Guthrie Govan Interview
This interview has been published in 2007 on Vine on Guitar Section of YUXEXES Magazine, TR.
Hi Guthrie, this is Baris from YUXEXES Magazine. You are now on "Vine on Guitar" section. On the first stair of the ladder, i must say that, it will be the first interview with you from Turkiye, as far as i know. So that, my questions will include very old days, too :) Let’s start it chronologically, ok? You start to play guitar very young of ages. What advantages or maybe disadvantages could you get about it?
I can't think of any disadvantages to starting young - the things we learn when we're young are the things that feel most natural to us, and to me music is just another language - the less you have to think about how to say something, the more expressive you can be.
All the teaching I've done over the years has made me appreciate how lucky I was to be exposed to music so young; there are certain aspects of phrasing, timing, tone etc that seem very instinctive and natural to me, yet I sometimes see students struggling to "learn" the same things.
The very first release inclueds your name was "Guitars on the Edge" album. How can you describe that period of your life and whatkind of opportunities did it get into you?
Back in those days I was studying English at Oxford University and I wasn't particularly looking for a career in music. I was playing a lot of guitar, though; I remember sending demo tapes first to Mike Varney (of Shrapnel records) and then to his brother Mark, who ran Legato records.
I was actually offered a Shrapnel deal around then but I decided not to do it; I was worried that the emphasis of that label was more about guitar pyrotechnics rather than the music itself... and the music is really what's most important to me.
When Mark offered to put two of my tracks on "Guitar On The Edge, Vol. 4", however, I couldn't resist. I found myself on a compilation CD with some of my favourite players, such as Greg Howe and Ron Thal... So, no opportunities really arose from my tracks being featured on that compilation, but I did make friends with some great players!
How could you improved your impressive skills on guitar & music as a performer, composer and as a artist?
Well, everyone can always improve; the only thing that can stop a musician from improving is ego. If you tell yourself you're amazing, your playing might start to stagnate... but in truth there's so much inspiration out there, in every style of music, so there's always something new to learn. I've always tried to listen to as much music as possible, in every genre - I think it's good for my musicianship, and I genuinely enjoy it.
According to an interview of you, you have more radical thoughts on metronme usage on practising. Do you think it makes music more of a muscular stuff than a art?
There's nothing wrong with using a metronome; for a certain kind of disciplined player, I'm sure it can be very helpful. Timing is hugely important in music, and any tool that can improve your timing is definitely a good thing!
A lot of shredders, however, don't use a metronome to improve their timing; they just want to get faster - and that's a shame, because nobody really cares how fast you can play, apart from the other guitar players who like to use metronomes!
I suppose I can play fairly fast when I need to, but that's just a product of playing for a long time - I never had a specific speed-building practice routine, I'd get bored too quickly. Personally, I always preferred to jam along with records rather than a click; a good record is just as "in time" as a metronome, and it also has groove, feel and harmony, so that always seemed to me like a more musical way to practice.
Can you describe the first time that you felt yourself "Yeah, I really can play"?
I'm not sure - I suppose I do have a special memory of performing live in front of an audience for the first time, when I was about five years old. I probably wasn't very good at all, but you don't need to be very good when you're five! The important thing for me was that people genuinely seemed to enjoy watching what I was doing, which I found very encouraging.
You have 3 bands you have played with. I will name them one by one and i request you to tell us how did thier journey had begun&matured?
First of all; "Fellowship"?
Well, I've played instrumental guitar music with Pete Riley on drums and my brother Seth on bass for more than a decade. The band had always been called Erotic Cakes; we started out playing tracks like "Waves" and "Bad Asteroid" - and it's still the same lineup today, although we also use a Hammond player called Andy Noble whenever we can.
About seven years ago we met this amazing sax player called Zak Barrett. He was looking for a band, we were looking for gigs... so we hooked up. Later we brought in a keyboard player called John Dutton. Rather than making the Erotic Cakes lineup bigger, we turned it into a separate band called The Fellowship, which specialised in playing more jazz/funk/fusion material. We've played every Thursday for the last seven years in a little club in my home town (Chelmsford, UK) and mostly we do it just for fun.
Secondly, the band that responsible for your first international break. All-Star band "Asia"
John Payne and Geoff Downes contacted me about seven years ago, looking for a session guitar player to help them finish their "Aura" album. I was recommended to them by (drummer) Mike Sturgis, who was teaching at the same music school as me at that time.
Recording my parts on "Aura" was a great experience - there were so many wonderful guest musicians on that album, like Vinnie Colaiuta, Simon Phillips, Elliot Randall, Tony Levin... I got on well with John and Geoff, both musically and socially, and I ended up touring and recording as a permanent member of that line-up of the band. (In addition to "Aura" I also played on "Silent Nation" and the live CD/DVD "Asia - live in America")
And last, very cool prog metal band, "GPS"
"Very Cool Prog Metal Band" - thanks, glad you like it!
GPS started around January of last year. Asia were in the studio working on the next album, which was to be called "Architect Of Time", when (keyboard player) Geoff Downes announced - suddenly and unexpectedly! - that he was leaving us, to do a reunion tour with all the other original members of Asia from the famous early 80s line-up (Steve Howe, John Wetton and Carl Palmer.)
This meant we (myself, John Payne and drummer Jay Schellen) couldn't finish the Asia album, we lost our record deal, we lost a lot of touring dates... but we decided to carry on under a different name and with a new keyboard player. The only bad side to this has been that less people have heard of GPS, so we generally play smaller venues than we did as Asia - but the band is great fun, the material is heavier and more guitar-driven than the old Asia material, everyone solos more! Our next gigs will be in October - we're going to Japan, which should be fun ;-)
You still have a band project with Ryo Okumoto of Spocks Beard, havent you? What projects we may see in the future?
Ryo is a fantastic musician - he can handle any style of music you could think of, so playing with him is always a pleasure. I recently played on a project which Ryo was producing; the album was by a Japanese violinist called Kanako Ito and I had the opportunity to play everything from bossa nova to metal on that album, which was fun. As for future projects - I don't have any specific plans right now, but I'm always keen to collaborate on pretty much anything that's musically interesting, so let's see what happens in the future...
And my spesific questions your great album is called "Erotic Cakes"; Can you describe "Erotic Cakes" to our readers with your own words?
Put simply, it's just a collection of tracks which I've written over the years; some of it ("Waves", "Ner Ner" etc) started life as the demo tapes I used to send to Mike Varney, whereas other stuff ("Slidey Boy, "Eric" etc) is much more recent.
There's a lot of guitar playing on "Erotic Cakes", but I didn't just want to make another shred album - the world is full of those already! I wanted to highlight my brother Seth's bass playing and Pete Riley's drumming in addition to the guitar stuff, so it would sound more like a band and less like an ego trip!
I also tried to make sure that every track on the album had its own mood, so the album would be interesting to hear in its entirety; I think the music is probably better than the guitar playing, actually.
One thing I really like about the album is that it sounds good - it was produced by Jan Cyrka (who, as you may know, had a rather successful career playing instrumental guitar music in the 1990s) and he did a great job of making the music sound "hi-fi". He really brought out that "band" feel I was looking for.
Do you feel OK fully with E.C.? I mean, was everything okay %100? Havent you got anything like "i wish i could add this in it" or "i shouldnt play/record like this"???
You know, it took a very long time to record "Erotic Cakes" - All the drums were re-recorded twice, I think, and we struggled to find the best way of recording the guitar parts. Jan has amazing ears, and sometimes he would be unhappy with something that sounded fine to the rest of us, so we'd have to re-do it. After all that time, I was so relieved when I finally had a finished copy of the album in my hands that I didn't want to change a thing - I just wanted to get the album out there and let people hear it!
I can be too much of a perfectionist sometimes, but on this album I was trying to capture feel, more than accuracy. For some of the solos, I did a lot of takes and kept the ones which flowed the best, even if the playing wasn't perfect or there was a wrong note here and there. Generally, I'm quite happy with it; I'd prefer to get on with making the next album rather than worrying about what I could have done better.
Why did you choose E.C. as a topic? Whats the erotic with this album?
The title refers to an episode of The Simpsons. Homer finds himself in our "real" three-dimensional world rather than his normal animated "cartoon" world; he feels very confused and alienated until he sees a shop window with the sign, "Erotic Cakes"... then he's okay!
There's no deeper meaning - that happened to be one of my favourite Simpsons episodes.
What results you got with E.C.?
Well... the reviews have generally been good, and we've had some nice quotes from respected players who liked the album - I was particularly flattered when Cornford Records tried to give a promotional copy to Joe Satriani, and he told them that he'd already bought a copy, and he really liked it. That made my day!
Other than that, I don't really know what kind of results I've had - I'm just happy that I have an album out, so people can hear me playing my own music rather than being a session player or a teacher.
You have excellent&spesific guitar tone on your album&videos we can get on youtube etc. Whats your secret, man? Whats the way to get "own sounding" tone? Fingers maybe?
I suppose you just have to imagine your ideal guitar tone and then strive to create the sound you hear in your head - it's a mixture of fingers, ears, equipment and all those factors.
I grew up playing through "vintage" amps, which probably shaped my sound to some extent. Old Marshalls and Fenders have a lot less gain than most modern amps; this makes playing a little more difficult, but it also means more of the nuances of your playing come through; you can play the same note over and over again, and make it sound different each time by varying things like the angle of the pick, where you strike the string and so on. Players who start out using ultra-high gain amps probably don't learn as much about those subtle things, because with that more compressed kind of sound all you can do is "turn the note on and off"
How about your guitars? Whats your actual equipment and endorsement stuff?
I've been using Suhr guitars for the last few years - they're incredibly well-made and they're sonically versatile. I have several Suhrs; on the "Erotic Cakes" album, most of the guitar parts were recorded with a mahogany Suhr Standard with two humbuckers and a single coil, and for the rest I used a Suhr Classic - basically a Strat, but with something called the Silent Single Coil circuit. This allows you to use authentic single coil pickups, but without any of the hum - very useful when you need a really high-gain sound but with more "bite" and treble than you can get from a humbucker!
Amp-wise, I've been using Cornford exclusively for a long time. Cornford amps have plenty of gain, but they respond more like a vintage amp; they allow you to hear the subtleties of the player and the instrument, even with the overdrive turned up to 11. On the album, I used Richie Kotzen's signature RK100 head and a 4x12 cabinet; nowadays, I'm mainly using the MK50 Mk2 with a large 1x12 cab.
My choice of effects varies depending on the gig; I use a lot of envelope filters, ring modulators etc for my club gigs with the Fellowship, but for most other gigs I try to keep the guitar sound fairly "dry", so it sounds clear and cuts through at high volume levels - this is especially important in bigger venues.
What will be next after Erotic Cakes?
At the moment, I'm trying to get some gigs with the Erotic Cakes band; I want people to realise that this is a real band, not just a guitar player showing off over a simple backing. It's a lot of fun playing that material live; we try to stretch things out and make the tracks sound a little bit different each night.
After that, who knows? I'd like to do another album at some point, but it all depends on when I can find the time. In the next month, for instance, I'm going to Sicily to teach at a guitar festival with Carl Verheyen and Scott Henderson (can't wait - wonderful players!) then I'm off to Japan to play at the Summer Sonic festival with an electronic band called The Young Punx - so as you can see I try to keep busy!
Now, i have some general questions for you. Here it goes; What are your hobbies, man? What does Guthrie do in his spare times?
Most of my life these days involves a mixture of music and beer - I'm quite boring, really! I don't watch TV much, I don't have any interest in sports... I suppose I read quite a lot...
How about your interests on other arts? Movies, for instance? What are your fav. movies and reasons for that?
Okay - this isn't my "Top Ten Movies Of All Time" list, it's just the first ten great films I could think of. I'm not sure how many of them will be popular in Turkey, but it should give you some idea of what I like...
"The Big Lebowski"
"Requiem For A Dream"
"Withnail And I"
"Belleville Rendez-vous", and of course
I suppose I like stuff that's a little bit quirky, anything with a slightly twisted sense of humour or a surprising way of looking at the world. There's nothing wrong with the predictable Hollywood adventure where you have lots of explosions and then the good guys win at the end - I watched "Die Hard 4.0" the other day and had a great time! - but generally I'll enjoy a film if it's unique in some way, if it has its own character. I'm the same with music, I suppose!
How do you evacuade the actual guitar scene of todays Britain? How about the interest of young people?
I meet a lot of guitar playing kids at trade shows, and also at the music school where I teach (The Brighton Institute Of Modern Music.) It seems to me that guitar is as popular as it ever was, even though it's quite hard for a new band to get any gigs. Obviously, a lot of the pop music we're getting these days isn't very inspiring, but in this age of the internet I think people are happy to spend time looking for more obscure music that genuinely interests them - so I'm looking forward to hearing what the next generation of players will sound like!
Think of musicians who are not alive. What names you can give us to play with? Zappa maybe?
That would have been amazing - but it would have been a lot of hard work! For the typical Zappa tour, you would need to learn at least 150 songs, most of which were incredibly complex, and you'd have to watch out for Frank's strange hand signals all night - one simple gesture might mean "Now play the middle section of a completely different song, reggae-style, in 13/8" - so it would certainly have been a challenge.
To my mind, Frank was one of the greatest minds of the 20th century, there really hasn't been anyone else like him, and I'm constantly amazed by what he accomplished. I never managed to see his band live, but I have met Dweezil Zappa a few times, and one of the highlights of my life was actually being invited to visit the Utility Muffin Research Kitchen, the studio where most of Frank's material was recorded. That was like a religious experience for me!
How does it feel to be known and loved with your music to other countries, other lifes? Look, this interview is having with someone from Turkiye. Much much far where you are. Do yu know that you are known in here? And how does it feel your songs are immortal while you will die someday?
I had no idea that I was known in Turkey, but I'm happy to hear it! In general, being able to visit different countries is one of the best things about playing music for a living; I do love the whole experience of touring...
As for art being immortal and the artist being mortal - I did read a lot of poetry by John Keats in my university days, and he was very interested in that kind of philosophy, particularly in works like "Ode To A Grecian Urn". I try not to think about it too much though - I just make music. It's nice to think that my music might live longer than me, but even if that wasn't the case, I think I'd still enjoy making music just as much!
In which point do you plan to be after 10 years?
I can't plan that far ahead - but I'm sure I'll still be playing as much as possible. The music business is so unpredictable, but I try not to worry about that - I'm not playing guitar to get rich, I'm doing it because I love it - and because I can't do anything else!
I have complated my questions, man. Thank you a lot for your care and beautiful music you get us. If you have anything to ask me or sending message to anyone, thats the time, my friend :)
Well, Baris - thanks for the interview; it's great that I could meet some of the Turkish guitar community through your magazine! I hope that some day soon I can bring the Erotic Cakes band over to Turkey ;-)