A few days ago I watched the recently released on DVD/Blu-Ray film, "It Might Get Loud", which focuses on 3 different guitarists from different generations in the form of Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin), The Edge (U2), and Jack White (White Stripes). Not so much a movie for guitarists singularly, it focused on how different events in each of their lives brought them to pick up a guitar and learn how to play. Random events meet random events, and poof...you're in Led Zeppelin. That's the stuff I find more interesting any day compared to who uses what amp or pedal. Still, choices that like lead to a musician finding his or her "voice" with the instrument and then translating through the wires the message/art one would like to share with the world (or maybe just the dog sitting at their feet).
After watching the film I found myself wondering, "What kind of guitarist am I?". Strangely, I guess it never really crossed my mind, but also I'm the kinda guy who doesn't believe someone is one thing or belief (i.e. "I'm a Republican goddammit!"). The more I thought about it, and though I do play guitar, I don't really feel like a "guitarist" in the sense of the word that I think most people use it. To me, the guitar has always felt like a means to an end to reach my ultimate goal...the song. If I hadn't learned guitar, I'm sure it would have been piano or something else. This seemed strange to me when I realized I felt that way, at the same time realizing maybe it was time I found out what my voice was. As they ask in the film..."What does your playing say about you?". Hmmmm. This is a good question.
Why did I start playing?
As honestly and as accurately as I can remember, I simply thought the look of the Alternative bands of the early 90's was one of the coolest things I've ever seen. That, along with the fact I was the annoyingly awkward age of 12 and began to see the definite gap in athletic abilities between my peers and I led me to think it was something I could make "my thing" apart from them. I'm guessing this is more common than not. I wasn't amazing when I started (much like now), but I had the drive to learn new chords and treat it with a kind of discipline I have yet to find myself feeling for any other new skill since then. My friend Matt Edington (who appeared on my COLLIDER album last year) and I took in a steady diet of MTV, VH1, and guitar magazines with hopes that someday we could be that cool as the guys we saw on tv. Again, not something I knew at the time, but looking back it was the longing to associate ourselves on that level...whatever that was.
As the 3 musicians in IMGL discussed and shared their influences with one another, I thought about who made up the building blocks of what I do unconsciously all the time when playing. Names that come to mind take the form of Peter Buck (R.E.M.), Stone Gossard (Pearl Jam), David Bryson (Counting Crows), and Billie Joe from Green Day. This was formative years stuff, and no matter what you think about the previous list of bands, each of these guys did have their own voices you could hear and are still associated with them today. My guess is that if you ask any player around my age they'd list a similar grouping of names. Interestingly enough, ask my band mates in EXPLONE who are 10 years older than me and you'd get a completely different set of names. It's all where you were and what you were listening to during your developing years that hold a special place in your musical DNA. We are the product of our environment, yes?
When I was starting out, I tried to play as many notes as possible to fill the space. It was loud and caustic, and for a 13 year old, that was pretty appropriate in retrospect. When I was 15 I heard the quote, "It's not what you play, it's what you don't play". This blew my mind. I started to listen to the bands I liked differently and realizing that if it's on 10 all the time...it doesn't mean anything. This is why bands like AC/DC seem so heavy; it the spaces between cuts like "Back In Black" that continually hit you in the head like a loose elephant of anticipation.
This is the foreplay of Rock N' Roll.
After I saw how cool this was it forever changed the way I write songs. I went through a period of playing extremely sparse guitar during my songs, I went through a punk style guitar phase (a phase I'm slipping back into), I even went though a time where I was going to be nothing but a "bluesman". Despite my current Rock-Pop sound, this is what I've always felt I am and try to be in the essence of my music. A bluesman connects with the core of the feeling of the song, and does the best he or she can to convey that feeling with the audience. This is something hope I always strive for consciously, and unconsciously.
I'd recommend "It Might Get Loud" to anybody who is a fan of good film making. It was inspiring, and at the same time made me think a little differently about what I do. Do I push myself as hard as I'd like as a guitarist? Honestly, probably not at all. I've gotten used to doing what I need do to serve the song, and play what I want to hear, but I know if I did start pushing the now pretty comfortable boundaries...the songs would get better. This is something I'm inspired to take on now as the result of this movie, and that's a good feeling.
All trying to find our voice,