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Completely self-taught, Martin soaked up the sounds from his elder’s record collection, imitating what he heard. Coming into prominence in the late seventies with jazz great Stéphane Grappelli, Taylor has since built a reputation as one of the world’s finest guitarists—whether in a group setting, such as with his award-winning, Gypsy jazz-inspired Spirit of Django and more recently with his Freternity ensemble, or as a fingerstyle jazz soloist. The latter proves how scary and mind-boggling his ten fingers and six strings can be!
Now with his recent release, Double Standards, Taylor offers a new slant on guitar duets by weaving his way through a set of time-honored chestnuts and teaming up with none other than himself. We spoke about the trials and tribulations of such a venture and how much fun it can actually be to play with oneself.
How did you come up with the idea of doing solo duet recordings?
I’ve done a few tracks on other albums like that in the past, but I’ve never made an entire album like that. Of course, I’ve played a lot in the guitar duo form over the years. When I’ve done a few tracks like this, I’ve really enjoyed it. These are the kind of guitar duets that I would have to do myself in that I’m not playing the guitar and trying to make the guitars sound different, I’m trying to make it like it’s one big sound. If I had another guitar player playing with me, they would have their own sound and I couldn’t say, “Don’t do that, try to sound like me.” [laughs] That would be a bit pretentious! On some tracks, you can hear two guitars playing the same thing together and it sounds like one guitar, only a big version.
If you listen to “Triste,” the bass strings almost sound like they’re an entirely different instrument; they’re warmer than the rest of the rhythm track or the other guitar. Did you experiment with sounds like that, or is that just the way it came out?
No, that’s just the way it came out. I think maybe it was boosted just a bit. But, really, whenever the guitar sounds do change, I’m changing it myself by the way I actually play the guitar—closer to the bridge, or not playing with a pick, things like that. It’s pretty much a set sound. One of the things I do, and I’ve talked about quite often, is the whole idea of what I call “internal dynamics.” When I’m playing fingerstyle guitar, I don’t treat every note I’m playing the same. I give them different sound textures and balance. For instance, on “Triste,” I may have wanted the bass to sound a certain way, so I’d play that with my thumb and maybe bring the melody out quite loud. Underneath, the chords in the middle might be played very softly, almost wispy. Because of that, I’m getting a different tone out of every note that I’m playing. That’s one of the things that gives it akind of three-dimensional sound, so that some notes are way up front and some appear to be more in the background.
Not unlike the depth of field in a photograph?
I’ve never thought of it that way, but you are absolutely right. The chords in the middle do have that slightly out-of-focus feel. But that’s something I try to do with feel. I really don’t mess around with the sound of the guitar at all. Maybe a few reverbs here and there.
You went into detail on the CD about mics and things, but you don’t mention any ambient effects.
There is reverb, but the guy who mixed it didn’t give me any of that information. I should have gotten it and put that in there. All that information I got from the engineer… but, the guy who did the mixing and mastering is kind of a man of mystery. He probably didn’t want anybody to know what he did. He certainly didn’t tell me.
Was it harder to sit down and do the duets by yourself than it might have been with another guitarist? How was it planned out?
I started with a very, very long list of tunes. I went into the studio the first day and told the engineers that I wasn’t going to record anything. I just wanted to set up the sound. We worked really hard on that. It’s actually harder to get a really good pure sound. You can always add things. With this, we really made sure we had a good sound. We had so many options as well. We had so many mics everywhere—and we used all of them! The first thing I did was “Triste.” I thought that would be the most simple and pretty straightforward. It’s just a backing track and a lead. I did that more for the engineer. Also, I wasn’t 100 percent sure how I was going to go about all this either.