Chuck Schuldiner Project

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Interview with Guthrie Govan of The Aristocrats!

So last night I had the tremendous honor of interviewing one of my favorite guitarists of all time, Guthrie Govan. In our twenty minute interview we talked about his life, his band, music and more. If you're not already familiar with the magic of Govan and The Aristocrats be sure to find them on Facebook!

Enjoy the interview, I'd love to read your comments!

So how has the tour been going so far?
It's been going really well. It's been tiring, perhaps particularly for me. I spent most of December in Indonesia and then flew back to the UK for a few days and then flew to the US and did the first leg of this Aristocrat tour over there and then flew back to Europe. I'm still trying to figure out what time zone I'm in. In every other respect it's been going great. The turn out has been really encouraging.

What kind of beer have you been drinking?
Whatever they've been giving me. I had a scare a couple of nights ago when I saw Bud in the fridge and I thought they were going to try to make me drink that. I refuse on principle to drink Budweiser, or Michelob, or Miller, or Coors, or anything that ends with the word 'Light'. But I've generally found something acceptable.

So what's the best tour beer?
It depends where you are. I think the trick is to go with whatever is local. Certainly in Germany you don't ask any questions. You just say, 'What do you brew here? Give me that' and it works. In the US you ask for an IPA I think that's the thing they do well.

So what does the setlist look like for tonight?
Quite a lot of the new album and some old favorites from the first album. We've pretty much eliminated the need use stuff from our individual back catalogs. There might be one at the end of the set if everyone shouts loud enough. It feels like progress that we have enough Aristocratic material that we have to choose what to play.

Now that you've been together for a couple of years, how do you think you're developing as a live act?
Natural and organically I guess. We knew from the first time we played together and were flung together in a very hectic jam like situation. We all knew that we had something, an unusual chemistry and communicated very naturally. We knew we wanted to be a band because we had experienced something onstage that normally you would need to rehearse a lot more than we did. Fine tuning that... we know we have this chemistry, but what can we do with it. We're seeing more what we can do as writers. For the second album I certainly had a more specific idea of what kind of musicians I was writing for and what kind of music they would enjoy playing. What kind of scenarios would allow them to have fun and do their thing.

So The Aristocrats as a band are getting a more distinct sound?
I think so, we're just feeding each other. The helpful thing is that as a starting point we're all pretty much the same age and grew up listening to the same stuff. It's sort of like we went to school together.

There's a lot of elements on Culture Clash that come across very differently from the first record. What kind of new influences did you have?
There was nothing intentional in terms of influences. We all wanted to keep things varied and make sure we didn't repeat ourselves. The biggest changes would be, in Marco's case deciding he would have fewer crazy time signatures and less of the brain punishing stuff. He was more concerned with just finding a good solid groove and finding something that felt right. It's almost simpler and more focused on the nuances of groove. We also suspended our rule from the first album that their should be no overdubs. There are a few tracks on there where if we thought it needed some spicing up we would do it. The only thing we had to check was 'Does this sound complete as a trio'. Whatever we do it has to translate well live and so we make sure the arrangement is solid as a trio, and make it prettier if need be. The bass solo section in I Don't Know is the most expensive part of the album, there are a lot of overdubs in that part.

Since the bands inception in 2011, you've put out some sort of major release every year, will there be another major release this year and will that trend continue?
We want to keep as close to that as possible. We're all pretty busy doing a lot of other things. We have to make allowances for what our calendars will allow. We definitely have a determination to keep this going. From the start we knew this was not going to be one of those fusion projects where you have a bunch of surnames and you do one album and that's it. This has to be a band, we want it to grow, we want it to have an identity. We want to have a band name (Laughs). All these little things make us feel like our strange little version of Zeppelin or something. Hopefully people can see this thing grow.

You played on the new Steven Wilson record, did the ideas on that album and Culture Clash intertwine ever?
I would say no. Certainly from my part they are completely opposite aspects of me as a musician. In this band I can play anything I want fairly safe in the knowledge that it's not going to offend the other guys in the band because we're so very much on the same page. We're all playing for exactly the same reasons. In Steven's band there's a boss, there's this genius who writes music and has a specific idea of what he wants to hear. Though I have some freedom in that band to an extent I have to keep the session player hat on. It's not all about me blinding people with guitar pyrotechnics. It's about listening to Steven's vision and seeing if I could do that. It's nice to make someone happy. If someone can hear something in their head by can't do it themselves it's nice to make that a reality, that's rewarding. It's great to be a part of the Raven album because I would have bought it even if I hadn't played on it.

It almost feels like after years of obscurity, you're starting to get a very real recognition. How does it feel to be a rising star halfway through your career?
It's nice that more people are listening. I don't want to pinpoint certain events that helped me to reach more people. Probably the biggest thing would be Youtube. I think people cared more about that than they did about me playing with Asia and Asia is a band that sold 12 million albums! But I think touring the world and playing those songs didn't really have any impact on the guitar community for me personally. Then I made my solo album and it was this kind of best kept secret that a lot of people knew about it but the guitar community at large didn't really talk about. Then Youtube happened and it was probably those JamTrack type solos, maybe because it was free or maybe because people like to watch stuff as well as listen to it. Something weird happened there and suddenly there was footage of me playing blues too fast over a MIDI backing track and it would get 2 million hits, I don't know why, I'm not questioning it, whatever works!

I have this kind of love hate relationship with Youtube. I respect it as a marketing tool and know it can do ridiculously effective things. On the other hand it makes me uneasy when I'm trying to play something live and all I see in the front row is a sea of camera phones. What I want to say to those guys is “If you stop filming and just enjoy the moment the music will change. It will sound better because the people on stage won't be uptight and can relax more and do what feels right in the moment”.
A lot of people see a contradiction there. “Why do you hate bootleggers so much when Youtube helped to propel your career”. It's because I respect Youtube so much that I want the best stuff on there.

Talking about your solo record, I've heard rumors that there will be a sequel, so are those rumors true, and if so can we get an update?
The rumors are true, but any rumor you hear that has a specific date is a pack of lies. When it's ready it will come out. I'm not rushing it. I don't feel the pressure to release a solo album ever x number of years. When I have time to invest making music in the same spirit as the first one I will. But it has to better and it has to be different in some way and when I'm happy with it I'll unleash it and hope that other people are happy with it. Right now with the stuff I'm doing with Steven Wilson and with this band there is just no time in the year. This is coupled with the fact that I love being a guy in a band it's nice to be in this trio. Everyone brings their own following, it's not just guitar players with binoculars in the front row. I like the idea that everyone in this band is an equal member and has something to say. Sometimes that feels more like the reason music was invented rather than being on a big podium and saying “Hey, check me out, by the way here's the little band behind me.” I'm more comfortable being a team player.

I remember on the first record there were 9 tracks with each member writing three, was it the same deal with this one?
Yes. Everything is completely democratic in this band.

How many hours a day were you practicing in high school?
I never counted them. I never called it practice. I was a stubborn kind of youngster, if you told me what I was doing was practicing, that makes it sound like work and that would have made me not want to do it. I just played all the time. I never really had a routine with a metronome. I would just put on records and jam along or just try and play whatever I heard in my head. I really don't remember when I started. They tell me I was three. To me it's like speaking English. I hope that doesn't sound smug it's not meant to. It's just that's what happened with my life. I still don't know the rules of football and I can't ride a bike, but I've always found it natural to pick up a guitar and kind of speak with it. When you have that relationship with the instrument it just feels good to spend time with the thing. In high school I certainly fell asleep with the guitar and woke up and went “Woah, I'm still playing”

What do you think would define your guitar playing?
I wouldn't know what to say. I'm probably the wrong person to ask. I've had this in Japanese interviews and really I believe that there are two kinds of music. Good music and bad music. I believe that when a player writes or improvises is a product of everything they've ever heard. You are what you eat musically. I've always listened to a lot of different music from different decades and different genres and instruments because I like all of it. Whatever I do now is some weird blend of all that and I don't feel any pressure to give it a name and say this is 'neo-something'. It's just stuff I want to hear. All I'm really trying to do is reach out to people who want to hear the same things and if we can connect on that level I'll hopefully never have to find a name for it.

If I can just add some of my favorite guitar players have elements of that as well. People like Eric Johnson obviously didn't spend their whole lives working on one thing. With Eric Johnson you hear so many interviews from Clapton to Mlcaughlin to Hendrix. It's all in their and he still sounds like Eric. Even Stevie Ray Vaughn who made a huge impact and shocked a lot of people, you can still hear his musical ancestry. You've got Albert King and Jimi Hendrix but you've also got Kenny Burrel, so he would play Hammond organ licks and stuff like that. So I guess he never really cared about what style it was he would just steal whatever heliked and reform it and deliver it with his personal tone.

What would be your advice to young musicians?
Ask yourself why you're doing this and what you expect to get in return for all the time you spend in music. I think if you know that all the other questions will disappear. I can't tell people how many hours to practice because everyone has different goals. Some people enjoy the computer game aspect of 'I've learned this scale, let's see how fast I can play it' as a kind of hobby or sport and there's nothing wrong with that. There's some people who just wanted to learn a Clapton or Slash lick and be able to play iti in their amp on the weekend in their bedroom and if it sounds a bit like the record they're happy. Then there are people who completely driven. Of the completely driven people you have guys who want to be session players and guys where all they've ever done is write their own music and play that. Guys like Mathias Ecklundh. As far as I know his whole relationship with music has always been; write a song then learn how to play it. There is no correct road to enlightenment.

Finish this sentence for me “I've never told this story before and probably shouldn't but...”
A man and his family walk into a talent agency, and now I should stop.

What do you love so much about music?
I've never questioned it, the same stuff that I love about reading or breathing air. Once you've tasted the experience you can't live without it. I can't imagine ever having a life without music.

Final words of wisdom?

If you seek wisdom you have come to the wrong place. (Laughs) To borrow a Socrates quote from the Bill and Ted film, the only true knowledge is that you know nothing. 

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