesn't matter who it is."

Selected discography
The dbs Ride the Wild Tom Tom
Caitlin Cary I'm Staying Out
Le Tigre Feminist Sweepstakes
Chatham County Line Chatham County Line
Whiskeytown Faithless Street

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