Category Archives: Interviews

Interview : David Surette

davidsurette3Earlier this year, Work & Worry received a CD from David Surette, a fantastic instrumentalist and songwriter who resides up in Maine. Surette is my kind of picker : equal parts British folk revival, country blues, ragtime and traditional… well, that’s not totally true, his playing at times actually leans a little bit more to the British school than most American fingerpickers, which I guess is what I really love about it!

The performances on Sun Dog, all done in a single evening on a single microphone, are absolutely impeccable. All eight tracks feature clean, confident picking and a finely honed sense of composition, structure and ornamentation. It’s the kind of accomplished, out of nowhere record that is not only a joy to listen to, but makes a guitarist want to up his or her game… from the John Renbourn-esque “A Lot of Sir John” and “Cold Rain” to the feel-good raggin’ blues of “Frog’s Legs” and “Ukelele Stomp”,  Sun Dog is easily one of the best guitar recordings I’ve heard in a long time.

Surette’s liner notes on the CD do a fine job of describing the inception of these songs, and he also denotes the tunings… so I wanted to talk to Surette more about some of his perspectives on guitars, playing, and some of his influences.

W&W : Calling David Surette.. David, are you there?

Hey man, how’s it going?

W&W : Very well, how are you?

Good, it’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood.

W&W : Let’s talk about where you are and where you’ve been. You seem to have extremely strong ties to the music scene up in Maine… have you always lived in that part of the world? Where were you when your interest in guitar first developed, and what did you concentrate on when you were first starting out?

Well, I grew up in northern New Hampshire in the mountains, North Conway, which is right on the border with Maine. So I’ve always been a NH/ME kind of guy. I moved down to this area when I was going to college at UNH, from ’81-’85, and ended up sticking around. There’s a good local music scene here, and it’s close to a lot of other great spots, like Boston and Portland.

I started to play guitar when I was 14, and I’m 47 now.  I started out on electric and acoustic, mostly ’60s-’70s rock. I loved blues-rock, too, and rootsy stuff like The Dead, The Band, The Allmans, so I got into the blues and folk stuff that way, like checking out this guy Robert Johnson that the Stones were covering. I’m probably like a lot of other folks in that regard. I got into fingerpicking in college. Continue reading

Interview : Sam Moss

SM on Building 1I first became aware of Sam Moss’ playing via Tompkins Square’s Imaginational Anthem Vol. 4.  Sam fit right into that album’s Takoma-leaning tracklist, and much of Sam’s music that I’ve heard since has had a pronounced American Primitive approach…  his double-thumb, spare melodies and pretty pattern picking not only invoke the music of John Fahey and Peter Lang, but also modern-day interpreters of the genre like Glenn Jones and the late Jack Rose.  I recently caught up with Sam to talk about his new release, Eight Constructions.

W&W : Talk about how you got started in music, some of your early influences.

Most of my early influences came from the music my family listened to. My early memories involve Marvin Gaye, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Mozart and Benny Goodman. My parents are big music appreciators and my grandfather loved big bands. The joy he got from listening to Goodman, Count Basie or Artie Shaw was one of the main reasons that I wanted to play music. He was an artist and he used to have a cymbal in his studio so that he could keep time while blasting his records! I initially wanted to play the clarinet, but I ended up with a violin in my hands.

W&W : When did you first start playing acoustic guitar?

When I was something like thirteen. I favored electric for a long time, until I got into jazz a few years later. I started exploring the possibilities of solo acoustic playing, fingerstyle, etc, a few years ago.

W&W : Please describe your primary guitar, how you got it, how long you’ve had it, etc.

It’s a Tacoma DR12, made sometime around 2000, before the company was bought by Fender. I picked it up used a few years ago at a Guitar Center. Almost all the Tacoma’s made around that era have a finish flaw on the back and sides that causes little air bubbles to spread all over. Mine has it really bad and the finish is chipped all around the sides and is continually getting worse. Tacoma makes a pretty ugly guitar to begin with and the finish issue really puts it over the top. But it’s a great sounding dreadnought and the price was right… it has character. Continue reading

Interview : Maneli Jamal

maneli-jamal_picManeli Jamal is a prodigious young fingerstylist, currently residing in Toronto, Canada. He works in the contemporary, highly physical two-hand style (lots of fretboard tapping with the picking hand) popular with a lot of young players these days, but there are several things that set Jamal apart from the multitudes of Andy McKee hopefuls who play the virtual YouTube circuit.

To say that Jamal’s technique is advanced would be a huge understatement. There aren’t many players in this style that have Jamal’s balance of power and sensitivity, nor his breadth of ideas. His rhythmic concepts can be alternately short and dense, or explored carefully through several movements, as in the four part suite from which The Ziur Movement album takes its name. Jamal has absorbed a number of musical styles, and he is able to seamlessly incorporate jazz, flamenco, classical and Persian ideas into his original compositions. The resulting pieces are very impressive, both technically and musically, and his CD is one of my favorites in the contemporary style.

I recently conducted this email interview with Jamal.

W&W : Let’s talk about the evolution of your fretting hand. You played in punk and metal bands when you were younger… would you say that that’s where you built up your strength and dexterity? Talk about your beginnings in guitar, and some of the early inroads you made toward your current (high) level of technique. Which players put you on the path to your current hybrid style?

When I started to play guitar I had already played violin for a few years learning from my father, a master Persian violinist. That definitely made learning the technical side of the guitar easier at first, especially the coordination between the hands. The great thing about punk and metal playing is that it’s fast and fun as hell to play for anyone starting the guitar.

Because I was self taught I used to be the kind of player that didn’t worry too much about accuracy but rather speed and what sounds cool, which was what punk music to me was all about. Unfortunately, I didn’t teach myself the discipline of accuracy and slow practice until years later. The guitarists of Thrice and Iron Maiden really influenced me in the punk / metal genre. I felt like I had reached a plateau after 3 years of playing that genre in my right hand picking. I thought the guitar pick was the best and most efficient way of playing the guitar… little did I know. I got into the likes of Al Dimeola and that opened up a whole new world for me. Continue reading

Interview : William Tyler

Late last year, we reviewed William Tyler’s excellent Tompkins Square debut Behold The Spirit. I recently caught up with William to talk about the making of the record, how he got into guitar, and his upcoming tour with Michael Chapman.

W&W : Talk a little about how you got started in guitar… how long have you been playing, what got you started, and your early influences.

Well I had the benefit/burden of growing up in Nashville, both around a lot of older musicians and a musical family. My father is a country songwriter and he was drawn to Nashville in the mid seventies, back when country singers bragged about smoking pot and reading books, as opposed to now when it’s all about trucks and patriotism.

I started playing guitar when I was a teenager, in spurts at first because I was more interested in drums and piano. I was also somewhat of a late bloomer when it came to rock music; I didn’t start buying rock records until I was fourteen or fifteen. Early stuff that influenced me was REM and Peter Buck, especially all the cross picking he did, the country style stuff in Rockpile and Dave Edmunds, and then stuff like the Sex Pistols and Ramones. I think Physical Graffiti was the first record I heard where I wanted to pick out an open tuning. Continue reading

Interview : Chris Weisman “Nonmusical Patterns”

A little while back, I received a very interesting package from my friend Patrick Borezo, an artist, musician and show promoter from Western Massachusetts.  It contained a small, beautiful paperback book called Nonmusical Patterns and their Musical Uses, written by Chris Weisman, a guitarist who has recorded extensively for Greg Davis’ Autumn Records, and is also a member of Happy Birthday (Sub Pop Records).  Patrick and his wife Amy printed and assembled the books, and are releasing it on their own Radical Readout Press.

It’s an interesting idea, to be sure… a collection of non-conventional scale patterns, chosen on their visual rather than their musical merits. I conducted the following email interview with Chris, to find out more about the project.

W&W : What inspired you to write the book?

In 2003, I started noticing more visual stuff happening on the fretboard, mostly when I was playing changes, playing over standards. Me and my buddy Bryan Bergeron-Killough (also a guitarist) used to have these long sessions every night when we both lived in Portland, Maine. I started getting interested in “scales” that would work visually (like the pattern is complete and strictly in the visual realm of dots on a grid, you don’t need to know anything about music at all to see them) but also be musically somewhat conservative in terms of pitch collections; the pitches in Nonmusical Patterns are the same as in conventional scales (or close) but due to this visual compass that’s also being respected, there are leaps all over the place. And the 2 octaves that fit roughly in a guitar position are different, usually when you play a scale it’s the same notes in every octave (and the scales don’t really look like anything). All this stuff is in the introduction. I started the book in the spring of ’05 and finished it 2 years later. Continue reading

Interview : Goran Ivanovic

by David Leicht

I was fortunate to catch up recently with Goran Ivanovic, of the brilliant Andreas Kapsalis & Goran Ivanovic Guitar Duo. We touched on a number of topics, including their exciting, eponymous album, which I would strongly recommend to any fan of contemporary guitar music.

W&W: When and how did you guys meet?

It was about five or six years ago in Chicago. We both used to play at the Hothouse, which was a world music place, one of the first in the city. Their booking agent decided to do a show with both of our groups.¹ We’d sort of heard of one another, through the newspaper, but had never actually met or heard each other’s music. We met up after the show and, after that, began to hang out, spending time as buddies, playing pool and ping-pong. Eventually, we started arranging and composing music together, then playing shows, and booked our first tour in Colorado and Arizona. The response was fantastic. We recorded our debut CD and the response was overwhelming. We decided to take it on the road full-time, give our bands a little break. I think we’ve been on the road now for three or four months straight.

W&W: Given the way your collaboration evolved, was it natural to present the new work as guitar duets, rather than forming a group?

Yes, absolutely. Sometimes people ask “why not add a bass player or drummer?” We have those groups already, what would be the point? I think Chopin once said, “the only thing that’s more beautiful than solo guitar is two guitars.” (laughter) We like playing around with the limitations of the instrument. Continue reading

Interview : Guitar Maker Laurent Brondel

by Buck Curran

Like a lot of relationships these days, Laurent Brondel and I began talking through the internet, and our first conversations were about guitar making. We initially agreed to meet at an open mic that my wife Shanti and I were hosting in Lewiston in 2006, and have been friends ever since. Laurent is an amazing musician, master craftsman, and supremely talented guitar maker. His instruments are gorgeous and inspirational, and his aesthetic and sound are uniquely his own.  It was a pleasure to officially interview him for Work & Worry.

W&W : You are originally from France. Where did you grow up and in brief, what is your musical background?

I grew up in Paris and spent a lot of time with my grandparents in rural Picardie, 100 miles east of Paris.  Nobody played or listened to music in my family, but when I was around 5 or 6, I insisted to get Beethoven 5th symphony, don’t ask me why. My Godmother bought me the 6th, the Pastorale, maybe the store was out of the 5th, who knows? I had to wait a year to get an old tube record player from the ’60s, the ones with the speaker in the cover. My father’s Godmother gave it to me. So the Godmothers were really active and involved in my family. Continue reading