Members of Drop Dead FamousMembers of Drop Dead Famous: keyboardist Chris Blais, seated, surrounded by guitarist Dave Sinewitz, lead vocalist Rob Higgins, drummer Chris Holmes and bassist Scott Holmes.

Art tech leads second life as musician

Chris Blais’ musical life goes way back.

“My whole family was musicians,” says Blais, a technician in the School for Arts and Creative Innovation. “Everybody was a stringed instrument player, but I couldn’t understand how that worked.”

When he saw his sisters take piano lessons, a world opened up to him.

“I got into the keyboard and synthesizers quick and pretty soon was making some money with my dad, who was playing every weekend.”

His skills developed until he was programming on a Yamaha QX1 computer equipped with music instrument digital interface (MIDI), “the second one in Canada.”

“I fell in love with the machine and I remember just sitting there for hours, figuring it out, hitting the play button repeatedly and thinking how amazing it was to hear a fully produced song done completely by myself. I knew then if I could hear it in my head I now had found the missing link to flesh that out! ” Blais says.

After stints playing and programming with bands in Detroit and Canada—writing, recording, producing and consulting with some well-known artists, doing radio and television commercials, supplying sound design and music for a few independent movies and up until last March working as a media producer and sound and light tech at Ceasars Windsor, he’s had a full music career.

Blais is currently working in a project called Drop Dead Famous.

“This band originally started as just a fun thing to do, instead of playing sports which I have never been interested in,” he says.

This fun project of cover songs quickly changed with the band introducing more original material into its shows.

“A set from DDF can range all over the map,” says Blais. “We’ll play everything from Closer by Nine Inch Nails to Johnny Cash’s Folsom Prison Blues. The great thing about this project is that all of us have a love for completely different styles and that mixture helps meld a good mix of music that we really enjoy playing for people!”

As the group gets closer to finishing a full-length album, it is putting more thought into its live shows.

“I’m currently bringing my programming skills to another level as I get interactive visuals together so every show is somewhat different for our future performances,” says Blais. “My background has really helped in many areas here at the University and I really enjoy sharing some of my knowledge with students on a daily basis. Nothing makes me happier than being able to put myself in their shoes as they explain a concept. Because I’ve worked both on and off stage for so many years, I can give them different approaches from a tech end of things and explain it to them in a visual way. I just feel lucky when I think of where my life and career have led me.”

Drop Dead Famous has been appearing at “just about every festival,” and offers eight original songs on iTunes. It will play its second-ever acoustic show on Sunday, August 4, as a benefit for Harmony in Action, a charity serving adults with disabilities.

It’s a personal commitment for members of the band, Blais says—lead singer Rob Higgins’ sister Jenny, a cornerstone of the program, died in October 2102.

The show is set for Chatham Street, in the block just east of Ouellette Avenue. Before the live entertainment gets underway, free family activities include face painting, a Zoo 2 You show, and ice cream for children. Get the details here.

Blais also records electronic music for the label Ember Music under the moniker “Nordmach.” Check out his site.

Watch a video of a live performance of Lost Your Way by Drop Dead Famous: