Monday, January 6, 2014

5 Guitarists to Listen to for Inspiration

Oh my goodness it feels good to not have to write anything about King Crimson in the header.  I felt for my first writing piece since my over indulgent tournament I would venture away from discussing albums and back to talking musicians.  This January I will be writing four articles, each about five musicians that you should check out for inspiration, but each week will be a different instrument.

By inspiration I mean that if you are an aspiring musician it may help your growth to check out these performers for some new and fresh ideas.  While we all are aware of the Steve Vai's and Jimmy Page's of the world there are so many other musicians who not only do not get fair attention, but also are exploring some wild new frontiers with their instrument of choice.

I will note that I am not including Mr. Belew in this article since I have written more than enough about him over the course of our lovely blog. 

#5 Robert Fripp

I have indeed spent a hell of a lot of time talking about his band over the past months, but I have barely talked about Fripp as a musician.  He is so much more than his persona in King Crimson and too often his other foot notes get ignored under the weight of his long running band.

So what about him is so interesting?  One thing of obvious note is his tendency to sit while playing, and when he plays he is clearly understated. With small undramatic picks to his guitar he creates grand musical gestures with minimal movement.  That alone is such a sharp contrast to the flailing bodies of most guitar legends.  It is a good reminder for amateurs that before you shake your self across the stage that you should get your chops down first.

Beyond that is the scope of his work, from progressive rock to ambiance to folky guitar circles the man's discography is eclectic to say the least.  This too is a great message, do not stick with what you know, work outside your comfort zone and continue to learn and play new things.  I think a dangerous trend young musicians fall into is playing only the kind of music they like, listening to nothing but Metallica solos all day.  While it may help fuel your passion it does little for expanding your horizons, and Fripp is the master of horizon expanding

#4 Agata

A legend in the noise rock circuit Agata has shown that rocket power guitar licks do not have to be anything resembling conventional.   As the guitarist in Melt-Banana his instrument of choice shifts maniacally from sounding like a video game sound effect to a crashing computer.  His erratic nature creates a canvas that is more Jackson Pollock than Picasso.

There are plenty of other guitarists that make weird noises, more that will be on this list too, but what makes Agata stand out is his ability to seamlessly weave all these mutant tones into something coherent despite how unbelievably incoherent Melt-Banana's music isHis haphazard style flows like watching the next car collide into the preexisting 20 car pile up.  It is poetic in its Dadaesque nature.

Part of what works so well for Agata is that he does have some sense of control on his performance.  Melt-Banana fans know all too well how quickly their songs begin and end and the hundred sound shifts that happen in between.  For a guitarist to keep up with this they would need to be able to not allow themselves to fall off the rails into self-indulgent wankery, which he does perfectly.  He may create some off the wall sounds, but they are all with a purpose and fit the concept of the song.  He creates the message that although we can all make whacky noises with our pedal boards it is also important to know how those sounds work within a song.

#3 Omar Rodriguez-Lopez

My first personal guitar hero, an icon in so many genres of music.  Like Fripp he has dabbled in multiple genres including noise, Latin folk, indie pop, and jazz.  Wherever he goes though his penance for tri-tones and self indulgent mad science follows.  From his humble beginnings in At The Drive-In to his new indie pop group Bosnian Rainbows the man takes his signature sound with him.  His most adored era in The Mars Volta showcased his desire to flip every pedal on and see what happens.

Sometimes his little experiments worked and created big wonderful dreamy sounds that billowed through concert halls and sometimes they fell flat on their face, but whatever the case he had no shame in trying and experimenting right in front of his audience.  Some of that magic has faded as he desires to play a more background role in his new group.  Despite this you can still catch him tinkering with his much smaller pedal board between songs, developing new ideas in front of a couple hundred people.  This once also had the perk of creating new versions of classic songs, which were sometimes never heard again.  

His flair for "right here right now" gusto may contradict his statements that these things were all premeditated, but they also contradict the other band members statements of "we were creating new stuff in those exact moments".  It is a good lesson as you enter your first band, practice tons and when its show time state "hey I'm going to play my part backwards, try and keep up."  Throwing a wrench into a pre-planned operation may result in a massive musical accident, but it may also result in a never to be witnessed again moment of brilliance

#2 Ian Williams

Did you know Ian Williams played guitar?  It is hard to imagine considering the kinda-sorta front-man for indie supergroup Battles is surrounded by a bazillion other instruments.  Like his band band-mate David Knopke, Ian specializes in precision perfect guitar playing that allows creative layering and songs that sound like there are three times as many people performing them.  

It is kind of shocking how much sound Ian develops considering how little time he actually spends playing his guitar, through clever use of loop pedals and Ableton he develops huge sounds from such little action.  This coupled with his two keyboards, launchpad, and laptop result in a one man band kind of sound.  You then realize that there are two other people in the band and it all develops into some massive tones.

It all boils down to wondering, how much can one person do?  It seems simple to assume that playing the guitar is a full-time responsibility, but in the 21st century you can certainly do more and add more to your gig.  As you sit on your couch practicing your licks try adding a few more tasks to your cognitive load.  Buy a cheap Casio, set your pick-up real high, and see if you can nail that song you were working on both instruments.  Once you start combining effects you may be shocked at what sonic frequencies you can develop.

#1 Nick Reinhart 

  If there is a future virtuoso that is memorialized on posters and t-shirts I damn sure hope it is Nick Reinhart.  Not only is he a genuinely nice individual, but he is the reigning king of sound experimentation.  A recent series on showcased nearly an hour of footage of Nick taking us on a tour of his effects and the sounds he develops with them.  It is astounding how it all comes together considering some of them tones sounded like they were meticulously crafted and others were developed purely by accident.  

Like Agata, Nick is quick to leap between effects as he blasts through a Tera Melos concert, but what I feel sets him apart from Agata is both the depth in which he explores these sounds, but also the breadth of sounds he plays with.  This may all be systematic of Tera Melos' tendency to dabble in multiple genres, but sixty minutes with the band will leave your brain deep-fried at the county fair.  He creates deep billowing booms and cartoon like giggles, then he puts the two together, then adds something that sounds like a broken roller coaster to the mix.  Like Omar he does not seem afraid to go down the rabbit hole in the middle of a show, but yet somehow he always finds his way out of his own mess he develops.  There seems to be a genuine passion for developing his off the wall sounds, an eagerness to make something new and then figure out where it fits rather than forcing something that simply does not work.

The great thing about Nick's vomit colored pedal board is that so much of it was constructed on a tight budget.  Up and coming rockers may feel like they need to spend top dollar on boutique pedals when that simply is not true.  Go to a goodwill and find some half broken pedals, see what bizarre sounds they make and find a home for them in a new song.  Get crazy, but do so being thrifty.  That is the Reinhart magic.