A Genius Goes Wall To Wall– Chicago’s Rising Star

Like The Smashing Pumpkins, Alkaline, and Fallout Boy, Chicago has once again given the world of Alternative Rock a gift that may shake its very foundations. But this is a gift you won’t have heard of. At least not yet. Chris Mills is an astonishing mix of simple mathematical equations, raw  talent, and musical genius. In simple mathematics, Chris Mills is like your neighborhood rock player, except he’s a few decibels louder, he’s got a smile that’s a few megawatts brighter, and he’s about a hundred times more talented. Oh, and he’s touring with Ben Folds. So if Chris Mills is a Calculus SAT II test problem, then Garage-Band Billy next door who keeps you up at night is kindergarten arithmetic. But, in essence, it’s still the same subject; at 31 years of age Mills still plays with the same passion and fervor of any 13-year old jamming next to his mom’s Honda with his high school pals. But the Second City native isn’t only playing with his old friends, he’s following in the path of Ben Folds’ Live at Perth, the Ray Charles Masters albums, and Elton John’s Masterworks— he is playing with an orchestra—and that is the Genius of Chris Mills.

In the four years since Mills’ 2002 breakout album, The Silver Line, the rap on him was that his music was no longer unique or exciting, lacked the certain dragon’s breath that made good music great. But in 2005, Mills, who had good connections in the music industry, made a snap decision that defined him. Like Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A. before him, Mills decided to go for broke with an album completely beyond the scale of anything he had ever done before. In the North Chicago ‘Wall to Wall’ studio, an 18-piece orchestra braved a Windy City snowstorm to play behind Mills, and, in what may later be remembered as a crucial moment in musical history, a blitzkrieg of creativity, an Chris Mills in Chicagoambitious full-frontal assault on the boundaries of music took place. The instruments encompassed the entire music world, from the glockenspiel to the guitar, violin to vocals, saxophone to baritone, filling up the room, actually, from Wall to Wall. A perfect amalgamation of old school (the album was not dubbed, giving it a 60’s feel), and new (the album features vibes, an instrument virtually unheard of in conventional rock world) gave the album an expansive feel, and in less then 48 hours—The Wall to Wall Sessions came into existance.

The first track, in my opinion, the best two-minutes and forty five seconds of any Indie rock album, is entitled “Chris Mills Is Living The Dream.” And is even better then his hit song from The Silver Line, “Diamond,” a personal favorite that never fails to get played at his live performances.

  Chris Mills explains: “Well, I had just gotten back from being on tour, and I was at home, and working delivering pizzas and stuff. One day, I was folding pizza boxes or something, and my co-worker asked me, ‘what else do you do?’ I told him that I had just returned from Europe on tour, I made records, and all that stuff… he said to me, ‘man, you’re living the dream.’ And I thought, ‘What dream?’ I’m sitting here folding pizza boxes, totally broke… Sometimes the dream is being trapped in an elevator, so what dream am I living in? Maybe a nightmare?’” Wall To Wall Sessions

 

Living The Dream features the album’s best chorus:

 

"Ashes to ashes, trust to dust/I don’t know what it means/To be burned by something that you love so much/I think I must be living the dream."

I could talk more about this album, or you can hear it for yourself by buying it.

Thanks to one of Chris’ friends, Jared Reynolds, Chris Mills really IS living the dream. He is touring with Ben Folds, one of the nation’s most popular artists, and playing to sold out shows in some of the country’s best rock clubs. Folds, much like Mills, has just ripped off an album entitled Songs For Silverman that has marked his musical maturity. Folds’ concert seems to move backwards in chronological order, from the family guy he is now in “Gracie” to a disillusioned youth joining the “Army” to the more “Sentimental Guy” he once was (THAT is a story for another time though.) Though Mills is building a fan base, Folds is much more popular, and as Mills steps to a packed stage at Lupo’s Heartbreak Hotel in Providence, RI at 9:00 on April 4, with his drummer Gerald Dowd (who played with him on the Wall Sessions and also with Mills’ old band, City That Works), he realizes that the crowd is not there to hear him play—but they see him simply “as the last thing standing between them and Ben Folds.” To many artists, that may seem an annoyance, but Mills is an easygoing guy with a great attitude, modest manner, and a genuine grin that seams to constantly on his face. After the show, while the opening act tries to sell his new album to exiting fans, Lindsey Jamieson leans up against the bus and drinks a beer out of a red plastic cup, Jared Reynolds lights up a cigarette, the glare illuminating his mossy face—he comments casually:

 

“Chris did a hell of a job tonight.”  

 

Lindsey turns.

 

“No doubt…”

 

They are right, Chris Mills is insanely talented, and, fortunately for me, Providence is lucky enough to be a host to that talent. And though many fans don’t know the words and arent paying attention I sing along with the start of “Living the Dream”

 

"I dreamed I was Richard Pryor/Running on fire down the Sunset Strip/And as the flames burned brighter, my head grew lighter/And I watched the flesh fall from my fingertips.”

 

Chris Mills grins, and it is then that the ten people in the joint that are paying close attention can plainly see that Chris Mills is lying. He may not be having the easiest time making it big, but the smile on his face betrays the lyrics he sings.  Up on that stage, Mills is living the dream, and, though he may fold pizza boxes in a Chicago neighborhood, he is the richest man in the world…

 

 "Ashes to ashes, trust to dust/I don’t know what it means/To be burned by something that you love so much/I think I must be living the dream."