Continuing from Part 1, Trace talks about the feel of his newest album,
his gear, his obsession with capos, and his favourite fingerstyle artists.
There was a four-year gap between your last two releases. Could you comment on that?
It was way too long for sure, between albums. But I was just touring so much, and having so much fun playing shows, that I never had time to put together a new album and record. After ‘Adapt’, I just toured everywhere for like three years, and then finally I thought “Aw man, I guess I should probably record a new album now“, so I recorded Missile Bell. And then I just kept touring and touring for another four years, and then I was like ,”Okay, I really really need to put out a new album now”, and so I put out Elephant King. Now I’m starting to realise it’s not a good time between releases – it’s just too long. So now I’m trying to commit to releasing an album at least every two years, or maybe even a year and a half.
How do you feel your playing has evolved between the album you released in 2004, Adapt, and your recent release in 2012, Elephant King?
I think one thing I’ve really started working on since Adapt, is trying to make sure there’s a really strong melody in every song. When you’re experimenting with fun, two-handed tapping techniques and stuff like that, it’s pretty easy to just go crazy with the techniques and lose the melody. I see that a lot with young guitarists who’re starting out with this style. They might be doing some cool techniques to watch on the guitar, but when you sit and listen to it, maybe it won’t sound quite as good.
What I wanted to do with Missile Bell, and then with Elephant King was to really use those techniques to create melodies that you can listen to and they get stuck in your head. And actually in Missile Bell, I also tried to add some effects and layers and devices like reverse looping, and a lot of the songs sort of run into each other on the album. So one song would end, and then there’d be some harmonic or drone playing and then the next song would pick up with that same drone or harmonic, in the same key.
When you’re experimenting with fun, two-handed tapping techniques and stuff like that, it’s pretty easy to just go crazy with the techniques and lose the melody.
Yeah, I noticed that just a few days ago actually, when I sat down and listened to the whole album in one go for the first time.
Yeah, and then with Elephant King, I tried to go back a little bit to more raw, acoustic sound. So there aren’t that many effects going on, and I’m really focusing more on the same techniques and adding some new ones. I’m actually really happy with the way Elephant King turned out. It’s kinda like a cross between Adapt and Missile Bell to me.
It really is. It does sound like that.
How do you feel audiences have evolved since you first started playing this style? Like back then, people would go “Wow, I’ve never seen anyone play like that before.” Do they still do that?
Well, not as much, because when I first started doing it, YouTube had just started out and there weren’t a lot of videos out there of people doing this kind of stuff. Now over the years, more and more guitarists are playing in this style, there’s more videos out there and it’s become a little bit more well-known.
So maybe I don’t get as many people saying they’ve never seen anything like that, but I think now at my live concerts people come as much to hear me talk as they come to hear play. I think my live concerts are the best part of what I do. I have so much fun at my concerts.
So, again going back to how you started out, what was your learning process like when you were learning how to play the guitar? Did you use TAB, do deliberate technical exercises like in the Steve Vai method, or just figure it out by yourself?
I definitely learnt how to read tablature and got a lot of TABs. I remember, when the internet first came out ,*laughs* I was in school, and some teacher had figured out to hook his little old computer to the internet. It wasn’t like what we have now where there’s all these websites; it was all command-line and black and white stuff. So there was some sequence of web-address like things you’d type and you’d connect to this college, and once you’d connected to the college you could navigate to this one guy’s server where he had all these TABs. So I would go in class and download all these TABs and learn tons of songs through that – and also through listening.
I never did any deliberate exercises or follow any guy’s methodology or this guy’s lessons. I never really did any of that – and I’m always curious now, if I would’ve taken lessons or followed any instructional videos and stuff like that, would I be better than I am now? Or would I be in a way worse? ‘cause maybe I’d think too much inside the box of how you’re supposed to play.
I really didn’t know any better back then – there was no real right or wrong.
But I practiced all the time. I always had my guitar on a guitar stand right in my bedroom so when I’d walk into my room I’d be like “Oh yeah I wanna play!” and then I’d play for a few hours, do some work and then play for a few more hours. So I really practiced a lot, and I just love the way the acoustic guitar sounds, ‘cause it’s like a guitar, it’s like a drum-kit, it’s almost like a piano in the way you can play it. It’s just a great instrument.
Could you tell us about your obsession with capos and how it started?
Early on, I would shift a capo to only cover 5 strings, which gave certain chords a new fuller sound. Then I started cutting holes in the capos to only cover 3 or 4 strings. I found that I could put multiple capos on a guitar and play behind them, move them around, and other fun ways to use them to create new sounds. One of my fan-favorites is called “Hot Capo Stew” where I use 5 different custom capos. I move them around, and eventually they all come flying off at the end. Yes, it is safe to say I am a bit obsessed with capos.
What gear do you use for your live setup?
For my live performances, I use a Line6 M9 pedal for live looping, as well as delay and reverb effects, a Boss volume pedal, an ABC switcher to switch between my guitars, and I run everything into a Pendulum Acoustic Preamp. I play custom McPherson Guitars and custom Breedlove Guitars.
Could you tell us about the story behind Elephant King?
I’ve loved elephants since I was a kid and I’ve always been amazed by just how- how big they are, how strong they are, but also how they’re gentle at the same time. That image on my website of an elephant with a crown on his head – it’s just an image I came up with a few years ago, randomly and I’ve always loved that image. There’s a picture of it on my guitar cases and lots of other places and I thought I should name one of my songs “Elephant King”. So when I did that, the graphic designer who designed my album got really excited and said “Hey, we should come up with a story behind and work that into the album”. It’s just this crazy story about an unlikely elephant being crowned king . He’s not like a huge, aggressive, powerful elephant – he’s more humble- and gentle-looking and he’s being crowned king for other reasons – for his humility and the way he serves others. Some of the other characters in the cover are applauding him and some of them like the lion and the tiger don’t think he’s worthy of being king. *laughs* It’s kinda weird for an acoustic guitar album but it’s basically this story of humility and service winning over power and aggression, and those are things that are important to me. I always want to remain humble through my musical journey, and to be able to serve people and not have my life be about trying to get famous or trying to make a lot of money. So these are the things I tried to work into this album.
It’s basically this story of humility and service winning over power and aggression, and those are things that are important to me.
A lot of your songs are actually duets with violinist Aubrea Alford. How much of a part did she have in your songs and your albums? You did two songs with her on Elephant King, right?
Yeah. There was one song from the album where she played a big role, and then another song on there where she just played a few notes. She’s become a good friend of mine, and she’s an awesome violinist, so I try to use her whenever it’s appropriate in my songs, and I think I’ll continue to play and tour with her every once in a while. She doesn’t tour with me very much, but every once in a while there’d be a venue which says, “We want you come and play, and we also want Aubrea, so make sure you bring her too!”
Your favourite fingerstyle songs/artists?
Hm. That’s a good question. I definitely have huge respect for people who’ve been around a long time. Michael Hedges. Phil Keaggy is a guitarist I’ve always really liked. From the newer people, Andy Mckee is really great, of course, and I always like what Antoine Dufour does. I’d say those are my favourites.
I’ve gotten to meet and hang out with most of the acoustic guitarists I listen to.
Yeah I’ve noticed. Everyone who plays in this style and tours internationally knows the all other musicians who do too. As a fan it’s pretty cool to watch.
Yeah. I’d say most of them are really nice, humble people. There’s been a few I’ve met who’re trying to compete with the other guitarists and that’s kinda weird, but the other ones see it more as a big community of friends, in a way, and that’s how I try to approach it too.
You can listen to his music for free here: http://www.myspace.com/tracebundy/music
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