Eastchester, N.Y. is a quiet, suburban town known for its schools, its family-friendly atmosphere and their golf courses. So it may be surprising that one of the impressive recent graduates of Eastchester High School is a music student – studying heavy metal.
Kris Wong is a junior at Berklee College of Music in Boston, Mass. where he is studying and working on perfecting his craft of guitar playing, a hobby he picked up around the age of 12 after learning the violin.
“The violin is so black and white, and as a kid you’re given this music and you play it exactly as it’s written,” Wong said. “I didn’t want to do that, I wanted to write songs. I felt guitar was the purest form of expression.”
Now at Berklee, Wong has studied guitar under some prominent figures in the music industry, and the experience has been “a dream come true.” At school, he has run into John Petrucci from Dream Theater and legendary bassist Victor Wooten, and has also helped form a progressive metal band, Juno Descent.
“It’s a lot of work, and if you want to put in the time you’ll feel yourself grow,” Wong said. “You’re studying with teachers who produced Pablo Honey by Radiohead or the founder of TuneCore. I’ve gotten to study under professors that I’ve idolized since I was 14.”
At Berklee, it’s a combination of the professors as well as the fellow students that serve as a source of inspiration, according to Wong.
“Some of them don’t have that much money but they love to do what they do,” he said. “Some of them took out a loan or flew around the country. They worked their ass off to get a scholarship. At that point you have no excuse not to push yourself.”
One of Wong’s first creative ventures with the guitar came when he joined Bloodline, a heavy metal band from Eastchester that formed in 2008. Initially joining as the rhythm guitarist, he wound up working his way up to the lead.Last year, the band released their first album, “The Pursuit of Happiness,” featuring some of the songs they have played at school concerts since middle school. Wong said the album is conceptual, using the first six tracks to tell a story about a man lost in a broken city, finding a dream and a goal to latch onto and pursue.
“We realized that we’re not done, we have so much more to do,” Wong said. “This is the reflection of us in high school. Putting that album out was four years of work that we put in and all of the school concerts and events that went with it.”
Bloodline is planning on putting out a new album hopefully within a year or two, showcasing the evolution and improvement of everyone in the band; AJ Spinelli on drums, Chris Kantor on bass, Wong on lead guitar and Eric Elson on rhythm guitar and vocals. Wong said that if Pursuit of Happiness was good, the new stuff is even better.
“It’s not necessarily just an evolution in songwriting, musicianship,” said Wong. “If you’re practicing that’s always going to evolve. I’m always trying to push my musicianship as far as I can. The main thing that changed was we grew up as people.”
On the wall in Wong’s basement is a poster of the band Megadeth, one of the bands that he idolizes, also citing Dave Mustaine as one of the best songwriters in metal music. Through Berklee’s connections, they were able to get the band to come to Wong’s ensemble class and play together.
“In a tiny, little ensemble room, while classes were going on, we had Megadeth – Dave, Kiko, David and Chris – walk in, sit down and say what’s up,” said Wong. “We played for them and they gave us advice, and Dave really showed us how to play it. They asked if we wanted to play with them so I got to play Tornado of Souls standing next to David Ellefson and Kiko Loureiro.”
When it came time to play the solo for Tornado of Souls, it was Wong who wound up taking the lead alongside the legendary metal band.
“It came to that section, [Kiko] was giving me that glare to play the solo and I’m thinking, you can’t be serious, I don’t want to do this in front of you,” Wong said. “So I did and he gave me tips on how to play it better. All while there’s a whole line of teachers lined up watching and giving noise complaints while we’re jamming Megadeth as loud as we can.”
Also in Kris Wong’s room is a beautiful guitar with a uniform wooden finish, and numbers that look like the font on children’s blocks decorating the fretboard. It’s a Jason Becker designed guitar, and one in Wong’s collection.
Becker was a guitar prodigy early in his life, putting out a solo record at the age of 19 and joining David Lee Roth’s band, Cacophony. At the age of 21, he was diagnosed with ALS and is now confined to a wheelchair, having also lost the ability to speak. He continues to write and compose music using a system that tracks his eye movement and translates it into words.
“With Jason, he’s someone I’ve always looked up to, both in music and as a human being,” said Wong. “That was an energy inside of him put into music. He’s the embodiment of music. He represents how music is a feeling, how it’s a story, how it’s emotion.”
Wong purchased a piece of artwork from Jason’s father, and was invited to fly out to his house, hang out and play Becker’s guitars. He played Jason and his dad the song “Pursuit,” the lead single off of Bloodline’s album. Wong got positive feedback from both Jason and his dad on the song and his guitar playing.
“That was the turning point,” Wong said. “I don’t think I’m a great guitar player. I guess I’m a little above average. But at that point when he said, ‘you’re pretty good man,’ I thought maybe I can do this. Maybe I’m not kidding myself. This can actually become a thing. Now I actually have the confidence. I literally played for my hero and befriended him. I have no excuse not to be something great.”
Wong continues to push himself, practicing three to five hours a day and playing many different genres and styles of music. He’s even working on a solo project, a three track EP called Transcending Life.
“I wish I could talk more about it, but there’s this idea that if I pull it off, I think I’ll be the first person ever to do it,” said Wong. “I know who I want to produce it and who I want to do the drums, but the guitar, bass, keys and violin I’ll be doing myself.”
For some musicians, the end goal is to tour, release albums and make a lot of money. While Wong certainly isn’t opposed to that, he wants to try and inspire and leave an impact, just like his idols.
“The end goal for a musician should be to create for yourself, do what you do with music because you love it, and see how it impacts the world,” Wong said. “See if you can actually make the change.
Please be sure to check out and support Kris Wong and Bloodline! Bloodline is incredibly talented and already have one successful release under their belts.
Here’s another song off of the Pursuit of Happiness Album as well as some of the band’s social media links.