PUBLISHED IN THE HAMILTON SPECTATOR ON THURSDAY, JUNE 8

 

 

BY NICK KREWEN

 

Honey-voiced CHRIS ISAAK knows how to break the ice during interviews: he treats journalists to a private, impromptu concert.

After a brief greeting, Isaak picks up his acoustic guitar, sits down on the bed of his downtown Toronto hotel suite, and starts strumming the instrument.

"Which one do you want to do?" he asks KENNEY DALE JOHNSON, the drummer of Isaak's backing band SILVERTONE who is sitting patiently in another chair with brushes, snare drum and a tea cup for percussive effect.

Johnson shrugs, Isaak strums, and with a telepathy that can only be developed over a ten-year partnership, the duo performs an obscure Hawaiian love song.

The sad, bittersweet chord changes and hovering falsetto seemed to resurrect an innocent time when ELVIS and ROY ORBISON ruled the charts, and as the blond singer croons away, his profile suggests the boyish charm of KURT RUSSELL mixed in with a smoldering sensuality that made him a hot commodity when his hit "Wicked Game" was promoted with a HERB RITTS video.

So is Chris Isaak the Elvis of the '90s?

"There's no need for an Elvis of the '90s," replies Isaak, 38. "I'm always hesitant to answer questions like these because it leads people to believe there may be some kind of retro thing happening, and we don't do that. I like a lot of older music, but the stuff I write is totally contemporary. It's all things about my life. I never write `shag on down to the social hall in my pink Cadillac.'"

His new album, Forever Blue, is a musical diary detailing the breakup of his last relationship. There's a personal letter to his former flame inscripted on the inner CD sleeve, which the San Francisco-based singer suggests is an "entry point" for the listener to put Forever Blue  in context.

"At the beginning, this didn't start off to be a record about my ex-girlfriend," Isaak explains. "These started off to be songs. When it got done, and I stood back and looked at them, and everybody was saying, `Oh yeah, I know what this is about.'

"The letter was a way to explain to people so they know these are love songs about breaking up. I'd say they're pretty much as real as I could make it from my perspective. Past that, I guess I wrote these letters to my ex-girlfriend, but I never sent them. So that's probably the most innocuous letter that I have, and that's part of the cleaning up process. I wrote her a lot of letters, because at a certain point, I thought, `I can't call her, and I can't talk to other people about her, so I'll write letters.' It helped clarify it to myself, and it helped me sleep at night. At the end, I felt like maybe it helped me put it behind me."

Even though Isaak intends to perform a good portion of the album on tour this summer, he doesn't feel that anything on Forever Blue  will dredge up unpleasant memories.

"Other songs are more painful for me," he says. "`When My Blue Moon Turns To Gold Again' -- that song is real painful for me to sing. The lyrics just hit me. Sometimes when you get the right song, the right lyrics, and it really means and says something to you, it'll bring me someplace.

"When I sing these songs, they could be painful sometimes, but I don't suffer misery. Usually when there's a live audience, I'm excited, and I'm fairly happy to be there."

Isaak, who also pursues acting when he isn't working on music, says the biggest misconception about him is that he is a suffering artist.

"I feel kind of guilty, because I think I have a very good life. I certainly don't want to bring people a message. I'm a romantic, and I like ballads, I like singing pretty, but my life has been great. I've had tough times, some you've heard about more because I sing for a living. There are all kinds of people with tougher stories.

"I haven't lost my parents, or a member of my immediate family, or my brothers. My health's good. When people come to see me, their favorite comment is, `I didn't know you guys partied so much, or made jokes on stage.' I'm not dark on stage, and I'm not somber. "

-30-

DISCOGRAPHY

1985 -- Silvertone -- Warner

1987 -- Chris Isaak

1989 -- Heart Shaped World

1993 -- San Francisco Days

1995 -- Forever Blue

1996 -- The Baja Sessions

1998 -- Speak Of The Devil

COLLABORATIONS

1996 -- Various Artists, Tin Cup

1999 -- Various Artists, Eyes Wide Shut

FILMS

1988 -- Married To The Mob

1992 -- Twin Peaks : Fire Walk With Me

1996-- Grace Of My Heart

 

THANKS: Steve Waxman, Wade Hemsworth

7copy;1995, 1999 Nick Krewen, Octopus Media Ink

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