As the son of a singer, Kris Pooley almost had to end up a musician. “My mom worked late nights, singing at club gigs, and her schedule was always kind of wild,” he says. “I was either with a babysitter or, when I was a little older, I’d fend for myself. My mom always jokes that I was easy to raise, because I was kind of like a little adult already.” When he was closer to actual adult age, Pooley took the stage himself and started playing percussion in her wedding band at around age 16. Obviously, his years of training and exposure to performing have served him well: Aside from his music-composition work (which he’s done for the likes of Glee Live!, and American Horror Story), Pooley has worked with a staggering list of pop stars, including Katy Perry, Adam Lambert, Gwen Stefani, Tegan and Sara, Miguel, and the Dixie Chicks.
By junior high, Pooley saw the writing on the wall. “I never had a specific moment of epiphany, like, ‘I’m gonna become a professional musician!’” he says. “But once I realized I could make some money doing it, I caught on pretty quickly.” He’d been playing in bands for years when, in 2002, he got a call “out of the blue” to sub in as keyboardist for Jane’s Addiction. Not that he was, at that time, a superfan. “I went to school for 20th-century music and jazz,” he says, “so it was a real eye-opener once I was actually playing in those bands. Perry Farrell would call out rock songs for us to do on stage, and then we’d play Pink Floyd or whatever. I had to catch up real fast.”
Though touring is notoriously tough, Pooley has had plenty of transcendent moments along the way. “On my 30th birthday, I was playing with Gwen Stefani in Detroit, my hometown,” he says. “And the arena where we were playing is adjacent to my grandparents’ old farm. They had sold it, and then that area got developed. So it was my 30th birthday, in my hometown, near my grandpa’s farm, and Gwen sang ‘Happy Birthday.’ That was pretty cool.” He admits, though, that in his downtime, he’s not likely to blast pop tunes. “If I’m driving to or from work, I’m usually listening to classical music,” he says. “It’s kind of like an ear enema, you know?”
For Pooley, music continues to be a family affair: His wife is a musician (she played bass for Smashing Pumpkins), and his mom is still performing. “Three to five nights a week, she’s singing—doing weddings, parties, restaurants and clubs, with anywhere from a 4- to a 12-piece band,” he says. “She always had to learn whatever pop songs were on the charts, and she still does. My mom knows what’s hot even before I do.”