As I type, a snowstorm is ripping across Highway 401, which runs through Southern Ontario roughly from Detroit to Montreal. I am sheltering from the storm with “Scattering Stars” Michelle Qureshi’s seventh album of instrumental compositions occasionally described as ambient, new age, electro-acoustic and neo-classical.
I would be hard-pressed to find a better fit on a day like today. Charting at #7 on the One World Music charts in the UK and #14 on the ZMR in the US, “Scattering Stars” is gaining a lot of positive attention for the Indiana-based composer and classically-trained guitarist. I for one am enchanted by this collection of pieces, which work equally well as relaxing background music or as compositions to be carefully unpacked.
When you think about ambient music, you don’t often think about the acoustic guitar. But the first thing you hear at the top of Beyond the Field, the opening track to “Scattering Stars”, is the ring of Michelle’s Stonebridge G-22CR-C. She sets the tone for a collection of pastoral and organic compositions with this gently plucked, deliberately paced piece for two guitars, supported by an ethereal pad.
For Crystals, Michelle continues in the two-guitars-plus-pad mode, but creates a new tonal landscape by switching to the electric, building up to one of the record’s rare upbeat moments, briefly channeling Floyd, before descending into a electro-symphonic movement which brings to mind the unearthly world alluded to in the album title.
From this brief diversion (which is built on and explored in the record’s second act), we return to the pastoral realm, with the acoustic guitar singing beautifully at the top of Bridge to Where I Do Not Know, one of the tracks that approaches the realm of “song” with its melodically-driven movements and its relatively concise and trackable structure.
I am fascinated by instrumental music. I am consistently in awe of the ability of ambient music to break free of established structural and melodic convention and to follow a more organic and environmentally responsive path. Listening closely to “Scattering Stars”, it’s clear that Michelle Qureshi knows exactly what she’s doing both as a composer and performer, but I encourage you to listen to the record more passively (at least initially) and allow the music’s natural, delicate motion to lead you along.
Still, it probably shows my bias that Dust, the fifth track, is a standout for me. In some ways, Dust closes the first act of “Scattering Stars” – a short piece for a solo acoustic guitar (supported only by a second guitar in the final coda), Dust shows Michelle at her most economical. The shortest track in the collection, I would call this a song as well, with her Stonebridge singing a beautiful, slightly moody melody played with a slide and showcasing Michelle’s distinct knack for hanging chords that inspire just enough tension to pull us along by the hand.
Michelle spends what I think of as the second act of “Scattering Stars” expanding the sonic template of the album. In Overheard, she uses sampled vocalizations and piano to bring us deeper into her inner world. In Chasing the Wind, she uses a wooden flute to evoke a pre-modern landscape. Stargazer is built around the album’s first appearance of percussion instruments, both electronic and acoustic. Forgetting Tomorrow is the most classical piece, with strings and piano evoking a cinematic effect that works as a perfect closer for act two.
What follows is a triptych of three lengthy pieces which bring the return of her Stonebridge and pull in all of the sounds and textures Michelle has developed throughout the album. Each of them alternate between the pastoral and melodic and the ambient and otherworldly, culminating in Solstice, which rewards three minutes of tense, textural exploration with the release of a chorus anchored by strummed acoustic guitar.
“Scattering Stars” closes with Philosophy, one of the most communicably emotional tracks on the album and one of the most rhythmic, conveying a sense of closure even as it introduces something new and strange to this collection. Michelle Qureshi brings a truly unique sound to Stonebridge guitars (or vice versa), which is undoubtedly familiar to fans of her Music Mondays series on Twitter, where she can be often seen improvising on her G-22CR-C.
You can listen to and buy “Scattering Stars” here: http://www.michellequreshi.com/music
There’s an old joke that goes something like this: A tourist in New York City stops to ask for directions. “Excuse me,” they say, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” The person replies, “Practice, practice, practice!”
Vin Downes never thought he’d get to play Carnegie Hall, though he’s been playing guitar for over 30 years. The story of how he got there – besides the practicing – begins back in his high school days, when he first picked up a Windham Hill Acoustic Sampler and discovered the guitarist David Cullen.
“His song ‘On the Way’ was the first song that changed my brain and made me want to study fingerstyle guitar and composing in that style.” – Vin Downes
After the release of his first album of instrumental contemporary fingerstyle compositions in 2007, Vin discovered that David Cullen, the guitarist who originally inspired Vin’s guitar-playing technique, was living in Reading, Pennsylvania, just a short drive from New Jersey. Vin took a chance and reached out to him to take a lesson on jazz and composition. David replied, inviting Vin to a show he was playing in New Jersey with Will Ackerman, the founder of Windham Hill Records. That was the first time Vin met both David and Will.
After the release of his second album in 2011, Will sent an email to Vin and invited him to come to Vermont to visit his studio, Imaginary Road. Having only met him the once, this email seemed surreal. Thinking it was some kind of impersonal boilerplate email, Vin let it sit in his inbox for a week before finally replying. Within 10 minutes, Will replied back and Vin and his wife were on their way to Vermont.
“Will gave me a little tour, it’s a pretty small space. And then I began to realize that what I had thought was a pretty casual visit was something more like a job interview. He asked me what my future plans were, where I saw myself… then at the very end he said ‘Alright, let’s make a record.’ I was blown away.”
In the meantime, Will had taken some time off of playing live as he began to develop a series of concert called The Gathering – each usually featuring four performers, often two guitarists and two pianists, all of whom were produced at Imaginary Road Studios by Will and his partner Tom Eaton. Once Will began to perform his own shows again he asked Vin if he would be interested in playing together.
“After the first few gigs we really clicked, and now pretty much any time he plays the East coast I’m there as his second guitarist. Even though we’ve been friends a long time now, I’m still amazed once and a while, because he influenced my music so much and was such an inspiration and now I get to play and work with him. He’s just a great musician, a great person and a great friend.”
And that’s how Vin Downes got to Carnegie Hall. In partnership with promoter Jeff Evers, Will Ackerman will be fulfilling his long-time dream of putting on a Gathering at Carnegie Hall, in the upstairs recital room on October 28th. The concert will feature Will, Vin, Lynn Yew Evers, Jill Haley, Trevor Gordon Hall and Eugene Friesen.
“The Gathering is like the rebirth of Will Ackerman’s Windham Hill group of musicians.”
In the meantime, there is no sign that Vin Downes is slowing down. Though he is working at the same level as some of his heroes, Will Ackerman, David Cullen and Michael Hedges, when I spoke to Vin, now in his 21st year as a school teacher, he told me that what he is most proud of is the classical guitar course he has introduced at Bayonne High School, which is the most popular class at the school with a hundred students going through every year. No Slayer, no Bieber, just all sheet music and strict classical technique.
“It’s amazing to see these kids go from knowing nothing at all, most of them haven’t even touched a guitar and have never read sheet music, to pretty quickly getting really into it. Classical guitar is the hardest one, so once these kids get this down, they can pick up any other kind of guitar style pretty easily.”
Vin himself recently switched to playing Stonebridge after he was accepted into the Artist Collaboration Program, initially picking up a G22CR-C in December 2014 at Guitar Tech NYC. While at the shop, he also fell in love with a parlor-sized guitar, the OOM32LM, and began saving up for his own custom deep body version.
He’ll be playing both of those guitars on his next album, which like his last record Unlike the Stars will again be produced by Will Ackerman at Imaginary Studios in Vermont this summer for a release in the Christmas season. The album will feature some world
class guest musicians
“I’ve always been looking to make a great guitar album, so even with some heavier overdubs this time around, that remains the focus.”
When I was in university, I was pretty uptight about the guitar. I thought that using capos was cheating and that open-tunings were boring – to the point that I wrote a couple of pieces of music in standard that imitated some of the chording and motions often associated with open tunings in order to “prove” that open tunings were lazy.
Today I’m a much better guitarist and I use capos and open tunings most of the time. It’s obvious now that I was naive not to recognize the tonal possibilities that those tools provided, but at the same time I’m glad I developed my skills in standard tuning and the more advanced chording required by not using a capo, so that I could have a solid foundation before I began adding these additional elements into my technique.
A technique that pales compared to Kris Schulz, as showcased on his new solo album While the City Sleeps, self-released this past January and being supported by a tour which began on Wednesday, May 4th in Kris’ home of New Westminster, BC and will be reaching Montreal before the month is over.
Now in his 40th year, Kris Schulz, a lifetime multi-instrumentalist with a 25-year career in guitar teaching and one of the coolest-sounding jobs in the world (personal guitar instructor at the video game developer Electronic Arts) has made his first solo guitar record in While the City Sleeps. Coming fresh off the heels of placing 4th at the Canadian Fingerstyle Competition, it’s a record that feels overdue.
Despite a genre going by the slightly-misleading name of “percussive fingerstyle”, While the City Sleeps is a very melodic record, with the well-chosen leading track “Through Your Eyes” setting the tone with a pastoral and uplifting vibe. This tune already shows Kris’ well-developed instinct for movement and his ability to tell an emotional story with nothing but a single guitar.
Kris doesn’t stray from the single-guitar formula for any of the 13 mostly-lengthy tracks on this album, and while from a lesser performer this would be tiresome, here it is very welcome. The second track “Sagroovian Juice” begins similarly low-key, with arpeggiated chords only subtly suggesting a tonal shift from the opener, until about 30 seconds in when the tune jumps to a much more aggressively played bluesy groove interspersed with a harmonic-heavy section showcasing Kris’ ability to play lead, rhythm and percussion parts simultaneously.
Strange as it sounds, since this is a solo guitar record, While the City Sleeps showcases the fact that Kris is a multi-instrumentalist by trade. Though the common association of percussive fingerstyle with metal music is well-earned, and Kris does indeed have a background in metal, the musicality at work here is so effective because it clearly draws from so many genres, techniques and influences.
That being said, the third track “Circadian Rhythms” could be easily called acoustic metal. The melodies, guitarmonies, time signatures, and multi-movement structure all fit what you’d expect from metal, except that it’s played on a single unamplified instrument.
Not one to be easily-defined, though, Kris immediately moves away from that sound with “Dave the Grizzly”, which is the most memorable track for me, perhaps because it’s the one that comes across the most as a “song”, a term I typically avoid using to describe instrumental music. It follows a distinct lead melody and has a defined verse and chorus, and the music is mournful, almost funereal, and quite beautiful.
With other highlights including the title track, the folky “Larch Hill”, and the what-would-Radiohead-do-with-a-single-acoustic-guitar “Gray Never Felt So Good” this is a remarkably consistent record, a little lengthy but with no skippable tracks, beautifully recorded and perfect for any number of moods
As for the performance, you could do no better than to catch Kris at Schulz at one of his upcoming shows across Canada:
- 05/04 New Westminster BC @ The Heritage Grill
- 05/05 Chilliwack BC @ Tractorgrease
- 05/06 Kelowna BC @ Doc Willoughby’s
- 05/07 Enderby BC @ Lorenzo’s
- 05/09 Golden BC @ The Golden Taps
- 05/10 Revelstoke BC @ The Last Drop
- 05/11 Canmore AB @ TBA
- 05/12 Lethbridge AB @ Mocha Cabana
- 05/13 Calgary AB @ Vern’s
- 05/14 Edmonton AB @ Brittany’s Lounge
- 05/16 Regina SK @ The Artful Dodger open mic
- 05/19 Kitchener ON @ The Boathouse w/ Luke Michielsen
- 05/20 Toronto ON @ The Central Bar w/ Dylan Ryche
- 05/21 Montreal QC @ TBA
- 05/25 Kitchener ON @ Bread Heads w/ Luke Michielsen
- 05/26 Winnipeg MB @ The Ship & Plough
- Through Your Eyes
- Sagroovian Juice
- Circadian Rhythms
- Dave the Grizzly
- Ferus Caballus
- A Smile From India
- While the City Sleeps
- Larch Hill
- Dime on D
- When Friends Fall
- Gray Never Felt So Good
- Ten More Seconds
Kris Schulz plays a Furch/Stonebridge OM31SR-C-DB as his main guitar. It is a deep body OM with sitka spruce top and Indian rosewood back/sides.
More more photos and demo videos click here: http://www.sgimarketplace.com/?product=stonebridge-om31sr-c-65083
Earlier this month, Calum Graham released an exceptional new full length album called Tabula Rasa. It’s a 12 song solo album featuring instrumentals, vocals, and new songs written on the harp guitar with guest performances by Michael Manring and Antoine Dufour.
To preview the new album and order a CD copy please visit: http://calumgraham.com/home
Luke Michielsen: For those who don’t know, what is the meaning of the title Tabula Rasa?
Calum Graham: Tabula rasa means blank slate in latin.
LM: Your album has an amazing ‘sound’ throughout. Instruments and voice are blended seamlessly with lots of reverb and space. How did you and Antoine Dufour decide on which direction to take sound wise?
CG: Well, basically with this album I was hoping to achieve a sound as close to what you would hear at my live show as possible. Other than the odd duet (Farewell with Michael Manring and Point Of Contact, an intro piece with Antoine) – everything is played by me. It’s mostly just with one guitar. I use a loop pedal on Half Your Heart and Phoenix Rising but other than that, we’ve created a listening experience similar to my live shows. Of course it’s touched up a little with background vocals and stuff.
We just wanted to keep it bare bones and make the guitar and vocals shine in that sense. And I happen to have a couple effects pedals that helped add a pad sound throughout. All in all we’ve got a really stripped down acoustic raw sound.
LM: How much did the production techniques influence changes or ideas within your compositions? For example, was the decision to use delay on certain guitar parts something that happened before working with Antoine, or did you decide on the effects during production?
CG: For one, it’s produced by Antoine Dufour, so that’s the main answer. He really knows what he’s doing when it comes to production and getting the right flow of the song, so he had a couple things that he pointed out, a couple suggestions that I took. He had really good things to say and bring to the table.
I’m really happy with how that turned out. A number of effects – delays, reverbs, a couple loops in there. Even a low-fi delay, that just helped change up the sound and make it a little more interesting than the original recording of Pheonix Rising.
CG: Yeah, I’ve been writing vocal material for a couple years but it was all really bad to begin with. I didn’t have much to work with as a singer.
It really took time to develop, though I’d throw in a vocal song at shows here and there and get encouragement from people saying it’s nice to hear you sing with what you do on the guitar.
Then I had a conversation with Don Ross who said, “If there’s one thing I wish I’d done in my career it’s that I wish I’d sung sooner.” Basically what happened is that Don was recognized as an unbelievable guitar player and he started singing too late in his career so people never took him seriously when he sang.
He told me if you can do it sooner and people can grow with you, your vocals and your guitar stuff, then you’re on the right track.
LM: With the previous success of your instrumental guitar pieces, what was behind the decision to start releasing songs with vocals now?
CG: Putting vocal songs out is very new for me. I released the single Burning Up last year to get a feel for how people responded to the style. These are the first six vocal songs that I feel have matured to the point that I wanted to release them on an album.
LM: I noticed variations on the theme of love in the vocal songs. Each seems to reference different aspects of love from dangerous relationships (Wild Woman), communication (Half Your Heart), supporting each other (Lighthouse), mystery/honesty (Ghost) and acceptance (Easy To Love). These songs must be very personal to you. Why did you choose to sing about themes of love?
CG: Love is universal. You know, writing from the relationships that I’ve been in, what I’ve learned about love, the different themes or sides of love just seemed honest to where I’m at as a 24-year-old young man.
Also it’s a comfort zone too. Writing beyond that is a challenge for me. It’s my first vocal album and that’s what made the most sense.
LM: A fan of yours was able to tell that the track Nomad is a tribute to Michael Hedges.
CG: Yeah that was really cool actually. Basically I wrote it as a tribute to Hedges by using that kind of hammer-on/pull-off technique kinda “whacka whacka” thing that he made famous and turned that into a whole song. That’s how the fan was able to pick out the tribute to Hedges.
LM: What has Michael Hedges music meant to you?
CG: Michael’s music is pure inspiration for me. Just listening to his compositional ideas and his brilliance as a real original artist is refreshing to the ear. He inspires me to find that original authenticity in myself, in my playing and really bring that out.
And also to really write from the heart, you know. There are so many guitar players out there that can play a mile a minute and it’s amazing to watch but you know it’s…
With Michael’s music it was all about the feeling and the emotion and I think that’s definitely what he has inspired me to do in my own playing, to tell a story with the music and say it from your heart. That’s it.
LM: The track Farewell features Michael Manring and I know he is a skilled improviser. Were his tracks improvised in the studio? Did you improvise anything on this track?
CG: Michael Manring was working from his studio in California so we were basically doing this back-and-forth over dropbox. He sent me a few different ideas and Antoine and I got in the studio and put together our favourite takes and that was it.
Eventually it would be nice, you know at the Canadian guitar Festival or something, to see him and play that live. For the recording it was all done through remote studios.
LM: Interestingly on the last tune Whiskey Sunrise, I felt a bit of a David Wilcox – Do the Bearcat feel. Very light hearted fun.
CG: That’s funny you pick that up on Whiskey Sunrise [chuckle] . That was a song my dad used to play back in the day a lot. Yeah that song…
LM: Did you think about creating a balance in mood between all the tracks on this album?
CG: Yeah, I was hoping to give a lot of variety on the album. From stripped down raw acoustic guitar to reverb and vocals, background vocals, some looping, percussion, those kind of things. I wanted to have as full of a spectrum as I could while keeping with the idea of being able to perform the album live with one guitar.
The balance in mood was really just thinking about a full show and the full spectrum of emotions that you want to take people through. We wanted to have a little bit of everything.
I was actually really amazed with how good the 24SK sounded in the studio. It had a lot of sustain and it was really well balanced. We were very happy with the result.
Congratulations to everyone at FretMonkey Records for a successful label launch.
We are excited to see that so many Stonebridge Artists have found a home at FretMonkey Records including Adrian Bellue, Kris Schulz, Aaron Edward, Haytham Mohamed, Kevin Blake Goodwin, Jamie Dupuis, Adam Crossman, Anthony Troy, and Joseph Lyle.
For more information on their services for musicians please visit www.fretmonkeyrecords.com
To read the full story of the label click here: FretMonkey Story Stonebridge
We’d like to recognize the following artists that joined the Stonebridge family in 2015 through the Artist Collaboration Program. We are truly thankful to have so many quality artists representing our company. Your dedication to making beautiful music is inspiring, and we’re proud of you! Let’s toast to another year of doing what we love.
Here’s a look at some of the exciting artists who joined our roster in 2015:
Aaron Edward – Aaron Edward is a guitarist and songwriter from Tulsa, Oklahoma who composes transcendent, instrumental music.
Guitar: G24LK (alpine, Hawaiian koa) http://www.aaronedwardmusic.com
Alex Lanier – Lives in Wilmington, North Carolina where he performs mostly acoustic shows with his band L Shaped Lot.
Guitar: Custom D32AM (adirondack, mahogany) http://www.lshapelot.com
Allan Hurd – Musician, singer and producer from Montreal, Quebec.
Guitar: G23CR-C-B2 (cedar, rosewood with tobacco sunburst) http://www.ourseaudio.com
Andrew Frelick – Country songwriter and performer from Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Custom Guitar: D31SW-C-B2 (spruce, walnut with tobacco sunburst) www.andrewfrelick.com
Bradly Parsons – Member of the Dominion (The Boys) from Salem, Virginia via Florida.
Guitar: G24LR-C (alpine spruce, rosewood) http://www.thedominiontrio.com
Kevin “Blake” Goodwin – Fingerstyle player from Conway, Arkansas.
Guitars: G21SW-C (sitka, walnut) & BAR24CR (baritone with cedar, rosewood) http://www.kevinblakegoodwin.com
Chris Kirby – Songwriter and producer from Newfoundland.
Guitar: G24CR (cedar, rosewood) www.chriskirbyonline.com
Craig Rigney – Worship leader from Austin, Texas.
Guitar: OOM32LM-B (alpine, mahogany with sunburst) www.craigrigney.com
Dana Potvin – Lead singer of Calling Glory on Soncured records out of Athens, TN.
Custom Guitar: D31CR with dalmatian pickguard (cedar, rosewood) www.soncured.com
Danika Holmes – Singer songwriter and performer from Nashville, Tennessee.
Custom Guitar: OM25KK (all Hawaiin koa) www.danikaholmes.com
Drew Dockerill – Singer songwriter from California.
Guitar: G22SR-C (sitka, rosewood) https://www.facebook.com/drewdockerillmusic
Gerald Flemming – Songwriter and one half of duo Infinitely More.
Guitar: G24CK-C (cedar, koa) www.infinitelymore.ca
Jeb Hart – Creator of Six Month Guitar and sideman to Danika Holmes from Nashville.
Custom Guitars: G25ASC-C (adirondack, cocobolo) and G25LMR-C (alpine, madagascar rosewood) both with 7 chakras custom inlay design. https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/sixmonthguitar/six-month-guitar-play-to-your-potential-live-your
Jeff Kelly – Honest folk music from Indianapolis, Indiana.
Guitar: OOM33LR (alpine, rosewood) https://jeffkellyacoustic.bandcamp.com/releases
Jesse Daniel Smith – A musician and content wiz from Montreal, Quebec.
Guitar: D31SR-LEFT (sitka, rosewood) http://jessedanielsmith.com
Jimmie Ingram – Session musician and staff at Austin Stone in Austin, TX.
Guitar: OM34LR-DB (alpine, rosewood) www.jimmieingram.com
Joe Kye – Songwriter, performer, singer with his violin and mandolin in NYC.
Mandolin: Stonebridge MA20CM (cedar, mahogany) www.joekye.com
Joseph Lyle – Fingerstyle player and singer songwriter from Boise, Idaho.
Guitar: G24CR (cedar, rosewood) https://www.instagram.com/josephsmusic/
Justin Melton – Worship leader at FBC Loganville.
Guitar: G22CM (cedar, mahogany) http://www.fbcloganville.org/ministries/worship/
Lance Allen – Fingerstyle guitarist and guitar instructor from Smyrna, TN.
Guitar: G23CM-C (cedar, mahogany) http://lanceallenstudio.com
Mark Barnowski – Nashville songwriting and head of the Tennessee Songwriters Association International.
Guitar: OM31SR-DB (sitka, rosewood) http://www.tennesseesongwriters.com
Matt Colligan – Singer-songwriter from New Jersey.
Guitar: G24LR (alpien spruce, rosewood) http://www.mattcolligan.com
Matt Eley – Member of The Modern Savage from Anchorage, Alaska.
Guitar: OM31SR-DB (sitka, rosewood) www.themodernsavagemusic.com
Matt Nakoa – Internationally touring singer/songwriter from NY.
Custom Guitar: D22SR-C-LEFT strung righty (sitka, rosewood) http://www.mattnakoa.com
Myles Goodwyn – Lead singer of April Wine.
Guitar: D23SR-12 twelve string (sitka, rosewood) https://www.facebook.com/mylesf.goodwyn/posts/433897610138554
Peter Light – Singer-songwriter from Guelph, ON
Guitar: OM24CR (cedar, rosewood) http://peterlightmusic.com
Safe As Houses – Alt-folk band from Kitchener, ON.
Guitar: OM32LM-DB (alpine spruce, mahogany) www.safeashouses.ca
Sasha Aaron – Country singer/songwriter from Miami, FL.
Guitar: G24LC-C (alpine spruce, cocobolo) http://www.sashaaaron.com
Scott Bravo – Fingerstyle guitarist from NYC.
Guitar: G22CM (cedar, mahogany) scottdangerbravo.com
Sean Reyes – Singer songwriter from Guelph, ON
Guitar: G20CM-C (cedar, mahogany) www.seanreyesmusic.com
Sheryl Paige – Singer-songwriter and ambient music maker from Florida.
Guitar: G25CR-C (cedar, rosewood) https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/467842040/the-sierra-nevada-ambient-sound-project
Sheryl Bailey – Jazz guitarist from NYC.
Guitar: OM31SR-DB (sitka, rosewood) www.sherylbailey.com
Stu Marchand – Singer-songwriter living in Fort MacMurray, AB.
Custom Guitar: D34AM-B2 (adirondack, madagascar rosewood) http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/stumarchand1
Travis Bowman – Fingerstyle player from Little Rock, Arkansas.
Guitar: SJ21SW-C (sitka, walnut) https://www.facebook.com/TravisBowmanMusic
Turtle Zwadlo – Bassist for Brittany Marie and others from Virginia.
Bass: B61CM (cedar, mahogany) http://brittanymarieofficial.com
Vinnie Paolizzi – Singer songwriter from West Chester, PA.
Guitar: OM31SM (sitka, mahogany) http://www.vinniepaolizzimusic.com
Wayne Janssen – Fingerstyle guitarist from Langley, BC.
Custom Guitar: G25LC-C with custom inlay (alpine spruce, cocobolo) Wayne’s YouTube Channel
Thanks again to all of our new artists!! Proud of you!
I was immediately impressed when I came across Adrian Bellue improvising on YouTube last year. Within minutes, I sent him an email asking him to participate in the Stonebridge Artist Collaboration Program (ACP). This was his response:
“Stonebridge makes incredible instruments. I spent an entire weekend playing Antoine Dufour’s signature model Stonebridge as well as several very expensive high end hand made guitars at the Healdsburg Guitar Festival last year. The Stonebridge I played was exceptional, and played and sounded better then some of the best luthier instruments in the world. I knew after spending the many hours with Antoine’s Stonebridge that this was the guitar company I had been searching for.” -Adrian Bellue
I had the pleasure of interviewing Adrian about the new album and his experience recording with Antoine Dufour.
Luke: Why the album title, Steppes?
Adrian: My latest album, Steppes, is themed around stepping in a new direction of sound and growth. I’ve always been fascinated with nomadism, particularly the people from a place called Tuva, which is located in the Altai region, near the Russian steppes of southern Siberia.
The Tuvan people are known for a unique style of throat singing, or overtone singing. There are many cultures that throat sing, but Tuva has one of the most diverse range of styles that are unique to the Tuvan people.
Luke: The throat singing on the album sounds amazing. You were telling me how you can throat sing two notes at the same time? Please elaborate.
Adrian: Using the partials from a sound wave made by singing, the singer can manipulate the resonances that are created as air travels from the lungs, past the vocal folds, and eventually out of the lips to produce a melody.
Those partials made by the human voice can be selectively amplified by changing the shape of the resonant cavities of the mouth, larynx, and pharynx. This “resonant tuning” makes the singer appear to be creating more then one pitch at the same time, while actually only creating a single fundamental frequency with the vocal chords.
Luke: It sounds ethereal and effectively adds another level to your guitar focused music. What were the highlights of recording with Antoine Dufour?
Adrian: I’ve studied the Tuvan people and practiced throat singing for many years now, and I’ve taught myself a variety of these throat singing techniques. I’ve always wanted to combine my influence from Tuva with my original music, and when I ran into Antoine at the 2015 Winter NAMM show, I asked him if he could help me make my vision come true. Working with him was one of the highlights of my life. Not only is he an incredible musician and a big influence on my own music, Antoine also has a highly developed ear and really knows how to vision a soundscape.
A highlight of recording with Antoine was using his handmade Noble harp guitar for a track. I’d played harp guitars before, but I had never been able to finance a fine handmade one, (until Stonebridge starts making them). I asked Antoine if I could try to improvise a tune with his, and the track “Local Grown” was born in the studio.
The overall sound design for the title track “Steppes” was a lot of fun too. We used a baritone track and layered some harmonies using a cello bow on my standard guitar. Using some studio techniques to get a rich sonic palette to work with, we reconfigured the studio space for vocals and I sang my heart out.
Luke: Beyond recording the album with Antoine Dufour, what were some of the highlights of just hanging out with him during that time?
Adrian: Time spent in his studio working together to create the album was a lot of fun and very little stress. Antoine is just a rad dude, and when we weren’t making the studio magic happen, we were busy talking about life and sharing stories. Antoine has been a huge influence in helping me move forward, and encouraged me to incorporate throat singing with my music when we first met on tour in 2013, with Craig D’Andrea.
After all was said and done, we had a few drinks to celebrate, and Antoine asked me to beatbox and we did a one take beatbox track that we added as a hidden song on the album.
Luke: Antoine Dufour isn’t the only guitarist who has been supportive of your direction. Tell me about your relationship with Andy McKee.
Adrian: Many of my musical influences have been supportive, including Andy McKee. I met Andy some time ago and shared my story with him. After that, I was in Hawaii playing some music when I decided to do a reggae twist on his tune “Ebon Coast”, partially due to all the reggae I heard on the islands. He loved the groove and shared it on social media and got me some momentum in the digital realm. Since then he had me open a handful of shows on his west coast tours, and hires me as a guitar tech at his Musicarium camp in NYC, where I also hosted and emcee’d the open mics he held.
Working with him is a blessing, it’s only a few short years ago I was tinkering around the Internet admiring his playing from afar, and now sharing the stage with him is a dream come true. I always have to stop and give thanks to those that have shown me support on this crazy musical endeavor called life.
Luke: We all need support. I think you’re right that we have to be thankful for our supporters. Now, let’s talk guitars. What Stonebridge guitars did you use on this album?
Adrian: As for the album itself, we used a Stonebridge G23SC-C and a Furch BAR24CR. After you guys found me, I sold my car and bought my first Stonebridge, and had been writing and performing on it exclusively for some time. Eventually, I realized how my vocal range was really in baritone, and I knew the album needed one. Luckily, Stonebridge has my back, and made sure one was ready to go for me in Montreal.
These guitars really made the album, and it was like a kid walking into a candy store when I first entered the studio and saw a new baritone waiting for me. I’ve definitely come to terms that the baritone is my main instrument and my vocal range as a throat singer.
Luke: Thanks for the insightful answers. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Adrian: Another big thanks goes to my fans and my manager. I couldn’t fund this project alone, and being a relatively young and fresh name in the game, it’s hard to run a crowd funding campaign without a large fanbase. But quality overcame quantity, and 80 fans helped back my project and gave it life. Thanks to some good friends that donated time to make a good campaign video for me, I spent 30 days treating my smartphone like it was my job. I networked and shared my project across the web and we funded the project in just under a month. It was just in time for a big concert I did at a TEDx event, and then I flew out to Montreal the next day and made magic happen!
Before listening to a record for the first time, I don’t like to read too much about it. This was the case when I first heard Dave Gunning’s latest album, Lift, which brought me back to a chilly night in Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia. It was the night I stumbled by chance into a theatre where J.P. Cormier was playing, when I was so visibly entranced by the songs and his virtuosic playing that the usher allowed me to stand at the back of the room and listen despite not having a ticket to the sold out show.
In retrospect, it’s no surprise that Dave’s songs reminded me of this night. As it turns out, J.P. Cormier played on Lift and Dave has worked as a producer with him. I’m sure the texture of Dave’s production and J.P.’s playing helped me to reach that comparison, but more than that it’s the timeless construction and quality of the songs that had me identifying Dave Gunning as a member of an elite group of east coast tunesmiths along with the likes of J.P. Cormier, Catherine Maclellan and David Francey.
Lift is an album laced with nostalgia. From the opening track, “They Don’t Do That No More”, a lament for a slower, more natural way of life that has gone by the wayside, nearly every song on Lift considers what we may be leaving behind in the endless march of progress. Dave is constantly looking over his shoulder to the proverbial Good Old Days, but he doesn’t stray too far from honest, personal material for his stories to feel disconnected from modern ears.
Like all great balladeers, Dave’s songs have a strong sense of place. Even the songs with titles pointing to far-away places, “Pasadena” and “Alberta Gold”, speak of Maritimers out of their element, and it’s hard to picture any of the stories taking place more than a stone’s throw from the Atlantic. The imagery in “Breaker’s Yard”, salty wind and ferris wheels, is especially vivid and makes it a highlight of the album for me.
Dave breaks from the mold for the song “Sing It Louder”, a call-to-arms protest song consciously written in the style of Pete Seeger. Perhaps for that reason, this track doesn’t resonate as well with me as the rest of the album. In imitating Guthrie’s style, Dave sacrifices some of his own distinctive voice, resulting in a song that lacks specificity and narrative drive. While this is a politically charged album, in most of the tracks the politics are couched in believable stories about people and places, and the songs are stronger for that.
The instrumentation throughout is tastefully sparse, performed primarily by Dave himself on guitar, bass and banjo with a few guests thrown in to provide a little bit of colour and textural variety in the form of some fiddle, steel and harmony, most fully realized on the stand-out track “I Robbed the Co. Store”. With a few exceptions, the album is a essentially a guitar and voice album, showcasing the strength of Dave’s songs and performance and providing an experience very close to seeing the man live.
As I lover of the great Canadian folk song, I think this is the best way to hear a collection of tunes such as this. The textures and arrangements are used conservatively, only as needed to support and augment the lyrics and melody, the real meat of the music. With Lift, he has managed what few have pulled off, to make a record that sits firmly within the folk tradition while remaining contemporary and relevant. By stripping away the artifice Dave Gunning has created an immediate and deeply human album.
Dave plays a Stonebridge G25CC (grand auditorium, cedar top, cocobolo back and sides), a OOM30SM (the guitar in the feature photo), and a 12 string.
1. They Don’t Do That No More
2. A Tractor
3. This Changin’ Wind
4. Sing It Louder
5. Breakers’ Yard
6. A Halo That Fits
7. I Robbed The Company Store
8. From On Higher Ground
9. Love Fell In
10. Alberta Gold
12. The Red Onion
13. To Be With You
Open mics are a vastly underutilized resource available to musicians. While no one’s going to be making a sustainable living exclusively from open mic performances, there’s a lot that many musicians don’t take into consideration. Some of these steps might seem like no-brainers, but we hope that they’ll help you on your musical journey!
Step 0. Why?
How does $1200/hr pay sound? I’ve been able to make more than $300+ off of a single open mic performance on several occasions. Not bad for 10-30 minutes of playing time! But it goes beyond the money. What is most important to venues? Easy: draw. Draw = money.
Don’t have a good draw? It’s time to find people to support you! Where’s a place you can play for free (or nearly free) in front of a crowd? Open mics. Where can you find an audience full of music lovers who want to hear music? Open mics. Where can you network with other musicians in an environment where you can hear them strut their best/newest stuff? Open mics.
Let’s get started.
Step 1. Prepare
First, you have to find an open mic. Resources like Openmikes.org are tremendous in helping you find open mics near you. Treat this like a true show. Most open mics will give you 2-3 songs (10-15 minutes), but be sure to know the rules ahead of time if you can. Some have featured acts who get prime time slots and a longer set. Grab these if you can! Talk to the host ahead of time if his/her/their contact info is readily available.
Next, have something to plug: merch, an upcoming show, a crowdfunding campaign, etc. Generally, people aren’t going to throw money at you because you play well (even though they probably should). That way, you can plan your …
Set list! I know, ridiculous, right? Why do I have to have a set list if I’m only playing 2-3 songs? Because there’s more to a performance than the music … if you want to make money. How do you introduce yourself in a way that stands out from the other performers? When do you make your plugs? How do you make your performance truly memorable? Who do you thank after your performance?
As a musician, your job is to create an experience for your audience. They want to feel like they drove from work, went to play at some open mic, and met the next [insert awesome musician here]. When you’re famous, they want to be able to say, “I met that guy/gal years ago at an open mic! He/she was super cool to us!”
Step 2. Show-up early
If it’s an open sign-up, show up early, especially if it’s a popular open mic. Otherwise, you might not get a slot. Also, you can get a sense of who the “regulars” of the mic are. Look for people who are chummy and happy to see each other. Get yourself tuned, warmed-up, and relaxed. Showing-up early will ensure you have enough time to …
Step 3. Connect
Introduce yourself to the host. Learn his/her name. Ask if there’s any way to help (they’ll most often kindly say, “No,” to a newcomer anyway). Talk to anyone who seems like regulars. Talk to people who are loners. Talk to the bar/restaurant staff. Be friendly. Order food and drinks. Make people happy. This is good practice for what you’ll need to be doing as a musician anyway. Don’t spend the entire time warming up and ignoring everyone else: you’ll ruin the surprise you have in store for them. Listen to everyone. Applaud everyone. Share kind words to any musicians you think stand out. In no time, it’ll be your time to …
Step 4. Perform & plug
Do what you do best. Start with your most attention-grabbing song. You want the entire place to go silent in awe. After you have their attention, connect with them. Share a story. Tell a joke. Throw a contest to promote your merch (“Whoever can guess what I had for lunch gets a free CD!” or “What state do you think I was born in?”, etc). Anything. The time between your songs is just as important as the music itself. It’s also the best time to plug whatever you’re trying to plug. A good pitch will help you sell merch.
End with a song that ends with an impact, something they can take home with them. If you have a middle song, it’s a good place for a sing-along cover or something new that you’re trying to test out. Any “moments” you can create will make for a better open mic outing.
Step 5. Be a class act
Thank the host, venue, sound guy, bar/restaurant staff, etc. Be nice to everyone there. Get people to applaud the person before. Hype the person after you. Be generous to those you like your music. Some people might not have cash or money on their card. If you have a sampler you can give them, they’ll appreciate it.
Step 6. Passively schmooze
Impress people enough, and you’ll likely get some people coming up to compliment you. You’ll get everything from a, “Nice job dude!” to someone who wants to sit down and have a lengthy conversation. Give everyone the time of day, but be kind to other performers and try to move to somewhere where the conversation won’t interfere with another performer. Say something like, “Hey, would you mind following me over there? I have to put my gear away and want to stay out of everyone’s way.”
Be engaging, but if there’s a line forming, look for opportunities to kindly end the conversation so you can talk to others. An easy way is to move the conversation into asking if they’d be willing to join your mailing list. While they’re scribbling their info, you can start the conversation with the next person. Everyone who’s taking the time to come talk to you is a potential, future fan (AKA local draw!) and/or someone who’s willing to buy some merch (AKA gas money!).
Step 7. Actively schmooze
Not everyone who enjoyed your music will feel bold. If you had a strong, positive reception in the room, you’ll want to grab some merch and walk around the room with your mailing list kindly going person to person asking if they’d like to sign-up. It also helps to have something simple to stay like, “Hey! Thanks so much for coming out and supporting local music! Would you be interested in joining my mailing list?” If you saw them perform before, them definitely say something positive about their performance. Sometimes, you’ll have to explain to people what it’s for (updating about shows, get a free song download, etc) and that it’s risk free (info’s kept private, you won’t spam them, etc). You’ll be surprised at how many people not only join your mailing list but also end up buying merch as well!
Step 8. Stick around
Many musicians don’t get a lot out of open mics because they basically practice the entire time leading up to their performance then jet right after their performance. It’s poor etiquette. The more people you get to know, the more you’ll get out of your night. I can’t tell you how many well-paying private shows I got from quietly-listening audience members who got my contact info from a host/performer I’d befriended.
Performers want to be listened to, and even if everyone clears by the end of the night, those last few performers are going to remember you for being there to listen to their music. The host will probably notice it as well.
Step 9. Wrap-up schmooze
This has all been about relationship building, both in the short term as well as long term. Before you leave, say a friendly, “Goodbye & thanks!” to everyone you connected with that night. They’ll be much more likely to remember you down the line.
Step 10. Follow-up
You may come home with a bunch of CDs, business cards, social media cards, and music recommendations. Make the time to contact everyone who gave you their contact info. Add the new sign-ups to your mailing list right away! Go the extra step and record a short video for them thanking them for coming out to the open mic.
Do your social media follow-ups as you would a regular show, thanking people, posting pictures, writing about your experiences.
If you found the open mic through a website that allows you to review it, write some feedback. Hosts love it!
Phew! There you have it! A lot of work, no? For the performing musician, this may seem like overkill for “just an open mic.” And for those who consistently have a good draw at every market they play, that’s probably true. However, I’ve seen plenty of full-time artists use this process to KILL at open mics and promote an upcoming show nearby (or better yet, at that very venue!).
We hope you find this guide useful! Please let us know your thoughts and share it with anyone you think would find this useful! Anything you’d add? Anything you found useful? Any funny stories from open mics?
The hard work it takes for a musician to transform from a humble beginner into an established professional often goes ignored. Guitarist Kevin “Blake” Goodwin put in the hard work, and it is paying off.
I interviewed Blake to find out what he did to prepare for the 2015 Canadian Fingerstyle Guitar Competition. He has studied with several guitar masters and made some new friends along the way. It clearly worked, as he took 1st place in the competition and won a Furch G21SW-C from Stonebridge Guitars along with a spot on the Stonebridge Artist roster.
Henry Nam: What was your experience like at the Canadian Guitar Festival?
Blake: I can honestly say that I had no expectation of winning, or even getting to compete. I somehow managed to win 1st place.
Most amazingly, I entered the competition as a stand-by contestant (since I signed up late) and wasn’t guaranteed a spot in the competition when I arrived. A competitor didn’t show up, and by default, I got the opportunity to play.
Winning the competition, particularly over some of the best artists I have ever heard, was beyond my wildest dreams. Beyond the birth of my son, it has been the single-most exciting moment of my life.
Henry: That’s amazing! Beyond that strike of luck — because clearly, luck didn’t have everything to do with the win — what do you think led to your victory? What has this past year of preparation and musical growth looked like?
Blake: In an attempt to jump start my career as a solo artist, I entered the longest running Guitar Wars competition in San Antonio this past May, and placed 3rd.
In June, I attended Joe Satriani’s G4 Experience in Cambria, California to take a number of master classes. The G4 masters included Tosin Abasi of Animals as Leaders, Guthrie Govan of The Aristocrats, and Mike Keneally. The experience was exceptional. The influence of Tosin Abasi and Javier Reyes (guitarists from Animals as Leaders) can definitely be heard in my music.
I followed up after G4 by taking private guitar lessons from Javier Reyes when he was in my hometown of Little Rock, Arkansas. He took the time to listen to the songs I prepared for the Canadian Fingerstyle Guitar Competition and was a great encouragement to me. He was excited when I won.
I also attended Andy McKee’s Musicarium held at Big Indian Resort in New York. This opportunity allowed me to perform and interact with some of the most notable musicians in fingerstyle guitar including Andy McKee, Antoine Dufour, Stephen Bennett, and Billy McLaughlin. I also met fellow musicians that I now call friends. The experience was fantastic. There’s nothing quite like being encouraged and supported by fellow musicians.
Henry: Agreed! The feeling of community between fingerstyle guitarists is always astounding. Everyone is very supportive of each other. It’s something we love about working with the progressive fingerstyle community. On that note, what projects are you working on now? What follow-up efforts can people expect?
Blake: I am currently working on my first album which is scheduled to be released next summer at the 2016 Canadian Guitar Festival. My family and I are currently building a professional recording studio in a newly constructed building in our backyard. We’ve given great attention to the acoustics during the design stages and it will be outfitted with the very best professional recording equipment. Completion is expected around Thanksgiving.
In the interim, I am concentrating on writing the music for the album. The material will feature fingerstyle guitar along with a huge soundscape of electronic ambiance that may surprise listeners. My new Stonebridge BAR24CR will play a huge role on the album, leading the way with choppy grooves and beautiful low end notes. This will complement the background melodies creating an intense journey.
I have secured one of the top audio production people in the industry, Misha Mansoor (from Top Secret Audio), to mix the first song. If we are both pleased, it will go on the album and he’ll mix the remainder of the album. Immediately following the album’s release, I plan to go on a 10-week tour of the U.S. east coast and mid-south.
A music video is currently in the works to accompany the album’s featured song, “Dracula’s Requiem.” It’s a storied composition of a harrowing journey through drug/alcohol addiction that ends with hope and redemption. It’s an important song to me since I’m an advocate for those who struggle with addiction. The music video will be filmed at the historic Crescent Hotel and Thorncrown Chapel in Eureka Springs, Arkansas.
Henry: That’s very admirable of you to use your music to bring attention and support to those who are in need of it. As a discerning artist, what was it about Stonebridge guitars that caught your attention?
Blake: When I won the G21SW-C from Stonebridge at the Canadian, I quickly realized how amazing Stonebridge guitars are. The Stonebridge opened a new door of tones I had not previously experienced. It expanded my creativity and approach to writing music. I would characterize it as “inspired creativity”. As fate would have it, this prize-winning guitar was meant for me. I am very happy with it to say the least.
Shortly after gaining complete confidence in the guitar, I reached out to Stonebridge about having a baritone built for me. After going over specifications I had in mind, Roger and Luke suggested a baritone which they felt suited me. I trusted them and ordered the BAR24CR.
When the guitar arrived, I quickly put it through a rigorous test. The very first chord I played sustained for over twenty seconds. I did not know a guitar could even do that. I was so impressed that I actually recorded the test and posted it on my social media accounts. No one could even challenge it with their own instrument.
In my past experiences with baritone guitars, my low end chords would sound muffled due to the tuning. Well, not this one! The cedar top design adds to the clarity of the instrument, and it was exactly what I was searching for. All of my tapping, thumping, and chords are now crystal clear.
Stonebridge is clearly the market leader in guitars, and I look forward to honing my craft with these beauties. I have written a lot of new material on the BAR24CR and the G21-SW since acquiring them. I can’t wait to showcase both of these amazing instruments on my new album.
Henry: Well, thank you for sharing your experiences with us! We hope that other artists will be inspired by your story and will work as hard as you have to create an interesting and thriving career!
You can follow and keep up to date on Blake’s projects and upcoming album here:
About the author:
Henry Nam is US Artist Relations for Stonebridge Guitars International. Based in Washington DC, he composes and performs as Sheltered Turtle on his custom, Stonebridge S22CL-C and a G22CR-C. In his free time he enjoys swimming, archery, board games, and hiking with his Great Dane/Rottweiler puppy, Hiccup. (You can follow Henry on Instagram | YouTube | Facebook | Twitter).