The perseverance needed to follow your dreams doesn't necessarily come easy, no matter your mental make-up. For Chase Bliss Audio owner Joel Korte, it took a personal tragedy to transform his life and lead him down the alternate path of starting his pedal company.
Korte via Chase Bliss embodies the spirit of a growing number of pedal-heads who are focused on bringing their own visions to the pro audio market. Even while working side jobs to fund his business, Joel swiftly made the move from being an apprentice to his own boss. The decision to go out on his own has worked out splendidly, thanks to the release of two epic pedals, the Wombtone and Warped Vinyl.
To celebrate the recent release of the MK II versions of the Wombtone and Warped Vinyl, Vintage King sat down with Joel Korte to talk about his philosophies on life (and pedals), how they have shaped him and the beginnings of Chase Bliss. Read on to discover a little more about the man behind some of the most interesting pedals around today.
How did you become interested in working on and building pedals?
I started playing guitar in 1999 when I was 15 years old and quickly became interested in recording because my friend Kiel Harell had a basic Pro Tools set-up. I thought it was the coolest thing ever. I started experimenting with effects in software and then I bought this multi-fx unit by ART called Quadra/FX. I kept playing, writing and recording, but it was always a hobby.
Years later, when I was a freshman in college, I played my guitar into this little practice amp with all of these on-board effects and I remember thinking, “How does this work?” I did some research and decided to make my degree in electrical engineering. Soon after, I built my first tube amp. I tried to tilt my studies towards audio applications whenever I could. I still wasn’t really into pedals yet.
In 2007, my life changed dramatically. My brother Chase was killed by a drunk driver in a car accident in California. He was pursuing a career as an actor. We were very close and the next 18 months or so were an extremely dark period for me. I managed to graduate from college a few months after Chase died and I got a pretty basic corporate engineering job, which I hated.
To add to this, I am a person who stutters. It has always been a struggle for me, but the struggle really seemed to amplify during this period. Speech therapy hadn't "worked" for me in the past, but I decided to give it another go. This time I got good help where the goal was not fluency, but rather realizing that stuttering is OK. This also meant not trying to hide from it and learning to stutter easier. My life got much better.
I was so excited about the positive changes that I decided to switch careers and become a Speech-Language Pathologist. I quit my horrible job, went back to school and joined a band with some old friends. I still needed to make some money and thought I might put my engineering knowledge to use doing something I thought was cool. One of my music-playing friends, Timothe Catlin, worked at ZVEX Effects and, after several emails and a chance meeting with Zachary Vex, I had a part-time job working on guitar effects.
What made you take the leap from working for someone else to doing it for yourself?
It was a really difficult decision. I worked for ZVEX Effects for about five years in total; part-time for the first year, full-time for the next three years and contract work on and off for the last year. When I got the full-time gig at ZVEX about a year in, it just seemed like one of those opportunities in life that I could not pass up.
I decided to stick with my graduate studies in Speech-Language Pathology on a part-time basis, but in late 2012, it was decision time. I needed to do a bunch of work to finish my master’s degree and I was still very passionate about wanting to work with people who stutter. I thought I would probably work as a full-time speech therapist and have a little pedal company on the side for fun, as I was interested in developing my own ideas. It seemed like a good time to move on from ZVEX, but it was still really hard.
After I got my master’s degree I started working part-time as a speech therapist while doing contract work for ZVEX. That was also when I started Chase Bliss Audio. The entire first year of the company was spent developing Warped Vinyl. I just couldn’t shake the pedal thing and it is possible Warped Vinyl was to blame. I always wanted to work on it and it became really difficult to enjoy or value my time as a therapist. I released Warped Vinyl in December 2013 and slowly, but surely, I started to get a following.
Let's talk a little about your company culture. Who are the people that make up your brand or do you work by yourself? What are the ideals that breathe life into Chase Bliss?
Right now I’m the only employee, but my parents are both retired and they help me an incredible amount. They are responsible for branding, stamping, and staining all the little wood boxes my pedals are shipped in. My wife used to do all that work, but my parents have stepped in now that we have baby. Preparing the boxes is actually a ton of work. My parents also help me with some of the real basic assembly (screwing on lids and such), and with shipping when orders get crazy.
In addition, my friend Chris Perricelli has helped me out with assembly and testing on a few occasions when he is not on tour. We are talking about having him come on in a more expanded role. The other key person is a local contractor named Shoua Thao, who Zachary Vex suggested that I work with for pedal assembly. I consider Shoua to be an absolute master of his craft. His solder joints are impeccable. He is the only person Zack has trusted to build his hand-assembled, hand-painted pedal line to this day.
As far as ideals are concerned, it’s probably cliché, but for me it just goes back to the golden rule: Treat others how you would like to be treated. On a personal level, as difficult as it has been to struggle with stuttering over my life, I think that empathy is a really beautiful gift it has given me.
The name “Chase Bliss” is a thing too. My brother Chase was really into Joseph Campbell’s writings and the phrase most often associated with him is “Follow Your Bliss.” I think that if I have made any courageous decisions in my life, they were because of my brother. Starting this company has been really difficult, but there is something to be said about doing that thing that you can’t imagine not doing. You just inherently work really hard at it because you love it. I think there is real power in that.
In Part II of our interview with Joel Korte, the effects creator talks about his love of building pedals that offer total control over a player's sound and his new pedal, the Gravitas.