Tuning In with Christopher Hays

Posted on June 26, 2014 by

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When Christopher Hays was a teenager growing up in Lubbock, Texas, he “religiously listened” to a weekly radio program called “The Outer Limits” on KTXT radio. Hosted by a DJ called The Cat in the Hat, the show featured music from independent record labels with a punk rock slant.

“I called in every week to ask questions about the bands being played and to request songs, “ says Hays. “Eventually, I became friends with the Cat and occasionally visited the studio, listening to records and helping to choose music for the show.”

Hays, aka Phil Free, co-hosts WTJU's "Black Circle Revolution" with Ramona Sparks.

Hays, aka Phil Free, co-hosts WTJU’s “Black Circle Revolution” with Ramona Sparks.

Several years later, Hays, who is exceedingly friendly and fun to talk to, began hosting his own show on WNRN here in Charlottesville. He hosted both the station’s metal show, “The Aftermath,” and “Ska Punks No Losers,” which Hays says he did not name and was forbidden to rename. He eventually left WNRN for WTJU — “[their] freeform radio style appealed to my music taste and aversion to authority” — and under the name Phil Free, joined Ramona Sparks as co-host of “Black Circle Revolution.” On the show, Hays and Sparks spin vinyl that explores the “outer limits” of rock ‘n’ roll, focusing on underground music with a hard edge.

Music occupies space in every corner of Hays’s life. “My family and I listen to records at home every day,” he says. “We play records in the morning before leaving the house; I play them while styling hair at work [Hays is a hairstylist here in town], and during dinner in the evening.”

Hays also DJs the occasional dance party and likes to visit “small, dark, and somewhat seedy rock clubs” for his live music fix. “Live music energizes me like nothing else can.”

When Hays isn’t listening to music, he’s buying more of it.

“I love record stores,” he says, “digging through the used stuff, listening to records I’ve never heard of, and most importantly, BUYING RECORDS.” He shops weekly at Melody Supreme, visits Plan 9 and Sidetracks, and always carves out time to visit record stores when he’s traveling to other cities.

Hays bought his first vinyl record when he was 14 or 15 years old. He ordered “The Axiom,” a compilation of Houston funk, punk and metal bands, from a mail-order insert in a friend’s Sprawl album. He recalls making cassette copies to share with friends and to play in the car and in his Walkman (remember those?). “I even made an 8-track copy for a friend to play in his giant yellow Grand Torino,” he says.

Hays now has an entire room full of records in his home, but “The Axiom” remains one of his favorites, and he continues to generously share the music he loves.

“Choosing a 10-song playlist from an entire room full of records is difficult,” he says. “I decided to pick a few songs that sort of define my youth as an obnoxiously colorful, creative, angry and loud teenager in very conservative west Texas.”

A couple of Christopher’s selections couldn’t be found on Spotify, but his reasons for choosing them are pretty excellent. Here they are on YouTube, accompanied by Christopher’s stories:

“A song about being from a small town and how dangerous boredom can be. I once set a cotton field on fire and melted my shoes trying to stamp it out before running off and calling the fire department.”

“Phil Free’s namesake band… I stole [the name] from a member of the English anarchist punk band Cr@ss…  as a tribute of sorts.”

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Posted in: music, Tuning in