I know most of you are familiar only with my orchestral stuff, and I rarely talk about antyhing else here. But the fact is my history as a musician goes back much further than 2006 or so when I started making Battle for Wesnoth tracks and my fledgling soundtrack work entered the public eye.
I’ve been a guitar player for 25 years, though it’s been a long time since I stopped thinking of myself as only or mainly a guitar player. I’m a musician. I write and play music. Guitar just happens to be the instrument I’m best at, having played it longest. Still, being a guitarist is not a heritage that is easily discarded. And perhaps it shouldn’t be, as I’ve come to find.
Littered among the paragraphs below you will find a number of tracks I’ve played on (and written all or major parts of) over the last two decades. They have no real bearing on the text content itself, they’re just there to give you an idea of what I’ve done and the chronology of it all.
I played in a few different bands throughout the nineties and into the early 2000’s, interspersed with low (more like ‘no’) budget solo projects. Then I hit a brick wall. The last song I wrote of that guitar-prominent era was in 2003 — a decade ago this year. I gave up the band thing and moved to greener pastures.
Conspiracy — Finding Faith (1993)
Looking back, I think the reason working with midi and synths and samples seemed so alluring to me was that I was sick of standing around in cramped, smelly rehearsal rooms playing the same songs over and over. I was sick of live drums and loud amps and feedback. I was sick of lugging shit to rehearsals and gigs with nothing to show for it but an aching back.
Arcana Major — Shadowplay (1995)
And most of all I was sick of having to compromise, of having to exist within the democracy of a group of musicians where everyone has the right to veto any new material being presented. I guess this might not be an issue in a band that truly shares a common vision but I haven’t been lucky enough to play in any bands like that. It was always a struggle, always a battle between conflicting wills. To the point of taking all the joy out of writing new songs.
West — Drive (1996)
So when the last band I played in dissolved back in 2002 and three years of work went down the drain I threw my hands up and said screw it, I’m done with this. And I turned to more rewarding musical pursuits. Like — yes, you guessed it — attempting to become a game soundtrack composer and exploring musical styles that I really didn’t know a whole lot about.
I never really stopped playing guitar, but there was a long period when I wasn’t into guitar playing if you know what I mean. I would play on occasion, when a certain song called for a live guitar part. But that was pretty much it. My focus was on other instruments and other aspects of music making. In fact, the sound of the guitar had lost its appeal to me. Here’s something I posted about it on a forum, I think it sums it up pretty well:
… not being into guitar music has probably given me a different view on the instrument. For good and for bad. It’s kind of hard to explain, but the [electric] guitar has such a heavy baggage of done to death riffs and licks and stupid rock ‘n’ roll clichés that I can’t say I even like the sound of it anymore. Worst part is that when I plug my guitar in and play I hear that same triteness in my own playing. I’m not even a very typical rock guitarist, but I still hear that tired rock legacy in the sound the guitar makes. And I find it depressing.
Lack of Faith — Scars (2001)
And then, less than two years ago, the tide started turning. I don’t know exactly when it happened or why. I think I began listening to some guitar-heavy music again, and gradually it dawned on me that I missed playing guitar. Virtual instruments are incredible tools and playing keyboard is fun, but I found myself longing for the feel of strings and fretboard under my fingers, of digging my pick in and being in complete control of the tone coming from my instrument.
Perhaps even more importantly, it feels like a damn shame giving up on an instrument that I’ve spent so much time on getting reasonably good at. So slowly I’ve been getting back into into it all again. I play daily now. I even try to practice at least a few days a week. I’ve never been a shredder and I never will be, but it seems what technical skill I once possessed has deteriorated significantly over the years of inactivity and it’s going to take some work getting back into shape.
Momentum — Remembrance Song (2002)
As you may have guessed, GAS is risisng proportionally to my renewed interest in guitar playing. Over the last year I’ve added four amps, a whole bunch of pedals and also three new guitars to my arsenal. It’s pretty amazing to think that a little more than a year ago I didn’t even own a single amp. Just two guitars (one of them crappy, one worn and battered almost beyond repair) and an old rack preamp.
While this is probably just a pathetic pile of junk in the eyes of your average guitar snob with vintage amps and axes up to the rafters, let me just say that 1) I’ve never been into using the same thing as everyone else, and 2) I’m having a blast with this stuff and being more creative than I’ve been for a decade. Guitar equipment is by and large insanely overpriced and I’m simply not going to pay outrageous sums for decades-old technology just because it happens to have a famous brand name on it.
A Million Miles Away (demo) (2003)
So what does this mean? Am I going to abandon all my orchestral ambitions and return to my roots? Absolutely not. Being able to work in several different styles has always been one of my strengths as a musician and I see no conflict in being a prog rock/metal guitarist and composing game soundtracks. It only means my musical output will be more varied. I have a lot of guitar music in me that needs an outlet, and if you happen to be into classic progressive metal you might be in for a nice surprise sometime next year. But fear not, orchestral fans. I’m as dedicated to this style as I ever was, perhaps even more.