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How long did it take to record this CD?
I did it in ten days.
Are these all the tracks you did?
There was one I abandoned about halfway through. I recorded for four days, then I had to leave for two days for some live dates, then came back and did another five days. Then I spent three days in London doing the mix. For a jazz album, that’s quite a long time, really. I probably could have used another day, but then you could end up ruining it. You risk over-thinking it.
How long does it take you to record one of your solo albums?
It varies from two days to about a week. I’ve actually become more interested lately in DVDs. A large part of the audience plays the instrument as well—or likes the idea of playing it—and they want to see you play it.
Didn’t you do a live one?
Yes. I’d like to do another one. The gig tomorrow night is being filmed for the local TV station. If it comes out good, it might be usable.
You use Elixir stings now, right?
Yes. They’re perfect for me. Ever since I started playing guitar, it seems as if I sweat battery acid. I always thought that it would be great if they could invent some kind ofcoating... I didn’t have any idea of what it could be. When I found out about Elixirs, I went into a store and bought ‘em. They have just the right amount of brightness and they stay like that. They’re not for everybody or every guitar. I’ve got an old Martin 000- 45, and I keep Elixirs on it, but if I were to record with it, I’d want heavier strings and something with a bit more sparkle. But all my guitars are strung with Elixirs.
Do they help cut down on finger noise?
They do, but I’ve never really had too much trouble with finger noise anyway. And, the amount that I do get, I quite like.
Like the end of the one tune where you actually slide your hand up the neck...
Yeah, “Bluesette.” I like the noise; it makes it sound more human. It’s like a sax player when you can hear him take a breath. There’s one track, “Young and Foolish,” if you listen to it in headphones, you can hear me breathe. I wasn’t aware of this at the time, but it seems I do this. I breathe like a horn player—with the phrases.
You recently worked with luthier Mike Vanden to design your signature archtop guitar; can you tell me how that came about?
When I spoke to Mike about it, I said I wanted to design the guitar with him. I wanted it to be a jazz guitar and I wanted it to be a small guitar.
What size is it?
It’s only fifteen inches. I also wanted it to look like a classic archtop guitar, but brought into the present a little bit. I wanted it to be a little more European. Like the cutaway being a bit more like the Maccaferri. I didn’t really want it to sound too much like a standard jazz guitar. I wanted it to have a big bass response and have sustain. So, it is and it isn’t a standard jazz guitar. The other thing about Mike is he also makes guitar pickups as well.
Does he do the Mimesis pickups? I’ve been curious about them. They have a beautiful sound. It’s got the transparency of the tone, but the fullness and richness of the guitar.
Well, he designed the pickup and did a deal with Fishman. A lot of those Fishman blend pickups are Mike’s. Mine has a magnetic pickup but has a piezo in the bridge as well, which I only use live because in the studio I only use microphones. But even when I play live, I like to use a mic, too. It was important to me to have really good electronics in the guitar. So often you see really nice guitars and the pickups just seem like an afterthought.
You mention you might do a few more of these duet albums over the next few years. Who’s on your list?
Well, there’s me, me and me. I see it as an ongoing thing, particularly now having done this one. I can now see more possibilities, and I’ve only just scratched the surface. It’s also going to be a lot easier now—it got so much easier as we went along. I like to use the studio as a tool, not go in there and pretend it’s like a live performance.
That’s interesting for a jazz guitar player to say because usually it’s treated as a live performance.
It’s unique, I think. I like that too, but I would sooner just do a gig and have that recorded rather than go into the studio and pretend you’re doing something live.
On “Drop Me Off in Harlem,” the harmonies reminded me of Tony Mottola.
I haven’t heard any of those, actually. On that song I did a lot of improvising and listened back a little at a time, to see what I could then do with the second guitar. It was just another way of doing the arrangement, really. I’d like to do more like that, because I discovered that way later on in the sessions.
Was any of it written out after the fact?
Well, I don’t really read music. I can read music, I just prefer not to read music. I can, I just don’t do it very well. So to stay out of trouble, I tell people that I don’t.
What about the Spirit of Django, will you be doing anything else with them?
We haven’t done anything for a while. The problem is, our accordion player retired and he doesn’t like to travel much. We do get asked to do summer festivals and we did one this past summer.
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