Meet Chris Tavener: the satirical singer songwriter spoofing his way through the music scene
Fresh from a live album and DVD launch in Manchester, and the successful completion of a Rocketfuel crowdfunding campaign (109% funded) to create a music video series based on current events, satirical singer-songwriter Chris Tavener has the world in his hands. And it’s a world he hopes to change through his use of comedy and satire to tackle some of life’s biggest challenges.
With his blend of folksy tunes and clever turn of phrase, Chris’s music fills a spot left wide open in the North West music scene. He takes influence for the music for his songs from Randy Newman, Tim Minchin, and Flight of the Conchords, and combines this with a satirical look at the news and the trials and tribulations of modern living. We sit down with Chris in between plotting his European takeover tour to see how he feels the music scene could benefit from some more comedy.
You take an interesting look at both some commonplace and unique themes and package them up with comedy. What are you trying to achieve with your music?
This isn’t an easy question to answer. On the one hand, I’m writing and performing music for selfish reasons – to be able to air my own thoughts and feed a dream of sustainable success. But I do think the world needs more satirical comedy music.
And this isn’t met by the current swathes of singers and songwriters that top the charts?
There’s a void in the mainstream. Too few artists are able to gain a big enough platform to mock the crazy times we’re living in. [He pauses] I also think guitar music deserves another renaissance.
Do you think there’s an audience there that aren’t being given what they want in terms of singers and songwriters appealing to the satire-ready times we live in? Who do you feel would appreciate this aspect of your music?
I think my music appeals to any fans of satire, comedy, and acoustic folk. It appeals to people of all generations and especially fans of my musical inspirations – Tim Minchin, The Flight of the Concords, Arlo Guthrie, Bob Dylan, Randy Newman…
What about the lyrics? You tackle everything lyrically. You devote a whole song to your zeal for Harry Styles, followed by one lamenting the political climate since 2016.
I think more specifically my generation finds it easy to connect with my songs. I write about people who are classed as ‘millennials’. They’re the people I have the greatest understanding of. A lot of the characters I depict in my lyrics have to be my age in order for me to realistically embody those personas – so it’s a very natural place to have ended up.
And you’re writing about things that speak to them and the thoughts and feelings they may have, on everything from Brexit and Trump, to pulling in a club, or what it’s really like to go to a music festival. Where does inspiration for the content of your songs come from?
Inspiration can come from people I’ve met, articles I’ve read, or even stories I’ve been told. A couple of my songs have come from something a stranger has said in a bar, or even from social media. For instance, a new song, Postcard Home, from my latest album Is He Joking? (Live) is about self-involved, pretentious backpackers who vilify old people for ruining their good time. A big part of the inspiration came from a video posted on Facebook by a group of millennial travellers. They came under fire for criticising the older generations, who they claimed would never understand their hopes and dreams. As though they never had any of their own. The video was removed by the creators within a matter of days.
You talk about social media – a huge influence in the music scene which wasn’t around to help or hinder musicians back in the days of the Madchester music scene or record company scouts. Is it more difficult to make it as a professional musician nowadays?
I change my mind all the time about whether it’s easier or harder to survive as a professional musician these days. My conclusion is… it’s just different. Social media has made it easier for people to get that initial start in music, to build a fan base, and start making waves on a local or even national music scene. The drawback, of course, is that with so many people doing that, you need to have a accrued a very large fanbase for the fabled industry A&R guys of old to sit up and take notice. You could compare it to being the most skilled piano player in the UK or being the most skilled balalaika player in the UK. Neither is more or less skilled, but one has significantly greater competition. That’s not to say that in the ‘old days’ there wasn’t great competition, but in my opinion it’s not like the vast ocean of unsigned music hanging around now.
Are you a skilled balalaika player?
[Pause; he laughs] Not yet.
Speaking of the music scene “back in the day”, you come from Northwich in Cheshire (much like Charlatans front man Tim Burgess), how does your brand of music and lyrics fit into the still thriving Manchester music scene?
Manchester is a brilliant city for music. It’s so diverse, yet so contained. Manchester is big enough to have a huge network of musicians, while also remaining small enough to create a great sense of community. I belong to the singer-songwriter circuit where everyone appears to know everyone. It’s a very rewarding thing to see friends and fans alike supporting each other at their respective launch shows and shouting about the unsigned music they like. I’ve travelled the UK on tour three times and I wouldn’t pick another city to live by.
Are you planning on doing another tour in 2018? What’s next for Chris Tavener?
Yes. I will be doing another UK tour as well as hopefully a European one, to sample to music scene on the continent. I also have several music videos lined up and will be working on a series of songs based on current events. So there’s a lot to come in 2018.
Chris Tavener is going global. You’ve been a professional musician officially since late 2015, do you have any advice for aspiring musicians who want to follow in your footsteps?
Take your time to establish yourself in a city first and be prepared to throw your all into it. It’s not an easy life and it comes with plenty of sacrifices. But, if it’s what you really want to do, I absolutely recommend it.
His latest album, Is He Joking? (Live), is out now and he has a series of dates planned for events throughout Manchester and the wider area.