15 Minutes with Chris Isaak

Chris Isaak can't sit still. The second successful season of Showtime's art-imitates-life-imitating-art pseudo-reality series The Chris Isaak Show is wrapping up, but that leaves little time for the quick-draw 45-year-old crooner to relax. The third season is already in development, and a summer tour supporting his latest album, Always Got Tonight (Reprise), is coming up. "I'm the James Arness of rock & roll," he chuckles while calling in from the set of his show in Vancouver. Is there anything he hasn't done in show business that he'd like to? "Let's see," he muses. "Making Balinese shadow puppets and balloon animals are about all that's left." Sounds like something for Season 3.

If David Lynch directed an episode of The Chris Isaak Show, what would the plot be?

Hmm. Chris goes out in the backyard and finds an ear. [laughs] That's where we'd start, anyway. Actually, I'd like David Lynch to come on the show and play himself.

Do people have a hard time separating "TV Chris" from "real Chris"?

Yeah. I went out for breakfast at this diner in San Francisco. I got up to pay, and the guy running the place - he's got to be in his 50s - says, "That's okay." I say, "What? Why?" I mean, I don't even know the guy. He says, "That's okay, Mr. Isaak, I got it." He thinks I'm a celebrity! And he's buying me breakfast! I go, "Oh, okay. Thanks." He says, "No problem. I saw your show. I know how cheap you are." [laughs]

So you left him a dime for a tip, and . . .

At least it was a shiny one.

Have you heard of satellite radio?

Oh yeah. It seems like we've been waiting for something like this for a long time.

I used to love to turn on the car radio and discover new music. Nowadays, it's almost impossible to do that.

My suggestion is to get the government out of stopping the record companies from owning radio stations or TV stations. What happens now is that a label like Warner Bros. has to coerce or kiss up to a station to have it play the label's music. Hell, I say cut out the middleman and let Warner Bros. own a radio station. They can call it WRNR-FM. That would bring people better music because the record company would be willing to sign artists and say, "We think you'll like it and we can guarantee that we'll play his music a certain amount of times on our own station." Then they'd be playing all kinds of wild stuff. Even as somebody who's been on a big label for many years, I still like the idea of rock & roll being a little dangerous.

Are you a fan of the DVD format?

Yes. Bridget Fonda, who was on the show, just bought me a DVD player. Recently, I went to the store to buy some DVDs for my friend's birthday. I got him a couple of comedies, and, as a joke, I went over to the adult section to find him an X-rated one where you can access multiple angles. I want to do a music video like that. Anyway, just as I got there, the guy running the store came over and said, "Mr. Isaak, my wife and I are big fans." And I'm going, "Er, uh, thanks, I'm looking for Fonzie Goes to College 2." [laughs]

[A slightly shorter version of this interview ran in "Random Play" in the July/August 2002 issue of Sound & Vision. © 2002 Hachette Filipacchi Media U.S.]