Guthrie Govan


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mike150We at Loudguitars have been very fortunate to have crossed paths several times with Guthrie over the past few months. Guthrie is the guitar player’s guitar player. His style and flair have made him a favorite across genres. If there were ever any doubt that a lot of “it” is in the fingers and soul, once you have seen Guthrie perform there is no longer any doubt. Steeped in classic rock jazz and Frank Zappa-isms, Guthrie’s digits are capable of unleashing pretty much any sound his mind imagines and that, says he, should be the goal of any guitar player.

Guthrie gave what he said, was the best Aristocrat’s performance ever in Montreal in November 2011. Staff and friends who were in attendance, were in total agreement with Guthrie’s assessment.

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Those who were unfamiliar with his prowess prior to that show came away amazed and heartened that instrumental guitar music can be diverse, exhilarating, and capable of keeping a crowd enrapt and spellbound for two hours. An interview, photographs and live footage from that show can be found by clicking the following link, Guthrie Govan (Aristocrats)

Next up was a masterclass and concert at the amazing Cosmo Music complex north of Toronto, the following week. Guthrie had a crowd of paying patrons hanging on every word as he discussed his influences, approach to the instrument and ran through his gear before engaging in a question and answer session.

The 90 minutes passed in a flash mostly talk and a very few notes, used just to emphasize a point or a tone. The key to his own success he said, has been his ability, after years of practice, to seamlessly recreate on the instrument sounds he hears in his head. Almost a Zen-like state of guitar playing. That same evening, The Aristocats rocked the Cosmo performance theatre to a sold-out audience. During the course of this day, we were granted an interview with Guthrie and allowed to film short excepts from the masterclass and the show concert, thank you Cosmo Music.

Our next encounter with Guthrie was in November 2011 at the benefit concert for Jason Becker in Amsterdam. On this occasion, we were able to spend several days around Guthrie and others, get to know him and discuss many things musical and worldly.

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The highlight of this time was the amazingly awesome freeform jam that flowed from the souls of Guthrie, Atma Anur and the incredible Stu Hamm the very first time they had ever plugged in together. In fact, the very first time they had met! The room was mesmerized as the trio ran through an eight minute jam with playful Beatles and Zeppelin motifs appearing out of nowhere. Personally, I will never forget the experience. To watch Guthrie rehearse is a treat. He is very playful with his music and I must say, pretty much every other player there was in the room to watch him rehearse, and they were paying close attention.

The show itself showed us that Guthrie, who blew up his main amp and was switched to another quickly mid song, sounds like Guthrie no matter what he is plugged into. Yes Virginia, it is in the fingers and soul.  The photos and videos from the Jason Becker concert were covered in the (December) issue, and can be found by clicking on the following link and scrolling to Jason Becker Not Dead Yet – Summary

How fortunate we were again to cross paths with Guthrie at NAMM in January 2012! In fact Guthrie was staying in the same hotel as the Loudguitars crew, although we were not really able to hang together that much after hours as the Aristocrats had a gig pretty much every night in the SoCal area during the 4 days of NAMM. We did catch Guthrie at the T.C. Electrics booth for a couple of his performances.

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When Guthrie performs, heads turns. On both occasions we saw him in action in the cramped booth adjacent to the main aisle, the event fire marshals shut down his performances as hundreds crowded the booth, blocking the main access through the building.

Such is the power of a Guthrie performance.

He was also involved in a Suhr Factory tour and several other sundry activities. Guthrie did agree to a short interview to update what had transpired since our last sit down in Amsterdam. Here are those questions and answers:

LoudGuitars(LG): The “Italian” job, tell us how that happened, what you lost personally and how you compensated in the short term for that tour and for the long term (ie any irreplaceable items in the patented GG TeaTray)? Was anything ever recovered?

Guthrie Govan(GG): Back in December, I did a European tour  – mostly Italy, with some Holland/Germany/France thrown in for good measure – focusing largely on Erotic Cakes material, accompanied by my regular UK rhythm section and featuring my long-time jamming buddy Dave Kilminster as a “special guest”.

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With just two gigs left to go, we found ourselves in Rome, with a few hours to kill before soundcheck, so we stopped off at the Colosseum, hoping to have a look at some ancient Roman awesomeness prior to heading down to the venue. Well… our Italian hosts left the van parked in a very public place, in broad daylight, but this obviously didn’t deter the guys who broke into the van in our brief absence and pretty much emptied the vehicle :-/

I guess the thieves must have been pretty good at their job – you could still lock and unlock the van doors after they’d helped themselves to its contents, so I guess this wasn’t their first day in the field of professional crime! I do find it weird to think that literally hundreds of passers-by must have witnessed a team of criminals shifting a whole gig’s worth of musical equipment out of one white van and into another… and yet nobody thought this might be worth reporting!

It has to be said that the response from the Roman police was less than encouraging. From what I can gather, our news didn’t exactly surprise them, so their response was essentially: “Well, welcome to Rome: everyone here likes to break into vehicles and steal stuff!” At any rate, nobody bothered to come out to the scene of the crime and dust for prints, or anything like that: I guess TV’s portrayal of police methods may have left us with some unrealistically optimistic expectations 😉

Well… in terms of what was stolen, I personally got off pretty lightly. They took my signature “tea tray” pedal board, to be sure, but only one of the pedals on there was in any way unusual or hard to replace… and for some reason I was prescient enough to carry my gig bag with me when we went for our ill-fated wander around historic Rome: it contained not only my #1 Suhr but also my laptop and my passport, so I would have been truly screwed if I’d left that in the van! My brother Seth, on the other hand, lost his prized late ’80s Warwick Streamer Stage I bass, which he’d had since he was a teenager: that thing practically felt like a member of the family, so it had a lot of sentimental value (quite aside from the fact that it sounded fantastic, so it’s proving very difficult to find a worthy replacement…)

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A few gigs earlier, in Torino, we hired a three-man camera team to film the gig, in the hope that we’d be able to release a live DVD. Dave and I don’t often have the opportunity to play together these days, so we figured it would be nice to document an evening with this lineup… but of course the thieves took the footage from that shoot, too. (The saddest part here is surely the notion that those tapes are probably in a ditch somewhere in Eastern Europe by now, and may never be seen by anyone!)

Other than that, we lost a lot of rented (and, as it turned out, uninsured) backline: an SWR bass stack and two Brunetti Mercury guitar heads with accompanying 4×12 cabs, plus a bunch of smaller items. Nothing has been recovered thus far, and we’re not brimming with optimism, to be honest, but… well, you never know!

Doing our last two gigs was an interesting experience, to say the least! Each local promoter had to borrow lots of pedals, amps and a bass, at very short notice, so our backline for those shows was definitely less than ideal – but we figured we had to do the gigs, anyhow, so… that’s what we did 😉

I could only think of one way to deal with these events, and that was by adopting the stoic rationale that stuff like this happens every day, to all sorts of people: when we played in Rome that day, it just happened to be our turn. Nobody got hurt, most of the gear can replaced, one way or another, and… well, it could have been worse.

LG: At NAMM, every time you performed at the T.C. Electronics booth, the fire marshals shut you down as the main aisle was blocked. What were you demoing for TCE and how upsetting was that whole experience?

GG: In theory, my TC duties at NAMM entailed demoing some of the TonePrint pedals. (When I was doing the Dizzee Rascal gig, the brains of my rig was a TC G-System. In general, however, I’m more of a “pedals” kind of a guy – I don’t like overcomplicating things if it can be at all avoided – so in my current Aristocrats rig I’m using their Flashback delay, Hall of Fame reverb and Polytune Mini tuner…)

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As you say, the NAMM police seemed determined to cut the performances short: to be honest, I thought the whole thing was quite funny, and I wasn’t upset about it at all. The truth is that I don’t particularly enjoy playing along with backing tracks at low volumes, in front of a sea of cameraphones – that scenario is pretty far removed from a real gig, and it could only happen in a zoo-like environment such as the one which you’ll invariably find at the NAMM show – so I suppose we still managed to achieve everything that we set out to achieve. It drew a lot of people to the TC booth, after all… and I suppose it’s strangely flattering to think that my crowd actually reached such proportions that it was deemed to be unsafe. I mean, how rock ‘n’ roll is that?!

LG: Tell us a little about the Suhr factory tour. Is the wood pre-cooked or baked on premises? Which guitars/lines will be produced in that facility?

GG: Whenever I find myself tagging along on a Suhr factory tour, I tend to be the infuriating straggler – I’ll always end up getting distracted by a pretty piece of maple, or picking up a bass, or some such – so I can’t claim to understand the whole process!

In general terms, what I can say is that the factory seems to represent a perfect combination of man and machine working together. On the one hand, they have all manner of weird contraptions to ensure that the woods are always machined with a surgical degree of accuracy – for something like the carving of a neck joint, they can achieve a degree of precision which would be unthinkable for anyone who attempted to do the same thing the “old school” way. On the other hand, they also have a lot of hugely experienced people working there, who understand the more intuitive side of the guitar builder’s art – how to match the perfect neck to the perfect body to achieve the maximum natural resonance, for instance. There are certain aspects of making a guitar where you can’t trust a machine to provide the right answers, and the Suhr factory definitely has that “human element” covered!

With regard to what actually happens on site in the factory… well, most of it does, I think. I believe they source their roasted maple from elsewhere, and anything which requires a nitrocellulose finish has to be sprayed outside the state of California, for legal reasons, but… aside from a few little things like that, pretty much everything seems to get done in-house. They wind their own pickups, they have their own Plek machines to ensure the perfect setup, etc etc… Even with the new, more affordable Rasmus range, those guitars (which are made in the Far East) still end up being sent to the US factory for those finishing touches!

LG: After NAMM, you had the opportunity to meet Jason Becker in his home. How was that experience for you?

GG: Pretty intense, as you can doubtless imagine. Of course, the stuff Jason was doing on the guitar back in his teenage years was remarkable enough – the technical aspect of the way he was playing back in those days still seems like one of the ultimate reference points for any modern player in that genre – and yet somehow he managed to convey a real sense of humour and personality, even when he was playing the “shred” stuff.

What’s even more amazing, though, is the way he’s managed to come to terms with ALS: it’s a very rare human being who can deal with physical setbacks of such an unthinkable magnitude in the way that Jason has.

Call me an old hippie if you will, but I really did sense something deeply spiritual about Jason: he has a remarkable kind of “aura” and there’s something almost unnerving about the way he manages to communicate so much with only the most subtle of movements. Amazing.

LG: What projects are currently under way. Recording, video etc?

GG: Certain details have yet to be worked out, but one of my plans for this year is to write and record all the material for my next solo album. In other news, we’re aiming to have another Aristocrats album recorded by the end of the year, and we intend to film a live performance in California early this summer: the resulting footage may well turn into a live DVD, but let’s see how it turns out first 😉

In closing, I don’t think any other publication has had the good fortune that we had to cover Guthrie so extensively over this amazing four month period from the Aristocrats first ever tour, through NAMM 2012. You will always come away amazed at just what a charismatic and original performer he is. He has mastered his art with an almost zen-like control. Guthrie we salute you and agree with you when you call yourself a hippie!!! But don’t be so harsh on yourself, you are NOT a dirty one. Thank you for everything sir, very much looking forward to crossing paths again.

Mike Blackburn

 


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