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Interview: Stephane Wrembel

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Interview: Stephane Wrembel

Wrembel plays his Holo Nouveau at the intimate Empire Hotel Rooftop in NYC on June 18, 2012. Photo by Scott Bernstein

What type of projects?
You would be surprised. It’s really the same thing. That one style, whether I play electric or acoustic, it doesn’t really change much because I play the acoustic really like an electric player. But with the acoustic technique I give out as much power as, say, a Les Paul through an amp with distortion.

Do you feel that your technical approach changes when moving from acoustic to electric?
It doesn’t really change because once your technique gets better you have ways to make the guitar ring in a very different way. You can use the sympathetic ringing of the guitar, which is a type of control that’s a bit more advanced. That is something I couldn’t do before so even when I am playing a distorted guitar, I use the sympathetic vibration of the other strings and it makes the sound bigger.

Do you use a Django-style picking technique?
It was completely inspired by Django and playing the oud.

Can you explain how that style works?
It’s not only the right hand but also the left hand. The right hand doesn’t exist all by itself. You can’t really talk about one without the other. Basically, the thing is you have to press hard with the left hand on the strings—that’s very important. You have to make sure to put the two hands really together, which is surprising to say that but most people don’t. It’s very hard to have two hands play well together. There are all kinds of things. Like you don’t touch the strings because you want them to resonate in sympathy with the rest to create a natural reverb.

Do you follow a strict alternate picking technique?
Usually when you change strings you use a downstroke as much as possible and you use more downstrokes than upstrokes. There’s no real rule. It’s not as precise as that. It’s like when you drive. When you learn to drive, you put your hands on the wheel and learn everything internally. After that you are able to drink a coffee and drive, so the rule becomes “drive.” It’s the same thing with the guitar.

For your latest album, did you compose specifically for this project or were these tunes laying around for a while?
Almost all of the material was written for this album. “Bistro Fada” was the song I wrote for the Woody Allen movie Midnight in Paris. I remade a new version for this album, for sonic reasons and to match the color of this album. There is also “Water is Life,” which was written for my first album in 2005, but it was a classical guitar and bass version. We recorded it more like how we perform it live with the drums. Otherwise, everything else was written for this album.

Speaking of Woody Allen, how did he approach you to create the theme for Midnight in Paris?
The first time he used one of my songs on his movie [Vicky Cristina Barcelona], and the second time his producer called me and asked if I could compose a theme for the movie that would represent the magic of Paris.

Woody tours with his own band all over the world. Did you ever get a chance to play with him?
Nah, I’ve actually never met him. We talk through his producer. Once it’s time for pre-production he is already onto his next movie or some other thing. It’s not like we have time to hang out. Busy guy.

When you are presented with a compositional “assignment,” like writing a score, how do you approach it? Is your process any different?
Actually, I go blank and move into a trance state. It just happens. When it’s time to compose I get in that mood and it lasts for a few days and since I can’t score ideas in my head I throw the ideas into GarageBand. I then go back and refine them and it becomes more architectural work. For me, it’s very important to have a mood and a musical idea. That’s the first thing. After that, I rework it.

Do your ideas usually begin with a melody or a chord progression?
It’s all entangled. Once I have a rough idea I spend a few hours to really play around with it— change chords, move the bridge around—so many choices. I usually do that on the spot right after composing a song.

The track “Tsunami” really shows the orchestrated, more scenic influence of movie scores. What composers do you listen to for inspiration?
I listen to movie scores a lot. I listened to a few scores from Hans Zimmer and I have checked out the classic ones like Jaws [John Williams]. A score that I really love is the one from Pi [Clint Mansell], and I am also a big fan of Howard Shore [Lord of the Rings, Hugo].

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