Canadian Musician - May/June 2021 | Page 28


Forget About Being a “ Guitar Player ” & Just Express Yourself

By Alex Henry Foster

It ’ s always very humbling for me to be invited to share about gear , especially as it offers me the incredible opportunity to commune how I perceive the contribution of whatever instrument I use to give life to my musical creations , or what I may envision in terms of creative shapes and forms .

Let me start by saying that I am not a guitar player , nor do I pretend to be one . On the contrary , that total freedom is the sole reason I can use guitars in all sorts of unorthodox ways . It offers me the limitless possibilities to dwell on a moment without having to remind myself that I ’ m supposed to be playing either chords or notes . These don ’ t mean anything to me , I leave that to the other musicians . For me , it ’ s about what serves the emotions , not about what is used and how it is used . It ’ s the sonic textures that I ’ m obsessed with , the waves of feedback , the fragile balance between the power of electricity and the vulnerability of the emotion . I wouldn ’ t be able to play a chord if my life depended on it , and why would I ? The world doesn ’ t need another badly-executed “ Stairway to Heaven ,” trust me . I might have discreetly tried it in the past , though …
The most difficult part in sonic textures is to find your own voice ; what moves you . Otherwise , it ’ s only chaos and noises . Not that I don ’ t like it , but it ’ s a pretty limited language when you want to convey a larger palette of colours in your songs . I ’ ve used several guitars and used to play with two Fender Jazzmasters ( the Jazzmaster HH and Jazzmaster Troy Van Leeuwen signature ) and this was great for a time . I tried the Rickenbacker Model 620 and it sounded terrible , just like every custom Duesenberg Starplayer TV we have . Don ’ t get me wrong , they are awesome guitars , but I wasn ’ t able to hear it — that little thing I am probably the only one to hear . And the more I wanted to explore that language , the more frustrating it became . That is , until I discovered the Eastwood Warren Ellis signature guitars . The real fun was about to begin …
I had the chance to talk with Warren , who happened to rehearse with the Bad Seeds next door to where I was in London a few years ago . I was intrigued by the sound I could hear , a blend of violin and distortion , which seemed to perfectly flow within the feedback and to sonically undulate like a stream of pure controlled energy , in a subtle yet singular personality . It sounded great in the context of Nick Cave ’ s music , of course . But it ’ s once I used it within my own context that I discovered a new dimension to those guitars . Blended with my Orange Thunderverb 200 head and my Earthquaker Devices pedals setup , it was a distinct dialect all of a sudden . The pickup on the Eastwood Warren Ellis Mandostang was vibrating dissimilarly depending on how I interacted with my amps and effects , unlocking a whole new spectrum of sounds . I couldn ’ t believe how something so small could be so versatile for someone who had no idea what it was initially created for .
That discovery led me to the Eastwood Warren Ellis Tenor and Tenor Baritone , which I started using with sliders by pure accident as I was trying to reproduce a certain wave sound processed through a reverse delay . Although it wasn ’ t what I was looking for , the tone that came out was so uplifting to me that I started exploring that combination of four strings and slider a whole lot more . I ended up alternating the slider on both the neck and the bridge pickups . I don ’ t care how a slider should be used , as long as I can hear the wavelengths I am looking for . No matter if I used the brass or glass sliders , it has always been about the sound , without fail . From a smooth and silky sound , to a higher grinding tone and a sharp squealing noise , as long as it serves the song and its emotions , the rest is for scholars to say I was wrong . And since I am no guitar player , I can do pretty much whatever I want with whatever gear of mine , right ?!
I don ’ t know if this was instructive for anyone who wants to be the next guitar hero , but I guess the point I ’ m trying to make is this : As long as it suits the language with which you want to express yourself and connect with people , the rest doesn ’ t really matter . The more you explore , the more that voice of yours will enrich its vocabulary and colours for others to hear and see . Dwell on the sounds and have fun !
My Rig
Pedalboard :
• Earthquaker Devices Afterneath V3
• Earthquaker Devices Avalanche Run V2
• Earthquaker Devices Sea Machine V3
• Earthquaker Devices Aqueduct
• Homebrew Electronics Power Screamer
• Homebrew Electronics Uno Mos
Guitars :
• Eastwood Warren Ellis Tenor
• Eastwood Warren Ellis Tenor Baritone
• Eastwood Warren Ellis Mandostang
• Eastwood Airline Lap Steel Pro
• Fender Jazzmaster Troy Van Leeuwen
• Fender Jazzmaster HH
• Fender Jaguar Vintera ‘ 60s Modified HH
Amps :
• Orange Thunderverb 200 Head
• Mack Amps 1x12 Cabinet
Alex Henry Foster is a Montreal-based singer , musician , writer , and activist who fronts the Juno-nominated alternative band Your Favorite Enemies . His solo debut LP , Windows in the Sky , was released in 2018 on Hopeful Tragedy Records , and he recently released Standing Under Bright Lights , a triple LP and DVD from his sold-out concert at the Montreal Jazz Festival . www . alexhenryfoster . com .