For $100, singer/songwriter Chris Staples will write you a song. This isn’t a totally new venture for him. Around five years ago he started putting up songs for sale on eBay at a “Buy It Now” price—a couple times a year, just to make some extra money. Typically, people would buy these songs as gifts for their friends or spouses. One such eBay song was adapted into “Times Square” on his latest record, Golden Age.
As he headed out on his current tour with fellow Seattleite Rocky Votolato, Staples decided to reimagine the customized-song project and include it in his live sets, selling one song per city, available for purchase on his website. Customers are instructed to e-mail Staples with details about what they’d like in the song, typically recounting some sort of memory. Staples found that most people would buy them for someone else and surprise them, leaving plenty of opportunity to poke fun at the song’s subjects. “This one couple … this guy proposed to his now-wife while they were whale-watching, so I made a joke about how they got really hot and bothered while watching whales have sex with each other,” Staples laughs. “That’s the really fun part of it—taking jabs and making jokes.”
The format allows Staples to try new musical ideas and cross lines that he might not typically attempt in his recorded music—trying an alternate tuning, or going to taboo areas in the spirit of comedy, like at a recent show in Spokane: A Montanan pastor had purchased a song as a 10th-anniversary gift for his wife. Staples worked out a song about “true love waiting” and how “it’s great because they don’t have to masturbate anymore.” Staples laughs, noting that he may have gone over the line, but that the couple had a great sense of humor about it. “It’s fun because typically when I write a song, I have a lot of filters and edit a lot,” he says. “I don’t really have the luxury of doing that with this.”
More than just a songwriter-for-hire, Staples sees his side business as a way to build relationships. Writing songs about his fans’ sometimes-embarrassing moments creates a unique bond. “If they’re a fan of the music, then they have this piece of music that’s about them, so it’s really personal,” he says. “A lot of people that I write songs for end up becoming friends that I’ve stayed in touch with.”
What song might Staples conjure up at the Seattle show? Could we get “Whale Sex Pt. 2”? We’ll just have to wait and see. With Rocky Votolato. Tractor Tavern, 5213 Ballard Ave. N.W., 789-3599, tractortavern.com. $17. 21 and over. 8 p.m. Sat., Oct. 8.