A Supro Black Holiday is Lloyd’s current favorite stage guitar. Inspired by the Res-O-Glas Supro guitars of the ’60s, the model has two single-coil pickups and a chambered mahogany back. Here, he’s at Nashville’s 3rd & Lindsley for The Countdown album-release concert that followed a book signing. Photo by Stacie Huckaba
And you take that around the circle of fifths and find it throughout the instrument?
Absolutely. And one of the reasons I love the guitar is that you’re in contact with a vibrating string. Unlike a piano, where you’re hitting a key, which then operates a hammer, which hits the string. It’s very polite in a certain sense, but the guitar, in a way, is rude and lewd. That’s why the troubadours in the 12th century caused such a ruckus, singing love songs and ballads on a guitar. It was beyond romantic. The ladies liked it and the guys didn’t.
Because you have physical contact with the sound-making device?
Absolutely. You’re not using a bow. You can use your fingers or you can use a pick. I use a plectrum myself, almost all the time. Sometimes I claw back, it’s called, if I am doing things like sixths or even tenths: I play with my first finger and thumb with the pick and then I use my middle finger or ring finger to claw back a second string, to do intervals.
And do you work through the harmonics on each string as well?
Yes. You can find the major scale embedded in the first 16 harmonics, but the harmonics are useful after you know everything else. Sometimes I’ll go up and down the string checking out the harmonics. We used to tune with harmonics, because the fifth fret on one string equals the seventh fret on the next string going up in pitch. Like the A to the D. It works for all except for the G and B strings, because that’s a major third.
You’ve mentioned in interviews that music is your meditation and prayer. How is music a spiritual pursuit?
I think that in the ancient world there was no difference between religion and science or spirituality. Alchemy and chemistry were the same thing. Astronomy and astrology were the same thing. It’s only in the modern era that this got separated. People started to play secular music. Before, everything was sacred about music. Personally, I think it still is something sacred, because you’re dealing with vibrations, and the universe is made of vibrations.
And so the connection you have with people is more intuitive as well.
Sure. I used to play in fourths while I was practicing the guitar—I had an acoustic guitar and I would play fourths on a rooftop in Manhattan—and I swear that little spiritual creatures used to come around to listen. Playing in fourths is so compelling that it draws good spirits around you.
Specifically a fourth? Not a third or some other interval?
No, specifically fourths. A fourth is an upside down fifth. It’s either the cycle of fourths going up or the cycle of fifths descending, and they are the same thing. If you play along that line, it’s a very spiritual practice.
Fourths are more intuitive to the guitar, too.
The strings are tuned in fourths. The only one that’s missing a half-step is the B to the G, which is a major third. That is not a perfect interval, but it’s the most consonant of the non-perfect ratios.
With all this knowledge, when you’re actually playing or writing songs, do you think about this stuff or do you turn it off and just play?
I basically go by instinct. I turn my brain off [laughs], although it won’t turn itself off and there is nothing I can do about that. But I don’t actively think, “Now I am moving to a fourth. Now I am moving to a sixth.” I just don’t think in those terms once the music starts.
Do you use dissonance, too?
Yeah, but not so much in my work. In practice I do. I love dissonance because it demands resolution. You can wait until it resolves and it splits the tension. It is pretty fantastic in lead guitar playing. The other thing the guitar is great for is half-steps. Microtonalities. In that sense it’s a lot like a sitar, because you can bend the strings.
Dissonance creates tension and you resolve it, or do you leave it unresolved?
The human brain wants it resolved, that’s for sure. If you leave it dissonant, the mind imagines the resolution. Or the mind goes into a state of distress [laughs]. The beginning of “Purple Haze” is tritones, which they used to call the devil’s interval. That’s the most dissonant you can get.
You met Hendrix through your friend, the guitarist Velvert Turner, who was also a friend of Hendrix?
You mentioned the single string. What else did Hendrix show you?
Mostly he taught through his songs. In the early days, he taught us his first records—the first and second record.
On your tribute to Hendrix, The Jamie Neverts Story—Jamie Neverts was the code name you and Velvert had for Hendrix—you mostly cover songs from those two albums.
That’s right. I didn’t want to do guitar hero stuff, like “Voodoo Child (Slight Return).” I wanted to do those shorter songs, which were more like pop stuff. He didn’t have much time in the studio back then. They’d book two hours and you’d have to do, like, three songs in the two hours and then you’d come back and put leads and vocals on. I spent more time trying to get clearer images of his solos and stuff. I didn’t bend the songs too much out of their structure.
Hendrix’s sonic footprint was pretty high tech for the times—he used a lot of effects—but you didn’t take that from him for your own work.
No, I am not an effects guy. Occasionally, I’ll use an effect, but for the most part, it’s just been a guitar into an amp. You get the purest sound that way. With Television, those records are without any effects at all. The only effect was me doubling parts, which gives it a kind of chimey-ness. Not chorusing, but similar.