Photo by Steve Hecht
After you got a grip on blues
scales, how did you develop an
ear for the subtler aspects of
blues—like accurate intonation,
expressive yet controlled
vibrato, and pacing?
Honestly, I just watched other
guitar players. If you watch
enough guitar players, you start
to see and feel what you’re missing
in your own playing—you
start to pick out things you
want to learn. I could hear them
do the stops and the pacing and
the talking and the vibrato, and
it was like, “Okay, I’m missing
that. I need to work on that.”
Also, a lot of it is that you just
play what feels right. Bending
and vibrato are such a big part of
being a blues guitarist that you
can’t ignore them. When I’m at
a jam and they’re just shredding
my ass, I have to pay attention to
what they’re doing.
Let’s talk about the new
album. Your solo phrasing is
very musical—it sounds like it
As far as blues goes, it’s more
about talking and phrasing.
That’s something I’m trying
to make my priority. I’m still
working it out. Shredding’s
cool, but it’s not the priority
when you’re a blues guitarist.
The main riff and rhythm part
for “Down in the Swamp” has
some evil-sounding half-steps
and is kind of reminiscent of
the riff to “Politician.”
Yeah, I play “Politician,” too,
and I love it [laughs
]. I’m the
half-step queen. I love that
minor-y, half-step feel, and a lot
of my songs have that. “Down
in the Swamp” is kind of my
swampy, dirty, evil song.
Is a riff-based rhythm like that
trickier to sing over than a
strummed, chord-based part?
Not really. I’ve written a bunch
of songs like this where, at first,
it was like, “I’ll never be able to
sing over this.” But with a lot of
practice, I taught myself how to
sing and play guitar at the same
time, and now I can split the
brain in half a little bit. I try to
do the weird riff, and sometimes
I mess up, of course. I don’t
really think about it unless it
feels unnatural, and that one just
felt natural. It took a little bit of
practice to get the timing right,
but I’ve played it so many times
now that it’s second nature.
There are a lot of neat fills in
“Money to Burn.” Are you
articulating them with your
I hold the pick between my first
finger and thumb, and sometimes
I’ll pluck with my three
other fingers. Sometimes, I’ll
tuck the pick away and just play
with my thumb. It depends.
“Today’s My Day” features a nice
slide solo. Did you play that?
All the pretty slide work was done
by Mike Zito. I’m completely
new to slide. I had to learn how
to play slide for the Girls with
tour. My first attempt
was on Cassie Taylor’s “Leaving
Chicago,” on the Girls with
record. And I played slide
on “Leavin’ Kind” on my record.
Did you use a different tuning
on that one?
Anything I’ve written with slide,
like “Leavin’ Kind,” I wrote in
standard tuning. I’d bring one
guitar to my gigs, so I didn’t have
time to drop the tuning and
fiddle around. You know, I think
that’s what kept me away from
slide for such a long time. When
I get more of an arsenal, I’ll
probably do more drop tunings.
I love the sound of that—I just
haven’t quite tapped into it yet.