Conversations with Alternative Guitarists from Proto-Punk to Post-Rock

As a guitarist, finding your voice is one thing. Believing in it is another.

You know how confusing it can be… you see gear review videos, rock award shows, and other slick commodified expressions of “music” all day. And in every presentation it’s always complete showboating, tight cord progressions, shred-a-thons, and arpeggiated scales executed in lighting fast perfection.

And you can’t help but think to yourself: Do I need to be able to sound like that in order to be considered good? Or even sell or share my music? What if I have my own way of playing and expressing myself, does it even count?

And there it hangs, the elephant in the room… unquestioned standards of musical expression and what it means to be “perfect” or “noteworthy.”

But here’s the short answer: No, absolutely not -do your own thing. We live in a world where there's room for every expression known, and hopefully, unknown.

Some of you have this already in check. You’ve obliterated all doubt about who you are and how you like to show up in the world. And I salute you.

But there can be, at times, this nagging idea that music is supposed to be one thing in a commercial hits driven world. And so, quite naturally, we compare ourselves to that which has been deemed “popular,” no matter which genre you like to call home.

Pattern Recognition

As I churn through a lot of media creating this website, I just see the same damn musical expression pumped out across the airwaves, over and over again.

Whether it’s blues, rock, metal, indie, etc, a lot of it feels like the 2015 version of cock rock. A canned sound that get’s repeatedly pumped out.

So much so that you naturally end up believing that your own music “should” sound like this, and one by one guitarists line up to sound “acceptable.”

Yet we live in age where musical diversity is at an all time high and growing.

So how come it can all sound the same and safe?

This Modern Age

If you’re ever in doubt, there’s these two things working in your favor for your one-of-kind playing style.

Diversity of expression and the Internet.

The first is the power to do things the way you love to do them, with no apologies, and the second is that your expression no longer has to pass the judgment of media gatekeepers.

Press record, hit send. Freedom restored.

Be The Musician You Are

By all means learn new things. Increase your skills. Diversify your sources of inspiration. And, absorb new techniques.

Do check out what other genres of music, other than your own, are doing and learn new things.

But I encourage you to not subdue your true expression in order to fit into a box. The way you make your mark on the canvass of sound with your guitar is yours and yours alone to make.

Do not shy away from being your unique bold expression. For all music as tapped pure from its source is legitimate.

The way you strum or pick. The way you position your hands. How high or low the guitar strap is. Which amp or guitar you use. Don’t look for approval in any of these things from others.

Know your equipment and find your tone. Gain enough skill to assure that you can express yourself clearly as you need and to piece together the sonic landscapes you wish to share.

But that’s it.

Now Hear This Rant-A-Thon

If you don’t want to learn scales. Fuck scales. If you don’t want to learn chord progressions. Fuck chord progressions. If you don’t want to make verse chorus bridge based songs. Then fuck those too!

Though I’ll say it again; know your equipment.

Now this rant is meant to encourage you. And what helps me gain confidence to shine exactly as I wish, is to read about the history of our craft.

Because all music, at one time or another, went against the norms of its day to break new ground.

It can be good to read from this rich history in which to draw new insights to current music blockages, or just find camaraderie with those who have blazed before you.

Feeding Back

A current book that’s lighting me up big time is Feeding Back: Conversations with Alternative Guitarists from Proto-Punk to Post-Rock by David Todd.

It contains in depth craft oriented interviews from modern day guitarist such as: J Mascis, John Frusciante, Johnny Marr, Bob Mould, Lee Ranaldo (Sonic Youth), Keith Levene, Tom Verlaine and many more.

Pioneers who did their own thing and shaped all modern music that comes out today to its current level.

Here’s the official description:

Feeding Back: Conversations with Alternative Guitarists from Proto-Punk to Post-Rock is a collection of interviews with 26 of the most innovative musicians of the last few generations, including Tom Verlaine, Rowland S. Howard, James Williamson, Zoot Horn Rollo, Lenny Kaye, Richard Thompson, Lee Ranaldo, and Lydia Lunch. Although the discussions are intended to stand alone, taken together they capture a guitar tradition that runs counter to the mainstream pantheon, from sources like the Seeds and Captain Beefheart, to the MC5 and the Voidoids, to the Birthday Party and Dinosaur Jr., and beyond. This underground lineage ultimately becomes an informal movement, with its members—additional subjects include Keith Levene, Johnny Marr, J Mascis, Bob Mould, and John Frusciante—engaging in a musical conversation. From the proto-punk of the Stooges to the post-punk of Sonic Youth, from the Krautrock of Neu! to the post-rock of Tortoise, Feeding Back charts this alternative thread as it makes its way through rock guitar from the late ’60s to the present.

Again, people who were sick of how it “should” be, and found their own way to fulfillment of their own personal expression.

So I’ll Leave You With This

When you play for team wild, you play chords that aren’t chords. You pluck strings and mute them any way you like. You give yourself massive permission to make both beautiful and awkward places. Zones that resolve into melodies or don’t.

Not matter if it’s just “noise” – at least you’re free.

And in your freedom you find fulfillment of the musician and person you always have been.

Rock on!

You can pick up the book Feeding Back by David Todd on Amazon.