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Witch doctor Q & A


Witch doctor Q & A


The Gardens

Article in 'The Gardens' magazine.
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NZ musician interview by Trevor Reekie

Tell us about growing up in America and how you got started in the business and ended up in nz ?

I had no live music around me as a kid in long island NY. Just bird song. There wasn't anybody playing any instruments in my family or environment. How I came to play music is a mystery. My parents broke up rather early in my development. When I was quite young I worked in Alaska on a construction site in the bush, not far from where the exxon valdez dumped its toxic cargo. I hated it at the time coming from a big city, but it was a very beautiful place. Upon returning to the "lower 48" as they call it, I got a job in a circus since it just called for someone who could do hard yakka. There I met up with performers of all kinds, later leading to jobs being a roadie for groups in California. Thatís where my first real experience of music hit me. From then I had my first encounter with real instruments. I seemed to have developed a knack of plucking on the guitar which has served me ever since. From there I moved from the wings to centre stage. Jump forward a few yearsÖ I found myself a very unhappy camper for a variety of reasons including creative frustration. I was seriously considering jumping out of my 5th floor apartment window, when I had a rare and timely visit from my father. He told me he had actually been born in New ZealandÖ and I could even go and live there if I wanted. I also found I had a brother there, who I hadnít heard from in over 15 years. So I visited a few times and in 91 made it my permanent home.

How has your musical career progressed since the time this photo was taken? What are you doing these days ?

Since then Iíve toured regularly 3 or 4 times a year around NZ plus regular trips to Australia, America and Europe, most notably with the Jews Brothers, Bravura and Whirimako Black. Also in the last ten years or so Iíve taken on the challenge of playing the 7 string solo acoustic guitar. I released 2 solo CD's "Thrum and Visitation" and recently an in-concert DVD, "a job with the circus", produced by Costa Botes of "Forgotten Silver" fame. Right now Iím involved in a tribute concert for Mahina Tocker who sadly died last year. She was someone whom I met early on here in NZ and played with through the years. She used to make me laugh! Next week I get to play with one of my musical heroes Dr. Eugene Chadbourne, a leading light in the world of improvised music and a very humorous writer. After that, along with Richard Adams, I'll be celebrating the release of our duo CD for violin and 7 string guitar with a concert in the Auckland domain. When Iím not touring I get down to a bit of teaching with some very patient guitar students.

Whatís the one artist and/or record that you would say has had the most influence on you? and why? Ö

One artist!!
Impossible to say for my whole musical lifeÖ at different times thereís been different heroes. People like Jeff Beck, due here next week in fact, has always been full of surprises and always keeps you wanting more. Igor Stravinsky, John Lee Hooker, Zappa and Beefheart. Ravi Shankar and George Harrison I saw together when I was a young lad. My current interests lean more towards improvised musicÖ my old pal Robert Fripp continues to influence with amazing solo performances as well as with King Crimson. Then the absolute king of improvised music Keith Jarrett! Iíve just finished listening to his album called "Sun Bear", a 10 disc set of live piano improv's recorded in Japan. That guy puts me to shame! (Though I might have a better voice.)

What would you consider your proudest musical moment (and your worst musical nightmare)?

Once again just one moment? You donít play professionally for 35 years and only have one! (I could write a book if I had finished school instead of joining the circus, LOL!) Anyway I'll give you a couple: The aforementioned RF came to NZ in 1990 for a weekend guitarcraft workshop, which of whom Gitbox rebellion were in attendance. Upon completion of the course RF asked if I would travel to the states to teach his group, the League of Crafty Guitarists, some of my tunes. For those who donít know much about RF, even Hendrix was one of his fans! So you can see that was a great ego boost. I ended up joining the group for a few years touring round the globe and giving workshops in the US and Europe plus working on several albums. Now conversely the worst nightmare,I really canít remember ever having a completely bad gig. One of the most frightening challenges Iíve been offered would have to have been to play banjo with the Auckland Philly Orch on a piece by Aarron Copland. My reading for guitar is far from perfect but on the banjo completely nonexistent! So I learnt the piece by ear like I usually do. Now classical musicians tend to play by the eye rather then the earÖ with sheet music and getting their dynamics from the conductor. I was abruptly brought to heel when I was found guilty of playing with feel! Anyway the gig went fine in the end. I feel you should never shy away from a challenge, youíre never really given more than you can chew in this life.

Tell us the worst places you have ever played and the best thing that ever happened to you on tour?

I can address both questions with a single a answer for this one. Playing with the Jews Bros at a festival in Nuremberg Germany. For those of you who arenít nuts on history Nuremberg was the home to the Nazi party during its reign. People warned us it might be dangerous for a band called the Jews Brothers to appear in such a place. Some of the buildings Hitler created were still standing. Most conspicuous was where he had those massive rallies that you see in the old footage. Well thankfully modern Germany is vastly different and the band had its warmest reception ever! The festival attendance was around 25,000 people. We sold 250 CD's in 20 minuets. On top of that we got treated like artists, something that rarely happens in NZ. Iím afraid this country has a long way to go before it learns to appreciate its creative talent...lets go rugby! (let go rugby, lol!)

As a teacher, how do you advise your students should someone equip themselves to enter todayís music industry and what should they expect?

The best advice is to avoid anything called an industry. It usually means a faceless entity callous to the human heart, will be judging your value. However we do need to barter our wares as good crafts people. Donít expect an arts council to feed you. We must pay our own tab! If what you create doesn't have the skills to pay the bills then get a day job. That doesn't necessarily mean what you play is not relevant as artistic expression. It just might mean people canít ignore it in cafes or weddings. Also being rejected for a grant can start you on a bitter road to self loathing. Donít rely on your mummy to wipe your bum and daddy to give you your allowance. Itís all about the music, its all about the music, and once more...its all about the music!

If you have any oblique strategies that help you stay motivated as a creative person or even get you through life, what are they ?

Follow your muse! Something my students constantly hear me say. Muse, not the band, but the Greek god of music! You really need to know what your direction is. Itís better to sit and practice scales all day waiting for the muse to call you, than to embark on a musical journey thatís not yours. You can think you'd like to be a studio geek and churn out every style and genre at a moments notice but you'll really be no more than a big mac commercial. Not that Iím knocking my dearest friends who do such work. But I think deep down they'll feel they've let the muse down. In short, know thyself!

Youíve worked with and been rated by King Crimsonís Robert Fripp Ö How did you come to his attention?

Many readers perhaps wonít know who RF is. He was, is, the leader of King Crimson. He's both played and produced people such as Peter Gabriel and David Bowie. Those opening strains of Heroes are RF soaring away. Anyway, we have a mutual friend who lives down near fielding. She had told him about Gitbox Rebellion and how we practiced and played. He surmised that what we were doing was somewhat similar to what he was doing with Guitarcraft. We both were very interested in Gurdjieff's ideas, he through J.G. Bennett, and me through NZ's own Abdullah Dougan. So out of the blue he called me up. He offered to come down here and spend a few weeks and put on a beginners guitarcraft workshop. He really loved it here but he's never played in Australasia. Kiwis donít really go for the prog-fusion thing. (Too much practice and self control maybe!) Way back before my muse called me I was taken to see the Eagles. It was a show put on by the greatest promoter of all time Bill Graham. He purposely would mix and match groups of radically different styles so as to educate the punters. All glories to the memory of St. Billy! Anyway the support band was King Crimson. My pal's and I had never heard anything like it. Blew our little minds. In fact when the Eagles came on we only lasted 3 songs before they bored the pants off us and left for home to discuss what on earth we had just witnessed. Changed us forever that show. Years later when on tour with RF I mention that memorable evening to him. His reply was, "oh really?, we all though it was a rather bad performance that night" LOL!

have you ever felt daunted or intimidated playing with musicians of that calibre and how does one overcome those reactions ?

Never intimidated. Thatís more something for your beloved sports people. Inspired yes. Letís not confuse talent with celebrity though. Thats a whole nuther thing altogether. Celebrities can make you shit yourself. People with talent can make you kiss yourself. Every once in a million years talent and celebrity come in the same package. Like daVince or Little Stevie Wonder!

The most important thing that you have learned from musical improvisation is?

Being present in the moment. Technique may or may not be relevant in this idiom. Art is the capacity to re-experience ones innocence. Childlike simplicity goes hand in hand with virtuosity along the sun lit path of improvisation. To improvise is the highest honor the muse can bestow. But you gotta have trust in the muse and keep a healthy sense of playfulness. We must embrace hazard and make it our friend.?What are your recollections of the music scene back when you started compared to now?
It was a very frightening world. A world with different languages, fashions and cultures. Who was this little pip-squeek who dares try and join us? As time goes by though you realize its just people. Like a big family at christmas time, Moms on the gin, Dads watching football and big sister is giving you a chinese burn. Years later you suddenly notice "wow, Iím part of this scene now, and have been for some time". At first you worry about how youíre gonna get some gigs. It looks impossible. Then comes the time when youíre glad you donít have a gig so you can get a life. You need quality time to create. Hurtling around the world playing festivals may actually impede your creativity, as youíre just flat out all the time. Itís a fine balance. Like single handedly running an organic farm!

Whatís been your most sobering musical experience and what did you learn ?

Hearing myself recorded for the first time. I thought I was hot shit till then. "I be the great guitar mutha-fucka!" But, Oh my god, that cant be me! It was the first time I had heard myself full stop. That was some nasty tonic. I started practicing the very next day....for the first time. This was the beginning for real this time. I to this day eat humble pie every morning. Keeps you ever so 'umble it does.

Whatís the best book about music that you have read?

Sooo many! Dr. Eugene Chadbourne's: I Hate The Man That Runs This Bar. Its a very funny loving book about living the life playing and touring, with just about every situation your likely to encounter as a muso. Second would have to be Ravi Shankars biography: My Music MY Life. Bloody fingered dedication.

Whats on your playlist right now ?

The aforementioned Keith Jarrett album Sun Bear.
Everything by a band from Oakland California called SLeeptime-Gorilla Museum. The best band Ive heard in 20 years!
Plus heaps of stuff my students give me to listen like greek bouzouki music, Jerry Douglas, the new Metalica, the new Cynic, even Slipnot! Thats one of the best parts about teaching is students bring in things I'd never hear otherwise...and usually I enjoy them!

The best advice I ever got was ÖÖ

Dont pick your nose, yours brains will spill out!?

complete this sentence Ö the one thing that Ive never told anyone before is Ö

Instruments are square, but music is round.
Le Chaim!

NewZealand Musician/"one out of the box"

One out of the Box
Author: Andrew Healey

"We live in boxes. We live in houses that are boxes; drive cars that are boxes; the way people make music now on computers is boxes - they visually pile up the boxes in the computer and say 'I'll have three of those for the verse and two for the chorus'," says Nigel Gavin.
This American-born Kiwi could never be accused of working within a box. 'Visitation', his latest solo album, is a collection of largely improvised instrumentals, performed solely on either a seven-string acoustic guitar, or eleven-string glissentar.

The name Nigel Gavin will be familiar to many within the music community, but for those who haven't heard the name, you will likely know the bands and musicians he's played with: Nairobi Trio, Jews Brothers, Gitbox Rebellion, Lorina Harding, Wayne Gillespie and the legendary guitarist Robert Fripp. He also featured on the cover of NZM's April/May 1992 issue.
Gavin appears every bit the virtuoso with shoulder-length hair and his calm manner. He is a lexicon of musical information as I discovered when we met at a Ponsonby cafť to talk about his new self-released album.

About 15 years ago Gavin arrived here from California. An orphan, he had learned his father was born in New Zealand, meaning he could obtain a NZ passport. "I'd decided to never go back to music," he says. In California he had reached an all time low. He had suffered a relationship break up and was disillusioned with the music industry.
"People were playing music but weren't really into music... they were more into posing and the celebrity of it: bad music, bad hair, bad clothes and bad drugs. It was either jump out of a window or re-invent myself."
Gavin first lived with a brother in the Waikato and helped look after his children. At his brother's home was an old piano, and it wasn't long before the old passion returned.

"One day I walked by the piano and played a few notes, then pretty soon I'd pulled the piano to bits and was playing it like a harp," he recalls.
For Gavin, the objective with 'Visitation' was to follow his muse - the music he hears in his head. "This album is about being visited by your muse and being available to go with it," he explains.
Gavin believes many musicians are too restricted by genre, musical influences or expectation from others to follow their true self. After two previous solo albums: 'Music for Flem 2' and 'Thrum', Gavin believes 'Visitation' is the closest he has been to finding his true self.
There is no multi-tracking on this album and apart from four tunes recorded by Robbie Duncan at Braeburn Studios in Wellington - the bulk of the tracks were self-recorded in Gavin's kitchen onto an old Roland BS880 hard disc recorder. Both instruments were recorded in stereo with a condenser microphone and DI. "The DI gives a fuller bass sound," he explains.

Gavin's seven-string guitar was custom made to his taste by local luthier Laurie Williams. Having an extra bass string allows more scope for playing moving bass lines to accompany the melody. "This instrument I like to play in the morning," he says. Part of the recording routine for 'Visitation' was to get up early, put on the jug, set up the recording equipment and play. Fourteen pieces were recorded this way - completely improvised. A small number of those made it to the album.
The glissentar, a cross between a fretless bass and an oud, is on long-term loan from Twang Town music store in Dunedin. "I play that at night - it has an eastern, mystical sound to it," he says. One of the sounds achieved with this instrument is what resembles notes being reached by the turning of the instrument's tuning pegs - very oriental sounding. Gavin explains he creates this sound by sliding the fingers up and down the fretless neck.

His last album 'Thrum,' sold approximately 1500 copies and Gavin expects to exceed that figure with 'Visitation.' Thanks to the internet, he had already sold copies to fans in the States before it had even been released. Of course the flip side to the internet is free downloads, so with this in mind, Gavin likes to invest in an attractive album cover to make it worthwhile for people to buy the physical CD. He also believes there is no substitute for playing live and fondly recalls selling 250 Jews Brothers CDs in Nuremberg, Germany, after only one half hour performance.
On 'Visitation', Trevor Reekie is listed as executive producer, and Gavin credits Reekie with getting the album off the ground by spurring him on, and securing a distribution deal with independent Rhythmethod.
Gavin describes his target market as "music lovers - people who actually listen to music". When he was young, he recalls sitting around with friends listening to music. No talking, just listening. "These days we hear music all day, we're bombarded with it, but how many people actually listen?"

"My music is easy listening music for the hard of hearing," he laughs. For music that arrives unpackaged, Nigel Gavin in certainly one out of the box.

About Nigel Gavin

The distance from Nigel Gavin's Long Island, New York birthplace, to Auckland, New Zealand, where he now lives, may explain why his original working title for Thrum was, in fact, Off the Beaten Track. At first a visitor, now a resident, Nigel has long been a featured player in New Zealand's music scene, particularly in Auckland, playing guitar, banjo, mandolin, bass - indeed, almost anything with strings - with the Nairobi Trio, the Fondue Set, the Jews Brothers, the Blue Bottom Stompers, Below the Bassline, Jonathan Besser's Bravura and his own Snorkel, among others.

He has also found time to create and mentor the multi-guitar Gitbox Rebellion ( which, in turn, has produced some fine guitarists of its own ) and to perform in collaborative ventures such as the free-jazz Vitamin S, often using other instruments such as the Chinese sheng. Floating like a butterfly, stinging like a bee ( or a mosquito, if you will - perhaps you should drop everything right now and listen to track 6 ), Nigel has contributed scene-stealing solos to an astonishing variety of musical groups and settings, bringing with him the dedication to the guitar that earned his place in Robert Fripp's legendary League of Crafty Guitarists.

So, what does a guitarist whose versatility is his calling card, who is respected by other players around the world, who excites audiences with jaw-dropping amplified solos do, when he decides to record his own album? If he's Nigel Gavin, he picks up his beloved acoustic seven-string ( hand-made from native New Zealand woods by master luthier Laurie Williams ), retires to the sun-lit kitchen of his Mt. Eden home for several weeks, and quietly records his own thoughts, compositions, improvisations and ideas.