1.Hi Shaun. Thanks for taking the time to do this interview. Let’s get warmed up by telling the readers what you have been up to recently.
Well, virtually all of my time is devoted to writing all the course material for my music schools (Shaun is an owner and Academic Director of The Academy of Music and Sound, which currently has eight schools in the UK). I’ve got a wife and two teenage boys, and playing the sort of music that I do just doesn’t pay the bills, so I’ve had to play it safe. Unfortunately, my responsibilities as a family man have forced me to keep my playing career on the shelf. It’s been very frustrating, but I haven’t given up the hope of finding more time to play in the future and get back into doing more live performing and recording.
It’s strange, because it’s the first time in my adult life that I’ve been away from the guitar so much: I literally go for anything up to six months at a time without taking my guitar out of its case: and it’s been like that for that last five or six years. Interestingly, when I do pick up the guitar, it only seems to take a few weeks for me to be back up to speed both physical and musically. My only nagging regret is the thought of how much better I could be if I didn’t have such long breaks from the instrument.
2. You have been heavily involved in the world of guitar tuition for many, many years including your work at The Guitar Institute, Guitar X, The Academy of Music and Sound and various magazines including Guitar Techniques which you still feature in every month. Has sharing your knowledge of the instrument always been one of your biggest motives or was it a natural progression from player to teacher?
Again, teaching has been a way of providing for my family. I would love nothing more than just to perform and record new compositions, but it has got increasingly more difficult to make a living from just doing that. Fortunately, I got into teaching before the advent of tuition books, videos or the Internet (Shaun was a founder member of the Guitar Institute in 1986). I’m very analytical, and a good communicator, so teaching was a natural thing for me to do in order to make ends meet as a musician.
3. Today many players seem to have abandoned formal education and quality tuition for Youtube lessons. What are your views on this current trend, and do you feel that students are missing out under the guise that they are getting something for nothing?
I think that youtube is great. I really think that it‘s going to kick the technical advances of guitar a long way. I love the collective sense of enthusiasm, experimentation and friendly competition to come up with something ear-catching, impressive and exciting; although, I hate all the trolling that goes on: all that poison vitriol being pumped out by jealous idiots in the anonymity of their bedroom. At its best, the Internet reminds me of the healthy sense of competition that I once saw in a documentary on gypsy jazz guitar, where you had these little kids trying to burn each other off round the campfire with their latest licks: holding guitars that were so big that they could hardly get their arms round them.
4.You have had a monthly column in Guitar Techniques since 1994. How do you manage to keep your column so fresh where contributors in other magazines tend to go a bit stale after a while?
I taught at the Guitar Institute and The London College of Music every week for 25 years. Also, during all that time, I was also doing three days of private lessons at home each week, which means that I accrued an enormous amount of teaching material and experience during that time, so coming up with teaching ideas isn’t really a problem.
5.You avoid typical guitar clichés in your playing. Does this possibly come from studying other instruments beside guitar and, if so, would you recommend this approach to students who want to develop their sound and find their own, unique voice?
I hate cliché: that’s why I don’t listen to the blues. I know that’s very unusual for a guitar player, but I just don’t get inspired by it. I’ve made a conscious effort to avoid sounding clichéd, and studying other instruments is certainly a good way to avoid sounding like other guitar players. I do most of my listening in the car these days, and usually it’s piano players like Joey Calderazzo or Gonzalo Rubulcaba, or saxophonists like Michael Brecker or Chris Potter.
6.What kinds of different gig situations do you find yourself playing in?
No-one calls me for gigs. It’s happened twice in my life: once when Carl Palmer (of Emerson, Lake and Palmer) rang me up out of the blue, and once a couple of weeks ago, when I got asked by a singer called Triggah to do some recording for him towards Christmas. Apparently, Gary Husband’s on drums, Laurence Cottle’s on bass, and Nigel Hitchcock’s on sax, so I’m going to have to start blowing the cobwebs off my playing pretty soon so that I feel in shape by the time we start recording.
7.Over the past few years, there seems to be an emerging scene of new fusion players. Do you think this trend is helping new players understand the importance of music theory as well as gaining technical skill?
Anything that forces rock players to expand their tonality and look at how to play over different chord types is definitely a good thing. Also, because of the prog resurgence, guitarists are getting into more complex rhythms as well as harmony, so, to my ears, the results are becoming more sophisticated and rewarding to listen to.
8.In the past, I have heard you differentiate the ‘Holdsworthian’ fusion from your own brand of ‘Jazz Metal’. So, on that note, can we expect a follow up to your 1993 album and, if so, how has your writing style evolved over the years?
Allan Holdsworth has done some incredible stuff over the many years that he’s been recording, but I don’t see the point in cloning his style and his music. I’ve focussed on developing a style that is more aggressive, and tried to place what I do in a musical setting that is more akin to heavy rock than fusion. To me, it’s a question of striving for the best of both worlds: power and sophistication.
Since recording Jazz Metal, my taste has got more left field. I have various priorities as a musician: I like melody without cliché; I don’t like indulgent waffle; good composition is also important and, most of all, it’s got to have some beauty; however, as a listener, I have increasingly found that it’s atonal and avant-garde sounds that turn my head; so it probably means that my music will end up sounding even more obscure than before, but, hey, I can please myself these days: musically I don’t need to compromise, and if people like how my playing and taste have evolved then that’s great.
9.What other plans do you have for the future?
I did two live albums with Carl Palmer in the mid noughties on the back of a lot of touring, which I enjoyed. Unfortunately, I had to stop because I got tinnitus from a car accident; it’s a condition that’s aggravated by loud noise, but things have settled down a lot since then; so I’m looking forward to gigging again. We went all over the World in Carl’s band, and it was a privilege to have been able to do that. We would go to Mexico and do three days of gigs in places like Monterrey and Mexico City, and then do three days of sightseeing in the pyramids; so, getting back to something like that would be nice.
Musically, I get the most enjoyment from recording new compositions, so I intend to build my own studio at some point, so that I can chip away at various new ideas whenever I get the time and, eventually, I would also like to get into writing music for TV and film.
Thanks for your time Shaun and I look forward to following your career for many more years to come.
Apologies for my rubbish microphone quality!
Here is a brand new interview I conducted with my friend, Jonathan Vipond. He runs the Jonathan Vipond School of Guitar in Leeds. Check him out www.guitar-lessons-leeds-and-bradford.co.uk