(4 min read)
“Don’t try so hard.”—Freddy Mercury
“You don’t need anything outside of the work.”—David Lynch, Catching the Big Fish
“Hello there, Junior…. Here’s your first car—it’s a Boeing 747.”—Guitarist Paul Gilbert on giving a first-time guitar player pedals with 10,000 sounds
So many of the great rock and soul records of the late 60’s sound so warm and fat and spacious, real and authentic. Not over-produced or cramped. The recordings stand up like gold- despite not having a million tracks and a million plug in’s to chose from. Zeppelin had to manually pan the drum fills on Zeppelin1 cause Bonham’s drums were on ONE TRACK. Old tube mics, old tube compressors and analog tape catching live un-quantized performances deeply lit from the bottom of the soul. Not too much information and yet all the information in the world, perfectly arranged for the heart to understand with so little effort. Am I romanticizing? of course. Do I also love EDM and everything chained to the grid. Sure- but wow have I sucked the life out of some of my recordings by having too much information- too many choices- too many years to try anything and everything.
The only problem with getting deep knowledge of something is that you can argue yourself right into oblivion and forget to just USE YOUR GUT. In a lot of ways, I think the key to anything creative is having a beginner’s mind.
After a lot of years of gigging and recording, I’m very lucky to have lots of tools at my disposal that I didn’t have when I started out. I’ve got a wall full of guitars (some are $50 from a pawn shop, some belong to friends who don’t play ’em, but I have every shape and size). I’ve got a great studio with a computer full of infinite sounds. Too many sounds. I’m so lucky to have a team helping to make things happen. But the more sounds, the more people involved, the more obligations, the more opinions, the more tracks you layer and take away, you get away from a simple truth—nothing feels better than when a song just comes to you. And a good song will work with one instrument and one voice. No amount of gear or phone calls or planning or obligations is gonna give you that song. If anything, those things can take away from the music. The music and the heart must always be front and center. And I have certainly lost that truth from time to time. The beginner’s mind.
When I was 12 and trading the catcher on my baseball team bass lessons in exchange for him not letting me get beat up, the guitar was my hedge against the night (thanks again, Layne). The guitar was all I thought about and all I needed to survive. Working at it was better than sleeping or eating. In many ways, I still owe my first guitar everything. Lifting that sacred machine out of its little gold-lined Epiphone case and trying to make those six strings rattle in unison. Trying to get some lyrics out that expressed what was gnawing at my soul. Playing and songwriting have held keys to other worlds that shine as bright as they did when I was flipping over BMX bikes and saving money to buy Dean Markley guitar strings.
The feeling of a new idea coming to life is no different now than it was when I was starting out. To smell the dust on some old Fender tubes as that little click of the POWER and STANDBY move down to up—it’s magic and mystery to this very day. There are new worlds in there. To create something out of nothing and to be in awe that the process of creativity never fails, it’s the biggest gift in the world, and so much more important than any other reward from creating.
I still especially love playing instruments I’m not any good at because I can use my instinct purely—no theory, no idea where a chord might land, no idea how to get out of the trap. It’s the same with throwing the guitar into strange tunings to disorient yourself. It’s pure, and it’s a wonderful maze. I can pound out something with no idea of what is next, and it ain’t right, but it will lead me somewhere I couldn’t go if I knew the instrument inside and out.
Sometimes the simplest thing is the best. Knowledge is wonderful because you get to more than one way to solve a problem, but staying up in the mind and not feeling it from the heart or the soul can really kill the joy and spark—and I have killed a lot of songs that way.
Gotta remind ourselves—in music and life, it’s OK for things to be raw and real. It’s usually better that way. So many of my favorite records and people are a little rough around the edges. But you aren’t being put on. You know where you stand with the music, and you know where you stand with those friends.
I’m gonna do my best to practice what I preach and not only record some stripped-down demos but also try to show all the warts and mistakes when I post “guitar magic Mondays” or sing something new for you at a club or online. I have often talked myself out of sharing so many things because they weren’t perfect, and, of course, it’s those raw and real things people tend to come back to, not everything I have overthought and beaten right into the ground.
Let’s put up some room mics and warm up the tubes and go!
Thanks for joining me. See ya next Weds for the weekly rant. Love y’all.
Gooding writes a new post every Wednesday. Please like and subscribe on all social media sites with @goodingmusic. You can also subscribe to the blog’s RSS feed at http://goodingmusic.com/blog/feed/.