It takes some guitarists a life time to win the respect and acclaim of their peers, but not Dave Kilminster. He was named Guitarist Of The year in 1991, as a relative unknown, taking his first steps in the music industry.
It wasn’t Kilminster’s back catalogue of hits or his world renowned live show that captured the imagination (he didn’t have any of that back then; he was still working for IBM), he simply took the critics’ breath away with his playing style and technique.
The magazines weren’t the only ones to get behind him; he soon found himself invited to teach at the Guitar Institute in Acton. From that moment onwards Kilminster’s career would begin to blossom leading him to tour the world with his heroes Keith Emerson and Roger Waters.
Kilminster is not the sort of guitarist to stay in one place artistically. By taking every opportunity that came his way Kilminster has gotten the chance to work with an illustrious list of artists in variety of different styles and sub-genres. As a solo artist he has continued to push, innovate and evolve his core sound from the expansive prog of his debut LP.
Today we catch Kilminster in the midst of a US tour with Murray Hockridge; in a month he’ll be playing to sold out arenas across the world with Roger Waters, but right now he’s here to answer Guitar Planet’s questions:
You're currently on the road with Murray Hockridge; how did the two of you come together and whose idea was it to go on tour?
We met totally by chance in a shopping centre. Murray was playing outside a local coffee shop, promoting his CD and as I was walking past I witnessed one of the most amazing voices I'd ever heard!
There was some Jeff Buckley in there, some Stevie Wonder, Curtis Mayfield, Sting...all these incredible, soulful guys wrapped up in a totally unique way.
We got chatting, became friends, and then one day Murray suggested that we try playing together. From the very first time we jammed there was just this instant connection; the recent tour is just a logical extension of that really.
On Playing With Fire we saw you weaving these great sprawling epics on guitar like “Aragon”; this new project feels very soulful and low key by comparison, how are you expressing yourself as a guitarist on this tour?
Low key? You obviously haven't seen us play live! When Murray gets on the Cajon and I'm bashing away on a 12 string it sounds like a rock band. It's actually one of the comments we get people can't believe they're listening to just two people.
As for expressing myself on guitar, I guess that's what I do every time I play, no matter what I'm actually playing. To me playing is expression.
Are you and Murray planning to release an album together or is this a special treat for those lucky enough to catch you on tour?
We've already recorded the album. It's an album of cover tunes called 'Closer to Earth', and should be out in a couple of weeks time. Probably just as a download on iTunes first, but then later we'll get CD's made up for our proposed US/Canadian tour later in the year.
We were basically experimenting with different ways of recording ourselves, so we picked some tunes that we knew (and a whole bunch that we didn't know) and put them down pretty much live in the studio.
Our idea was to refine our recording process, so that when we record our own songs we won't have to worry too much about the mechanics of it all. But what we actually recorded sounded amazing. So we said let's just put it out there and share it with people.
2007's Scarlet was a very emotive record, with a more traditional rock edge and a real groove to it. Your current project has a tender and intimate feel. You seem to be moving away from the more lavish prog sounds of your earlier work; where do you see your playing in 2011 and what can we expect from you in the future?
I'm really not moving away from anything. I guess I just have a lot of sides to my musical character. For example during this year I'm going to be:
Your current tour has an up close and personal feel, in just a few months you'll be on the road with Roger Waters playing to huge arenas. That's quite a contrast, how do the experiences compare and do you prefer one over the other?
Well, I guess it's every rock guitarist’s dream to be up there playing the big arenas, especially in this latest show of Roger's where you're performing iconic guitar parts perched on top of a huge wall, forty five foot in the air!
But in a lot of ways, the 'up close and personal' vibe of the recent 'Closer to Earth' shows feels a lot more intimidating. You're way more exposed, and every subtle little nuance is audible. There’s absolutely nowhere to hide.
I dearly love both experiences, but the applause for the acoustic shows recently really meant a lot to me probably because I'm being applauded for actually being myself, rather than for recreating someone else's guitar parts.
Speaking of The Wall tour, you'll be taking the role of Dave Gilmour for the evening. Do you have to perform each track note for note or will you be putting the Kilminster stamp on the Floyd classics?
I play it pretty much note for note; it's what Roger wants, and I'm sure what the fans want to hear too. But saying that, I do impart my own personality in there too, my own energy, I can't help it.
It may sound like a silly question, but just how did you get to play guitar alongside Roger Waters?
It's not a silly question at all. I'm sure lots of people would wonder how you get a dream gig like this, well, the short answer is; I auditioned.
It's not just Roger Waters of course, you've played with some incredible artists throughout your career; what were some of your favourite collaborations?
Well I loved playing with Keith Emerson, as he was one of my childhood musical heroes. I felt sorry for Pete and Phil (Pete Riley & Phil Williams were the drummer and bassist in the Keith Emerson band) when it came to playing pieces like 'Tarkus'. It's a thirty minute piece of music (sometimes forty minutes on stage) that's a huge learning curve; whereas I already knew the piece. Well, not actually to play, but I could hear it in my head which is half the battle really.
Do you think working with such varied artists has helped you grow and develop as an artist?
I guess having worked with a number of different artists; it does change your point of focus. For example; with Roger Water’s gig it's more about the tone of the notes, getting the right vibrato, finding the right effects and also getting used to playing with a click track.
Dave Kilminster was first exposed to the public in 1991 and he didn’t release his debut album until 1996, but great artists don’t just arrive fully formed. Their style and character is developed in their formative years away from the media spotlight. Here at Guitar Planet we like to uncover our interviewee’s earliest musical experiences, and Dave Kilminster was more than happy to oblige us.
How old were you when you first picked up the guitar and what or who inspired you to play?
I was 14, and I guess my story is a little unusual as I never actually wanted to play guitar! I really never had any thoughts of playing the instrument. I wanted to play piano, but unfortunately we never had one at home. So I would play piano when I was at school and then get home and go a little insane, hearing things in my head without a medium to perform them.
So one day I was sat next to my friend at school, and he was looking at a guitar catalogue and I just thought 'well, maybe I can just get one of those until I get a 'proper' instrument!
Were you self taught, given guitar lessons or trained (music/art school)?
I'm totally self taught. I just sat there and figured it all out; the theory, chord shapes, scales, arpeggios, everything. It takes a lot longer that way, but I think you retain all that information a little better because you actually have to sit there and 'discover' it all for yourself.
What was your first guitar and do you still have it?
My first guitar was a no name classical guitar that I bought from school. I painted it white, with black stripes (yeah, I was a Van Halen freak), took the frets out to make it into a fretless classical guitar, and then eventually used it as a trampoline when I got frustrated trying to play something very difficult on it.
So no, I don't have it any more; I seem to recall setting fire to it actually.
Ha wow, since those early days you’ve become synonymous with the Fender Telecaster; what is it about their guitars that works for you?
Well, I'm using Suhr guitars now, which are essentially a 'Telecaster' shape. But I guess it's that shape that just seems to fit my body.
I remember reading an interview with Yngwie Malmsteen once, where he said that he'd played the Strat so much from a very young age that he actually has a dent in his ribs where it fits into his body.
I don't have anything like that, but the size and shape of a 'Tele' body does feel very comfortable, although saying that the 'three pickups and a tremolo' set up I use has more in common with a Strat than a Tele.
When and where did you first perform on stage, and how did it go?
I guess I was about 16, and this would have been somewhere near Bristol, and it was a TOTAL disaster.
I had an ordinary electric guitar (a 'Guild', I think), and a 6/12 string double neck guitar and I decided, as it was my first ever gig, that I would put new strings on everything.
But I didn't know anything about 'stretching strings in'. So I hit the first chord of the first song on the 12 string, and it was sooooooo out of tune. Possibly the worse sound I'd ever heard!
Fortunately the audience were spared fairly early on, as my amp blew up during the second number.
I later found out that our 'roadie' friend had dropped the amp on the plug and broken it, but had just pushed the plug into the wall socket anyway. What he didn't know was that the 'live' wire had come lose and that’s why the amp blew up. So essentially I could have been electrocuted. My first gig was almost my last.
While an artist’s origins are essential, it’s also important to pick the brains of the world’s great guitarists. In the final portion of the interview we get Dave talking about his set up and the best gear on the market; along with his tips for aspiring superstars and his take on guitar music in 2011.
Tell us about your pick ups?
I'm using John Suhr single coils on all my guitars. The 'Fletcher Landau' ones, which sound great.
For humbuckers I'm still experimenting, but at the moment the one in my main stage guitar (the Suhr with the 'Roses' burnt into the body) is a Seymour Duncan Custom Custom.
Tell us about your favourite bit of musical gear in your collection and what's the latest addition you've made?
I guess the Suhr with the 'Roses' on is my favourite; especially since I routed it out and slapped a humbucker in it. It looks totally unique (well, apart from some guy in Australia that's made a frighteningly close replica), and it does pretty much anything.
And as far as latest additions, I changed a whole bunch of stuff for this last tour. I'm using totally new amps, made in Italy by Marco Brunetti. The Brunetti 'Mercury' amps are absolutely incredible, and without doubt the best amps I've ever played through. I wish I'd had them on the 'Dark Side Of The Moon' tour.
I've also recently discovered Eventide pedals, which are totally amazing. Studio quality effects in a floor pedal.
I also love the Godin electro classical that I'm using on this tour and the Suhr 'Riot' pedal is phenomenal! It's an overdrive pedal, but it doesn't mess up your tone like most of them do and it turns even the worst sounding amp into a screaming angel.
Do you find time to listen to contemporary music, and if so who is on you're ipod and who is impressing you?
Oh God... ummm... I love Imogen Heep, Incubus are a great band and The Decemberists album 'My Crane Wife' is fab but not too much new stuff to be honest though.
I ‘discovered’ Joni Mitchells album Hejira on the last tour though (the one with Jaco Pastorius on it), and played that to death.
What are you favourites songs to cover?
Well, on the recent acoustic tour I was doing a rendition of 'The Rain Song', I just love playing that tune. And actually, Jimmy Page has seen me play it, he really liked my version, so I sort of feel justified performing that now.
The White Stripes broke up this month. Jack White is one of this generation’s most recognisable guitar icons, but it seems compared to the past, the 21st Century, hasn't produced as many household name guitarists. The critics have talked about the decline of rock music and the guitar; What do you think of guitar playing and guitar music today and its place in the popular culture?
Wow, that's a HUGE question, and there are so many different factors; I could write a whole essay on this one!
I think computers are partly to blame. Personally I spend way too much time on the computer now, and I guess if I'd had a computer when I was growing up then I probably wouldn't have practised half as much.
I also think that radio is partly to blame, because when I grew up I was listening to all this amazing music on the radio all day: Queen, 10cc, Led Zeppelin, Bob Marley, Chic, Thin Lizzy, The Beatles, Steely Dan, Black Sabbath, Michael Jackson, the Who, the Eagles, the Carpenters, Stevie Wonder, the Police, Elton John, ELO, Deep Purple, Nazareth, the Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Status Quo, Wings, Fleetwood Mac, Neil Young, etc, etc, etc... There was so much GREAT stuff.
It's a major reason why I play music, because I heard all these great songs and I felt inspired. To be honest if I grew up listening to mainstream radio now I probably wouldn't even be a musician. I just don't hear anything I like.
Also, society seems more geared towards instant gratification now, no one has the patience for anything. Unfortunately if you want to play well, it's going to take some time. There's just no way around that.
Our readers are serious, talented guitarists; what advice would you give to a skilled guitarist wanting to take his or her playing or career to the next level?
Oh, I hate this question. Probably because I don't feel even remotely qualified to answer, I've never made any effort with regards to networking, sending out demos, hassling people, etc, etc... I just fall into things.
I have been lucky, but I guess I've always been ready too, so that if luck does happen to call then I can take full advantage of it.
So maybe your readers could ask themselves 'am I actually ready'?
For example, is all your gear set up and working properly? No crackly leads or pots, no blown speakers, or pick ups that need changing.
Can you stand up and play as well as you can when you're sitting down? Most guitarists practice whilst seated, when in the real world you're probably going to be stood up on stage playing.
Is your timing and rhythm playing up to scratch? Because most guitarists practice soloing about 98% of the time, but in the real world you will be playing chords and rhythm for 98% of the time and only soloing for 2%!!!
Great rhythm players will always get work, whilst great soloists fight it out at McDonalds!!!
Well our readers have been warned, on a lighter note, any idea when your next coming back to play a Dave Kilminster show in the UK?
No idea at the moment. I obviously have a few shows in London with Roger, and then I'm planning to do some acoustic shows with Murray in the States, and some crazy rock fusion stuff with Guthrie probably in Italy, as we're getting more of a fan base over there.
But who knows, we make plans, and God laughs. I'll be sure to let you know though!!!
I always ask the same final question: Is there anything you'd like to add? Any topic you want to comment on or discuss? Anything you want to get off your chest? Or someone you want to praise or highlight? Basically, any other business before you say goodbye?
You can probably tell by now that I can talk for England on pretty much any subject and I wouldn't even know where to begin answering such a broad question.
I guess I could just say; look out for 'Closer to Earth', on iTunes very soon. Oh, and I recently remixed and remastered 'Scarlet', which is now called 'Scarlet, the directors cut'. I added some extra guitars and vocals, and it now sounds ten times better.
I'm just working on the new artwork for that, and hopefully that will be available on the Roger Waters tour, through my website (www.davekilminster.com) and probably on iTunes too.
And hopefully I'll meet some of you on the road this year.
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