INTERVIEW: Guthrie Govan (THE ARISTOCRATS)
You will be coming to Australia in October with The Aristocrats, will this be your first time here? What can fans expect from the show?
This will actually be my third trip Down Under: I played a few shows there with Steven Wilson in 2013 and then returned the following year to teach and perform at the Adelaide Guitar Festival, combined with a short clinic tour. Needless to say, I’m very much looking forward to seeing a little more of Australia this time around - I deem it to be a thoroughly splendid place.
As for the matter of what fans can expect from the show, we always do our best to throw little musical surprises at each other on stage, in the hope that that every gig will turn out to be in some way unique. This helps us to stay (kind of) sane whilst touring and it also allows the band’s musical chemistry to evolve organically, all very healthy, positive stuff!, but the inevitable side-effect of this approach is that even we don’t entirely know what to expect from any given show. At any rate, we always prioritise making the music fun: we genuinely enjoy playing together, so that’s the main energy which we hope to share with the fans whenever we go out on the road.
Sadly Prince passed away earlier this year. Being such an amazing musician and multi-instrumentalist I imagine he would have been a big influence on your style? What aspects of music would you say appreciated the most?
I’m not sure that any of my music would necessarily remind the typical listener of Prince, it’s certainly not feedback which I encounter on a regular basis! but of course I’m a huge fan. He was such a gifted writer/vocalist/multi-instrumentalist/producer/performer/band-leader that it’s difficult to single out one particular aspect of his oeuvre for special praise but… fundamentally, I always admired Prince’s total dedication to presenting his vision in its purest form. It seemed like no convention or commercial formula was ever permitted to adulterate what he was trying to convey with his music. He was definitely an artist, in the truest sense of the word.
I recently bought a fantastic record, it was 'The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra' performing Prog Rock classics, you played on a few songs such as "21st Century Schizoid Man" (King Crimson), what was that event like to perform at?
(NB/FYI: unless my memory is deceiving me here, I believe Schizoid Man was the only track I played on)
I was very happy to participate in that project: everyone in that band was a serious player… and, needless to say, the orchestra wasn’t too shabby, either, On a personal note: ever since I was a teenager, I’ve always been a big fan of Laurence Cottle (who not only played bass on that track but also did the arrangements) so finally having an opportunity to play some fusion-flavoured stuff on the same track as him was very much the proverbial "icing on the cake" for me.
I should probably add that I didn’t perform at any “event" per se for that project: they just sent me a stereo mix of the track and I recorded my contribution at home. Of course there’s no substitute for recording as a band in a room, in “real time” but I have no objection to the general concept of recording solos remotely - without the technology which enables us to do stuff like that, a lot of musical collaboration would simply never happen. The ideal for me, though, is when the finished product doesn’t sound like a “Dropbox” session! When I recorded that solo, I do remember consciously trying to create the illusion that we were all in the same room at the same time: I listened to the track quite a few times before attempting any actual recording, just to familiarise myself with the various dynamic and rhythmic “landmarks” in everyone else’s performance.
In the early 2000's you played guitar with ASIA, what were they like to record and perform with? They are now playing with Sam Coulson on lead guitar, I've been a big fan of his YouTube videos for awhile and I know he mentioned he has jammed with you before. Did you help him out at all getting that gig?
My involvement with Asia started during the recording of their Aura album. Back then I was teaching at the same music school as (drummer) Mike Sturgis and he recommended me to his bandmates, purely in a "session player" capacity, the next thing I knew, somehow I found myself on the road with the band! It was a cool experience - I’d never really done the whole "tour bus” thing before so my stint with Asia was really what helped me to decide whether or not I could deal with leading the life of a touring musician, along with everything which that entails. I’m grateful that my first extended touring experiences were with those guys - if they had been less agreeable human beings, I may well have ended up with a lifelong aversion to being on the road.
As for Sam… yes, he’s a fine player indeed: we met at Paul Gilbert’s Guitar Getaway campus several years ago and had a great time there. I’m honestly not sure how he ended up playing in Asia, though: naturally, I would have been more than happy to provide a glowing reference for Sam but nobody in the band ever asked me for any such input!
I understand you used to work at a fast food joint? What was the feeling like when you were able to quit your day job and pursue music full-time?
Not dissimilar to the feeling you get when you check in for a very long flight and discover that you’ve been randomly upgraded from economy to business class! Having said that, I don’t really regret having "done some time” in the fast food industry… in fact, I still have my McDonald’s badge and for many years it’s been attached to one of my guitar straps: this serves as my little way of reminding myself not to complain too much if some aspect of my current musical existence should ever start to feel challenging or frustrating.
I also play a bit guitar myself. I'd probably rank myself as an intermediate player, l know enough to be pretty competent at playing most blues, rock or metal staples. When I hear players like yourself switching modes and time signatures effortlessly it goes completely over my head though. What would you say is the best bit of advice for decent players that want to take their playing to the advanced level?
This might sound infuriatingly vague but… generally I would want to find out more about the individual guitarist before offering any advice, as I’m not sure there’s a “one size fits all” approach here and there’s a whole spectrum of equally valid ways in which to be a “decent player”. I would probably start by asking any such player exactly what they hope to achieve in their playing - and why. Obviously the general "yearning for self-improvement” factor will be fairly universal but the more specific answers will tend to be more personal: I like the idea of trying to visualise precisely what kind of guitar player you’d like to be and then isolating whatever specific weaknesses are currently preventing you from becoming that player.
The Aristocrats will be touring Australian capital cities in October, click the poster for tickets!
Have a listen to the mind blowing performance of 'Culture Clash'!