British instrumental wizard Paul Ortiz (whom you may know as operating under the moniker ‘Chimp Spanner‘) recently wrapped up his first ever American tour, and in the company of fellow forward-thinkers The Contortionist, Jeff Loomis, and 7 Horns 7 Eyes. While in Dallas, contributor Chris Collins met with Paul to discover what its like to be a chimp touring outside of safer British waters.
Well first of all, welcome to America!
Yeah, thanks man! It’s good to finally get here. People have been asking for a long time.
So it’s your first American tour, right?
That’s right, yeah. I’ve been to America before, but this is the first time I’ve ever played here in the States.
Why did you come out here before?
I’ve got family out here. My dad’s from New York.
So I’ve seen a little bit of the East Coast before, but this is the most of America I’ve ever seen.
So how’s America treating you so far?
Really good! It’s kinda crazy traveling from state to state. It’s like going to different countries in Europe. Like, the cultures are so different from place to place — the vibe and everything. Just being in Texas is like its own country.
It really is! It’s huge!
It’s been really good. We’ve played some good shows. People are really supportive as well. I mean, they’re sort of buying up stuff they’ve already got, leaving tips and stuff. You don’t even get that kind of thing so much back home…
Oh, really? I was going to ask you, how was the response in America compared to other countries?
It’s been very brilliant. That’s not to say that people don’t respond to it good at home, but when you’re playing a home show, it’s kind of easy for people to take you for granted since you come from there. Yeah, I think people recognize what a big step it’s been to come out here, and they’re digging deep.
Excellent! So I have to ask, man; what happened in Michigan?
And you can dwell into the other cancellations too, because I heard you’ve had some other problems on this tour.
Yeah, the Michigan date was kind of weird. There were two stages, and we could hear this band playing on the other stage when it was the time we should have been starting. We haven’t even been set up yet; there were no mics on the kit or anything. Then suddenly, someone comes in and says, “you guys need to start packing up your stuff and going, because there’s fights kicking off.” Some kid had gotten beaten up, something got lit on fire. It was just a crazy situation. I didn’t anything, but the vibe I got was that if we had stuck around and played, it would have turned into a bit of a free-for-all.
So that kind of sucked. Then we had another gig we turned up to where the Fire Marshall had basically shut the venue down, which we found out after like six hours of driving, which is a bit disappointing. These things happen, but the other gigs have gone along pretty smoothly.
Good! So you have an American lineup built for this, right?
So how’s that working?
It’s working really good! I mean, it’s basically just for this kind of debut tour. There’s only so much money to bring me out here, but yeah. Playing with Greg [Macklin, bass] and Anup [Sastry, drums] is just awesome. I like it. We didn’t get to rehearse or anything. We turned up at Joliet, played the first show. That was our practice, and those guys are really on it. Thanks to those guys for playing double shifts and making the whole thing happen.
So they basically had to learn your stuff…
Yeah, I sent them the stems and everything ahead of time. Probably not as ahead of time as I should’ve done ’cause I was a bit lazy, so they had basically a month to learn all the stuff.
And yeah, they’ve done a very good job.
Excellent. So what’s been you’re favorite part of the tour so far?
Oh man! I’d say playing The Whisky. Playing The Whisky A Go-Go down in Los Angeles was pretty awesome.
Oh, nice! Yeah, dude. Los Angeles is gorgeous.
Yeah, yeah. Met a lot of good people there. You know — great sound, great vibe. But I mean the whole thing has been pretty amazing to be honest. And just getting to hang out with Jeff Loomis is awesome as well!
Yeah, I bet!
I was kind of worried. You kind of get that virtuoso syndrome where someone knows that they’re really good and you’re like, “aww, what if he’s really difficult to get on with?” but he’s like the nicest guy I’ve ever met. They’re all really cool guys to hang out with.
Excellent! Awesome dude! What is your absolute favorite stuff you like to play?
Favorite stuff I like to play? ‘Bad Code’ is always good because it just looks ridiculous; there’s a lot of tapping and stuff going on. When we play the full ‘Mobius‘ set back home, that’s always good for me because I kind of wrote it with a lot more of a live performance in mind so there’s quite a few riffs in there you can get quite stuck into and it has a lot of cool repeating motifs and themes and everything. Like, you can actually see people catch on to it when it comes back around in a different variation, and that’s really quite satisfying.
So what inspired those riffs? Anything in particular? Did they mean something to you?
Yeah. The ‘Mobius’ — I guess ‘trilogy’, if you want to be pretentious about it — that was kind of inspired by some stuff that my mom had been going through. Really, some psychological stuff. Like, she had not been too well the last few years, but it’s all good now!
Yeah, it was kind of just to do with getting stuck in patterns of thought and like this spiraling thoughts and escaping out of that. I think it’s kind of reflected in the song, like you have these themes that keep coming back and by the end of the song it explodes out of it and it’s all euphoric and stuff.
Did you choose to be instrumental? Is that a choice of yours and do you strive to be that way?
I think it’s challenging to engage people without vocals and it’s cool to let people kind of get their own vibe from the song, because you can have someone listen to it and think, “ah, this is really heavy,” and another person can find it kind of soothing.
Yeah, it leaves a lot open for interpretation.
Yeah, rather than sort of saying “this is what the song is about.”
Not to say that there’s anything wrong with that, but that’s the approach that works for me. I’d like to do some stuff with vocals, even if it’s just a side project or something. Just to try it out would be fun, to mix and work with vocalists. I’m not ruling anything out.
So how did you end up learning every instrument you use? What did you get into first and what is your favorite?
Well both of my parents are musicians. My dad is like a multi-instrumentalist; he plays guitar, bass, drums, keyboard, sings. My mom is a singer/songwriter as well and plays piano and sings, so I learned a lot off of them. When I was I guess about five or six, they got me an Atari with Cubase on it. Like, Cubase One. It was all like black and white and stuff, so I learned about sequencing other instruments like how they should behave and what they should sound like through MIDI first. So when I eventually got on the real thing, I kinda had an idea of what it should sound like.
So the progression, it went from like keyboards and then drums, bass, and guitar last. In 2000, I guess, I picked up a guitar finally. But yeah, I think starting on the keyboards and specifically learning how to sequence things, that gave me a really good grounding in mixing and arranging and stuff.
You might have already answered this, but what’s the hardest part of the tour so far?
Ooh. We’ve been pretty lucky on this tour. There hasn’t really been anything I haven’t enjoyed, really. I mean, obviously the certain cancellations suck and the drives are pretty long as well, so getting a good night’s sleep is pretty difficult sometimes.
And I guess not always having access to a shower. That can suck. [laughs]
That’s pretty much the only thing. I mean, I like being clean.
Sure. I can imagine, man.
And I guess always fishing around in a bunch of cables just to get like one thing out. It’s like, “yeah, I want my phone charger.” Ten minutes later I’m up to my nuts in cables, you know? but otherwise it’s been a really positive experience.
There are some venues that have a shower and a washer and dryer for bands.
Have you gotten into anything like that?
Oh, sorry! [laughs]
When we played in Europe, a lot more venues seem to have than than here. But I mean, we’re getting hotels like every night, but we’re not always there long enough for everything, so… Yeah, that’s pretty much the only bad thing.
So what’s your day job when you’re not a touring Chimp?
A touring Chimp… [laughs]
My day job? It’s all kind of connected to music. I freelance for a company called ProducerLoops.com and they sort of sell sample libraries, loop packs, song construction kits…
Oh, so you still write music and stuff for general use, like stock music.
Yeah, that’s exactly it. I do work for the company — like working on other peoples’ products — but I can also do my own and sell them through that so that’s cool work because basically when I need the money I just work, and when it’s kind of going okay I can just stop and turn my attentions to writing and everything. I was mixing bands for a little while but it takes a lot of time, especially if I’ve got other things in my mind like preparing for tour or finishing songs and stuff. I find it very hard to get in the right mindset for it. So that’s most of what I do for the moment, that sort of sample stuff.
It’s good to see that you’re still staying in the realm of your creativity when you’re doing your freelance stuff — your day job — because some bands have to go back to Wal-Mart or something.
Yeah. You know, ultimately, if I had to get the money I’d do whatever I had to do, but at the moment I’m fortunate that my parents are giving me the space to kind of live and work. If I had to pay shitloads of rent, it might be a different story, you know? I might well be doing what a lot of other people are doing, but yeah, it’s keeping me going. It gives me enough time to do the Chimp Spanner thing.
Sweet! How has touring internationally effected your life?
It’s been a really big step for me, man. Prior to 2010, I haven’t played in front of anyone. I even had a hard time telling people what I did. Like, if they asked me I’d just tell them. Otherwise, it’s like, “Yeah, I’m just Paul.”
But since the touring has pushed me out of my comfort zone, it’s made me a lot more confident all around, I guess. Personally and musically and stuff. That’s kind of been the biggest impact for me, really. I wouldn’t have thought a few years ago that I’d be the kind of guy that could just decide to up sticks and go to Europe or America for a month and meet all these different people and be cool with it. Yeah, that’s been good for me. Really good.
Did you think you’d be where you are? When you started out did you think you would take it this far? How does it compare?
I didn’t have any expectations, really. I did it because it’s just what I liked doing. I say to people a lot that the scene can change and trends can change and stuff, people might stop caring about it next year, but I would still do it. So that was always my thing, is that I would do it no matter what. But yeah, I never would have imagined that it would lead to what I’m doing now.
How did it feel when you first got the news that you could be doing an international tour?
To be honest, I didn’t really believe it was going to happen until I got the plane ticket. It was like everything was still kind of up in the air right up to the last minute. I was thinking like, “I’ll be really lucky if this comes off,” but I’ve had a lot of help and support from Basick with it. Century Media have been a real help putting this all together as well. Obviously, Metalsucks sponsored the tour. So yeah, I felt in safe hands, but I was just like, “I’ll believe it when I’m on American soil and everything is fine.”
If you could pick anyone for your own dream-team band, who would you pick and what music would you make?
Oh, man [laughs]! That’s a big question. Alan Holdsworth on guitars would be cool! I’d happily stick to rhythm; I would just let him do all the cool stuff! Tomas Haake [Meshuggah] is one of my favorite drummers, as I am sure he is to most people in the scene. Oh man, if Jaco Pastorius were still alive, he could be my bass player. Maybe Jordan Rudess [Dream Theater] on keys. That’d be awesome!
So what would you make?!
Probably the same thing I’m doing now but a lot crazier! [laughs] Yeah, that would be cool…
While the tour is over and Paul is back home, you can still become more acquainted with him and his music yourself by visiting Chimp Spanner on Facebook. His latest release, the All Roads Lead Here EP, is available now on Basick Records.