Posts tagged ‘music’

June 8, 2012

Interview With Laura Kidd, aka She Makes War!


photo by Annie Mole via Flickr

Laura Kidd is a multi-instrumentalist who performs under the moniker She Makes War.  She sings and plays guitar, bass, ukulele, piano, melodica, violin, harp, and recorder.  In addition to being an impressive performer, she’s a DIY producer extraordinaire, recording and promoting her own work.  Her latest album, Little Battles, is available here.

I talked with her in the early Spring.  And here for your reading pleasure is my article with the wonderful She Makes War!

When did you begin playing and why?

I started playing guitar aged 12 because my brother had been given a lovely acoustic by my Uncle and wasn’t using it. I picked it up and started messing about with it, then had a few lessons at school to get the basic root chords and strumming. I just used to play songs from sheet music, like “I’m Not In Love” by 10CC and “Wooden Heart” by Elvis Presley, then had an epiphany a few years later when a boyfriend told me about bar chords and I realised with them I could figure out how to play my favourite songs.

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

My first guitar was a very cheap black electric my parents bought for me from a little guitar shop in Bury St Edmunds called Sounds Plus. I don’t remember much more about it, I didn’t play it very much because around the same time I started playing bass in a band and that took up most of my musical time. I actually part exchanged that guitar for some pedals a couple of years later then found a gorgeous green Telecaster in Loot (a listings paper in London) which sadly got taken in a house burglary. I was heartbroken. I called that guitar Basil because it was green and because the day I bought it I attended John Cleese’s birthday breakfast.

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

The guitar I gig with is a Telecaster Thinline 69 with a pedalboard consisting of Boss chorus, delay and compression/sustainer, a Sansamp GT2, Fulltone OCD and Cool Cat Tremolo. I usually play DI-ed because of logistics – I have so much to carry and usually use public transport – hence the GT2, which really improves the sound, but I have a Roland Cube I sometimes take as well. Acoustically I play a Faith Venus and I use a Luna Dolphin ukulele as well, through my Boss RC20XL loop pedal. On the new album I played all the electric stuff on my Peerless Renaissance hollow body because the Tele was super noisy. The Peerless sounded gorgeous!

I’m always interested in improving my general sound but currently have to weigh that up against cost and logistics. I would love to play through a Fender Twin every night but that’s not possible at the moment.

I know you are a multi-instrumentalist.  Can you talk a little about that?

I played classical and woodwind instruments at school – violin then saxophone – but took up the guitar and bass outside of formal musical education and played in bands, mainly on bass. I love trying out new things and on the latest recordings brought in the tenor sax alongside autoharp, melodica and recorders to play with some different textures.

What is your songwriting process like?

It varies. Sometimes I will start with a vocal melody and find the chords that go with it, and other times songs start off with a riff. I’ve experimented very successfully with the Immersion Composition Society’s “20 Song Game” and written songs for both albums that way (‘NIMN’ and ‘Chicken’ off “Disarm” and ‘In This Boat’ and ‘Segue’ off “Little Battles”) and will definitely do that again in the future as I truly believe in the Picasso quote that “inspiration finds you working”. Songs rarely drop out of the sky, and when they do you have to be there to catch them!

You’re also a filmmaker.  Do you consider that a part of your musicianship. or something you do on the side?

I think everything I do feeds in to the She Makes War project, it’s an outlet for all the visual, art and craft experiments I want to do. I just finished making some homemade tour photo books to send to some of my Pledgers (the new album was funded by my fans via Pledge Music last year) and that’s a good example – I’ve been wanting to try making concertina books for a while and this was a great excuse. I also feel that mixing media, whether that’s digital instruments with analogue in a musical recording or digital information with hand crafted souvenirs in the case of my Valentine’s card release of “In This Boat” last month, is important because I want the songs to resonate emotionally in various ways.

What are you working on right now?

At the moment I am focusing on getting my new album “Little Battles” in to the world – it’s out on April 9th and I am organising a big launch gig on 11th (at Herne Hill Half Moon, South London) which will involve about 8 other musicians coming on stage with me, so it’s a lot to pull together!

After that I’m off on a month long tour of the UK, and am working on setting up other musical excursions for later in the year.

I’ve already got a name for my next collection of songs and have started noodling around, I like to keep creative but there’s a lot of other fun stuff to keep me busy for the next few months.

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

I find Kristin Hersh endlessly inspiring, she’s a true pioneer both in her musical output and her involvement in CASH Music and flying the flag for the rights of musicians everywhere.

June 8, 2012

Slow Puncture – She Makes War

June 8, 2012

She Makes War Demonstrates Using A Boss Loop

Ok, so Laura Kidd is playing a ukulele here, and not her guitar.  But!  I thought this was just such a great demonstration of how to use the Boss RC-30, I had to post it!

May 6, 2012

Nina Canal Interview!


Photo by Martin Christgau, courtesy of Nina Canal

Nina Canal is an artist and musician.  She was a member of the seminal No-Wave band Ut (pronounced Oot), and has been name-dropped by such other influential bands as Sonic Youth and Le Tigre.  They were a favorite of John Peel’s, and worked with engineer Steve Albini on their album Griller.  Their list of associations reads like a who’s-who of underground rock.  Canal was also a member of the band The Gynaecologists, and has worked with Rhys Chatham doing both the guitar trio and 100 guitars.

In addition to being a talented guitarist, drummer, and vocalist, Canal is a painter and fashion designer, crossing deftly between different art mediums.  I talked with her over email about her history with Ut, what equipment she uses, and what’s going on in her life artistically at present.

When did you begin playing and why? 

I started to play guitar in NYC in early 1977.  I went to NY from London after  finishing my Fine Art degree.  I had a very good friend from  London, Robert Appleton who had been living there 2 years, and he had met Rhys Chatham, and they had started a band called The Gynaecologists and asked me to play with them.

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

So Robert had a friend Jimmy who worked at a music store in Long Island, he would get me a good deal, so I went out there and bought a beautiful blond Telecaster, pre CBS (just) for something crazy like $250, not sure exactly!

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

Sadly, that Telecaster got stolen in London after a gig in 1986 or so, and not very long before we started working on GRILLER LP, so when I saw Steve Albini he offered to buy me another one in the USA.  However, the prices had gone through the roof, so he suggested a copy made by these guys in Chicago.  They have an outfit called Rubber Ducky Replicas, and they made me a beautiful one.  I was able to ask for a custom colour, hence my trademark bright green telecaster with a mirror scratch board.

I like using  few pedals, I have a Big Muff and mainly  just love the sound of real tube amps, good ones that deliver that wonderful warm yet ripping distortion.

What is your songwriting process like?  I know that when you were with Ut, you and your fellow band members emphasized collaboration and equal exchange.  Have you found that method effective over time, or do you feel more like you’re a solo artist now?

Yes, with Ut we always worked together, in a total collaboration. I have worked on a few collaborations in recent years, in a similar process where everyone has equal say and we go by feel and mutual confidence. I am starting to work on some solo stuff.   It’s not so easy for me.  I always did a little of this even in NY, so yes I am becoming a “solo artist.”

Can you talk a little about your work with Rhys Chatham?  You were in at least one formation of his guitar trio, and participated in 100 guitars.  

Rhys and I were together as a couple at the time he composed Guitar Trio, and I played it with him the very first time and  several other times in NY in those amazing days, and also occasionally in the years between, so it’s a piece you could say I have an intimate connection with.

Yes, I also have played in the 100 guitars, initially at the London performance in 1990 something, and then I was also very briefly a section head for two concerts, one in Nantes, which was a wonderful experience and then we went to Reunion Island with it. That was a particularly incredible  experience.  The volcano erupted while we were there, and we went to see the hot lava jumping into the sea, amazing.

Documentary film maker Laurence Petit Jouve made a film about it, but it has never yet seen the light of day due to lack of finances….

You’re a musician — writing songs, and playing the drums and guitar, but you also paint, and make clothing.  Also, I read an interview where you said you came to rock music from a background in performance art.  Do you feel that your work across mediums informs your perspective as a guitar player?

I am also a painter, fascinated by colour and energy, I got into painting on different textiles, mostly silk and wool or cashmere. I love clothes, and I had started to make my own clothes line in NYC  around 1980 and recently found a lot of photos which I will eventually put up on line.  I need to make a new web site, as mine, although it looks pretty good, is simple and old fashioned

I studied fine art, and was into performance art yes, of course everything feeds everything.  I do not know how to distinguish in that sense, but that’s for some else to do not me.

What are you working on right now? 

Well, now having moved to Marseille, the Ut re union has taken up a lot of my time. We did some touring last autumn, and are now working on the re issues of our entire back catalogue soon,  starting with Conviction on Reactor records

There’s been a lot to organize to enable this processs to proceed, and I have hardly found the time to paint. I plan to start painting pictures and not on silk anymore.

Which artist or artists do you find inspiring?  Why? 

Well, there are just too many to mention! I can say I recently went to see an astonishing show in London by Grayson Perry at the British Museum and that was inspiring because of the many surprises, but he’s certainly not my only inspiration….

February 12, 2012

RIP Whitney – How Will I Know Cover By Nicki Bluhm

Whitney Houston was a complex figure.  She had huge success and then plummeted quickly and deeply.  She was hugely popular, and extremely talented.  She was dogged by the press, and often became a caricature of herself.  A victim of addiction, it’s hard not to think of the recent death of fellow diva Amy Winehouse.  Houston was a huge force in the music world.  She won 2 Emmys, 3 Grammys, and 30 Billboard Music Awards.  We don’t yet know the cause of death, but she was was too young at only 49. Her death is sad and unexpected.

I was really touched by this sweet little cover of Houston’s hit song, “How Will I Know” by guitarist and singer Nicki Bluhm.  Hopefully you will be too.

February 7, 2012

Go Give Kaia Wilson Money Now. I Mean It.

Kaia Wilson is asking for cash on Kickstarter. The money will help her record her new solo album, and will help fund the supporting tour. She’s made a super cute video for her Kickstarter page.

Kaia was one of the members of the Homocore band Team Dresch, one of my favorite all-time bands. The albums Personal Best and Captain My Captain have gotten me through many a dark day in my teens and twenties. She was also a member of the catchy pop-punk band The Butchies, and has had four other solo albums. If you don’t know Wilson’s music, now is the time.

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 ( 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!

February 5, 2012

The Julie Ruin Performing Cookie Road At The Knitting Factory

February 1, 2012

Stay Tuned!

Coming up in future Guitareste goodness…

1)  This weekend I’ll be posting an interview with Sara Landeau of The Julie Ruin and teacher for the wonderful Willie Mae Rock Camp.

2)  Today I got a diy boost pedal kit in the mail from Mod Kits DIY.  I’m very excited to start soldering away.  I’ll be posting pics and audio clips of the finished product as the construction progresses.

In other (not so great) news — I didn’t make it to the finalist stage of The Bloggies.  But go check out all the wonderful sites that did.  Good luck to the finalists, and thanks to those who nominated the site.

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.

%d bloggers like this: