2012 won’t be remembered fondly by everyone as troubling economic news and brutal bloodshed battled for headline space with Usain Bolt and the Olympic Games, but beneath the gloom the music industry continued to provide inspiration. A host of artists reached their commercial and creative zenith this past year and will no doubt serve to inspire a new generation of wannabee guitar heroes. So as Guitar Planet waves goodbye to another year, we’ve decided to ask five of our favourite guitarists to discuss the music that get’s their creative juices flowing.
Inspiration is an abstract and confounding business. Influence and taste rarely flow directly downhill and sometimes the most disparate sounds can share surprisingly sturdy common ground. In this week’s column we’ll see how indie folk upstarts can be spurred on by post-rock noise, how a band whose music is often dismissed by critics as crass and thoughtless take inspiration from the rock world’s most revered intellectuals, and how a 19th century composer is making a mark on today’s electric guitar world.
How It Works: We’ve asked each artist to pick out and discuss a track that has had a tangible influence on their creative process and as they fill us in on their idols, we’ll give you the low down on how each interviewee faired in 2012.
His 2012: It’s been a tumultuous twelve months for Britain’s favourite “folk punk” superstar. When Guitar Planet sat down with Frank Turner in February he talked excitedly about his then impending headline date at Wembley Arena and less favourably about journalism and politics stating clearly: “there's a massive, craven centre-left groupthink that I have very little time for, and that certainly does not reflect my politics at all”.
Despite making his view point clear (and stressing that he didn’t want to alienate potential fans with his political opinions) that didn’t stop the Guardian whipping up a frenzy with Micheal Hann’s lightening rod article: “Frank Turner: Turns Out He Was Rightwing All Along”.
The “rightwing” affair had little to do with the Frank’s actual music but nevertheless served to make the star one of 2012’s more controversial figures. Thankfully no amount of controversy could diminish another year of breakneck progression that was topped off, not by a Wembley set, but by opening the Olympic Games in front of a global audience.
His Inspiration: "To Live Is To Fly" by Townes Van Zandt
Frank Turner: I didn't grow up with acoustic or country music; I discovered it later in life. This song is a big deal for me, especially the solo live version. It's so maddeningly simple, and yet so perfect. The guitar work is delicate and fluid, uses basic chords but somehow makes them sound fresh. The lyrics are flawless, not a syllable out of place, and the message is pure poetry. Townes' voice is haunting, rich and tinged with sadness, a small moment of stillness in the middle of a maelstrom. When I heard this for the first time I realised how powerful music could be even if it was quiet and restrained. Definitely a song I'll have played at my funeral.
Her 2012: Few guitarists can claim to have won a Grammy, duelled with Steve Vai, directed the guitar department at Julliard and played alongside the finest mezzo-sopranos and orchestras the world has to offer, but for Sharon Isbin, that’s simply business as usual. Mixing master classes with a series of soloist slots, Sharon continued to stun audiences with her incredible knack for interpretation. The dexterous delicacy with which she teases poignancy out of even the most complex arrangements puts her in a class of her own - simply put she makes the academic expressive and the intimidating approachable.
Describing her playing is somewhat fruitless, it needs to be heard live, you have to take the plunge and see the way each piece organically mutates in person. Even the most single-minded metal fan would struggle to deny the beauty of her music as a squealing sequence rockets skywards only to saunter delightfully down to earth with the intricacy of a mellifluously woven spider’s web. So how was 2012 for Sharon Isbin? As awe inspiring as ever.
Sharon Isbin: Asturias, by 19th century Spanish composer Isaac Albeniz (1860-1909), is one of the first guitar pieces I fell in love with as a young player. Andres Segovia arranged it for guitar from piano, and I was fortunate to study this work with Segovia when I was a teenager. It is inspired by the passionate music of flamenco gypsies in Andalucía, with the opening fast, virtuosic section evocative of flamenco guitar, and the slow lyrical middle section like a flamenco singer improvising in the tradition of cante jondo (“deep song”). You can hear my recording of the work on Sharon Isbin & Friends: Guitar Passions (Sony).
His 2012: Enter Shikari divide opinion. Brash and confrontational onstage, the St. Albans’ four piece create bombastic and wildly energetic music in the studio. They’ve never been afraid to alienate with a blaring sound that mixes squelching and occasionally schizophrenic electronics with bruising machine gun blasts of guitar and drums. Catch one of the band’s seething live sets and you’ll witness their opinion splitting powers first hand, as fervid fans crowd surf en masse while bewildered outsiders are left scratching their heads.
2012 saw Shikari assaulting the upper echelons of the charts when third album A Flash Flood Of Colour entered the Top 10. At the beginning of the year all eyes were on Korn to create the ultimate electronic/rock hybrid, but it’s Clewlow and Shikari who truly pulled it off. AFFOC’s blend of big dub drops, moshable riffs, and political vitriol struck a chord with rock fans across the nation as the band shook off their noisenick reputation and were accepted as one of the UK’s most successful exports.
His Inspiration: ‘Bodysnatchers’ by Radiohead (In Rainbows – 2007)
Rory Clewlow: Radiohead are a big influence on me, they always seem to find the perfect blend of guitar tones, interesting effects and melodies. In this song, there are so many moments where the guitars are almost indistinguishable from the synths. Jonny Greenwood’s use of pedals and techniques almost transforms his guitar into a completely new instrument. Being a guitar player in a band that is based heavily in electronics, “Bodysnatchers” is really inspiring to me.
His 2012: Walter Trout and Enter Shikari sitting side-by-side, you don’t see that every day, but both acts had fantastic years in entirely different ways. While Shikari were inciting circle pits at sun soaked festivals, Trout has been on the road playing America’s finest blues bars in support of Blues For The Modern Daze. Improbably the veteran guitarist who has worked with everyone from BB King and Johnny Lee Hooker to Canned Heat and John Mayall appeared to reach his personal peak in 2012.
About.com have already named Blues For Modern Daze one of their albums of the year and with good reason. Trout might be light on innovation, but he compensates with an effortless playing style and cool but heartfelt swagger. His music is timely. With no quick economic fix on the horizon and unemployment reaching shocking heights across the world, a blues resurgence appeared inevitable, but Trout tackles populist sentiment with a deft touch. He strikes out at all the obvious targets without sacrificing even the slightest jot of momentum. His playing is smooth, highly engaging, and seldom overwrought as he pleads and grieves – proving once and for all that pacey playing and considered heartache are not mutually exclusive entities.
His Inspiration: “Another Country” by Michael Bloomfield
Walter Trout: The song “Another Country” by Michael Bloomfield and the Electric Flag is one of those pieces of experiential music that forever set the bar for innovation mixed with the heart-and-soul feeling.
The track starts and after about an introductory first minute or so, a really strange psychedelic noise takes over for a good while. Just as this becomes almost unbearable and you wonder what it is all about, a Latin groove starts. You feel ready to surrender to this new meaningful order after the psychedelic chaotic interlude, and then Michael Bloomfield takes you on a journey through this gentle Latin-Jazz tinged solo that builds and builds. Then a horn line is added and providing a new sonic quality. Finally propelled by the monster drumming of Buddy Miles the guitar solo segs into an R&B Tour de Force.
With this three-minute solo Bloomfield shows why (in my opinion) he was the finest American guitarist of his generation.
His 2012: Dry The River turned heads in 2011 with single “Weights & Measures”, cementing their “one to watch status” by playing to a jam packed crowd at Reading and Leeds. By comparison 2012 was less about getting noticed and more about translating that early momentum into a tangible on record release.
Thankfully, Dry The River delivered on their potential, releasing debut album Shallow Bed in June. Blighted by Mumford & Sons comparisons, Shallow Bed allowed the band to shake off the copycat tag and showcase the kind of solemn intimacy usually reserved for Bon Iver and Arcade Fire records.
With a Top 30 album in the bag, the band closed out the year with another successful stint on the festival circuit and a return to Reading and Leeds – where they were received even more fervently than before.
His Inspiration: “Rano Pano” by Mogwai
Matthew Taylor: The first thing I love about the guitar in this song is the incredible broken-fuzz tone. It sounds evil but gorgeous...absolutely glorious fuzz!
I really love a good spidery, low guitar line - something played on the bottom E and A string. I do it quite a lot in our band. Peter often plays acoustic so I'm not battling with another growly electric, and high wailing can clash with our violin. The guitar parts in “New Ceremony” and “Weights & Measures” are E and A string.
I just find this song's riff really engaging, it seems to meander endlessly, I think it’s 16 bars long. And it builds and builds until it sounds ginormous (our band does this an awful lot too). I play it in sound-checks over and over and drive our sound engineer crazy. I only wish I knew how they get that tone!
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