Alt-experimental rock band Ten Bulls popped into the scene in 2019 with the album The Physician’s Magician. They released a new single Virgil in January of this year, and have a handful of local dates coming up that you won’t want to miss. We got the chance to talk to singer/guitarist Christian Clark, bassist Jay Sanchioli, and synth player Chaz Lamden before band practice to talk about their backgrounds, influences, and the meaning behind the name “Ten Bulls.”
Photo Courtesy of Ten Bulls
1. Did you have a local band you looked up to when you were just starting out as a musician?
Christian: I would probably say Pinback, El Ten Eleven, all the John Reis projects like Rocket From the Crypt and Hot Snakes. Some of his projects are more local that others, but those would be my 3 answers.
Jay: El Ten Eleven is a big one for me. I’ve seen them live at Casbah.
Chaz: I agree with what they said.
2. What about non-musical influences?
Christian: With this project, a lot of our lyrical content and artwork and even the band name itself is inspired by Zen Buddhism and Zen Buddhist philosophy.
3. What was your very first band like?
Christian: Jay and I were in a band in middle school. We sat next to each other in band class and had the idea to start a rock band before really playing any rock instruments like guitar or keyboard or bass, or anything like that. Then I remember one day having a conversation with Jay saying, “hey, we have a guitar player. You should totally ask your mom to get you bass lessons,” and then we started a little project from that point onward. The name at one point was The Finest Hour…
Jay: No, no. The first one was better. Insanity Inc.
Chaz: Edgy, dude. Very edgy. My first band was with my friend Jimmy. It was a little hardcore band. We were in high school together. Then we took a rock band class. We were just kind of joking like, “oh, what if we started a band?” And I had already played drums at the time. He was like, “well, I guess I can learn to scream.” So then he did that, and now his band is all professional. I obviously didn’t stick with the hardcore genre, but we found some local shredders at our school that wanted to join and we had some fun with it.
4. Tell us a little about changing your band name and what it means to you. Given the Zen Buddhism influence, it sounds like it might be a koan or something like that.
Christian: When we first started playing as the three of us, it was a very, very different project with like very different ideas. A different kind of musical style we were going for. I would saying something in the vein of early Muse meets Queens of the Stone Age. That sort of thing is what we were going for. Originally I wasn’t the singer. We had a different vocalist who had a much more theatrical kind of musical theater background and influence, so he had like an almost At the Drive In sort of vocal styling, I guess. Then slowly over time, we just decided to move in a different direction and do something that was a little bit more progressive, alternative, and incorporating a lot more synth elements. Just before we were about to release our first album, we realized how radically different it was from some of the stuff we were doing before and some of the music we had previously released. We just figured it was an opportune time to change the name. And there was also some other issues like our prior name Sights & Sages had a number of bands with similar names, so we were kind of concerned in terms of legal aspect of that. And then we changed it to Ten Bulls, which is a play off of an ancient Chinese poem accompanied by images. So, it’s a series of ten images with ten stanzas, and each image and related stanza relates to the different stages of Enlightenment. So, it’s called the Ten Bull Paintings or the Ten Oxherding paintings. We’re not the first band to incorporate that into a name or title of something. For example, Yusuf / Cat Stevens had an album called Catch Bull at Four, which is a reference to the fourth of the ten Bull Paintings or Ox Herder paintings. So anyway, that’s just a longwinded way of saying we’re not the first ones to think of this or incorporate it into a musical project, I guess.
Jay: The first to incorporate all ten!
5. You released Aghori last year. What’s the song about and how did it come together?
Christian: So, from a lyrical perspective that song is about the Aghori, which is essentially a group of people in India that have these very sort of bizarre practices where they do things like wear bones and live in these very inhospitable environments as a way to try and achieve Enlightenment of some kind. The song itself, from a lyrical perspective, makes a lot of references to local artists that I personally look up to. So, for example there are references to Pinback albums. Like, one of the lyrics in the song is “screen blue life,” which is a reference to the album Blue Screen Life. There’s another section of the song that has to do with Rocket from the Crypt and their album Live from Camp X-Ray. Anyway, the song is kind of about wanting to be something that we’re not. Wanting to be these artists or these people that we look up to so much, and trying to come to terms with just being our own thing in that context.
Jay: Musically, I remember when we wrote it we were just sitting in a rehearsal room on a hot summer night just kind of looping ideas. And we’re all kind of fond of stuff that loops in interesting ways. Specifically polymeters. So, I remember we were just experimenting with that, and Chaz had a looping drum beat just in 4/4. Christian and I were messing around with different loops on top of that. We were experimenting with 7 over 4. I believe how this works is the lowest common denominator between 7 and 4 is 28, so every 28 beats the pattern restarts.
Jay: And coincidentally we’re all 28, so that’s why we… I’m kidding. So yeah, we just wanted to experiment with that. The song went through a bunch of iterations. We finished the song with Tim who is now our drummer and he’s our recording engineer too. So it’s been through a lot of different facelifts and stuff.
Chaz: I think that’s one of the first songs we wrote as a trio. In the chorus to that song, Christian came in with this sort of driving guitar thing, and he sang the thing. And I was like, “no that’s a chorus.” We started experimenting with the 7 over 4 thing, and that’s how we got the verses.Jay: I remember, we were experimenting with different harmonies and different notes and stuff. I remember, it wasn’t quite clicking and then I hit this one note and Christian looked over at me and was like “that one, that one! Do that one!” And then it started to click.
6. Do you guys usually write together like that in the same room?
Christian: It varies. Sometimes we just come up with little ideas and send them to each other by email, and then eventually get together and put the finishing touches on it. Other times it’s just a product of messing around in a rehearsal room or whatever.
7. What are your plans now that shows are happening again?
Chaz: Play some shows.
Christian: We’re playing March 18th at The Music Box with Nation of Language and Glove, so that’s gonna be a really awesome show. And then we’re planning some new stuff out past that. We have a cool one at Public Square.
Jay: March 26th at Public Square.
Christian: I’m really excited for that one too because it’s our first all ages show since playing Lestat’s West pre-Covid. Which, obviously we’ll never get to do again, which is sad.
8. Do you have any advice for someone just starting out playing music. What’s something you wish you knew?
Jay: Be humble. Ya know? Your ideas aren’t any better than anyone else’s, so chill out man.
Christian: Yeah, I wish Jay knew that too.
Christian: I wish Jay knew that a long time ago. He’s still working on that one.