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Aram Bajakian is a man of many guitars. Here he picks on a Bigsby-equipped Gretsch during an art-house show with jazz-fusion group Abraxas. Photo by Scott Friedlander
How does this differ from your live setup?
When I gig in New York, I just bring a guitar or two, along with my Analog Man King of Tone pedal, Boss DM-2 delay, and Turbo Tuner, and plug into a house amp. It’s easy to carry all this on the subway!
Tell us about playing with Lou Reed on his final two tours.
I’ve been really fortunate to work with a lot of incredibly talented people, world-class musicians. But Lou is the only person I’ve met whom I’d really call a genius. He wrote all these songs that were just on another level. They’re so simple—some have just two or three chords. But there’s a spirit and energy behind them, a realness that comes from life experiences, and that’s what makes them great.
And in truth, it was really difficult to play some of those songs, like “Sad Song” or “Junior Dad,” night after night. Lou also had an incredible attention to detail. For the last show we did together, at Royal Festival Hall in London, we spent hours on our soundcheck working on only one song, getting all of the components just right. At the same time, he always kept things spontaneous. At one show he pointed at me out of the blue to do a solo, and there was this great energy in that moment. The next night he tried to do the same thing, but he knew it was a different energy, so we didn’t end up doing the solo. He was very attuned to that—you always had to be aware and “on.”
What was it like to shift gears and play with Diana Krall?
It was pretty drastic. In a short time I went from playing Metallica riffs and Velvet Underground songs with Lou to playing 1920s standards with Diana Krall to playing John Zorn’s Masada pieces with Abraxas at the Jazz in Marciac Festival, and then back to playing with Lou a few days later. That was pretty insane. But playing with Diana was a real fun time. She works in an old-school way, like Nat King Cole. It’s not fancy or flashy, but really about nuance and phrasing. Her chord voicings and feel are just so elegant—very deep. It was a real lesson getting to play with her and the rhythm section of Dennis Crouch on bass and Jay Bellerose on drums every night.
Aram Bajakian matches wits with Lou Reed on the classic “Waves of Fear.”
Bajakian works in a rootsier mode with Diana Krall. Check out the hot solo at 2:51.
Bajakian plays pieces from John Zorn’s Masada songbook in this cool, concert-length video.
Have you consciously developed a personal approach to guitar, or has it come about naturally by playing so many different types of music?
In a lot of ways I’ve always sounded like I sound. In fact, I heard something from the band that I had in seventh grade, and my solo sounds a lot like I do now. But I’m always trying to push myself in terms of what I listen to, and I’ve found that all great artists do that. By listening to all this different music, it somehow filters into what I play. If you don’t like hip-hop, dig into hip-hop. If you don’t like metal, dig into some metal. Whatever music you think sucks is probably the music you should check out, and the music that will teach you the most if you explore it a bit.
I’m always thinking about how I can approach things differently. There are a million guitar players who could tear me in two on a technical level, but I think my strength is interesting and creative ideas. Also, I always put my whole heart into playing, whether it’s a songwriter gig at a small Lower East Side bar, or on some big stage somewhere. The music deserves that respect, no matter the venue.
What’s next for you?
My next record, out in mid-September, is with a band I have with my wife, Julia, called dálava. Her great-grandfather, Vladimír Úlehla, was an early-20th-century ethnomusicologist in what is now the Czech Republic. He transcribed all these folk songs and wrote a book of them, but because it’s in Czech, not a lot of people know about it. So we started arranging the songs, which are all so magical. It’s a completely different thing than there were flowers also in hell. It’s pushing me in a new direction, which is something I’m always trying to do. It’s in that space where you’re just slightly uncomfortable that the greatest music happens.