In addition to being a musician, songwriter, and producer, Chris Stamey is now the author of a book, titled A Spy in the House of Loud. The book, chronicles Stamey’s childhood in North Carolina, move to New York City, and details his experience in the New York music scene in the ’70s, playing at clubs such as the iconic CBGB.
Stamey grew up in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and had visited New York a number of times as a teenager. In 1975, Stamey visited a bar in New York to see the band Television perform. That performance sparked his interest in the New York scene and ultimately influenced his decision to relocate to the city in 1977.
“It’s like when you first eat broccoli, you want it to be the best broccoli ever, and then you love the vegetable from then on. If it’s really overcooked, you’re not going to go back,” Stamey told The Current’s Jim McGuinn at SXSW. “I pretty much took away from that [show] that every band was like Television and started immediately plotting to write music like that and move to New York.”
Stamey later realized that his initial impression of New York was not entirely accurate, and not every band in the city was like Television. However, he doesn’t regret his decision to move to the city, as it gave him the opportunity to immerse himself in a newly flourishing music scene.
“I think everyone [in New York] had felt like a lot of doors had closed and a lot of things were uninteresting, and all of a sudden these new doors had opened,” Stamey said about the music scene in New York in the late ’70s. “There was a feeling that there were rays of light.”
Once in New York, Stamey started his own record label and Richard Lloyd of Television asked Stamey to record one of his songs. Television’s label wouldn’t let Lloyd release the song under his own name, so Stamey sang on the record and released it under “Chris Stamey and the dB’s.” After releasing the song, Stamey asked his friends from North Carolina to join him in New York and the dB’s were formed.
After his time with the dB’s, Stamey recorded his own solo work and collaborated with a number of musicians including Ryan Adams and Le Tigre.
“I think what I look for in people I work with,” said Stamey, “is what can I learn, where can I go, what’s different here, what’s not boring?”
Since 2010, Stamey has directed a series of live performances of Big Star’s album Third, along with musicians such as Big Star’s Jody Stephens; Ray Davies; and members of the Posies, R.E.M., and Wilco.
“Some things we tried to do exactly but some things were very open,” said Stamey about the Big Star project. “I liked it because it was a challenge.”
Stamey described Third as a “dark” record. Despite the album’s haunting themes, Stamey explained that the project kept going because of the community that he found in his fellow collaborators.
“We found a community that liked to hang out, and it was an incentive to go dark in the theaters with the somewhat bleak but euphoric tunes, partially because we got to see each other,” said Stamey, although he added that he doesn’t think that the concerts will continue.
While Stamey’s book divulges plenty of personal anecdotes and tales of the New York scene, Stamey said that at its core, A Spy in the House of Loud is a book about songwriting.
“There are a lot of books about CBGB. Mine is not really a book about me. It uses things that happened in the ’80s; a great deal of detail about specific songs. I’m hoping in those details it’ll reveal something about the process of creating. I’m hoping that at the end of the book you might feel like going to do something creative.”
-Colleen Cowie, Pass The Mic.