-- David "Skinny Devil" McLean
originally published at Tinfoil Music
Date: Tuesday, March 29 2005 @ 14:42:13 BST
"Every child is an artist... the problem is how to remain an artist when he grows up." (Pablo Picasso).
There is a man called P.O.M., and he must of been quite a child.......he is also among the most articulate, outlandish, & wondrous guitarists to spring onto the scene in a long time. Check this guy out - I guarantee you will be amazed.
Though the general public has yet to hear of him, he is already gathering the most lavish praise from critics. "...P O M thrashes his guitar into submission with more style, flair, and musical taste than is strictly fair for one person to possess...." (Guitarist Magazine); "...The inventiveness with which he played his Flamenco guitar using a double-handed technique more associated with electric guitarist Eddie Van Halen captivated an audience receiving him with vociferous appreciation..." (Classical Guitar Magazine); "..Sure us electric leadsters like to think we're hot but what this fleet fingered London lad can do on a nylon strung acoustic guitar...Sheesh getouddahea!!!" (Guitar Magazine).
Starting out in London as a bluegrass flatpicker, P.O.M. switched to nylon string Flamenco after hearing Paco deLucia, John MacLaughlin, & Al DiMeola play together on the album "Friday Night in San Francisco", which features brisk rhythms, complex harmony, lightning fast runs...all performed on classical flamenco guitars. He has traveled across Europe and Australia learning and perfecting his craft, and has now put it all together for his debut solo collection. Said collection, which was composed & performed for the full-length feature film "Lost Contact", is available independently via the "Lost Contact" web-site....until someone from the majors takes notice, anyway! This guy is destined for big things.
Learn more about the film HERE, and learn more about P.O.M. HERE, which features a live performance video of P.O.M. If you're interested in the "tapping" or "touchstyle" guitar techniques, a great resource is Tappistry.Org, an educational site focusing specifically on touchstyle techniques. You can also check out "New Acoustic Concepts" (parts 1 & 2), which features lots of musical examples, plus brief interviews with both P.O.M. and steel-string wizard (and "Guitar God' interviewee) Justin King.
I had a chance to speak to P.O.M. recently - check it out!
1) What are your current projects?
Musically I am gigging quite a lot with a guitar style that I have listened to on and off for years but have never really been hooked on. I am playing in a guitar duo which concentrates on the acoustic, ‘Swing’, “Gypsy Jazz”, style guitar playing famously associated with Django Reinhardt.
It is very different to my own style developed more through Flamenco and I have had to cross over onto heavy gauge steel strung acoustic rather than my preferred nylon strung flamenco guitar. It took a bit of getting used to. I know a friend who is into this style in a big way and I thought it might be a nice way of getting back into music.
If you have been to the site www.lost-contact.com you would know that for some time I have been working quite intensely on a film project. The film is called Lost Contact. Not only have I written and recorded the soundtrack but I wrote, produced and directed the movie itself (about a musician [guitarist] and an actor) and have formed the company “Three Crows Productions”. Being pretty much a loan artist throughout this venture there has been a lot of work involved and money spent getting everything to the point where it is now. The film has now been picked up by Echelon Entertainment, a distributor based in Burbank, California. It's funny but in the back of my mind I always thought it would be great way to get my music out there to an audience. The fact I had to make the movie first was but a technicality!
If you want to find out more about the ‘bigger picture’ you can visit the site but seeing as we are here today to talk about guitar I will get back to the point in hand.
For this movie I recorded original compositions using some of my own unorthodox techniques on the guitar. This I did quite early on in the project before we even went into production. Since then I have concentrated on getting the film made and the marketing up and running. This took me a long way from music and to be honest I think I suffered from burn out. By time the film was made there wasn't much left creatively. Some of you out there may relate to this. It seems funny now but basically I had no urge to do anything creative and it had been some time since I had played a guitar so it was the last thing I wanted to do.
Going back to this friend of mine, he suggested getting together and learning this Gypsy style. He already new a lot of traditional swing jazz tunes by composers such as Gershwin and Ellington so he could show me how they went. This was great for me because I didn't want to get into composing. I wanted to keep things on a lighter level. At the same time the technique is difficult and it calls for persistent improvising which I have always been into and is a strong element of my music. The arrangements are simple as well so basically it looked and sounded impressive with a strong ‘craft’ element but did not have the artistic depth I couldn't offer at the time. This style of music is also very accessible and we knew it would be no trouble to get gigging locally.
What was great about this though was that it got me interested again and creative energy has come back to me. It really got my fingers going and got me back on top of some of my plectrum techniques which I do use on the Nylon Strung Guitar as well as my fingers. (ed note: see the guitar video on the soundtrack page of www.lost-contact.com - link above)
2) How does this (do these) differ from your past work?
3) Do you have one project you are most proud of as a guitarist?
I am proud of all of my work...as an artist, not just a guitarist. I think this is important. Regardless of the ‘quality’ of the work as perceived by others I feel if your work reflects the truth and is part of you then it is something to be proud of regardless of technical ability. I see creativity as something that evolves rather than a tangible thing that ‘gets better’.
If I had to mention a project it would be my feature length movie ‘Lost Contact'. I am proud that I pulled it off in its entirety and I am proud of the soundtrack that accompanies it.
4) Can you give our readers a run-down of your basic gear (live and/or studio)?
To be honest I don't use a lot of gear. There are two main reasons for this.
I am as yet still relatively unknown as a guitarist. I have always bought equipment as and when it was 100% necessary and if finances would allow. Over time I have got used to getting the most out of my instrument and my playing because I had little to ‘hide behind’ (for want of a better phrase). One thing I have learned because of this takes me to the other reason.
I believe you simply cannot beat good playing on a good instrument.
You could say that being an acoustic instrument specialist my main priority is to replicate the acoustic quality as best I can into amplification (for the live set up). My basic set up for playing my own music live is very simple.
Firstly I play a Conde Hermanos Flamenco guitar made in Spain.
My pick up system is a simple £12 bug which can be bought just about anywhere and is the type which just sticks directly onto the body of the guitar. I put mine just behind the bridge. Note this is not a pick up which fixes under the ‘saddle’ of the bridge picking up the strings only. I really don't like these. They have a strange, ‘fake’ kind of sound which just screams out “acoustic pick up”. These other bugs sound more natural and don't have what my friend calls the “Piezzo Quark”. They also pick up sounds from all over the guitar which is important for me. I don't record with these though. (for some reason when you record with the bug and hear it back it sounds weak and less natural) For recording I just use a single decent microphone. There is no excuse not to. You don't have feedback problems as with a live set up. A pet hate of mine is hearing a great piece of music recorded in an expensive studio but the acoustic guitar is using a pick up. Sure SM 57 is okay and I have actually used a £7 tie pin microphone for some of my favourite recordings. (It was made by ‘Realistic’, part of Tandy Corporation and was one of the best mics I ever had. You used to be able to get them from component wholesalers and camcorder accessory outlets. Haven't seen one for years though).
Anyway… back to the live set up. These bugs need pre-amping. I go from the bug into a graphic equalizer… from the graphic I go into the back of a custom built cabinet made by a friend of mine which houses a Lexicon MPX100 reverb unit and a 1u 400 watt mono bridgeable power amp. I have an RDL PX400 in there at the moment. The make isn't important and 400 watts isn't entirely necessary as long as you can get the volume and the drivers/speakers can take it. This cabinet gives me plenty of volume for a small venue or serves as my on stage monitor. Basically my line is going into the Lexicon, out of channel A into the power amp and thus the speakers of my cab. A line out of channel B of the lexicon can be taken into the house system of wherever I'm playing. My own settings are predetermined and I know what it will sound like out front so I tell the engineers to leave my EQ on the desk flat. I learned early on to get my sound right and take it around with me. Sound engineers can't spend all night on you and you play much better if your sound is good… both in tone and depth. Me? I like a warm sound with a lot of bass.
Recording. Well basically for the soundtrack to 'Lost Contact' I used Sure SM57 microphones and a tie pin microphone as mentioned above. I recorded everything dry and uncompressed (I didn't have a compressor) onto a Tascam 564 Digital Portastudio which used mini/data discs. It only had four tracks but you could bounce tracks forward onto another position. It let you do this five times so you could free up extra tracks. Great little thing which also had parametric EQ. I then added reverb only using the Lexicon MPX 100 reverb unit giving depth and warmth. I don't like special effects or electronic sounds, etc.
5) Who would you site as early influences, and who are your favourite new players?
I started out playing Bluegrass believe it or not. I lived around the corner from one of the best ‘Flatpickers’ in England called Bill Titley and when I heard him play this style it blew me away. It was loud, fluent, melodic, fast and best of all acoustic. These sounds were right there in front of you as he played. I loved it… and thought “I have to learn this”. I picked up a plectrum and started learning the tunes. This was all on steel strung acoustic. I picked things up so quickly that Bill stopped charging me for lessons and we started playing together. I was listening to musicians such as Clarence White, Marc O’Connor, Dan Crary, Doc Watson, Tony Rice, Bella Fleck, David Grisman… the list was endless. After a while though and having a good picking technique going, I started to want more. So much Bluegrass is played in the first and second position sometimes using a cappo but chords were always similar. Then I was introduced to a live album by three guitarists called Friday Night In San Francisco. This changed everything.
This album introduced me to the acoustic guitar proper. I had never heard such speed, with the range and quality of dynamic approach. A strong element shining through was its Spanish/Flamenco/Latin sound coupled with strong improvisation. I was hooked. The guitarists were John McLaughlin from England, Al di Meola from USA, and Paco DeLucia from Spain. I listened to these three incessantly and felt like starting all over again. There was no-one to teach me this style. I practiced and practiced my scales and technique on my own. It would be years before I felt my plectrum technique and improvising skills would come up anywhere near their level.
One year I was traveling around the south of France with another great plectrum style acoustic guitarist called Sheldon King. We were playing pieces from the 'Friday Night' album mixed with pieces of our own. We were playing in a town called Avignon during an open-air theatre and music festival. We were approached by Spanish Gypsies who had liked our playing and they invited us to play music with their family including one player who played the modern style Flamenco inspired by Paco DeLucia. It was his amazing Flamenco techniques combined with single line solos which made me decide it was time to switch to nylon strings.
I really wanted to improve my right hand technique in terms of non-plectrum playing and Flamenco was where I wanted to go. I listened to later albums by Paco DeLucia entitled 'Sirocco and Zyriab'. These were very different to the 'Friday Night' album where he was playing with two Jazz Guitarists. The single line soloing was there but it was interspersed with incredible arpeggios and rhythms. I could not find anyone in England who could get me close to this. Flamenco is not traditionally written (though you do get transcriptions but so much of the modern style is almost impossible to write down and is based around building a vocabulary from which you improvise). Rather it is passed down through Gypsy generations by ear. I did eventually though track down a Croatian musician who lived in London and played some of this style. I started playing with him and began to slowly pick up some of the important techniques.
Throughout this time I would listen to all sorts of other acoustic guitarists: Egberto Gismonte, Vincente Amigo and Michael Hedges were among some. Michael Hedges’ two-handed fret work on the steel string I thought was wonderful. One day a non musical friend of mine told me I had to listen to a short track he had by Eddie Van Halen on a nylon strung guitar. Up until that point I had not really listened to him being an electric guitarist with a form of music I wasn't interested in. It was called Spanish Fly. When I did hear it I was amazed with what he was doing on a straight, unprocessed guitar and that got me experimenting with two handed playing on the fret board incorporated into Flamenco.
I still listen to other guitarists a lot (right now I am listening to an English artist called Nitin Sawney) but now I am listening to the music more as a whole and not analysing what the guitar part is like etc. There came a moment several years ago that I remember well.
Trying to attain difficult techniques takes a long time. A long time of not actually sounding very good at all. Therefore there isn't really any ‘music’ happening. The more difficult the technique, it would follow the longer it would take to ‘master it’. People would say “stop trying to play in a way that exceeds your ability”. This made no sense to me. How can you acquire the ability without first taking on the task and going through the process. It took a long time but one day the techniques started to come together and I was no longer aimlessly practicing but starting to develop music using these techniques. It was a specific point in time that stays with me. I was now starting to think and work like a musician who plays the guitar rather than trying to be a guitar player learning his craft. I found myself playing a lot but developing pieces of music and yet still enhancing my techniques.
I am glad I am playing music again and funnily enough I am listening more and more to songwriters as well as instrumentalists. I am listening to bands like Muse, the Kings Of Leon as well as bands that my step son has introduced me too: Pearl Jam, Our Lady Peace and a couple that I really like for their musicianship as well as artistic content… Tool and the singers offshoot band A Perfect Circle. Quite different to what inspired me on the guitar but then what you love playing isn’t always what you love listening to.
6) Can you give a few tips to aspiring players.
Practise. Practise is the obvious one. Also, go with what inspires you. Don’t analyse too much. If you feel you need to play Jazz because it will help with your theory and understanding of the complexities of modern day blah blah blah then great, but if it doesn’t inspire you then the music will be lost. If you are not inspired then how can you motivate yourself to practise and improve? If you hear music which really communicates to you then go in that direction until you find something which takes you elsewhere. You will then feel like you are going somewhere yourself, as a person not just a musician. Eventually, through an accumulation of all these influences, you will find yourself doing your own thing and playing and composing from the heart.
One thing to remember: We were all crap once. No-one is born a guitarist or whatever. Some are born with more natural musical ability, some people just ‘fire’ that bit quicker than others and things come more naturally to them, but they have all worked hard, practised a lot and immersed themselves in music. One day years and years later they realize “Hey, I’m pretty good at this” then you hear them for the first time and they blow you away. All you associate with them is their amazing skill and ease on the instrument, not the evolution it took to get them to that point.
7) What are your future plans?
I already have loads of ideas for another soundtrack to another movie I have written called 'Replacing Johnny', but I am just going to gig locally for a while and concentrate on getting the 'Lost Contact' soundtrack album out there (reviewed HERE) and spread my name as a musician by doing interviews like this one.
8) Thanks for talking to us P.O.M.!
No problem. Hope I haven’t rambled on too much but then… you did get me to talk about myself!