What rhythmic issues do you hear most often with guitarists?
Most people that play in a syncopated way or that play a lot of notes tend to rush. They kind of push the beat a little bit and when you do that, it slightly and sometimes not so slightly, compromises the power of the groove.
In terms of the rhythmic placement of notes, your music is strictly based on the grid, whereas someone like Allan Holdsworth plays more free and floaty.
It floats. There is no such thing as better or worse. It’s a completely different approach. It’s a different conception and it allows him to access stuff that I can’t and it allows me to access stuff that he can’t or doesn’t, or doesn’t choose to. It depends on what you’re hearing. I grew up listening to funk and rock, which are grid based, so that’s my thing.
Your rhythmic imagination is one of the most compelling facets of your style. What are some of your favorite metrical superimpositions against 4/4?
I don’t know. If you analyze it, it ends up being 3, 5, 7, and sometimes 9 or occasionally 11/4. The reason I can say that is because I’ve transcribed what I’m saying to see what it is.
So you’re not consciously thinking to yourself something like, “I’m going to superimpose 7/16 over 4/4?”
I don’t think numbers. I don’t even know what it is unless I stop and try to figure it out.
A lot of your music is based on live interaction, but when you practice at home with just a metronome, how do you get into that “head space” without anyone reacting to what you do?
If it’s an improvisational situation, I’m really depending on the other players to give me ideas and keep things alive. So I practice improvising without that, and the metronome—that irritating quarter-note click—becomes the most creative band ever in my mind. I just try to improvise based on that, and if I listen back to it on tape and it sounds boring to me, I try to figure ways to activate.
You now have lesson MP3s for sale on your website. A lot of times on these lessons, you’d rewind something you played and while listening back, say things like, “Oh, I rushed a little bit here and there.” Is it just splitting hairs?
It’s very much splitting hairs. This is detail I’m talking about.
If in a 5-second practice clip with a metronome you’re hyper-critical and aware of some perceived microscopic rhythmic discrepancies, what’s happening through a whole night of live playing when other musicians are involved, and all sorts of things are going on that are not within your control?
Well, what is practicing? Practicing is when you take the time to sit down and pay attention to detail and try to work on those hairs that you’re trying to split. Art is in the detail. Then you go to a live gig and try to implement what you’ve been working on. You try to take some of the skill that you’re managing as a practicer into the arena. At that point, all bets are off. All you can do is play music and try to make it sound good. It’s not like I sit and listen to tapes of live gigs agonizing that I rushed here and there. I’ll tell you this—I’d never put that on a record. That would be part of what would determine what should go on a record: What the time feel is.
But you’ve also released a ton of unedited bootlegs over the years.
Yeah. But I didn’t release those as records. I released them as just downloads. I just had a policy of whatever we play, I’m going to put up there just to document what we’re doing. I think most of the people that would bother to download that stuff or come to the shows understand what we’re trying to do to some degree, in the sense of, it might not be some flawless perfect show that gets replicated night after night, but it’s like you throw the dice and this could go places I’ve never gone before. It’s worth the chance. So you just try to work at optimizing the odds so that chance pays off more often than not.
In 2001, before younger players really embraced his language, George Garzone said to me, “Wayne Krantz is the only guitar player who can hang with me on the chromatic shit.” Why did he say that?
When we played together, which was 1982 or something, I was playing a lot of chromatic stuff like he was. At that time I was very heavily into the post-bop thing on guitar, really exploring that—all the 16th-note lines and the chromaticism. We connected on that level. I should say that maybe eight or 10 years ago, I was playing in Boston and I went and sat in with him. He came up to me after the gig and said, “Man you’re not playing that stuff anymore.” He was kind of shocked that I wasn’t doing this chromatic shit like I was before. It was true. I don’t play like that anymore. I’ve shifted away from that. But at the time, that’s where I was.
Let’s talk gear now. Although, on the surface, your music defies guitar traditions and conventions, your actual sound is very guitaristic. Why is that?
The whole idea in the beginning was to take this really stock format and try to make it new somehow. What could be less interesting than guitar, bass, and drums? What’s been done more than that? That’s what I wanted to try to do and the guitar sound was part of that. There’s lots of precedent for it in other styles of music but in jazz or fusion, during that period around 1990, everyone was using huge, lush beautiful guitar sounds and it was really weird to just go direct. And that got factored into the whole vibe of, “Let’s try to have a new take on this old thing.” I got rid of the multi-amps and the stereo this and the stereo that, and I just went down to a guitar into a Deluxe turned to 10.
Which pickup positions do you prefer?
Positions 4 and 5.
I noticed that you’ve taped up part of your Tyler guitar’s headstock.
I’m into graphics. I care about that and James Tyler has a design there that I just didn’t like. He’s cool with it. In fact, he’s making me a guitar and he’s actually going to build it with that black stripping.
You’re also using Tyler amps, but it’s not the same Tyler as your guitar, is it?
No. It’s a different Tyler. He’s from New York, and he makes amps and sells them at 30th Street Guitars. I heard it down there and it blew me away. The cab’s got one 12” and 10” speaker and it’s really light. It’s the lightest cab you’ll ever lift in your life.