Sunday, February 23, 2014

Preston Reed 13 questions

Preston Reed has virtually reinvented how the acoustic guitar is played. Reed practices a flamboyant self-invented style, characterized by percussive techniques and simultaneous rhythm and melody lines that dance and ricochet around each other, giving his music a level of excitement that is unparalleled among today's guitarists.

Playing an array of guitars from acoustic to electric to classical Reed's vast range of explosively original music will forever change your expectation of a guitarist.
First-time listeners find it impossible to believe that they're hearing just the one musician, in real time. Reed attacks the entire instrument in a never-ending search for the orchestra he knows is lurking inside. At full tilt, his fingers, thumbs, fists and hands at once suggest a drummer, keyboardist, bassist and several guitarists at work.

The most impressive thing about Reed's technique, though, is that it doesn't draw attention to itself. His compositions are far from abstract virtuosic displays; even without lyrics he creates vivid, engrossing scenes. Sometimes the effect is almost onomatopoetic. Reed generates visual stimuli with every tweak of his instrument, thus augmenting his wordless compositions with an aura of the poetic. Each tune is a story in itself with a potent, cinematic atmosphere and an almost tangible thread of communication between Preston Reed and the listener.

Reed's entry into this guitar odyssey was inauspicious enough, his path thereafter largely self-discovered. A few chords learned from his guitar playing father, a brief, very brief, flirtation with the ukulele, clandestine practice sessions of his favourite Beatles and Stones songs on dad's guitar .... and then a too-strict classical guitar teacher led to premature retirement.


At 16, however, Reed heard Jefferson Airplane's rootsy blues offshoot, Hot Tuna. His interest was rekindled big time. Acoustic guitar heroes John Fahey and Leo Kottke were studied, their styles absorbed but not imitated, and at this point things really begin to get interesting because, at 17, Reed, by now precociously proficient, played his first live gig, supporting beat poet Allen Ginsberg at the Smithsonian Institute.
Just getting on a train from his native Armonk in New York State to Washington was a cool adventure. And it was just the first of many, not least of which was the one which resulted from his signing his first deal with a major record company, MCA, through the auspices of his friend, country singer-songwriter Lyle Lovett.

Determined to make the most of this opportunity, Reed pushed himself to go beyond the standard fingerpicking styles he'd perfected. The result was the beginnings of Reeds startlingly innovative style, with its percussive, two-handed fretboard attack, that you hear today and which has caused guitar luminaries such as Al DiMeola and the late Michael Hedges to describe Reed as "phenomenal" and "inspiring". His playing has spawned a generation of imitators, yet Reed remains one of a kind.

Reed's compositional talents extend to film soundtracks and prestigious commissions for the Minneapolis Guitar Quartet, and as well as appearances alongside Bonnie Raitt and Linda Ronstadt his major performances include an historic live satellite broadcast on Turkish National Television in 1997 with renowned saz player and composer Arif Sag which reached an audience of 120 million in 17 countries, prompting a flood of international telephone calls to the station from stunned viewers.
Since 1979, he has recorded thirteen albums and three videos and charmed audiences on three continents. He continues to tour with the same hunger and relish that informs his guitar playing. The secret, he says, is to relax and let the guitar patterns run by themselves. Which explains how, at full tilt, he may sound like a full-on heavy metal band but he still won't have broken sweat.

What do yo remember about your first musical instrument?

It was a small (soprano?) ukelele made of a kind of brown wood. My father bought it for me at a music store in Mount Kisco, New York when I was eight years old. I am left-handed and wanted a left-handed one, but the store did not sell left-handed ukeleles, so I agreed to learn to play a right-handed one.

Which was the last record you bought with your own money?

Bill Evans, "Conversations With Myself". Although Bill Evans is one of my favourite musicians of all time and I own many of his records, I found this "experimental" album (piano duets with himself) to be disappointing.

Why do you love the guitar?

I love its versatility, its dynamic capabilities and it compositional possibilities. Like the piano, the guitar has both harmonic (chord-making) capabilities and single-line melodic capabilities....but unlike the piano you can directly control the sound of the strings with your fingers which allows for greater dynamic control, intimacy and emotional expression. I love being able to change tunings, and the ability to use it as a multi-voiced compositional vehicle that can incorporate a wide variety of percussive sounds. It is an unlimited platform of creativity and discovery.

Which work of your own (or as a sideman) are you most proud of, and why?

Although I am equally proud of all my albums, my 2000 album 
"Handwritten Notes" holds a special place for me for its compositional exploration and new guitaristic thinking. It is perhaps my most compositionally complex album, heavily influenced by both jazz and classical harmony. I think "First Summer Without You", "Crossing Open Water" and "After A Rain" represent some of my best work.

Do you play electric and acoustic, do you approach the two differently? 

Yes, I play electric and acoustic. They are very different in terms of tone, texture and dynamics. As a solo player performing my own music, I find the acoustic guitar to be more versatile and useful most of the time, but I love electric for the special atmosphere it gives to certain tunes. I play both types of guitar in multiple ways based on the style and techniques called for by the composition. Some of my tunes work equally well on either type of guitar and my choice of which to play is based on the mood I am looking for -- acoustic is warmer and more emotional, electric is edgier and more aggressive.

Which is the main pleasure of the guitar? 

Telling a story. Developing a compelling narrative and an evocative landscape within a composition. Communicating emotionally with an audience through your music.

What’s the difference between a good guitar and a bad guitar?

A good guitar is one that you enjoy playing, that speaks to you in your voice, that embraces you emotionally and delights you physically, that feels like it's an extension of you.

A bad guitar? One that doesn't communicate to you emotionally no matter what you play on it, no matter how you try to interact with it.

How would you define the present time in musical terms?  

Struggling to find its groove.

Define the sound you're still looking for.

Across a distant bridge
To a land on other side
Where my home lies

Why and how do you use extended techniques in guitar?

I invented the approach I use to get a bigger, more interesting, more dynamic, more orchestral sound from the acoustic guitar. My approach makes full use of the guitar as both a polyphonic instrument and a percussion instrument -- solo, in real time. My approach involves starting out with a combination of rhythm, bass and percussion (a "groove") and adding in the melody and harmony around that groove -- in simplest terms, adding the sound of the strings into a drum groove.

Why do you need music?

Music has always been a source of freedom for me. It is a pleasure that I enjoy deeply...but it is also a creative laboratory, an environment where I can explore myself and discover new realities.

Where are your roots? What are your influences?

My roots are in American popular music of the 1960's which included a lot of rock, jazz and blues, TV show themes, Hollywood film music, the classical music my parents had on the radio in our living room...and in everything I absorbed around me as I was growing up.

My early guitar influences included classical pieces by Fernando Sor that I played when I took lessons (briefly)  at age eight, and Jorma Kaukonen, John Fahey and Leo Kottke, whose recordings I learned alternating bass fingerpicking from when I was in my late teen years.

Later guitar influences include Jimi Hendrix, John McLaughlin, Wes Montgomery, Joe Pass, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Pat Metheny, John Scofield, Mike Stern and many others.

But my biggest influences are not guitar players: Bill Evans, John Coltrane, Astor Piazzola, Charles Mingus, Miles Davis, Thelonius Monk, Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays (as composer/arrangers), Yellowjackets and many others.

What’s your next project about

Possibly an ensemble recording with some wonderful international musicians I met  at a festival in France last year. They played cello, clarinet, bass clarinet and flute. We did an arrangement of my tune "Love In The Old Country". It sounded tremendous. Would love to do a whole album of my music with that configuration and sound.


In Here Out There
Released: 2013

Buy Now: U.S. iTunes | U.K. iTunes | CD-Baby | BandCamp | Amazon | Amazon UK

Released: 2007

Buy Now: iTunes | CD-Baby | CANdyRat | BandCamp | Amazon

History Of Now
Released: 2005

Buy Now: iTunes | CD-Baby | CANdyRat | BandCamp

Handwritten Notes
Released: 2000

Buy Now: iTunes | CD-Baby | CANdyRat | BandCamp | Amazon

Ladies Night
Released: 2004
Original release: 1997

Buy Now: iTunes | CD-Baby | CANdyRat | BandCamp | Amazon

Groovemasters, Volume 1
Released: 1997
Duet with Laurence Juber

Buy Now: iTunes

Re-released: 2002
Original release: 1995

Buy Now: iTunes | CD-Baby | CANdyRat | BandCamp | Amazon

Acoustic Guitar
Released: 1979

Buy Now: BandCamp


Preston Reed in Concert
Released: 1997
Concert DVD , 60 minute solo performance, Performer

Buy Now: Homespun

Preston Reed live in concert, creating the amazing sounds that have given his playing such notoriety around the world.
Songs include:
  1. Blasting Cap
  2. Ladies Night
  3. Slap Funk
  4. Hijacker
  5. Acufuse
  6. Somehow We'll Make It Home
  7. The Rain Maker
  8. Corazon
  9. Hyperjig
  10. Flatonia
  11. Metal
Also includes two duets with Laurence Juber from Groovemasters Vol. 1 CD:
  1. Commotion
  2. Bad Attitude

The Guitar of Preston Reed: Expanding The Realm Of Acoustic Playing
Released: 1994
Instructional DVD

Buy Now: Homespun

Preston Reed has reinvented how the acoustic guitar is played with his dynamic use of percussive devices and unusual playing ideas. You'll learn to create a multitude of sonic and rhythmic effects with Preston's "rim shots," "bongo hits," slap harmonics, double hammer-ons, two-hand tapping, right-hand fretting and other techniques. In "Slap Funk," "Border Towns" and "Tribes," he shows new ways of generating sounds and offers a myriad of ideas for this exciting solo guitar style.