Chris “Breeze” Barczynski is a true success story. Born and raised in small rural Pennsylvania towns, he aspired to one day play professional football, but fate had other intentions.
In the early 90’s (following a devastating football injury while playing in London) he returned home to discover his true calling did not lie on the grid iron but rather with a microphone and a guitar.
For the next twenty years, Breeze would sing lead vocals and perform with a variety of bands like “The Honey Buzzards”, “Sweet Brother Rush” and “Citizens of Contrary Knowledge”. During that time, he not only opened up for some of the biggest names in music, but also licensed his songs to hit television shows, became a semi-finalist on Star Search and even sang as a regular on the hit TV show, The Singing Bee.
Now, after spending the last dozen years honing his craft in the New York City area, the former Lehigh Valley, PA resident is ready for another change. He’ll soon be making the move to California in search of new adventures and inspiration. He’s also in the process of finishing a book about his life experiences thus far.
I spoke with Breeze about his days performing in the local music scene as well as his forthcoming book chronicling the life of a music man.
Tell me a little about your upbringing.
CB: I was born in Reading, PA and went to grade school in and around the Hershey area. I came up playing trumpet and drums and when I was in 6th grade, we moved to the Lehigh Valley. I knew that in order to get to college, I was going to have to pay my own way, so I played sports. I played football, ran track and wound up going to college on an academic scholarship with every intention of having a professional football career.
When did music become your main focus?
CB: I played professionally for two years in England in the Budweiser League (before it became the World League) and suffered a severe knee injury that ended my childhood dream. I returned to the U.S. and sank into a deep depression. I was 23 years old and beginning to think that I had nothing to live for.
Then one night, I went to an open mic blues jam in Dayton, Ohio and sang a Muddy Waters song. That experience rekindled my love of music; which literally saved my life. I came back to the Lehigh Valley in 1991 and auditioned for a blues band. Soon after that, I started The Honey Buzzards and we played the area from 1994-2000.
What are some of the best moments you remember from that time?
CB: We got to open for a lot of great acts like Green Day, Collective Soul, Blue Öyster Cult and Kansas. We opened up for Sugar Ray in front of 12,000 people. We also opened for Hootie and The Blowfish on the same day that the video for their song “Hold My Hand” had its world premiere. I remember standing with Darius Rucker staring at the television screen and watching it for the very first time. That was a cool experience. We wound up signing with a management group who had worked with bands like LIVE and Fuel. We had some success with a song called “Fighting Gravity” and almost won a record deal through Garage Band.
What did you find most difficult about those days?
CB: We were trying to be an original band but were playing in cover rooms. That was the catch 22. With our management, you had to either be cover or original. Trying to do both was difficult. We were always walking the fine line between original and cover band and it was really confusing people. So, we decided to change the name of the band to “Sweet Brother Rush” to try to secure a deal. We came close, but it didn’t work out.
Why did you eventually make the move to New York City?
CB: I really wanted to put together the band that I had always dreamed of. A band where everyone respected each other as both men and musicians. One without ego and a band that just made great music: Citizens of Contrary Knowledge. We’ve had great success; licensing songs to things like Showtime’s “The Tudors” and a few indie films as well. Nickelodeon also licensed our entire CD for two of their kid shows: “Drake and Josh” and “Zoey 101”.
Tell me about how you wound up on The Singing Bee.
CB: In addition to Citizens of Contrary Knowledge, I was also been performing with a 22-piece big band that did a lot of corporate events around the country. Through that band, I met a keyboard player named Russ Graham who ended up becoming the Assistant Music Director on The Singing Bee. They were in LA trying to audition singers for the show, but it just wasn’t working out. So, Russ called me up one day and told me that the gig would be perfect for me. He said, “Do whatever you can to get here. We need you!” [laughs]
From all of my years playing cover music, I have about 2,000 songs running in my head that I know the lyrics to and can sing along with. Because of knowing so many, I just knocked it out of the park. I met with music director Ray Chew, who I’ve also worked with on several other projects since. When I get to LA, I’m going to reconnect with him and also look at putting together another band on the west coast.
Have you ever taken vocal lessons?
CB: I haven’t. I came up singing a lot of rhythm and blues and my voice blended well for that genre. There was a time though where I did reach out to a vocal coach to learn proper technique and taking care of the voice. I remember there were situations where I was playing 6-7 nights a week with The Honey Buzzards and at one point, I did 12 one night shows in a row. It was a lot of driving around and singing and that put a lot of strain on my voice.
How about your guitar playing?
CB: That’s a work in progress. I picked it up a long time ago when I first started playing in the Valley. I consider myself a singer who plays guitar. It’s the only instrument that I write with.
What’s your songwriting process like?
CB: There’s no real formula for it. Some songs I’ve written in ten minutes and others, I’m still writing ten years later. I’m more into being a lyricist and writing melodies and find it easier to write with a co-writer who plays piano or guitar. I love collaborating.
Tell me a little about your new book.
CB: It’s called “The Chronicles of the Music Man“. I grew up in the small towns of Pennsylvania and was taught certain things by my parents and teachers, as well as by government and idols. I’ve gotten to a point in my life now where I know most of what I was told or learned about was just bullshit. The book is my attempt at taking people through the “Forrest Gump” stories of my life. Explaining what I thought before, what I went through and learned and why I may not necessarily believe what I did before. I want to take people through that process and maybe get them to think a little differently about the world. It contains surreal stories of my life and the lessons I’ve learned from them as well as lyrics and poetry. I’m also recording a CD of music inspired by the stories to accompany the book. I’m editing it now, and hope to have it out in the next few months.
Godspeed to you Breeze on your next adventure!
Article first published as Winds Of Change: The Chronicles of Singer Chris “Breeze” Barczynski on Technorati.