While guitarist Kris Schulz can't remember the first time he picked up a guitar, he vividly recalls the days when his obsession with the instrument at 14 consumed him as he dreamt of making music both his life and his living. More than 25 years later, he's come full-circle back to the passion and intensity that drove him when he used to play until his hands felt like they were about to fall off, his fingers calloused and bleeding.
"I would skip out of school to hitchhike home to play guitar. I'd leave the house for when my dad came home and pretend I was coming home on the bus, then I'd go straight upstairs to play until four in the morning," Schulz says. "It was a crazy time period for me. That beginning of my journey and right now are very similar, the passion and the energy. It's almost a simplistic devotion. It was so pure back then and it's so pure now, it's awesome. The middle period was full of doubt and we all go through that as musicians."
Although success came early - he was teaching within two years and won a major contest in his hometown of Chilliwack, B.C. - the harsh realities of the music business found him lost in a dead sea of potential, devoid of opportunities to make a living doing what he loves .
"I guess I had this romantic notion that I could just be in any kind of band I want and play the exact kind of music I want and that would somehow open doors for me and I would be able to be a musician," he says. "But I learned the hard way that it isn't the way the music business works. There was a commercial element that I wasn't prepared for and the more doors that closed, the more I realized I didn't want anything to do with that, so I walked away and focused exclusively on teaching. I was always in bands, but I never had any illusion during that time period of so-called 'making it.' It was something in the back of my mind, but I knew I had something else to give which was teaching, and in the meantime I was always growing as a player. I think I'd become a little jaded and cynical."
In his first decade of playing, he honed his skills, building up a name for himself as both a teacher and player with a rare mix of humility and virtuosity, which don't often go together in a traditionally ego-heavy artistic medium. But in his mid-20s to mid-30s, he found himself in a "confused era" where he couldn't put "back -to-back victories together." In 2008. he released an album with his long-time passion project Mechanism, featuring his blizzard-fast metal riffs bolstered by the crushing beats of famed drummer Gene Hoglan.
"That's when I learned what a torrent site was. It was devastating when I released it," Schulz says."I saw crazy numbers of illegal downloads and I saw very little return financially. At that point in my life, it was enough to cripple me almost to never want to do it again."
But his life soon changed, setting him down his current path that saw him release his solo debut, While the City Sleeps, an instrumental opus of original finger-style guitar compositions recorded in Montreal with guitar master Antoine Dufour. (In 2017, Schulz will return to Montreal to record a follow-up, entitled Chasing the Light.)
First, he lost his mother who had been a source of inspiration his entire life.
"She was the core of everything. In her honour, I decided to pursue my craft. I don't know how else to explain it. I can feel her presence all the time," he says.
Next, he met his fiancé and the couple travelled the world for months, precipitating a bout of deep soul-searching.
"We got back from the trip and I was kind of lost. I came up with three questions: Who Am I? What Do I stand for? And What do I have to say?," Schulz admits. "Once I started thinking about that, I realized how important this music was for me, but I didn't know how to play any of the stuff I was hearing in my head."
A quarter century after his obsession began, Schulz set out on a mission self-discovery on the acoustic guitar that continues today, emboldened by the support of his friends, family, and fans.
"I'm seeing worlds in the songs. It's so much more emotional than anything else I've ever worked on," he says. "It's been like everything I've worked towards my entire life as a musician is finally able to come out through one instrument." - Darryl Greer
In My Own Words
I've been lucky enough to have music in my life from the day I was born.
It seems almost everyone in my family plays music but it is my father Manfred who has always been my biggest inspiration. He taught me to use my ears at a very young age and gave me all the tools I needed to learn the language of music my own way.
Over the years I've sang, played piano, drums, and sax; but it's the guitar that grabbed my heart and changed my life.
At times I'm a student, indulging in countless hours of devoted study to my craft.
At times I'm a teacher, always happy to share my knowledge and passion with anyone who inquires.
And at times, when I'm centred and focused, the real music begins and all the meaningless noise disappears and is replaced by the stillness of truth.
My song can be ferocious, full of power and confidence, or it can be insecure and speak from a place of doubt.
It can be inspired by those around me or come from a deep isolation within.
It is a song that reminds me of how human I am in all my accomplishments and failures and I am forever grateful to play it.
Like many, music helps me to convey emotions I can't put into words and I'm fascinated by its universal language and ability to communicate that which cannot be said.
What I do is simple, I strive play the sounds I hear in my hear in my head, nothing more, nothing less, I have no better understanding of the process than that.
There are many styles and disciplines of music I study and follow but in the end, it's all just music. And while I subscribe to rigorous training and musical intellect at times, it's the sense of total freedom I crave when the notes play themselves and I am merely their conductor.
Here are some of my musical highlights from the last few years
- First and foremost, I've had the pleasure of sharing my love for music with well over a thousand wonderful students over the last 25 years. I currently run my own teaching studio and also enjoy the role of personal guitar instructor at Electronic Arts, one of the worlds premier video game companies.
- In 2014 I competed in the Canadian Fingerstyle Competiton and finished 4th place - The CGF is a world renowned acoustic event that sees players from all over the globe compete on the merit of their own compositions. The performances are played to a "blind" panel of judges made up of some of the worlds most respected acoustic players.
As a result of the CGF experience I have made some great friendships and developed wonderful career opportunities that include being an official endorsee of Furch/Stonebridge guitars.
- In 2009 I independently released an album of music I wrote and produced called Mechanism, Inspired Horrific.
It's a complex, extreme metal album that features the drumming of one of the worlds most accomplished players, Gene Hoglan.
Gene has had a huge influence on my music and it's been an unbelievable dream come true to work with him. Some of the music from that album is featured on his first ever drum instructional dvd, "The Atomic Clock" .
- In 2010 I was asked to join Canadian rock and metal legend Lee Aaron on a western Canadian tour. I grew up watching Lee on Much Music and the opportunity to perform alongside the platinum artist and nine time Juno nominee was an experience of a lifetime.
I am also a proud and active member in the following original bands:
West Of Hell