You’re a singer. You’re a songwriter. You’re a multi-instrumentalist. You’re big in Japan. And then Europe. You’re a label owner. You launch not one, but two successful coffee shops. You own a flight school and learn how to fly. You release your 13th album of original songs in 2021.
You’re Christopher Sluka.
Christopher was always musically inclined. He remembers his first instrument as a trombone, but on his eighth birthday his parents gave him a guitar. They were living in Germany at the time, and someone showed him how to play a few chords. Learning to make harmonies quickly became his favorite thing to do. And while he claims not to be an expert musician, Sluka can hold his very own on the piano, drums, bass, French horn, percussion, trumpet and of course, the guitar.
By age 13, he was trying his hand at songwriting. He was back in the States, living in North Carolina, and while he says the compositions were “forgetful,” they planted the seed in him to pursue what he loved the most – music. By 17, he was in New York City going to college and playing in clubs. He was astute enough to know he either had to bring it, or go on home. “I think it was the pressure of performing in New York, with the rough crowds at CBGBs and other places, made me realize either I was going to meet the challenge or I would need to do something else with my life.”
By 1988, Sluka had put together a band that were creating a buzz. While he was always open to writing with other people, it soon became clear within this band that the songs that got the most attention were the ones he wrote. A few US labels took meetings with Fear of Ordinary Life, but there was always one thing, or another, they wanted to change. “American record companies were often interested, but they always demanded things I was not comfortable with, such as working with a producer I didn’t think was right, or recording songs I didn’t like, or wanting to change the image/style to be more like other artists that were successful.”
Still working the label angle, execs from the Japanese label Meldac saw the band play and offered only Christopher a one-off deal for a single. Since it was just one song, he flew to Los Angeles, working with Cat Grey (Prince) as producer. The song, “Sunday’s Child,” came out in Japan and was a hit. This led to an offer of a bigger deal, putting Sluka in a position to negotiate his terms, which were all met under one condition: he had to change the name of the band. The executives told him the band name was too long for the Japanese market, plus it was popular at the time to have last-name-band-names like Bon Jovi, Nelson and Van Halen. It also worked out nicely because SLUKA is pronounced as su ruka in Japanese, which means, “Let’s go (have sex).”
After his two-album deal was up, Christopher signed with Time-Warner and moved to Europe. That release was also successful, and allowed him the good fortune to take the advice of his lawyer: release music on your own label. It was then Sluka started Steel Flower Music, which puts out all of his albums and allowed him to protect his copyright, publishing, licenses and royalties. Returning to the United States, Sluka settled in San Diego and bought a Coffee House where he could perform acoustic versions of the music he was working on. He later opened a second location, and then sold them both to start a flight school in 2010. He’d become interested in earning his pilot’s license and felt, just like with music, it was a calling he couldn’t ignore. “For me, flying and music are very similar. They both feel like magic and it’s incredible that human beings are able to do them both. They follow check lists. Mistakes can have dire consequences. They require lots of study, practice, and repetition. And yet no two flights are the same and no two musical performances are the same.”
For Sluka, there are no songwriting sessions; he says that full songs almost always pop in to his head during a long-distance run. “I can hear the arrangement, structure, and the lyrics. So, that’s when I sit down at the piano or guitar and begin to make a demo in my home studio.” Making an album is always a personal journey for Sluka – if it wasn’t, why bother to take it? He always pushes himself to do better with each release, and this outing was no different. “The recording studio is very intimate and challenging in a creative way. While working I made sure it still sounds like a Sluka album, it is even more orchestral, epic, fun, and emotional… which is what you aspire to accomplish as an artist.”
In 2021, Sluka released their 13th studio album, Figure it Out. While Christopher covers guitar, keyboards and vocals, he’s joined by bassist Anna Eppink as he was on their 2019 release, Ready to Connect. “Anna has a very unique style. She comes up with bass parts I never would have thought of. She also has many ideas visually for our videos and our live show. And she influences me greatly through our endless discussions of life on this planet.” Of Figure it Out, which is his second album produced by Grammy winner Alan Sanderson (Fiona Apple, Rolling Stones, Elton John, Weezer, Fleetwood Mac, Elliott Smith), Sluka says his lyrical inspiration is “desperately trying to be optimistic in the face of impending doom. The album title is about hoping to remain calm while facing the horrors of the world… Don’t worry, we’ll figure it out.”
With songs like the piano driven “Happy in your World,” the island tinged resignation of “What Else,” and “Shout Out,” which admonishes people that don’t speak up, Sluka’s Figure it Outsits proudly amongst its 12 younger siblings. “For me, the songs on an album are like chapters in a book. They can each stand on their own, but they are even better as part of a larger story.”
- Katy Krassner - February 2022