Posts tagged ‘guitar’

February 5, 2012

Sara Landeau Interview!

Sara Landeau, in the best sense of the word, is a guitar geek. She’s the guitarist for The Julie Ruin (with Kathleen Hanna, Kathi Wilcox, Carmine Covelli, and Kenny Mellman). She teaches guitar as well, and as you’ll see from her interview, she thinks a lot about how to get the right sound out of her gear. Landeau runs the Brooklyn Guitar and Drum Studio, and she also maintains a blog about music and gear, illustration, and women in history.

Keep reading to learn more about how Landeau modded out her Epiphone Les Paul, why she reads all her pedal manuals, and what songwriting looks like for The Julie Ruin.

When did you begin playing and why?

I was a huge music fan as a teenager, and my friends and I were really into dressing in rock fashion. I thought I’d become an artist at the time, but drawing and working in solitary just didn’t feel right. I had too much pent up energy and a desire to work with others musically. So I moved to LA (from Milwaukee) around my 18th birthday and went into a club and saw that girls were actually playing music. It was an epiphany for me and I knew what I wanted to do. I started playing around with an acoustic guitar at the time (and thinking, this sucks! I sound so awful) then bought a pale blue Fender Telecaster and have been playing ever since. The electric guitar was the missing element! That was the early 90’s.

What was your first guitar, and how did you get it?

I bought the pale blue Fender Telecaster in the 90’s for very cheap – it had a chip in the paint, thus decreasing price significantly – and a few days later picked up a vintage Ludwig drumkit at a garage sale for 50$. I played both consistently and formed a band in 95.  At that time, the book “Incredibly Strange Music” had just come out and it was like a music bible to me. All those great interviews with Ivy from the Cramps, Norton Records etc. I began collecting 45’s of all the artists in that book and every night would try to play along. I first learned to play songs by the Seeds, 5,6,7, 8’s and bands like that. I wasn’t able to afford my next guitar for another ten years.

What equipment do you prefer now?  Which guitar?  What amps or pedals?  Why?  Has this changed over time?

I currently own around 9 guitars and the last one I bought is a silver Gretsch Electromatic Pro Jet with the Bigsby Tailpiece for tremolo. I also play an Ephiphone Les Paul on our current album. The newly placed Seymour Duncan humbuckers mixed with a vintage Big Muff pedal through a Fender Twin amp at the right settings sound amazing. I personally didn’t like the sunburst on the Les Paul, so I took it apart and repainted it bright red with yellow stripes like a race car. That was a scary project, but it looks so much better. The other guitars I like to use are the Epiphone Wildkat Semi-Hollow body, also with a Bigsby for tremolo, and a baritone Dan Electro. I recently bought the Line 6 DL4 Delay Effects Pedal, and have a new affinity for the Big Muff Wicker’s sustain. I also have a DanElectro Spring King Reverb pedal. I love it because when you hit it, it sounds like your Twin amp just exploded like the Death Star then fell over. (Nerd alert).  Its got to be done just right though…like at the end of melody or chord progression. I was a wanna-be gear head forever, then just said screw it, I’m going to learn something new everyday. Since then I tried to work with dozens of pedals (thats going to take forever), and meticulously read the manuals to my amps, pedals, and recording equipment. I guess I’ll always be a wanna-be gear head because there’s so much to learn and hope to open a guitar/music shop for women one day. A place to try out pedals would be wonderful for us girls.

What is your songwriting process like?

When our band first got together we planned to work on songs from Kathleen’s first solo record, Julie Ruin, and play them as a live band, then maybe write originals later. I already knew Kathleen from Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls in Brooklyn where we had band-coached and recorded a teen girl group for a couple years, meeting weekly, helping them write songs, and stay focused. Our first “The Julie Ruin’ rehearsal was at Funkadelic in Manhattan and what I think people don’t realize is how funny Kathleen is, especially when Kenny Mellman and Carmine Covelli are in the mix, who I found out later did actual comedy shows. I swear I just giggled and repeated back their jokes in the mic for the first six weeks. Anyway, we wrote 18 of the new songs on the album together in different ways. Sometimes Kathleen would bring in a loop and we’d make an interpretation of it, play off it, and create a song. Sometimes we’d just start playing along to Carmine’s drumbeats or a guitar riff I’d keep repeating. When Kathi joined on bass several months later, it all came together. Kathleen asked me what I thought during Kathi’s first rehearsal and I said I didn’t remember life without her. Crazy, but maybe thats what a great bass player should be like? I think songwriting is different with every group. I’ve been in bands where I’ll do all the writing and still play drums, or the singer will do it all and I just write guitar leads. It really depends on who you’re with. I feel very fortunate in this case. Its like playing Fantasy Football and I picked my team (they do pick teams in Fantasy Football, I have no idea actually!)- Kathleen, Kathi, Carmine….and who would be my fantasy keyboardist? Uh, that guy from Kiki & Herb of course…and there he is!

When did you begin teaching guitar?  Are your students mostly women and girls? 

Around 2001, I went back to school for Art History. I still played guitar and played in bands, so I decided to put up flyers around the campus offering guitar lessons. I had several replies from women and girls right away, which really surprised me. So I started teaching from my home and on the campus. I wanted to give them exactly the type of guitar lessons I always wanted to have and offer a safe place for them to learn and develop a style all of their own. I then opened a studio around 2003 in Greenpoint Brooklyn (Brooklyn Guitar and Drum Studio for Women and Girls) and began a library of teaching materials, offered group courses, ladies jams, and kept it very female driven.

Can you talk a bit about your involvement in Willie Mae Rock Camp?

I followed the Portland Girls Rock Camp on the internet and in 2005, I discovered that a branch in NYC was about to open. I applied immediately and have been working with them in some manner every year since. Mostly I teach the guitar classes for the girls camp and the ladies version, and, when time allows, I love to bandcoach. I’ve done some after school programs affiliated through Rock Camp that I’m really proud of such as the All Girl Rock Band project at a high school in Dumbo, Brooklyn. The girls wrote, recorded, performed, and progressed so quickly. They mixed R&B with rock and other genres, and we had guest lecturers. It was like a mini rock camp.

What are you working on right now, musically or otherwise?

Currently my band The Julie Ruin is recording and mixing an album to be released this year (2012). I also teach guitar, fill in at shows, practice like crazy, work on new material, and am in the process of building my teaching studio into a lo-fi recording studio for women and girls.

Which artist or artists do you find inspiring?  (It doesn’t have to be a musician.)  Why? 

Sites like yours are very inspiring, as well as the Rock Camps for Girls around the world. Having a blog (www.saralandeau.blogspot.com) dedicated to women in music and art helps me stay on top of new music and I’m constantly researching and learning about people who are inspiring artistically, politically, or individually. Musically, I love those older staple bands that are creative but not too technical like Wire, B52’s, or bands that keep a stripped down sound. I’m a sucker for good beats, grooves, soul, and sometimes thats all that seems to matter. East Bay Ray, Charlotte Caffey, and Joey Santiago have been long time guitar idols of mine. I believe they really know how to serve the song which is more important than overshadowing it with solos. And there’s many drummers, bassists, and vocalists that inspire my guitar style,  I guess I believe you can learn from all instruments.  When I got into punk and early 60’s trashrock, I aimed for the tones and textures from their guitar/amp combination. Now I try to be as creative as possible with sounds and listen to everything. And I also love the opposite types, those very technically amazing and clean guitarists like Les Paul, Tarrega, Eddie Lang, Django Reinhardt, David Rawlings, Lonnie Johnson, and Chet Atkins. I could go on and on (by genre even) but thats what my blog is for, I guess!

January 22, 2012

How To Play A Song By Ear. If I Can Do It, You Can Too!

I’ve talked a bit before about how I started playing guitar.  Up until now, I’ve been very dependent on someone else telling me how to play a song.  I’ve written a couple of songs myself, but only recently started learning to play by ear.  Since playing by ear is something I’ve been thinking about and practicing, I thought I would share my method.

Step 1) I pick a song — usually something with a relatively slow tempo.  If there is a section with single notes played at a relatively slow speed that helps.  It also helps if there is only one guitar, although if the guitar parts are distinct enough from each other, that doesn’t matter as much.

Some examples I’ve used:

“Jockey Full of Bourbon” by Tom Waits — this song has a relatively lengthy — and slow — intro which uses single notes

“Blessed State” by Wire — there are several motifs that are repeated throughout this song.  It’s pretty easy to pick up a few of the single note phrases and work backward from there.

“Sour Grapes” by Screaming Females — the advantage of this one is that Marissa Paternoster’s guitar playing is really distinct.  The notes are clear.  There is a motif she plays through the verses, followed by a chorus using barre chords.   There is a short solo, followed again by the chorus using barre chords (you could also use power chords).

2) I choose a short phrase or riff, usually 4-5 notes.

3) I sing that phrase a few times, using the word “lah” or “dah.”  Most people are pretty good at matching pitch.  We’ve all hummed or sang along to our favorite songs.  Singing a guitar line is the same thing.  If you need some help learning how to match pitch, there is an instructive Expert Village video here.

4) I find the first note of the phrase on the fretboard.   (The first few times you try this, it     might be pretty difficult.  But stick with it.  Eventually, you’ll be able to lock it in.)  I keep singing the phrase until I find that first note on the fretboard.  If I lose the sound of the phrase, I go back to the song and listen again, repeating step 3

5) Once I have found my first note on the fretboard, I think about how the other notes in the phrase relate to it.  Is the next note up or down?  Is it a whole step?  A half step?  Is it more than a whole step?  A minor third?  A perfect fourth?  (It helps to know a little music theory at this point.  But you can always just think of the the song “Doe, a Deer” from the Sound of Music.  Most of us know either from this song or elsewhere that the major scale is root note, whole step, whole step, half step, whole step, whole step, half step, root note, or Do-Re-Mi-Fa-So-La-Ti-Do.)

6) At this point, I find the rest of the notes of my chosen phrase along one or two adjoining strings.

7) Once I’ve found the notes on the fretboard, I play the phrase along with the song, listening to see if the pitches sound the same.

8) Next I think about the phrase, seeing if there is somewhere on the fretboard the phrase is easier to play.  (Again, at this step, it helps if you either a) have a little music theory under your belt, or b) know the notes on your fretboard.  For example, if the phrase starts on A, is there another A on the fretboard that is the same pitch?  If so, is it easier to start from that note?)

9) Repeat!  I repeat this method until I’ve got the whole song.  Once I know a phrase or two, it is fairly easy to determine what key the song is in.  (Chords are more difficult to determine, but if you know the single note phrases use a particular note over and over again, that’s a good place to start.  Does the phrase you chose keep coming back to G?  If so, try playing a G chord over different points in the song to see if it sounds right.)

There are several resources that can help when playing songs by ear.  Like I said above, a little music theory helps.  There is a great book by Ed Roseman called Edly’s Music Theory For Practical People.  The style of the book is fun, and the material covered is extensive.  There’s also the Hal Leonard Music Theory for Guitarists.

One tool that helps me quite a bit is the Capo app for iPhone.  It’s twenty bucks, and allows you to add songs from your song library, slow them down, and mark sections you want to repeat.  You can also slow down songs using GarageBand if you have it, or by using Audacity, which is a free program and can be used on both Macs and PCs.

There are other ways to learn how to play by ear, but this is the method I have found easiest and most effective.  Please comment if you have other tips or suggestions.

December 21, 2011

Guitareste Holiday Countdown! Dolly Parton – I’d Like To Spend Christmas With Santa

I really love Dolly Parton more than most people this side of the Ohio River should.  But there you go.  I love the woman.  And this Christmas video is one of the most adorable things you’re gonna see outside of puppies wearing santa caps.

Plus, check out her nails!  How in the hell is she playing with those crazy things?  It looks like a nylon string guitar, but still!  And why is only that one kid looking sad?  And who is the creepy guy in the photo album?

August 5, 2011

Pfumvu Pa Ruzevha: Learning Some African Guitar

This is a song I am learning right now.  It is insane, but also very fun.  Enjoy!

 

 

July 29, 2011

The New York Times Profiles All-Women Metal Cover Bands

Misstallica, Lez Zeppelin, Iron Maidens:  these are all cover bands of guitar-shredding rock n’roll women.  I had no idea that these bands existed, and it is definitely intriguing.  I’m maybe even more impressed that the New York Times covered them.

 

Here’s Lez Zeppelin covering “Since I’ve Been Loving You.”

 

July 23, 2011

Photos: Wild Flag At The Subterranean

I saw Wild Flag last night.  It must have been 100 degrees inside the Subterranean, despite the air conditioning.  But the women of Wild Flag didn’t let that stop them from performing a “blistering” set.  (Ok, sorry.  I had to go for the pun.)  There’s a lot to talk about, including the fact that I have a busted lip from a flying PBR can.  Yep, one of Carrie Brownstein’s signature kicks sent a projectile hurtling toward my face!

I’ll write up a short review of the concert a little later, but I wanted to get a few of the photos up.  To check out the full set, you can visit the new brand-spanking new Guitareste Flickr stream.

Here you are — enjoy!

Radar Eyes
Opening Band Radar Eyes

 

 

Mary Timony's Pedal Board

Mary Timony’s Pedal Board
 

Carrie Brownstein

Carrie Tunes Her Guitar
 

Mary Timony

Mary Timony, with Janet Weiss in the background
 

Janet Starts The Set

Janet Gets Things Started
 

Mary Timony Singing Electric Band

Wild Flag, with Mary Timony Singing Electric Band
 

Mary Timony

Rebecca, Mary, and Carrie (and Janet’s drums!)
 

Mary and Carrie

Mary and Carrie
 

Wild Flag
Carrie Brownstein

 

Rebecca Cole

Rebecca Cole
 

Wild Flag
 

Janet Weiss

Janet Weiss

July 19, 2011

Better Know A Guitareste

I was asked to talk a bit more about my own guitar playing, and about why I decided to learn how to play.  So here it goes!  I think I was always interested in learning.  I had a few guy friends try to teach me at different points in my teens and twenties, and playing the guitar seemed totally baffling.  In fact, I know at least once during one of these “mentoring” sessions, I held the guitar upside down, with the neck in my right hand.  My memory is vague here, but I think the boy who was teaching me guitar at the time said that was ok.  And while it is possible to play a right-handed guitar upside-down, I’m not sure why someone would learn that way on purpose.

I don’t remember why I decided to pull the trigger exactly.  But I’m lucky enough to live in Chicago.  And in Chicago, we have this amazing community of musicians called The Old Town School of Folk Music.

The Old Town School gives private lessons, but they also have group music classes.  Basically, a bunch of kids or teens or (in my case) adults get together in a room and learn to dance, sing, or play an instrument.  They also rent instruments, which was key for me at first.  I had been really shy of buying a guitar outright, convinced that I would not be able to learn how to play.  So I rented a guitar and enrolled in what they call the “core guitar” curriculum at the Old Town School.

I learned the basics that way, in a group setting.  We literally started with how to hold the guitar.  We learned the names of the strings.  We learned all the basic open chords:  D,E,A,C, G, B7,D7, and an “easy” version of F using the top three strings.  We learned how to follow a chord map.  For any of you that don’t know how to play the guitar, that is just a sheet of lyrics with the corresponding chord names written over the places in the lyrics where you make the changes.

In the OTS core program, you can learn basic chords and strumming, barre chords, finger-picking, how to read guitar tablature, and some basic music theory and musicianship.  I did all of those classes, and then began playing in some ensembles.  The OTS ensembles are a bit like playing in a really big cover band.  In them, you can learn to play songs by a wide variety of artist:  PJ Harvey, Grateful Dead, Allman Brothers, Elvis Costello, Television, Sonic Youth.  The list goes on.  And you learn to play with other instruments.  There are usually a boatload of guitarists, a bassist, a drummer, a singer.  You get the idea.

So I’ve been playing for about three years at this point.  And I’m what most people, I think, would consider an intermediate player.  My big challenges now are learning to play lead guitar parts.  And because I learned with a group, and always with music in front of me, I’m just starting now to learn songs by ear.

I’m going to write some more posts about playing lead and playing by ear in the future.  I also plan on writing a few on how to choose a guitar, how to get started playing, and where to find material.  I’m open to more suggestions as well, so if you’ve got ‘em, shoot them over to me by email at guitareste at gmail dot com.  Until then, just know if you’re right handed, the guitar neck goes in your left hand.  ;)

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July 18, 2011

EMA Article In The Chicago Tribune

The Tribune posted an article about Erika Anderson, aka EMA late last week.  There are a few good quotes about women and music.  It’s definitely worth a read.

“What prompted me to pick up a guitar when I was young, was seeing Courtney Love and her band Hole, on MTV in the ’90s,” explains Anderson. “She was the first woman I saw in the mass media — and that had an impact — it was a revelation: ‘I can play guitar!'”

July 5, 2011

Jana Hunter Interview

photo via flickr by Derek Webber

My go-to guitar song right now is “A Dog’s Dick” by Lower Dens.  The dueling guitar runs make the hairs stand up on the back of my neck every single time I listen to that lovely tune with the funny name.  Jana Hunter plays one of those lovely guitars.  She also provides the sultry voice with the slightly dead-pan delivery that makes Lower Dens album Twin-Hand Movement so incredibly appealing.  Before her work with Lower Dens, Hunter produced two full-length solo albums, two EPs, and a split album with Devendra Banhart.  She strikes me as a wonderfully brilliant weirdo.  (I mean that in a good way.)  And I was pleased to snag her for an email interview.

When did you begin playing and why?

I learned violin first and then guitar. I learned how to play and I sang at night on my bike, 13 or 14. I learned so I could do what I am doing right now, write music and not have a day job. So I could master pop music and attempt to explore my true ear and self, stay true to my ideals and gut. to relate feeling in a means other than talking or affecting. So I could have the best band in the world.

What was your first guitar, and how did you get it?

Acoustic, made of wood and metal. I bought it with my own money.

What equipment do you prefer now?  Which guitar?  (I’ve seen video of you playing a Mustang…) What amps or pedals?  Why?  Has this changed over time?

I like stuff that has a lot of sand in it and color. I have a Music Master (the Mustang), blue. Die kleinen blauen. Holiest Grail, Frequency Analyzer, Ibanez Super Tank Chorus, Line 6 DL$, Boss RC-20 , Polish Warbler, Gibson Firestarter, Singer, Peavey Bandit.

What is your songwriting process like?

My writing process is dark and sweaty. All night droning into a cut up plastic soda bottle tied to a mic in the smallest room of the house without air-conditioning. There are drugs, there are cigarettes and there are pedals. The cats sleep. There is a trip to the 7-11. Or in the attic with bald overhead lighting and unmoved-in look hunched over it all. Yellow note pad, orange crackers, orange soda (the band sounds like michael jackson Thriller right now.) blue tobacco pouch.

What are you working on right now?

I am writing music with the band for a new Lower Dens record. We added people and instruments to the line up. I am working on a thematic arch. The trajectory of Lower Dens records will express this theme in one way or another.

Which artist or artists do you find inspiring?  (It doesn’t have to be a musician.)  Why? 

Ray Johnson, Arthur Bates, Tim and Eric, Cass McCombs, Spencer Kingman, Matteah Baim, Mordack, Indian Jewelry, Penderecki, Mishima, Kurzweil. They do what they want.

June 25, 2011

Bitch Magazine Blog Entry

Nice history lesson over on Bitch Magazine blog.  It’s a short run-down of songs originally recorded by black artists, and later covered by caucasians.  It includes a mention of the legendary Odetta Holmes.

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