Throwing It All Away To Find It Again
Before I ran into some (luckily fixable) health issues recently, I had been working full throttle on both JDM Pedals and recording/mixing/rehearsing the new album of my band “Das Fluff“. Their music had fascinated me for some time – a wild mix of sounds that somehow kept a stylistic thread both aesthetically and lyrically. Frontwoman Dawn Lintern’s taunting, apocalyptic vocals, wild guitar slashing, and capricious stage presence make them a must see in hometown Berlin and anywhere they tour, from London to Tokyo. I was, and remain, stoked to have been taken aboard. On the mend now, I’m overjoyed to see the fruition of our labors. The video above is the single release for “Millennial”, and the album “Anxiety Dreams” will be released September 20th at Monster Ronson’s / Berlin.
I’m pleased to say that Das Fluff has provided me with a tremendous growth experience as a guitarist. During writing and rehearsal, Frontwoman Dawn Lintern often prods me with Eno-like commands to sculpt my guitar playing. She challenges me to escape the standard blues/rock roots that, however much I love, are often restrictive and simply don’t serve the song. Smooth overdriven sounds are smirked away in favor of gritty blast of fuzz tones, overmodulated noisescapes, and pitch-bent stabs and moans of guitar dying in post-rock sacrifice.
The Little Pushes Over The Cliff
“No vibrato, no bends, no slides,” she might tell me a we try a take on a dark, rock-tinged number. OK!
“Too many notes,” comes the dumbfounding feedback after a solo take. My eyebrows raise. “The melody is great, just take out the fiddly bits,” she suggests, deadpan, after I was sure there I had just played 8 notes in as many bars. On playback I realize that to move positions on one string I always added a slide, a slur of the note. “This makes it too much like guitar player stuff.” Who, me? Guitar player? I rethink, try again, and find a delicious clash of notes on adjacent strings instead of the more “guitarlike” slide.
“This already has low synths, so on the guitar give me stabbing sounds… electricity up above us all,” she conjures, gesturing above her head with dangerous looking fingernails.
Dawn plays a rude, wild guitar and is an adept musician although she rarely speaks in technical terms such as, “please don’t resolve the final chord from Eb to Ab.” She instead coaxes out the sound by quietly asking for, “Nothing pretty, nothing resolved.”
After a few rehearsal and recording sessions, I refreshed on the art of letting go; something my mentor Harvey Brooks (bassist; Bob Dylan, Miles Davis, The Electric Flag) impressed on me many years ago. That “je ne se quois” that happens when you manage to drop the standard go-to phrases and idioms. If you can trust that you are good enough to let the music guide you, this is where you will finally arrive. I can’t say I was *entirely* successful (often being too self critical to “let go”) but we got there in many places on the new album, and live performances improve as these lessons sink in.
So, for all the technique and info that I offer here on JoeDocMusic.com, one of the best uses for it is to learn it all then simply know when NOT to use it. Trust me, the music is in you by that time, you just have to let go, surrender, and play entirely to serve the song.
The Trick We All Forget
Fellow guitarist here in Berlin, Mark Windsor (Sister Butterfly, PleaSureDome, Glitter Band, Sigue Sigue Sputnik) and I once had a long philosophy session on the “role of a proper guitar player.” He distilled out one particular bit of advice that stuck with me despite all the distillates we were drinking: “The hardest part of being the guitarist is knowing when to shut the fuck up!” Just standing there with a guitar on, forced to do nothing can be the most frightening moment on stage. And no, it’s not a time to tune, to sip your beer, or fiddle about. Stand there and confidently do not play any notes. Then, when you come back in, they should really feel it.”
This particular bit of advice should be EVERY guitarist’s “I dunno” go-to option in a band setting. Rarely does it not work at all, and sometimes it works so brilliantly that you’ll wonder why you didn’t think of it sooner.
Thanks for tuning in, and wish me a Gute Besserung as I write from the Vivantes Klinik in NK, Berlin. I’ll be out in a week and getting the slow rock n’ roll restart on. Those of you who have pedal orders in, thank you again for your patience and understanding.