By Benjamin Leatherman
By Glenn BurnSilver
By Glenn BurnSilver
By Troy Farah
By Roger Calamaio
By Mark Deming
By Glenn BurnSilver
By Brian Palmer
His nose has been broken seven times during frank confrontations with Everlast boxing gloves, and he's rolled around in the waves on a deserted beach in the arms of a beautiful model and been well-paid for it. All for your viewing pleasure, of course, in a video for a song called "Wicked Game" that made tortured, visceral loneliness something to slow-dance to. He's now playing on big screens everywhere in a film called Little Buddha, but will be live and in person on Sunday at WestWorld along with Richard Marx and Taylor Dayne. If you haven't guessed his identity yet, let's flip all the cards and introduce--long-distance from a studio in San Francisco--the clean-cut and friendly Mr. Chris Isaak.
New Times: You're recording but doing shows, too. What gives?
Isaak: Well, I'm practicing my guitar for the new record; you gotta practice every day or you get lousy. . . . We're just beginning to record, I would say, but I try to go out every month or two months and do two or three shows. It's good to play live, and if you stop the guys from playing live for six months, they forget they're in a band. It's a whole different thing to go up on a stage than it is to rehearse.
NT: Do you have any grand design for the next release?
Isaak: Sometimes I have visions of what I want it to be, but I'm not any great craftsman who says, "This is gonna be this kind of tune." I write whatever I feel like writing and that's what goes on a record.
NT: What is your writing process?
Isaak: I have a cheap little tape recorder that I take with me wherever I go, and two or three at home--usually one has good batteries--and when I come up with an idea, I'll put that down. When I start recording, I'll grab literally 50 or 60 tapes lying around and take em and compile all the best pieces onto one or two tapes. It'll be 30 seconds or a minute of each, then I'll play those around the house, doing the dishes or shaving, then you take the ones that stick with you. . . . It's kind of like how gasoline is made. It's a refinement process.
NT: Like how a bill becomes a law?
Isaak: Yes, how a bill becomes a law. If I like a song, it moves on to the legislative branch. Then if that works, then I toast it and it becomes cereal.
NT: What does the Fourth of July mean to you?
Isaak: Oh, I love Fourth of July, that's a great day. It reminds me of being with my family. I grew up in Stockton, and it was still a small enough town that everybody kind of went to Yosemite Park. It had a lake in the middle, and they'd fire off the fireworks and we'd get there, three little boys and my mom and my dad, and we'd throw out the blanket, bring out the cooler and say, "Oooohh! Aaaah!" for like four hours. Then we'd walk back to the car and go home. Now I think it's getting a little bit more crazy. People are a little more violent, like somebody's going to shoot off a gun or something. When I was a kid, maybe I was too dumb or naive, but I don't remember things like that happening. NT: Any tips on keeping cool this summer?
Isaak: Take all your clothes off, that's my tip.
NT: You were recently touring in the Orient; how was that?
Isaak: Yeah, we were in Hong Kong, Bangkok, Jakarta, Singapore and Bali. I was amazed to have people know who I was. What's fun about touring over there is, if you tour in Europe, it's kind of like being in the States to some degree. You go over there and it's like, "A sandwich?" Well, it's not quite the same as in California, but it's still a sandwich. And you go to Indonesia or Bali and it's, well, they've got some different ideas. I mean, Singapore, you wouldn't believe it. Very clean city. We thought we were driving through a golf course. They really make you obey the rules, whatever they are.
NT: What's the worst trouble you were ever in? Isaak: Oh, I got arrested one time in Japan. We were on the street, fighting in Tokyo. I just got involved trying to break it up; then a bunch of people started trying to beat me up, and I was just trying to survive. Next thing I knew I was handcuffed in a paddy wagon. Put me in the jailhouse for a little while. I was over there on a university boxing thing and I didn't want to call the university and say, "I've been here a week and I'm in jail."
NT: So this was the early years, prefame?
Isaak: Yeah. Prefame. The other guys sobered up, and they told em what happened and they let me go. And then those guys who were beating me up all came over and apologized to me. I don't know if they made em, but it was pretty nice.