Interview with Ewan Dobson

26 Jan


Ewan Dobson just released his new album Ewan Dobson III, and he agreed to answer a few questions for the site. I asked him about his influences, practice habits, his upcoming video lesson series, and a few other things. Here goes:

What were some of your early influences, and how did you come to play solo acoustic guitar?

The absolute earliest influence I can recall is the children’s artist Raffi.  He is definitely the boss king of children’s music.  Then, when I was 8 years old I saw the video for “Kickstart my Heart” by Motley Crue and loved the sound of the distorted guitar.  Shortly after this I saw an advertisement for Judas Priest/Alice Cooper/Dangerous Toys/Metal Church  playing at the Exhibition Stadium in Toronto, Ontario.  I knew for some reason I had to go.  It was shortly before this time that I had started basic guitar lessons.  The sound of the distorted metal guitar was ice cream to my ears.  Nothing was cooler than it.

I could fill a few pages outlining exactly how I came to play solo acoustic guitar so I will have to sum it up.  Being a fan of metal guitar leads you to investigate the guitar players of the bands you like.  I always liked the guitar players more than the band itself in most cases.  Then you will discover that a lot of metal guitarists have released solo albums showcasing their skill and composition.  It also becomes apparent that a great deal of these metal musicians have a respect for the Italian violinist/composer Niccolo Paganini and Baroque composer J.S. Bach.  Once you see the line between metal virtuosity and classical music the challenge begins.

The reason I did not choose classical guitar as a career path is because I realized that I was unable to play as perfectly as I wanted to and it frustrated me.

I ended up studying classical guitar for a number of years since a great deal of pleasure comes from playing such high quality written music.  After engaging in classical studies I then took an interest in playing bluegrass and celtic melodies.  It was the sum of metal, classical, bluegrass and video game music I had heard which made the overall style that I have.  It was the sound of Leo Kottke which made me want to use finger picks.  There is a certain power in the sound which I cannot make using classical technique.

Your music has a strong classical influence, and I know you studied (are studying?) classical guitar. To what extent were your studies and what are some of your favorite composers/pieces?

I used to study classical guitar for about 6 – 7 years.  I was an adequate player who struggled with ideas of perfection.  The reason I did not choose classical guitar as a career path is because I realized that I was unable to play as perfectly as I wanted to and it frustrated me.  The pursuit of classical guitar became a grievance rather than an enjoyment.  All that being said, this was not always the case.  There were certain pieces I loved playing and they brought me a lot of joy.  However, the competitive element of the classical scene had me doing it for the wrong reasons.  In the classical arena you find yourself learning pieces because of their reputation rather than how much you actually enjoy them.  A lot of the classical music written for guitar I think is absolute non-sense although if you were to broadcast it as being brilliant tonal math then it certainly would be great on that level.

My favorite composers were Joaquin Rodrigo (Trez Piezas Espanolas, Un Tiempo Fue Italica Famosa, En Los Trigales), Niccolo Paganini (all), J.S. Bach (Partita No. 2, Lute Suite 4), Luigi Legnani (36 Caprices, Fantasia), Augustin Barrios (Un Sueno en la Floresta) and Domenico Scarlatti (K 477, 491, lots more).

Ewan Dobson playing on a park benchYour output so far has been pretty prolific. How much time do you spend composing and practicing? What’s a typical day music-wise in Ewan’s life?

I have discovered that over practicing leads to a sense of apathy.  If I practice too much then I find myself blasting through pieces mostly from muscle memory and the magic of the music diminishes.  There has to be a balance where there is enough practice, but also a sense of newness so that I can shape the music in the moment as best I can.  To be honest, I generally practice about 2 hours a day… sometimes 4 – 5 if I am getting ready for a show or series of shows.  Practicing too much can make you go insane.

I noticed from a list of tunings on your site that you mostly favor an open-C tuning. Is there a particular reason behind it (and did you happen to get the idea from Devin Townsend)?

I was learning Busted Bicycle by Leo Kottke which is Open C tuned down a tone and a half.  I was playing it in open C and left the guitar in that tuning.  Then I just started writing a bunch of stuff in Open C.  It gives me the low end I want, but also leaves the high end where it is so I can keep the chimes.

On the new album you play Kartuli Cekva Operidan “Daisi”, a traditional Georgian song. Could you tell us more about it? Are you currently listening to this style of music?

I was introduced to this through someone I was talking with in Tbilisi.  Out of all the music that was shared with me I favored this song the most.  I think it is really awesome.  The melody is originally played on some sort of wooden flute and is the accompaniment to a dance.  It comes from an opera called “Daisi” by the great Georgian composer Zakaria Paliashvili.  I have a good version of this by David Kipiani on my mp3 player.

Speaking of the new album, your metal influences really come through on this one. Will we be seeing more metal from you in the future (perhaps even on electric)?

You will definitely see more metal influence although I am not certain if it will conveyed on an electric guitar.  I do not see how I can add more to the perfection of shred guitar since it already reached such incredible heights.  There is certainly no more room to play faster or flashier.  I suppose if I am inspired in such a way that moves me to write electric guitar music then I will.  However, there is little room for improvement in the department of metal virtuosity.

Practicing too much can make you go insane.

The electric guitar itself is limited in what it convey in terms of multiple voices.  I have explained before to some other people that in order to properly balance the electric guitar you would need to construct a pickup system where by every string is picked-up through a separate line.  Then you would need to balance all 6 inputs perfectly so that the strings don’t bleed over each other.  It is hard for me to get more specific on this, but once you have played classical guitar and return to electric guitar you know what I am talking about.  Unless you are playing a hollow body with thick strings with no distortion, the electric guitar is a melodically linear instrument.

You’re about to release some video lessons on DC Music School. What can we expect to see on these? What else do you have planned for 2012?

The instructional video will be available as a streaming video from the website of DC Music School.  You will need to register with them to have an account.  Then you can purchase whatever lessons they have available.  To view the material you must then log in with your Id/password.  This new method of streaming instructionals is the industry’s way of attempting to minimize piracy.  There will be “In the Style of Ewan Dobson” Volumes 1 and 2 totalling 3 hours and 40 minutes.  They cover techniques with finger picks, plectrum, and some electric guitar stuff.  I go over certain passages of my songs explaining them slowly with a camera close-up of my right hand.

So far, 2012 has me on a tour of the USA starting in March followed by a tour of England starting in May.  If we survive Dec 2012 then it is official, we are all full of shit.

A big thanks to Ewan for taking the time to answer these. You can check out his upcoming tour dates on his Myspace.  And be sure to get yourself a copy of his new album; here’s my review of it.


One Response to “Interview with Ewan Dobson”

  1. AndyChen February 3, 2012 at 9:34 am #

    Hi Ewan, I can’t wait to tell you that you have a huge group of fans in China and we are all looking forward to seeing you play your fascinating songs on stage! Hopefully you can arrange a performance tour to China some time in the future! :D

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