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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 developed naturally.
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 picking-hand fingers?
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 Guitars tour. My first attempt was on Cassie Taylor’s “Leaving Chicago,” on the Girls with Guitars 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.