Guy Buttery is a South African guitarist with a very unique and introspective musical style. I’ve been really impressed with his music and have shared it a few times already, so i wanted to ask him about his background and find out where he’s coming from musically.
First could you tell us a bit about your musical background?
Growing up with older brothers who were budding musicians, guitars were always around the house. Almost as importantly, there was also a good solid dose of old school rock and folk music at home. In my household, taking up the guitar was somewhat inevitable I guess.
However, I started on the piano for a year or so and apparently showed some aptitude with the instrument, but quite clearly remember being repeatedly told I hit the keys too hard. I think that approach more or less carried over into my formative years as a guitar player, and definitely right up until my first album in 2002.
Who are your main influences?
The list is endless and changes all the time, but I guess artists like Van Morrison, Michael Hedges, Steve Newman and The Doors were definitely some of my main influences.
What led you to play solo acoustic guitar?
Strangely enough, it was probably Led Zeppelin. They had a handful of acoustic tunes that really hit me slap in the middle of the forehead. I pretty much went on to learn almost every single Zeppelin song ever recorded, all on an acoustic. I think this also led to me being a somewhat heavy-handed player with a tendency to break a few strings than most 12 year olds.
But when learning how to play their tunes, I found the stripped down acoustic version of the same song almost more dramatic. I could get jailed in certain countries for saying that, but at that time, that was definitely my truth. I also always felt all the verses with lyrics were more or less gaps between the guitar solos.
The guitar really spoke to me. Much like a bagpipe might do for a Scotsman, it felt like home. I had my first few profound emotional and spiritual experiences behind the instrument and I think that really shook me up and kept me going at it.
You also play the sitar, have you studied classical Indian music?
I literally had one lesson with a sitar teacher in Durban, South Africa who basically taught me how to sit, hold and tune the thing. I came to the sitar more or less for the ‘sound’. There are thousands of incredible Carnatic and Hindustani classical sitar players out there playing in their tradition so beautifully. That was never my intention. I’ve always been more interested in cross pollination with the sitar which I think has worked with rock bands, maskandi artists (traditional Zulu guitar music) and folk music.
Hearing my little pint-sized guitar ideas colossally deepened and expanded upon by a 52 piece orchestra will be something I won’t forget in a hurry.
These days however, I more or less only use the sitar in the studio as a colour. I was doing a guitar festival in Italy a few years ago and someone said “life is too short for more than one instrument”. At the time I found it quite humorous but realised there may have actually been some truth in that. The guitar is enough of a handful as it is and reveals more of itself every day.
What is the musical scene like in South Africa for a solo instrumental musician? Do you feel being from there has influenced your music in any particular way?
The South African music industry is relatively small in comparison to maybe the US or Europe. All the guitar players doing it professionally down here have met or know each other from a festival or some gig somewhere and it feels a little more like a community than a “scene”.
Having said that, the musical landscape is ridiculously diverse and full of incredibly talented and soulful musicians. Growing up in SA has unquestionably influenced my creative process. Be it the music, the people, the rhythms or the landscape, it all seeped into my musical framework and is still what inspires me to create most of my idea’s.
Tell us about your collaborations with Nibs van der Spuy. From what I understand he was your guitar teacher?
I have been performing on and off with Nibs van der Spuy since I was a teenager when he was still my guitar teacher. He gave me my first break with opening slots for his band ‘Landscape Prayers’ who were very well known in SA. He was also elemental in getting me my first record deal and getting me on the road.
Two years ago we were performing at a festival in France and we both decided to finally knuckle down and put an album together. I reckon it’s safe to say that working with Nibs has been the most fun I’ve had with music. We’ve been super creative over the course of the last few months and pretty much written another record’s worth of material. I’m sure we’ll lay another album down soon I hope.
And you recently performed with an orchestra?
That was a trip. I almost never get nervous performing in front of an audience but practically had to be pushed on to the stage for that one. It ended up being a totally incredible and fulfilling show. Hearing my little pint-sized guitar ideas colossally deepened and expanded upon by a 52 piece orchestra will be something I won’t forget in a hurry.
I was very fortunate to work with arranger Chris Letcher whose arrangements and song-writing I have admired for years. We first collaborated at one or two shows in London a few years back and more recently ending up working together on some of my compositions which landed up on my vinyl only release To Disappear in Place. I felt we were always on the same page when it came arrangements so when the opportunity to work with the orchestra came up, Chris was my first port of call.
The whole concert was recorded and filmed so hopefully something will come of that next year.
What are your plans for the upcoming year? Any future releases planned?
I have a few exciting recording projects I’d like to get stuck into next year, including a covers project I’ve slowly been chipping away at. As well as collaborations with a few artists, but I’d prefer not to reveal too much at this stage. I will also be touring Europe as well as South Africa during the course of next year.