Allan Holdsworth: An interview (Atavachron 1994)
Summary: In this extensive interview, acclaimed musician Allan Holdsworth covers a diverse array of topics. He begins by discussing his unique approach to music, particularly his preference for instruments like horns over the acoustic guitar. Holdsworth briefly mentions his past collaborations with Jamie Muir and Alan Gowen and the impact of joining Tempest at Jon Hiseman's invitation. The conversation delves into his fascination with UFOs and his deep admiration for jazz saxophonist John Coltrane. Holdsworth expresses his reluctance to teach music at a formal educational level.
Holdsworth provides insights into his perspectives on synthesizers and MIDI technology, emphasizing their roles as tools for musicians to create music. He delves into the development of his baritone guitars and their influence on his recent work. The interview explores the visual aspects of his music, and Holdsworth's reluctance to pigeonhole his compositions into a specific genre, reflecting his down-to-earth approach to music.
Holdsworth praises Frank Zappa, considering him a self-made musical genius and likening him to Clint Eastwood. He shares personal interactions with Zappa and his admiration for him as both a musician and a person. Holdsworth talks about his musical influences, with a focus on legendary guitarists like Django Reinhardt and Charlie Christian. He elaborates on his unique legato playing style and the significance of prioritizing the musical essence over technical intricacies.
The conversation shifts towards record companies, with Holdsworth expressing his frustration with Restless Records, which owns his catalog, specifically citing issues with album covers and promotional materials. Holdsworth discusses his discontent with the recording process of the REH video, highlighting problems with audio mixing and his preference for retaining control over his music's sound. He touches on potential collaborations with renowned artists like Sting.
'The interview concludes with Holdsworth discussing his evolving instruments, particularly baritone guitars and headless guitar designs. He believes these custom-tuned guitars can have broader appeal. He also expresses an interest in synthesizers and mentions a humorous English joke left unshared. Throughout the interview, Holdsworth's commitment to innovation and individuality in his music and instrument design shines brightly.
[This summary was written by ChatGPT in 2023 based on the article text below.]
Allan Holdsworth: An Interview
Originally published on the Atavachron web site
Chris Hoard (with assistance and diatribe from Mick Porter and Ken Kubernik)
Transcribed by Jeff Preston / Edited by Jeff Preston and Chris Hoard.
Occasionally interrupted by Louise and Emily Holdsworth, and influenced by excessive pints of Anchor Steam beer; opinions herein expressed are not necessarily coherent, and by no means are not intended to stand up in a court of law or hold water before a jury of our peers.
Copyright 1994 by C. Hoard and J. Preston
NOTICE: This interview cannot be used for any commercial publication without the permission of the author and/or moderator of Atavachron. Portions of it may be posted to any relevant Internet format, however, we ask politely that Jeff Preston be advised of any such reproductions.
AH: Allan Holdsworth
CH: Chris Hoard
KK: Ken Kubernik
MP: Mick Porter
[brackets]: thoughts CH thought he had at the time-or added after transcription-or CH's interpretation of an incomplete (or interrupted) phrase by AH.
CH: I don't know how he talked me into this... that Jeff Preston geezer...
CH: He just doesn't pay me enough for this kind of thing.
AH: Well, go as fast as you can before I get the mind [totally out of order]...
AH: As it's already happening...
CH: Alright. The first question was regarding the acoustic guitar. Several people out there on the Internet contend that you're a great master of the instrument even though it's been very rare and seldom that you've ever played it.
AH: Well, the re's a good reason that I've never played it. It's not because I don't like the instrument; I saw that one question from that one guy... you know, who said, you know, "Why doesn't this musician play the most beautiful instrument in the world,"-that's not the truth for me. See, that may be the truth for him, but as far as I'm concerned the acoustic guitar is not, by a long way, the most beautiful instrument to me.
AH: Because it's a percussive instrument, and if it wasn't for the fact that I got kind of trapped with the guitar, the last thing in the world that I would ever want to play is a percussive instrument. I would like to play a horn. So for example, if my dream came true-if I could play the oboe or the English horn or the coronet-now then I would play an acoustic instrument. But for me, the difference between that and the acoustic guitar is so radical and so different that I'm not really interested in acoustic guitar period, but that doesn't mean-and you gotta tell this that doesn't mean that I don't like the instrument when I hear someone else play it. I love to hear the acoustic guitar played really well, it's just that...
CH: Would you say you just kind of rule out using it in future projects?
AH: I have no interest in it-it doesn't make the sound I want to hear. Why should I use it?
CH: Fair enough.
AH: Why would you want to do that? You know, why would you want to ride a bike with 24-inch wheels?
You know, why would you want to do that? I mean, it's his opinion... it's all his opinion that it was the most beautiful instrument. Which is very nice... and it is, but for me... sorry.
CH: Alright. Here's an obscure one: rumor has it you worked with a guy named Jamie Muir, a musician I know of and respect.
AH: Yeah, a drummer.
CH: A drummer and percussionist. Is there a story there? How did that come about?
AH: Well, it came about with Jamie Muir and Alan Gowen and a couple other people were involved in just a band that was trying to get together, and I used to go 'round to their house-Jamie's house I think it was, actually-to rehearse.
But we never did anything... we never recorded anything and we never went anywhere. It never...
CH: Do you remember anything about working with him, in particular?
AH: Well, I remember I enjoyed it... you know, I enjoyed working with him, and I really enjoyed working with Alan Gowen, and everything, but then, you know Alan Gowen died a few years later... of leukemia, I think. And I just went off in this other direction.
CH: It was just interesting because, like, he was another member of King Crimson you worked with-which you've worked with a lot of other members-or at least two of the major ones.
AH: Well, what happened was I worked with... we were just rehearsing with that band, and then I got the gig working with Jon Hiseman of Tempest. So, it took me away from that, you know. I don't know if we would have still carried on like that, but I enjoyed it. It was a pretty loose, open kind of band. You know, maybe too loose! But, from an organization point-of-view.
CH: Here's one that comes in from Deep Space Nine: Are UFOs real?
AH: Oh, of course. [chuckles] Well... I don't know. My imagination thinks that they are, but, you know. I mean of course I don't know. But my own belief is that... it seems more logical that they are than they're aren't.
CH: Right [just testing the guy who wrote a song called "Mr. Spock"].
AH: My logic, however illogical that is, would point me in the direction that there is other life.
CH: I quite agree with you. [But can we atone for the deficit of intelligent life on this planet?].
AH: You know, just the same as my logic will tell me that everything that man does makes no sense at all. Then I think about the things that I hear about, making California like a-I'm not a smoker; I don't smoke. But the thing is, when I hear all these stories about making California and all restaurants non-smoking things, I have to laugh, because you think... well, what you do is you go inside the restaurant and you come outside and die! You know, it's like, I still hear things on the radio where they're still going to be running automobiles in 2015 off of fossil fuel. I mean, it's absolutely ludicrous-it's ridiculous! I mean, how can they do that? How can they come down so hard on smokers-they should but how can they come down so hard on smokers and not on people burning fossil fuels? [pause] They just screw your lungs up just as bad. I mean, and in fact probably more so the fossil fuel than the cigarette, because you're literally just burning something... you're not putting out some kin d of toxic soot, you know.
CH: Allan: How big of an influence, if any, was John Coltrane on your musical style?
AH: Well, he was a huge influence on my life. I mean, as far as "on my style," I don't really know, because I couldn't even say that, you know, I couldn't even begin to think about anything remotely like that. He was just a... he was a huge influence on me.
CH: Would you ever teach music at the college or university level?
CH: No. End of story.
AH: I don't know anything about it. How can you teach anything if you don't know it? If I could live to be five hundred years old, I would know nothing.
AH: And what makes me laugh is-you know, you have to laugh at people, you do-but then again, some people are really good
CH: Oh, come on-that's bullshit! You know a hell of a lot more than I know. And on an intuitive level, you know a lot more than a lot of musicians who teach music... I would argue, anyway.
AH: I don't know. But it's not something I'm interested in.
CH: Would you ever consider playing a seven-string guitar?
AH: Ah, no.
CH: Why? I'm just curious.
AH: Well, because the whole principle of making the baritone guitars was to extend the range of the guitar. But if you put seven strings on a guitar, you really falsely extend the range of the guitar. What you do is you put this big, thick string on the bottom of the guitar, with a scale length that's far too low for it to go. It's like the relative scale length between that and the... it's like putting the low C on a violin.
CH: So how does that affect the sound of the instrument, by doing that?
AH: It can never sound... good. It can never sound... I mean, it won't` stop anyone playing... playing music on it and being good at it. But to me, the sound is really important, and it can't possibly ever sound right. That's why we made the big guitars [the DeLap baritone guitars-JP]; because the big guitar has the string length to go down that low... I mean, relative to 25-1/2" scale. Because a bass is actually a much shorter scale than the guitar relative to its pitch.
CH: How important an experiment, in your recent body of work, has that been-developing the baritone instruments?
AH: Oh, it's been real important. You know, unfortunately I ran into a few... fell into a few holes, just simply because Bill [DeLap], the guitar builder-I never really am able to pay him a load of money to just work for me. You know, it's a pain to build an instrument. So he makes everything... [but] he's basically a repair guy. He makes beautiful instruments, but he can't...
CH: He can't afford to support your habit all the time, huh?
AH: No. And the thing is, with the big guitars, an unfortunate problem with them is, the two guitars I really played-or that I like to play -- is that he took one of them back to work on it. And that was over a year ago, and I haven't seen it since. So it's really a problem, you know, because he lives so far away, and I only get to see him once a year. That's one of the reasons I didn't play a baritone guitar on this new album, 'cause I didn't have it. I mean, I have "Gonan," but I think the way they were, there was a 34", a 36" and a 38" [scale]. And the 38" one, which is the only one that I have right now, is too big for me-I can't play it. It actually sounds great, but it is beyond... [pause]
CH: Your technical ability...? [beyond his technical ability-suppose that's the mental equivalent of being denser than a black hole...]
AH: My capability to play it.
MP: Just because of its size?
AH: Yeah. It's too big.
MP: Could a big person play it?
AH: Ah, no, probably not. It's like the size of a human hand.
CH: So we're not likely to see you play a baritone guitar on a tour?
AH: Yeah, you are! But not that one. Not the 38" scale one. The 36" scale one was a good compromise.. it was a compromise, 'cause it wasn't truly 25-1/2", uh... [to] E. But it was the only way to do it.
CH: To what extent has the "MIDI revolution" affected your music?
AH: Well, it didn't really affect it as much as it gave me an opportunity to play... to use it as a tool. But that's all I thought of it as, 'cause I thought it was a wonderful tool, you know... it's another way to record things and... you know, for example I've always been interested in synthesis as opposed to sampling and that kind take, you know, like the sound of a particular thing, like say if you wanted... you could actually say it's all computer based. So you could actually say, "Okay, well, I want it to be this long; I want it to have a reed, but I want it to have like, you know, the bell-end of a trombone, or I want it to be like...." Or you could say, "I want it to be a trombone with an oboe mouthpiece on it." You're able to, like, really create instruments. The act...
MP: The expert system instrument designer... ?
AH: They haven't been able to create what you haven't heard yet, which is to me what synthesizers should be all about, and will be, eventually-it's only a matter of time.
CH: Oh yeah. And it's not like they've never been about that, but...
AH: No, but there's a lot of horseshit about synthesizers that I hear, where people say: "It's not a real instrument," you know, "It's a product of like, the technology." But I've always believed this: That any instrument that's ever been played by man since the dawn of time has been a product of technology.
CH: Oh yeah?
CH: On some level.
AH: If you made a wooden flute, you had to know where to put the holes.
CH: The product of technology-or hazard. [laughs]
AH: Yeah! And then if you make a... if you go back and you say, a grand piano, you know, that's a really modern instrument. It's steel-you drag it out of the ground, and pull the strings through dies, they wind it and all that-it's totally modern. It's nothing to do with a primitive instrument. It's all... it's all these guys, they say, "Oh, you know, electric guitar, or synthesizer or whatever..."; it's all... I think it's all bull.
MP: You don't think it's too easy...?
AH: I just think it's that same thing, is... that wanting to be open and to accept the fact that it could be good; we just see all the bad things about it. And probably with the beginning of synthesis they just saw it taking people's jobs. In the long run, it probably can't ever do that. It's like if you have a mechanized plant, and you make guitars or whatever, you'll probably end up hiring more people, because you'll be able to do, you know, you'll be able to do things a little bit more efficiently.
CH: I kind of view it like plants in the office; you know, you have the plastic ones. They don't give off oxygen. Then you have the real ones. I mean, synthesis is kind of like that-could be in its worst case. [Too often] it's kind of like an artificial musical medium...
AH: Well, I don't see that-I don't see that at all, because all instruments... that would be true if you were talking about some tree t hat grew outside that when the wind blew it played "Giant Steps," but that's not the case with plants. Or, I mean, it's like if you have a plastic plant, that for sure is not real. But... what's so unreal about a synthesizer, compared to a saxophone?
CH: Ah... just that the cheezy ones don't sound that good... [especially the cheddar alto sax preset on my old Ensoniq...]
AH: Well, that's... neither does a guy with a million-dollar saxophone who's lame!
CH: This is true.
MP: I think a big part of the fear is they think 'you'll be able to produce really beautiful music without having the expertise and putting in the years, having made the commitment-or even having the talent; any schlep that can afford a computerized setup can produce music-I think that scares some people.
AH: Yeah, but I don't think so, because there's always gonna be... they're always going to be able to recognize the difference. Sure, when it first comes out, you might be able to impress some people "Oh, look what I did with my little computer setup," and such. But really, when you put that same thing in the hands of a real musician, you're not going to have the same results.
CH: What I guess my point about synthesis is that... I've got a problem with a lot of synthesizer music I hear.
AH: Well, that's to do with the musician.
CH: Of course, you're right. It has more to do with the musician. They settle for a stock preset, it's cheezy, and they get overused, and they actually are thrown out there on countless albums projects like legitimate orchestrations-and it sounds like Velveeta, you know?
AH: Yeah, but that's the same as having like... somebody riding in the Tour de France... you give all these guys the same bike, and somebody's gonna do some more than another guy.
AH : And it's even deeper than that, because you're talking about a creative force, not necessarily just a physical force. Anybody can figure out... you might get guys who're real good at working your computer, who can do... they can get in and look at my setup, and say, "Oh man, you don't know how to use anything," you know, because I don't know how to use the computer-and I don't! I use a computer like I use a tape recorder: fast-forward, rewind, play and record!
CH: I use it like a tape recorder and like a word processor; I mean, I can edit out a bad note, you know. I can change a note in a melody line, by typing on the keyboard, as opposed to playing it, just because I want to hear how that melody would sound with a different note. And it's buried right in there with the sequence of notes that I just played.
AH: Well, the lucky thing for me was that, with the SynthAxe, I couldn't record when I was playing solos, 'cause I chose to use an analog breath controller. I can't record solos on a sequencer; I have to record them directly to tape.
CH: Maybe that's just because your computer can't record some MIDI control parameters...
AH: Yeah, but I wouldn't want to do that anyway. I'm glad that I can't go in there and change the shit around... Excuse me for a second. [AH hastens away, either to pull a pint or unload one].
CH: Yeah. Uh-oh! Beer break! We do need some new pints pulled. Allan? [we "take five" here] And a comment from Mr. Porter, on our discussion of synthesis, yes?
MP: Oh well, synthesis brings up... it makes people think of... "new age", and the old joke about "new age" music is: What you get when you play new age music backwards?
MP: New age music.
CH: We were discussing your analogy for the synthesizer...
AH: Well, I was just thinking about it when I was peeing, there... [laughter]. I was thinking... you know, the question about the synthesizer is really, the bottom line is it always boils down to the music-what you're going to do with it-and it literally is a tool, and it's like, say for example, if I want to fix something on my bike and I don't have the right wrench or something, it's like you design a tool to do a certain job, and with that tool you can do what you need to do with it, and that's what I see a synthesizer as. It's like, when I'm working on the handpump or something-"Oh, you know what? I have to find a way-plumbing to get from an 1-1/2" diameter to ¾" pipe", or whatever. And then you... [note, the "handpump" is an English device, commonly found only in fine ale supplying establishments that serve, fresh, unpasteurized beer-AH happens to have lugged two back from England-and manages to keep a small army of Californians interested in how this device transform s fine American beer s such as Anchor Steam, Sierra Nevada, and Sam Adams-a few of the favorites at "The Brewery." Of course, during the process of installing the handpump, as he did not have a functioning pub-bar facility, he had to attach a type of sink to the hand-pump. Anyway, we had better not make too much of this, as AH could well discover that plumbing is much less stressful and immensely more lucrative than being a guitar genius...]
AH: ...first. You cannot take the tool and just use it-you have to have a need for it, and then you have to have a purpose, and then the tool serves your purpose and does the job for you. And that's the way I see synthesizers: synthesizers are musical... is an instrument-it's only an instrument-it's a tool. Just like a guitar, or any other instrument. There's no difference.
CH: Take the title track on your last album, "Hard Hat Area", where you obviously use synthesizers. How did it work for you in that context?
AH: Well, it was good, because I wouldn't have been able to do the same thing, color-wise and texture-wise with just guitar. 'Cause what I was visualizing was, I saw like a high-rise building being built, in Tokyo city, for example-but in "Super Mario" style. Pictures; it was like music for an imaginary movie. And it was about guys building a building. And that's all it was.
CH: And obviously, it strikes the listener (or maybe just me) that there's always questions why-given your compositional style in some of these tracks that you've recorded that're in that [very visual] vein...
AH: I don't think I've done anything quite like that, though.
CH: ...No, not quite like that, but I think you've done some other tracks that are quite conducive to film.
MP: Yeah, 'cause it's always like that. You know, it seems like there's a really visual thing goin' on there.
AH: Yeah, it's usually that I see something, and then the tune comes from that. It's like I imagine something, and then the music comes to fit it. That's why, I think, you know... I would never say that I can do anything, you know, like...
CH: So one can't make, possibly, an analogy between the female form and say, "Tokyo Dream"?
AH: Well... I wasn't thinking about a female form when I did "Tokyo Dream"...
CH: Well, okay [laughs] ... well, which tune were you...?
AH: But usually I am... usually, I think about that all day long. I think I'm preoccupied, sorry.
CH: Quite alright.
MP: "A reader in Wisconsin asks..." [laughs]
CH: Actually, I had this question, and I was going to raise this anyway. We we're talking earlier about the next project as being potentially something more in a straight-ahead jazz vein. Your next album's going to be a departure, I understand. Can you tell us anything about this at this point?
AH: Well, I mean that's all I can tell you, is that I'd like it to be that. You know, I'd like to do that. The thing is that, it may show me out to be a total idiot. I mean, I have no idea. All I know is that the music that I play, I feel is actually akin to jazz. You know, as chord changes, and we play over the chord changes, and it's just that the form of it, because it's more unusual-a little different-people don't really hear it necessarily the way I do-the way I think they would hear it. Which has become pretty obvious to me, right now.
CH: And [your recording of] "Michelle" had something to do with that, right?
AH: Well, no, that was just something that... [came along]
CH: There was quite a reaction to that piece [on Atavachron and otherwise] -- some reviewer wrote something about "Michelle"...
AH: Well yea h... That was just an opportunity to do something. But the way I was thinking about it was that it made me realize then, that when I play that kind of music or whatever, it's the same thing; all I'm doing is playing over chord changes. So, whether I wrote them or didn't write them, it makes no difference. And the thing is, sometimes I find it easier to play over things that're other people's music rather than my own. A lot of times people will say that you write a tune-basically to make it-easy for yourself, or whatever. But I never do that; when I write a piece of music, I write it with this thing, like the vision of the piece I wanted. Like for example, "Tullio" is a good example. I've never played a tune that was any harder than that for me to play through; in fact...
CH: Really? That was probably the most difficult on "Hard Hat Area" for you to play?
AH: Well, we didn't do it live first, you know; all the other tunes, we did. And the reason we didn't do it live was, it was mostly... it was pretty difficult. I couldn't get through half a chorus without screwing up! It's an extremely long chord sequence, you know. I'm sure there's some genius out there that could play through it the first time, but I was struggling with it, and it was good to know that some of the other guys in the band-oh, Steve [Hunt], who soloed in it, was having the same problems I was. It kind of goes where you don't think [it will] -- it trips you up.
CH: Here's another question that came in from somebody, from Brandeis University... from Lynn, possibly female?
AH: Megor, megor! Completely megor.
CH: A female out there, that's interested in the Holdsworthian realm, yes, very "megor" [if so, and if not, no offense intended!] Is there a possibility that, if you had an opportunity to involve Michael Brecker in the next project in some way, would you?
AH: Yeah, I'd like to do that! But then so would everybody else!
CH: Yeah! [laughs] Is it something I should pursue, at some point? Is it possible for the next project?
AH: Well, it would be possible, yeah, 'cause what we'd have to do is ask him if he could do it, and if he wants to he would, and if he doesn't, he won't.
CH: Yeah. So in other words, "We'll ask him."
CH: Okay. [laughs] Can't hurt to ask! Just out of curiosity, a few people out there want to know what you think of the list on the Internet; the fact that people are out there talking about your music... what you do...
AH: Well, I think it's amazing. I was totally amazed, because not being a computer guy, you know, it was all news to me. People would call me up and say, "Jeez! Did you know that the first time I heard about you like, some guy calling up and going 'Jesus, this guy out there with this computer deal called Atavachron...'"-I just about fell through the floor-I couldn't believe it!
MP: How long ago was that?
AH: I think it was a couple of years ago...
AH: I think it's amazing, you know? So I'm sure if they're doing it to me, they're doing it to a lot of other people more worthy. You know, so... it's good.
CH: Okay, what, if anything, do you see as a prerequisite for making your name as recognizable as other famous jazz artists'? Like Wynton Marsalis; do you see that there's a... is that a concern to you?
AH: Well, it's totally a non-concern to me... Probably because of the way I started, when I think about it, is... there's a lot of reasons. But one of the main reasons is that, most people-when they start out-they have an idea that they want to be a musician. One day maybe a young kid he might pick up a guitar and go, you know, "Jeez, I really would like to work real hard on this and get a job as a musician," and everything. But when I look back, I realize that that was the farthest thing from my mind. When I started playing, I only did it as... It was just literally a hobby. I'd never any intention of taking it any farther than that. It was just because I loved music so much, and that I'd listened to it from being really little, you know, like three or four years old. Constantly... that's all I'd do, is just bury my head in my dad's records. And I just thought of myself as a listener. So when I started getting involved in trying to write music, then I was really shocked at myself, you kno w. But it came by a complete accident. All of a sudden, I realized like now, when I think, "Jeez, you know, I'm actually doing this as a musician,"-but it wasn't my intent. And I think that worked to my advantage, in that I don't expect anything, you know. I don't think perhaps the same way as someone who's hunting for a certain thing, you know. But I realize that it would be impossible for me to do anything like, speaking of Wynton Marsalis, for example, just simply because his music can be put in a box. He plays classical music; he plays jazz music; and you can put it in a big box, and my music falls through all the holes. So you can't... that's the biggest reason. It has nothing to do with whether it's any good or not, or whether his is any good or not; it means that people will hear it because it falls into a box, and they can play it on the radio. But my music can't; it was never heard on the radio, except by a few stations who were not too scared to lose their ratings by playing it.
CH: Do you have any Frank Zappa anecdotes? Any thoughts about him, now that he's passed away?
AH: It's really sad... you know, I mean, we all loved what he did, and I think of him, like, to me, he was like a musical Clint Eastwood; 'cause he did everything for himself, and not only was his music wonderful; he was a great man, you know. And I don't know anybody who didn't have-who didn't know him-who didn't have the utmost respect for him, both as a musician and as a person.
CH: Did you know him, at all?
AH: Yeah, I did! But he was really good to me-helped me out and he one time let me use his studio, you know, and there was no reason for him to do that, you know-he was just basically helping me out! But, you know, we were all, you know, really sad about what happened to him. You know, I just wish I could have seen a little bit more of him. Let him know what all of us thought about him. The other thing is, I think that "self-made guy" thing, you know, like Clint, you know... they go out and do their thing... and they say screw Warner Brothers, screw any record company... you know, they're all walking around with their fingers up... [obviously some unmentionable orifice]
AH: And I love it, man ! Because they prove that it can be done!
AH: And they were absolutely correct!
AH: Both counts!
CH: That is inspiring to anyone who's an independent thinker...
MP: Which of your father's records did you used to listen to? I heard you say that. What are the ones that really "did it" for you?
AH: All of them. I used to listen to all of them. Most of them... we had Art Tatum, Fats Waller, Charlie Christian... Django Reinhardt. Now there, you know-Django Reinhardt-and Charlie Christian were probably the biggest influences once I started to play guitar, but before that, I didn't really pay any more attention to it because I heard the music in the notes. [to his kids, who are wanting to order pizza] Mom can do that! Jeez, I'm the one who's doing the interview! You don't want to order the pizza?!? Starve to death, then!
[laughter by all]
CH: Much has been written, they say, about your legato style.
AH: Oh, God. Did I even answer that question? That last one?
MP: Chris, you answered it for him.
CH: They want to know if you attribute your unique approach to playing legato, or is it something new-a new style, perhaps.
AH: No, it's not; it's nothing. It's just the way...
CH: I guess I would rephrase the questions: "Is there any significant factor in the way you derive your own style?"
AH: Significant? Yes, there is; a significant factor was always trying to make the guitar sound the way you want it to sound.
CH: Like a horn?
AH: Yeah. I mean, for no other reason. I wanted to play the saxophone, but I couldn't-I got stuck with a guitar. And I didn't realize what I was doing! I didn't know that I was playing legato... I didn't know. I really didn't care! I was just trying to play music; I was trying to find the notes that I wanted to hear. And who cares? The notes, the music... again, the music's the thing, man. Who cares whether the guy has a pick between his first two toes, or holds it picking his ass-cheeks. Who cares, man? What does it matter, man? It's totally unimportant. It's irrelevant. Completely.
CH: Gearhead question:
[note: We were distracted by family conference on who should order the
pizza at this point-I posted the "gearhead" question (which I forgot to ask after being distracted by nourishment) in Atavachron #78.]
AH: Claire! Do you want to do the pizza thing, for God's sake?!?
CH: This interview has just degenerated into a round of insults being hurled from all directions!
AH: ... Actually, this is all going on the computer-word-for-word!
Louise: Shut up, Dad!
AH: This is going on Internet!
CH: Yeah, I feel sorry for Jeff Preston, having to transcribe this thing.
KK: But they'll learn a lot about Allan, and how he really works...
AH: Yeah... or doesn't....!
KK: Or how he doesn't work-how he malfunctions!
AH: That's the thing, yeah!
CH: Apparently some idiot at Jazziz magazine put "Wardenclyffe Tower" as one of the most important jazz releases of the decade. Despite the fact that Restless sent no promo copies to any reviewers.
AH: As far as I know, Restless don't send anything to anybody. Not even me! I can't get a cassette... it's pretty hard for me to get a CD out of them-believe me! I have to call them up and ask them... they send them, one-by-one, along with a C.O.D., man.
KK: "You can have them at our cost: $13.00 each."
AH: It's true, man. We wanted to buy records to sell on the road. They wanted the same price for 'em as they sell 'em retail. So the band couldn't even do it. I mean, what kind of a record company would do that to you? Print it-please! [laughter all around] Put it on there-it's true! It's the truth! There's no record company on the face of the planet that would do that to us; they'd come to the gigs, and they'd want the band to pay for them to come in. We have to pay for the record company...! And then, they all go, "Aw, Jesus, we don't wanna do that," and then they show up and you see them [at a gig] and you say, "Hi," as you walk by them they don't come back to say hello to the band or nothing! I mean, Restless... this is over, man. This whole Restless thing is history. It's kind of sad, because Restless actually own my whole catalog at the moment. So, I'm very disappointed and extremely distressed about it, 'cause for example, please print all this as well...
The stuff that they did with the album cover [for Hard Hat Area(JP)], they went ahead and did the whole album cover, and never even sent it to me to look at-to see!
KK: Contractually, did they have the right to do that? Don't you have the right to...
AH: Everybody goes and sees [it prior to release], you know...
KK: I mean, you as an artist have the right to contractually sign-off on the work, don't you, I mean...
AH: Well, usually they let you see it, but they let me see it after it'd gone to the printer and everything, and we... some guy had to... they couldn't release it like that-there were too many mistakes on it, so they had to do it again [note: this comment pertained to the musician/production credits]. I mean, and Restless do this the whole time they did it-with the last album, they did it wit h this... they've done it with the press thing. They write this shit about me, from 200 years ago that I don't ever want to see... and they name-drop everywhere they can, you know... I want to get rid of all that name-dropping! Who cares whether, you know...
CH: ... Eddie Van Halen had something to do with it?
AH: Yeah! Or Carlos Santana... I think they're both great, but what has that... you know, I just don't want to sit on anybody's back! I mean, it's insane, man.
Is it almost over?
CH: Almost. Your association with early fusioneers: Has that somehow tainted your credibility in the jazz press?
AH: I have no idea. I have absolutely no idea.
KK: Wanker's question.
AH: But... probably, because it just makes the music fall through the holes again.
MP: You know, I've spent some time wanking. I don't have a problem with wankers. I'm a wanker. You were a wanker. I wank. These are the Wank Years... [speak for yourself, Mickey! Pee Wee?]
CH: You were less than pleased with the REH video. Why were you less than pleased with the REH video, and the new book, "Just For The Curious"?
AH: Well, I wasn't displeased with the book-I think the book turned out really good, and the book is just basically for me, one really good way of clarifying things that weren't made so clear in the video. The biggest problem with the video was there was a huge problem on the video. What I wanted to do was to record the band live, like we did, but we wanted to... I wanted to record it live-to-24-track and then mix it, so... because I know that some guy sitting behind the desk [mixing console-JP] who's never heard the band before, he doesn't know where to put anything; he doesn't know there's a keyboard solo... how loud the chorus should be, or anything! So it was part of my deal was that we'd record the thing live, of course...
AH: ... but to 24-track, and that I would be able to mix it afterwards. Well, they screwed up big time. They went to the expense of recording the all-live to 24-track, then when I got the tape at home, and put the bass up, I thought, "It sounds great"; put the drums up- "Sounds great"; put the keyboards up-"Sounds great." I put the guitar up and all I could hear was drums!!!
AH: They sub-grouped the drums to the guitar track. So when you listen to the video now, this is a very good example of why I'm extremely displeased with it is, that the way the video sounds now, there are no drum tracks up-none, whatsoever! None! All the drums you hear on the REH video are on the guitar tracks.
CH: So in other words, it was a massive engineering disaster.
AH: It was a massive engineering fuck-up of the highest magnitude. An d then, not only that... not only that. Not only did that displease me, but they turned 'round to me and said, "Well, didn't you check that?" and I said-because they know that I do my own engineering-but I'm on this side of the glass, playing live!!! I'm not on that side of the glass! All it takes is the guy-the engineer-to push a solo button and listen to the guitar. If I was in there and pushed "solo" and all I heard was drums...
CH: Any idea why there's so much chaos in the universe?
AH: Yes-too many people.
KK: A very good answer.
AH: It's the only one... I didn't finish with REH yet.
MP: What does that stand for?
AH: I dunno.
KK: Was this thing widely distributed... the book and the video?
AH: Yeah. So, the book was a good deal for me, because I got to straighten a few things out that weren't clarified in the, you know, the video. But... which I think they were, plus we were working with this guy, Aaron Stang, who was the guy who's work was on the book, he was really great... he was really good.
KK: Do you have a copy of the book here?
AH: Yeah, I do.
KK: I'd love to see it at some point. I haven't seen it anywhere.
AH: Yeah, sure. But you know, then they turned that thing around on me about the mixing, and it was completely impossible for me to know, because I was on [the wrong] side of the glass.
KK: You can't be two places at once.
AH: And then the next big problem was I couldn't take advantage of the sound of anybody else's instrument, on the video. For example, the bass should have sounded better; the keyboards; the drums- everything would have sounded great. But I couldn't, because I couldn't process one thing without the other. I couldn't make the keyboards sound [ like] a million dollars with this sad, lame-ass guitar sound, just simply because I couldn't do anything to it.
CH: Buried in the drums.
AH: So I had to leave everything exactly the way it was. I couldn't put echo on the guitar without putting echo on the drums. I couldn't make the guitar brighter without making the drums brighter. It was a complete, total disaster. That's why. So in answer to that, that seems to happen to me quite a lot, so, I'm really sorry that I did it. But, it's out there. I'll never do another one. [leans in to microphone] Never.
[laughs all around]
CH: Here's our star-struck question... Would it be a mistake for you to appear on a high-profile artist's recording, as a soloist? Like Peter Gabriel, Sting, or Steely Dan?
AH: Ah, I'd love it.
MP: Why would it be a mistake?
AH: It would be absolutely megor.
CH: Now, if I named those three, which one would you most like to do?
AH: Sting, probably.
AH: Because I like... I know he seems to be a bit of a poseur, but I like his...
AH: There's something about his music that's like, kind of organic that I like; it seems really... scratch the poseur thing!
AH: There's something about...
CH: He's quite a musician, isn't he?
AH: Well, I don't know, but what I like about it is when I hear his music sometimes, it's like... they're songs that I've heard in my head before. Everything sounds like I've heard it before. But I recognize it... I recognize it; it seems to be one level further back than like, pop music, which is just like on the front-and you just [hear] it and you go, "Oh, Jeez...."
CH: Could that possibly be because you're from the same geographic area, in a way? I mean, he's from Newcastle; you're from Bradford.
AH: Well, I mean... I think music is very geographical. You know, you can tell a lot of times where people come from, by that.
CH: I really enjoyed his band, especially David Sancious and Vinnie Colaiuta, who are incredible musicians.
AH: Ah, yeah.
MP: When he was done playing the keyboards, he got up there and took up a guitar, man, and he still-he'd part your hair at a hundred meters. The guy was phenomenal!
AH: Well, I think David Sancious is great, you know, I mean because that's what I always liked about him. I could never figure out where, why. I could realize the guy that they've got [guitarist Dominic Miller], you know, does the job, or whatever, and maybe looks good, or whatever-I dunno. But there's a funny thing; is that David Sancious plays really good guitar.
MP: He does.
AH: And the thing that I saw, he just completely torched the guitar player.
KK: This is true...
AH: It was like... it was like, "Why wasn't he playing guitar?"
KK: Just remember, it's like you say: Sting is fundamentally a songwriter, and I don't think he wants the chops to get in the way of the song, and that's what you're always thinkin' about. I mean, you've heard it all before, and if everybody was busy wankin' off and playing solos...
AH: Well, they wouldn't be, would they?
KK: No-he wouldn't let them.
MP: Wanking. Wanking seems to be a recurring theme. I was commenting on the wanking... [no more ales for him!]
AH: Well, I don't think they should be, anyway. It's not the kind of music it is.
CH: Alright, we've got just a couple more.
AH: Fire away.
CH: Somebody-Paolo-writes, "How on Earth did it occur to Mike Mainieri to invite you to participate on Come Together [:Jazz tribute to the Beatles"-JP] ?"
AH: Absolutely no idea.
CH: Mike Mainieri somehow thought of you. Probably Michael Brecker recommended you, there.
AH: I doubt it.
AH: But it was... you know, I'm glad we did it, because we got the opportunity to do that thing with Gordon [Beck] -- that's the first track that'd I'd done with Gordon in a few years. It was good.
KK: It was brilliant, Allan.
MP: Which track was that? The "Michelle" thing? That was phenomenal; that was great.
CH: Yeah, let's move on... I want to kind of move on and talk a little bit. Gordon's going to be involved in the next album, and you were telling me that you really hadn't had a chance to make a real album with Gordon. What do you mean by that?
AH: Well, everything that I've ever done with Gordon has been... has had some problems for me, one way or another. Either I didn't know the music before it was done, like when we did "Sunbird"-we did the music before; it wasn't music that I was familiar with, or a style of music that I [was comfortable with at the time]... By the end of the tour, at least I'd figured out how I could work my way through it [the changes]. But the album was recorded before the tour, which was disappointing for me. I felt that I liked it but that I sounded really bad on it. And that was my main reason. And everything that we've ever done together has been like that for me; I've never felt comfortable. So what I wanted to do is at least have the chance to be comfortable with the music before we recorded one. And I have such a respect for him, you know, he's an unbelievable musician-that I just would look forward to having a chance to do that.
CH: What kind of other musicians-if you were going to do something more in a "straight ahead" vein-what other ideal musicians would participate, if you could get them?
AH: I don't really know yet. We haven't finalized it at all. We've discussed it a little, but it's still up for grabs right now. Because... it's operating in an area that I'm not... you know, that I'm not working in, generally. I don't know, really.
CH: It's going to be another exciting experiment, no doubt.
MP: When you get ready to make a new album, do you say, "I better make a new one, because I've just made one and toured in support of it, and now it's time to move on," or do you actually... is there something that happens and you say, "Okay, well an album can come from this." What's the deal?
AH: Well, you just usually want to try and make one; you usually want to try and document what's happened within a year. It seems like a year seems to be a reasonable length of time. So after a year, I always feel like I need to do a new album. Because after a year's gone by, if I listen to the last one, I go "Oh, God! We've got to do something new." So a year seems to be a good length, you know, before you wanna go out and do another one.
I don't wanna be one of those guys who puts out two or three albums a year. They all sound the same, or whatever. I mean not all guys do that-some guys could make three albums in a year and they all be completely different, and all be really megor. But for me, being slower... like it takes me that length of time for it to sort of like roll around; for the gears to turn...
MP: I listen to like Sting, and I wish he would wait a little while. Frankly, the last couple, I thought, haven't been as developed or entertaining, and when he was doing "The Dream of the Blue Turtles", he probably had a long time to gather material, while the Police was goin' on. And that was such a fine album, and it's like I'm waiting for him to do that one again. Well, not again...
AH: Well, that's probably what... that's possibly what happened, you see, because... I mean, I don't know-who knows? But I know that was the way it was when we did the first I.O.U. album. We had a lot more material before we started that one, more available than any other one. Until we came to the last one-that's why I think "Hard Hat Area" for me was a nicer album. You know, 'cause you had the same kind of thing as the first one: We played the music live before we went into the studio, and that was real important to me...
CH: And yet, the project was problematic, too.
AH: Oh, I've never done anything that wasn't full of like... terrible grumblings and everything. We had terrible grumblings with the machines; I ran out of money. But thankfully, for the guy who owns Front Page Studios, like Biff Vincent, who's like a great guy- he's really helped me out and he let me keep the machine a few more days than I could pay for. But eventually, you know, I had to hand it over. [laughs] You know, I had to take what I had, and what I had wasn't what I wanted it to be, 'cause I really wanted the album to sound better than it does, but... the bottom line is [at some point you have to move on]...
CH: How would you compare it to Wardenclyffe..., for example, I mean in terms of the sound?
AH: Well I actually think it sounds better. I think it's more linear, or more uniform than Wardenclyffe Tower. That had different groups, different combinations of guys doing different studios and it wasn't quite... one uniform sound.
CH: There was a track with Vinnie Colaiuta, for instance, on Wardenclyffe..
AH: Yeah, yeah. Chad played on it...
CH: Was that left over from Secrets, or something?
AH: No, no-no-no. We went in and did that. So it was... Gary played on it, Gary Husband; Chad Wackerman played on it; and Vinnie played on it. So there was three different bands, and a couple of the tracks that Chad played on were done at different studios.
KK: Something I always think about when I listen to your music... how much your point-of-view is so strong... I mean I can tell within one measure this is an Allan Holdsworth... It's more than just music-it's a complete relationship to the sound of the music. I've always wondered if you've ever entertained the notion of, just for an experiment's sake, if nothing else, having someone else come in and produce an album with you. And have somebody else's ears take a different position in terms of the relationship to the sound that you get... and perhaps defer to that person, or just allow another voice to have equal footing with you-just to see what would co me out, in terms of getting a different perspective...
MP: Somebody like Brian Eno?
KK: I don't know who. I don't care who it is.
AH: Well, I mean if it's something like that, it would have to be a situation whereby they would be prepared to... like... throw the record into the trash can. That would be the only way I'd go into an album like that-where I'd allow someone an equal amount
of [creative control] -- unless it was a duet thing, you know.
KK: No, I'm talking strictly as a producer-type, and not someone who would be a musician with you. I mean, I'm just wondering... bringing in a producer...
AH: Well, I've thought about it, because producers sometimes have that thing of saying... well, you might do something and think it's no good. And they might think it's really great. But my own experience is-until it sounds good to me, it doesn't matter what he says! So, the answer to that question is "no." [pause] Because in the end, the end result would be that if it doesn't really concern me what anybody else thinks about it. If I think I did the best that I could, and everybody else thinks it sounds like shit, that's still okay, because at least I [met my own standards]. The worst thing that can happen to me is for me to do something like I fell off a log, you know. [Something] that I think is not very good, and have everybody like it...
You know, it's sort of like somebody comes up to me and says, "Oh yeah, I really like what you did on Chad's new album," but I'd have to say they'd be really completely crazy. 'Cause for example, that last album that we did with Chad, has prompted me to decide permanently and completely locked within my mind that unless I know the engineer, or what he's gonna do, I'm never going to play on anybody else's album again.
MP: What about it? What made you say that?
AH: Well because he took what I did and completely changed it, and destroyed it, in my opinion.
CH: Not Chad, but... Chad's engineer [Walter Quintas-JP].
AH: No! Yeah, but... Chad was there.
KK: And it's Chad's name on the record, so ultimately Chad has to be satisfied...
AH: Chad has a certain responsibility to it...
MP: Destroyed it? How?
AH: Well, he did all kinds of stuff to the guitar-he put all kinds of effects on it, and processed it and harmonized it, and did shit to it that would have driven me completely up the wall-and does! I can't even listen to that record!
CH: In other words, the engineer took the track that Allan had laid, and had his own ideas about the effects and, you know, basically botched it up.
AH: You know, I told Chad, with all due respect, to be loose on it... like in terms of processing. And if the guy wanted to do anything [try it,] but what I was meant was more like... I was thinking of it in a more subtle way; I wasn't thinking of any blatant, complete, tortured sounding shit, you know, which is what happened. And... I can't listen to it-it's painful. I can't believe that someone can do that. That just shows you-that's another reason getting back to your question about the producing-is why I can't give that stuff up to people. 'Cause it's like taking a solo that someone did on the saxophone, throwing it through a ring modulator... harmonizing it... you know, putting twenty tons of reverb on it, and then saying, "Thanks for that solo."
MP: It's one thing for the person who did it themselves to be able to do whatever the hell they want with their own stuff, but...
AH: Well, to be honest, he's the only person who knows what to do with it.
[note: Some KK diatribe was lost here due to an ale-infested tape operator. KK referred here, as I recall to the fact that Keith Jarrett had spoken about his difficulty working as a sideman, as he did for Kenny Wheeler, Gary Peacock, Miles Davis, and Freddie Hubbard (to cite examples still available) -- CH]
KK: It put him in a position, where he can never be satisfied because knows what it takes to satisfy himself. It is such a commitment, that he can't expect someone else, whose music it is, to have to necessarily match his depth. I mean, we all have our own depth. And I think it's very analogous to what you were saying...
AH: Well, it's basically the same thing.
KK: It's the same exact thing! It's striking, to me. And I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that, linking you with Keith [Jarrett] is fairly easy in my mind because your points-of-view as musicians, your ideas-forget the notes, the charts-the ideas-it could be just one note, who cares? They're so strong. They have so much to say in and of themselves that they really crowd out a lot of the other crap that just passes for what you said before with pop music; it's all out right in front of your eyes-there's nothing receded back. And I think when you're operating at that depth, it's necessarily... kinda murky, kinda dangerous-kinda on-your-own. And I think that's what you feel very much, that you are on your own... in the wilderness...
AH: Well in the end, yeah, because the older I get, the more I do, the more I realize I get... almost further away. I get a deeper understanding of what it is that I want to do, and less understanding of what anybody else wants to do. So I end up like, maybe being able to create something on my own, that may or may not be good-but at least I'll understand every aspect of it, and know exactly where it [stands]... and be controlling it. But on the other hand, on the other end of the scale, I could be just floundering, so I could see what he meant [see above note] -- like when you play with someone else or you do someone else's stuff, you... to get it right... but not having enough time to work with the music, or not having enough time to feel as controlled over it. You know, both physically, mentally and emotionally. You just can't. Can't be done.
KK: Unless you're a hack!
AH: Well the thing is, you know, like most musicians, you always start out playing with other people, just like he [Jarrett] did, and I played with lots of other people in the past-growing up in what I did, you know.... kind of progressive rock, or whatever you want to call it. So I mean, growing up with that... I wouldn't not want to have done that. I mean, I learned something from all of it. But I would definitely, absolutely never want to do it again. See, it's definitely a one-way street.
CH: Speaking of... harkening back to progressive rock...
AH: Not just... Chad's album just confirmed that. That it was a complete sidetrack, and in a way, I let my friendship with him because I think he's great, you know, he's a wonderful musician and a really good friend. But the friendship overrode my gut feeling.
KK: Did you have reservations even just prior to the gig?
AH: Ah, I really did not want to do it. I tried to kind of escape.
CH: That's the same thing with, say, Andrea Marcelli, or some of these other artists...
AH: Well, the difference... there was a big difference with Andrea, because Andrea... I had wanted to... I actually had because he let me do a lot of other things on the album, like he let me... I recorded it-not his first album. But I mean his new album; I kind of basically recorded it. So I recorded the bass and the drums... and on the tracks that he did: you know, the synthesizers... the whole thing. And it sounds pretty good to me; I mean, someone else might think it sounds like shit. But you see, I had a certain control with that, than I could have never had with Chad's album... he can just go off and let some other guy mix it and everything, and then I come back and I listen to it and I go, "My God! What did he do to the guitar?" Whereas Andrea's album, that first album, anyway, because I mixed that with him... he was basically the producer, but I was basically the engineer. So I knew what I wanted my guitar to sound like, and because he knew it was my guitar, he didn't interfere wit h it! So he left me to do what I wanted to do with it. So that's the big difference, because then I have more creative control over the whole thing.
MP: When this whole thing happened with the Chad album, I remember you also having a problem with the fact that whoever was marketing it wanted to feature your name pretty prominently, whereas you saw yourself as a contributing member and didn't want to be, you know...
AH: Well I just saw myself like all of the other guys, and not bigger. Just the same as all the other sidemen.
MP: But yet they were displaying your name a little bit more prominently-or they were trying to.
AH: Yeah, I think so, but that was a record company thing. I don't think we should get into that... well, I know what you mean. That's how I felt, yeah.
CH: Now, there was a project that was proposed recently with Bill Bruford, but I guess that fell through somehow. But the question remains: Could you get something out of collaborating with Bill Bruford at some time in the future?
AH: Oh... possibly. I mean it just seems unlikely...
CH: But nothing in the immediate horizon? It's too difficult from a geographic standpoint?
AH: It's extremely unlikely, because simply he's on one side of the ocean, I'm on the other. You know... there's just the expense of doing an album. With two guys like that, you know, where... with two guys in England, two guys in the States, and they work for months on the music. It's not like with... a different kind of music, but it's more improvised, where you can show the guys the tunes through one way or another. And they can learn them... you... you're talking about months of like getting it together, and... the only way you can do that is actually to be like a group and work together-you can't just do that without it being real expensive. So if a record company was doing it...
KK: You could never sell enough records in their minds...
AH: Yeah! Without the expense...
CH: Do you think there's ever a sort of a fly-in, improvised project that could do anything for you that would, you know, where you actually got together with a few people, more on a completely improvisational context? Is there anything there that you would ever consider doing, like that?
AH: Well, I... I wouldn't write it off. But then we get back to the same thing again. There's absolutely no reason in my mind whatsoever for me to want to do anything else. Because the most creative I can be is-if I'm doing it for myself. When I don't... control it, I can't contribute-in a way-to other people's things like I can to my own. Only my opinion, of course.
CH: Are you intending to continue to evolve the instrument like you have, I mean, with the baritone guitar; the smaller instruments...
AH: Well, yeah, I'm going to keep going with it all, because the thing is, that, you know, being influenced by Ned Steinberger's design and the headless design, which I'm totally a big believer in... I've had some experiences lately that're extremely funny, I think. For example, I've shown the guitar to a few other people in the past-you know, guitar companies, or whatever -- and they'd say, "Well, you know I think we should put a head on it," even if there was no machine heads on it. Isn't that pretty funny? Don't you think that's unbelievable? Just for a cosmetic reason. Why would you want to put a head on a headless guitar, to make it look...? When, to me, it's the guitars that have the heads on them that look wrong.
KK: Fear. Fear... that's what it is.
AH: I mean, why would you want to do it when it's fake? Sure, put the head on the guitar if it serves a purpose, if it has machines on it.
MP: They're more concerned with visual perception.
AH: So, you know, I know a lot of guitar players who don't like Steinbergers just because they're not big. You know, it has nothing [to do with that]... Then you look at a Steinberger and you think, "Oh, it's a short scale...." People come up to me and ask me about my guitars: "Oh, why do you play that short scale guitar?" My God, you know, it's a 25-1/2" scale-it's full size. I couldn't play anything smaller than that.
KK: It's a perceptual thing. It's like a Salvador Dali painting.
AH: It seems small, because there's no body and there's no head. But it's like taking... if you think of it as a double bass, really, the size that counts on a double bass is, of course the body, for acoustic purposes. But if you were talking of string length-which is what you are on electric guitar-if you took from the nut to the bridge on a big, full-size bass (or a ¾ size, which is a full size now, I guess)... if you take that, and just that, and look at the length, and chopped off the head and chopped off the body, it's small, man! It's not the huge dimensions that you think it is at all. So that's what happens when you take that Steinberger design of 25... full-size, classical guitar scale length. And it's like this, 'cause that's the way it is. A classical guitar bridge is halfway up the body, and it has a big head on it, you know; and the body only has twelve frets to the neck on it-it looks big.
CH: What was different about this new guitar you were designing with Bill DeLap? What was the difference between it...
AH: Well, I was trying to take the concept... Because I couldn't work with Ned anymore directly because he sold out to Gibson for various reasons, you know. Of course, I don't know him on a level where we were like close personal friends, or anything. So I don't really know what his reasons were. I think the guy's wonderful, and I respect everything he's ever done. I think he's a genius. The [tuning] machines he came out with-the ones that come from the back? That's another thing, before we get back to that, is that the machines come out the back like banjo tuners and they're fantastic; it's a straight string pull. You pull it through the hole, turn it and tighten it. And you get guys with acoustic guitar players saying, "Well, can't you make the machines that stick out at the side?"
MP: What's the point?
AH: Because of the way they look. Because of the way they look, man. You have this fantastic mechanism... three times more precision than anything else... pulls the string down into the head, instead of wrapping it 'round like an anchor on a boat. And they just rejected it because of the same reasons as his guitar, you know, it was just something that looked strange. Like it had a big nose, or something. I dunno.
CH: What was the factor... I mean, why pursue the hollowbody?
AH: Well because Steinberger got me back on that, because Steinbergers are hollow. If you take the top off it... if you look at a plastic Steinberger-a little G2, or whatever it's called... the plastic one; I never know the numbers-but you take the top off it and it's like a little archtop. This little plastic body, you take it off-it's hollow! It's completely hollow.
And the neck comes down in the mold, and then goes down, and a ridge runs down the back, and up to the bridge. And the ridge down the back is about that much higher than the actual back of the guitar. I'm not sure-I guess it's a reinforcing thing, you know. 'Cause that material's so strong, and then the top just fits on it. So Bill...
MP: Is it graphite, or something?
AH: Yeah, it's some kind of plastic compound.
CH: So, what were you trying to do with Bill?
AH: Well what I was trying to do is that he knew I liked that guitar a lot, so he took that as a place to start. So, he basically copied it-in wood. Only instead of making a little square body, he made the body a little bigger. But he took a piece of alder, and hollowed it out, in exactly the same ways it was hollowed out in the Steinberger. And I really liked it. It sounded really good. And essentially I wasn't trying to make a guitar; it was the baritone guitars that were that way first, because he wasn't trying to make me a guitar-I was totally happy with the Steinberger. But I was so happy with the baritones, that then he decided to make a regular one. So he made a regular one and I loved that. Even more. So then, I started off on this thing, so now we've been working on changing the inner portion. I've got some ideas of my own now about how the wood should be on the inside of the guitar, to free up the back-what I've decided to do with the top and the back, is to make the top and the back free. Instead of having a piece that runs along the rib at the back, which it would have to, when you poured it into a mold, for the plastic. With a wood guitar, that's made of separate pieces-a neck and a body- it doesn't have to be. So if you took a piece of alder that was hollowed out, you could put your hand right through it, you know... but then down the back , where the backbone was, if it came away from the back like it comes away from the front, so neither the back nor the top-touch the guitar. And then it's slotted... that piece of wood is slotted, because if it was a thin piece of wood, it'd be too weak. It's like taking a two-by-four and turning it on its side. The thin piece of wood has a lot of strength this way, but not this way [gestures]. So you lose weight, but you gain rigidity; you cut wood away but the guitar would be stronger because of it.
KK: Was "Boris" and "Natasha" [Allan's nicknames for two of the DeLap baritone guitars-JP] supposed to be for commercial production, ultimately, or just one-off for you?
AH: No. No, they were just exclusively for me, yeah.
KK: Is there a commercial... I mean, do you think... I'm just interested because of all these exotic guitars... and the tunings that you use. Do you feel that you're operating in a world that the average guitarist [could make use of this]?
AH: Yeah, I do. I do. For example, because I...
KK: Is there anything beyond it? Because you hear these things in a very special way, and you have these special instruments tuned to your sensibility. Do you think there's a larger audience...?
AH: Yeah, there is.
MP: Is there something to offer more musicians about it, other than just your little "nook" that you're...
AH: Yeah, I think there is. Like for example, like one of the first C-guitars I had, that was tuned originally to C, was actually too short for the way I wanted it. I wanted it to be-I can't remember the scale length-it was a little short. And I sold the guitar to Carl Verheyen, and he loves the guitar, and he's using it-a lot, apparently. And he tunes it lower than I did; he tunes it down to a low-A, where for me the concept of the design was that it had to be correct at 25-1/2" to play an E. So in other words, that guitar, for me, was no good beyond C. But he tuned it down to A. So, I mean... there you go. You can take that as a good example of it; for me, the scale length was too short to tune to A, 'cause I would have to put big, thick strings on it, and then I would have lost the character of the tone that I was trying to get. But for him, he didn't. It was enough, you know... 'cause each guy's different-it's a personal thing. So I'm not saying that they would be of any use to anybody used in the same way, but I think for example like, a C guitar? A C guitar could be used by someone else, tuned a lot lower, you know, instead of an A guitar.
CH: A couple more. Where do would you like to take synthesis with the guitar; with the SynthAxe: Is there a future there for you?
AH: Well, it has nothing to do with the guitar, really. It's just that the synthesizer... I'm really interested in the synthesizer.
CH: But what can you envision doin g with it in the future that you haven't done? Is there anything...?
AH: Oh yeah! There's a lot. It would depend on synthesis... you know, the way it goes and how much the instruments develop. The sad part about it, of that thing, is because of the instruments that I've got now, is that I only have a SynthAxe that really doesn't belong to me because I sold mine. But the next thing would be like, perhaps this instrument that Harvey Starr makes, which is like a keyboard. You know, totally like... it's a keyboard, with like two necks. A guitar... it looks like a pedal-steel guitar. But there's buttons instead of strings.
CH: And best English joke... your favorite English joke...?
AH: Oh, it's too rude to put on the computer.
MP: Oh, but tell it anyways-we won't print it.
CH: Yeah. I'll turn the tape recorder off.
AH: Yeah, turn it off....
CH: And then you can...
[tape stops abruptly... and starts...]
MP: No-no-no-no! The English joke! He was going to tell us a vulgar English joke! He had to think about it!
AH: No, no. I was gonna think about which one! While the kids are still up.
CH: Anything else? Have we covered everything we possibly could have covered?
AH: Well, I... of course not. But you've covered all the questions you had on the paper, so that'll be it, won't it? Thank you.
CH: Alright! Thank you very much!
AH: No worries!
Conducted in February, 1994
If AH's schedule permits we'll plan another round for late 1994 -- and if for some reason a subscriber felt like a particularly good or burning question was lost in the shuffle, we'll do our best to forward it to the maestro when possible.
If some good interview questions come to mind, please forward them on to Jeff Preston, so he can archive them for next time. Thanks especially to those who contributed questions-for me anyway, like a few of you have commented-this was a definitive interview with the artist, maybe not the most refined or entirely sober, but nonetheless, a chance for us to venture deeply into the artist's thoughts, drives, and struggles. I hope to take an abbreviated portion of this and publish it somewhere when time permits...
Needless to say, without the subscribers input and the tireless efforts of our moderator-this venture would have been of a lesser scope and quality... Chris.