Steve Trovato Interview - part 2
By Jim Walk
Appeared in the AFG Sound Hole -
Issue 15 (Fall 2002- editor: Bob Felten)
David Oakes and Steve Trovato performing at Boulevard Music, Culver City, California
Let's talk about your aptly titled solo debut, About Time. Why did it take you so long to put out a CD?
Well, I got caught up in what a lot of guitar players get caught up in: a paycheck. It's a good thing because you have money, and you aren't starving. But because it was so easy and full time, I would teach at the Musicians Institute four days a week, come home at night, and I really didn't play guitar that much. I would go out and do gigs, but I didn't do it like I wanted to make a solo career out of it. Then, about two years ago, I decided to drop everything and play the guitar, like I always meant to do. I quit writing for magazines. I quit being a teacher. I decided I'm a guitar player now. I said to myself, "It's time to show you can practice what you preach." In my heart, I really knew that I could play.
So, I decided, I'm going to do a record. Not one that I was going to think a lot about, just a record for the guitar playing world. I'm not going to try to land a big record contract with it. I just want to strut my stuff. I can play as good as anybody on the planet in almost every style, and I decided I'm going to do that on this record. Record companies hate that because they don't know where to sell it. It's not commercial at all,
but [guitar pickup wizard] Seymour Duncan told me it's gonna be one of the classic collector's guitar player records. It seems to be getting a lot of critical acclaim. I'm so proud of it. It came out well. I listen to it sometimes and say, "Wow, is that me?" [laughs]
The CD is one of the most eclectic I've ever heard. You play country, blues, jazz, acoustic ballads, and more. I know you listened to and transcribed a lot of different things in your formative years. But, still, a lot of guys spend their entire lives trying to perfect just one style. How is it that you're able to play so many styles so well?
Well, like I said, I'm one of those players that's just obsessed with guitar. My skeleton is probably a guitar [laughs]. I never singled out just one style and said that's what I want to play. I just love music. So many people draw a big, thick line between country, rock , blues, classical, jazz, or whatever. I think music is music. Music is an expression of a personality and a feeling. Once you get to the place where, hopefully, you can inspire people to feel something --smile, laugh, cry, or whatever--then styles don't matter anymore. I don't really consider myself able to play a lot of different styles. I just try to think of a way to create a mood.
I personally think you create a wonderful mood with "Dark Eyes." It's Django style jazz at it's finest. What made you decide to put it on the record?
One of my students, Don King, who is now the head of the Django club of Southern California, studied with me for five years every Saturday morning. He gradually started getting into this Django Reinhardt style, and he'd come over here with transcriptions he'd done from old Django records. I was never too much into it. It sounded minor and sad and too hard to play. I didn't really like it.
Then one day, he came to my acoustic gig and played this song, "Dark Eyes." I wasn't playing, then; I was in the audience. I gave him my guitar and he played it with the other guitarist. And something just clicked. As soon as I heard it I thought, 'That makes me feel good. That moves me. I want to learn that melody.'
Don sent me a tape with seven different versions of "Dark Eyes" on it by all these different gypsy guitarists. I learned it and decided to put a Django song on my album. I didn't know the style, but it transcended the style. I thought if it made me feel something it might make other people feel something, too.
That surprises me. Your version captures the style so well, I assumed Django was another guy whose records you'd spent years poring over.
Remember earlier when I told you I knew two country songs when they hired me at GIT? Well, I know one gypsy jazz song: "Dark Eyes." I spent about two months poring over the seven versions of it. Some of the things in my version I stole from Chet, one of the solos is pretty close to the way Django played it, and some if it is my own.
Another song, "Root Barrel Rag" is a ragtime rave-up that was actually written by Billy Joel for the piano. Have you transcribed a lot of things that were written on different instruments?
Absolutely. I transcribed organ parts off of Deep Purple records, and a lot of sax by Sonny Stitt, Stanley Turentine, and Ernie Watts. It didn't matter what instrument it was; if it moved me I would try to transcribe it. I did "Root Barrel Rag" because I just loved the way it sounded.
What benefits do you think guitarists can get from transcribing things not written for guitar?
Hopefully, it makes you sound unlike every other guitar player. I know I phrase differently from the average guitar player. I don't think in "licks" when I play, I think in melodies. The things that move me are things I can sense a melody in.
The last track on the CD, "Adagio for Strings" is amazing. It was all done with guitar synth and E-bow, right? [note: an E-bow is a small, hand-held device which, when placed over a string, causes it to sustain indefinitely, much like a bow on a violin string.]
That song is the theme of the Oliver Stone film, "Platoon." It gave me goose bumps when I heard it; it was so moving and sad. So I went to a music store and bought the score. I opened it and found I had no idea how to read cello parts and all these weird clefs and registers that the instruments were in. It was in this weird time feel. It would change from 15/8 and 4/8 and all these weird time signatures every two or three measures. I called some of my students and had them explain to me how this works until I finally got the concept down. I spent three weeks or so learning how to read the music.
Then I played it with an E-bow and recorded the whole thing. I played it back and it sounded like a gigantic kazoo orchestra. It sounded terrible. So, I borrowed a guitar synth to replace some of the E-bow parts.
I had to EQ the violin and cello patches to sound authentic. I had to add the vibrato because the synth doesn't automatically do that. It took me a long time. Then, the synth kept cutting out. The notes had to sustain for about thirty seconds, but the synth kept running out of gas. I found out there's a "hold" function that make the note sustain indefinitely.
Then, I started recording the whole song from the top down. If the melody was on the violin, I'd record that part first then add five violas, cellos, and double basses. The second or third time through, the melody appears on the cello, so I recorded that first and added the violas and double basses underneath. It took me about three months to record that thing. Most of that was learning to use the E-bow and synth and how to read the score.
In closing, do you have any advice for players who aspire to become professional guitarists?
Learn how to read music. A pro musician usually is playing other people's music for other people. In that situation, the means of communication between musicians is music. So, if you can't read music, you can't communicate.
You don't have to become a world class sightreader like David Oakes, but become musically literate. Ninety-seven percent of the world's great musical literature is written out in musical notation. That's not available to you if you don't know how to read.
What about advice for the hobbyist with no intention of becoming a guitarist on a professional level?
Play what you love. Play your favorite tunes. And remember rule number 62: don't take yourself so seriously. For years I was Joe Serious. Everything had to be just perfect. I started playing much better when I started having fun when I play.
I was playing with Pastor Darrell Owens out in the lobby, and he said, "Well, time for me to go in there and underwhelm 'em." That's classic!! I was dying when he said that. He plays great, but he doesn't take himself too seriously.
I know what you mean. I'm as guilty as the next guy of getting up in front of an audience to play and wincing every time I make a mistake. Not only does it mean you aren't having fun, but it can make the people watching you uncomfortable as well.
Yeah, it makes them edgy. If I made a face every time I make mistakes I'd have an eternal sour face. Just play right through it; nobody knows unless you stop right in the middle and say. "Oh, that was a train wreck!" Just keep smiling. The notes are incidental. It's the mood you're creating; that's the thing!!
© 2002 - Association of Fingerstyle Guitarists