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“I didn’t go direct out of the acoustic guitars this time—I thought using mics offered a bit more natural sound.”
Let’s talk about some of the songs on the new EP. How did “The Reason” come together?
I really wanted to focus more on melody, not so much on flashy guitar techniques. That tune was really inspired by my two sons. It has two distinct parts: It starts with the nice melodic part, where you’ve got a new baby. Then they grow up a bit and you get to play with them. For the second, more playful part, I wanted to go with a Travis picking kind of thing. It’s in an open Emaj9 tuning: E–B–D#–F#–B–D#.
That song has a lot of textures.
I mentioned Michael Hedges earlier, and I’m going to mention him again now. I was really inspired by him and one of the main things I picked up was the idea of texture—how you can attack strings differently to get different sounds.
In “The Reason,” there’s a point where I hammer on a note and then I pluck the note, and then pull off to the same note. The tonal characteristic of a note that’s hammered is quite different from one that’s plucked, or if the plucked string is fretted or open—they all have different textures.
Right up there with texture is dynamics, and the way you can control that. I really started to think about dynamics after doing a lot of performances. One time, there was a table near the front of the stage and the people were talking a lot. So I thought, “How can I get them to be a bit quieter so everyone can appreciate the show more?” I decided to just play softly and look at them for a bit and they got the hint. That was when it first struck me how dynamics can really affect the mood and the way everybody’s experiencing the music.
Your guitar sounds big and natural. How did you record it?
All the acoustic guitars on Mythmaker were recorded the same way. I’ve got a studio at home, and I recorded and engineered everything myself. I had a small-diaphragm Lauten Audio ST-221 Torch condenser microphone near the guitar, and a large-diaphragm Mojavi Audio MA-200 condenser more in the room for some ambience.
How about “Mythmaker”?
That’s on the baritone guitar, which is tuned from low to high: A–E–A–B–E–G#. So that’s like an Amaj9. I came up with a couple of the parts over the years, and it was just a matter of gluing them together. With this EP, I was trying to let creativity take me where it might and not feel too boxed in by being a solo acoustic guitar player. I wanted to have a tune that was dedicated to the creative spirit. It’s got a kind of funky, aggressive quality, but at the end there’s a turnaround that builds into this majestic thing. I wanted to build the energy in a unique way. I slap harmonics on every other beat to create a driving element at the end of the song that leads into a finale that’s a little more chilled. Then it concludes with a harmonic ending that’s suspended and leaves you hanging.
Speaking of harmonics: Is it challenging to get them right all the time? Or is it second nature for you by now?
It’s still challenging sometimes. It’s practice and repetition, and getting comfortable with the angles you’re using to play slap harmonics, or pinch harmonics, artificial harmonics—all different kinds.
What inspired you to add piano and electric guitar to “Lumine”?
I started on electric, playing rock and heavy metal, before switching to acoustic and getting into open tunings when I was about 16. I love solo acoustic guitar and I’m sure I’ll do it forever, but I’ve always been into a lot of different kinds of music. So I wanted to experiment a little bit more and try some different things, which included electric guitar.
“Lumine” started out with just solo acoustic guitar parts. For the chorus, I came up with this really beautiful part on acoustic guitar with harmonics ringing out, but there wasn’t really a melodic idea there. I thought piano would be really cool for that. For the bridge, I had the piano and acoustic guitar, and I thought, “Why not? I think it could use an electric guitar solo in here!” I’ve always loved really melodic and tasty lead guitar guys like Eric Johnson and Joe Satriani, so I think you might hear some of that inspiration in what I do on electric guitar. I’m really happy with the way it turned out. Maybe in the future I’ll do some collaborative things with electric guitar players who I’ve had the good fortune to meet and who are interested in working together.