On his fellow International Guitar Night performers: “Maneli Jamal is the youngest of the group, and he has this really unique style. He’s a steel string player, and his pieces are really intricate. … Maneli’s just a brilliant guy—such an open, musical style, and he can just do anything on the guitar. … Diego [Figueiredo] is a really incredible Brazilian jazz player—he’s just so fine. … Brian [Gore], of course, is the founder. He’s real seasoned. He’s a really fine musician, and he’s the creator of the tour. Every year, he has this thing going on with different people. It’s amazing. … I’m really pleased with this year’s line-up. They’re really cool cats. We’re having a great time hanging out, and the music’s, I think, extremely fine. … It’s a long concert but really cool. People seem to like it because there’s just a lot of different stuff going on—a lot of different energies.”
On composing: “I’m very much into composition. That’s kind of where I’m at. I like music that’s really rich in pattern and layer so that wherever you listen—at any zoom level—there’s a lot going on. … I’m always sketching a bit. I get ideas, and I record them into my iPhone to capture them and use them when I need to write. Within the last year, I’ve written four or five quartets—I’ve had commissions from different groups—and several solo pieces. Then I’ll have periods maybe where I won’t write anything for like six months or even a year. … I’m not the kind of guy that writes every day in a disciplined way. That’s not me. That was what Haydn did. He was so organized. Same time every day he sat down at his desk and would compose for I don’t know how many hours. It was his routine. I’m exactly the opposite of that.”
On his inspiration: “When I feel inspired, it’s just like these musical fragments come to me that are maybe a harmony or a melody or something—some kind of idea that I just find really compelling. And it seems to be in a language that’s emotional in a real subtle and sophisticated way. I couldn’t talk about it, [but] I couldn’t express it any way except with music because music can just be so cool and interesting and—really, compelling is just a great word. That deep fascination becomes a muse and self-sustains the creative process. It’s all really mysterious in a way. I never really know for sure if it’s going to work. I’ve learned just to let it happen and kind of trust myself that it’ll work out. … You’re kind of hoping for something mysterious to happen to inspire you and make something new. It’s really kind of trippy, I have to say. You’re just launching yourself out there into space and just hoping that, you know—that’s the way I feel anyway. Every time is sort of like brand new.”
On his set-up: “This tour, I’m doing something different. Because I’m playing with these steel-string guys, and these steel-string guys amplify pretty loud … I’m using a guitar made by Cordoba. Cordoba’s kind of like Taylor, and I got the most high-end guitar. And it comes with like a L.R. Baggs pick-up system built in. So all I have to do is plug it in and work with the sound guy to shape the sound. And I put a good condenser mic in front as well to increase the natural quality. … It’s the first time I’ve ever done anything like this. … My typical solo tours, I’ll go back to using a [David Daily] concert instrument. I amplify those too, but on this tour, I just need to be loud and consistently sounding good, and this enables me to do it.”
On his influences: “Michael Hedges was sort of like the Van Halen of the steel string world. He just had all these unusual techniques that were so rich in sound and no one had ever heard before. I can’t stress how ground-breaking he was. It’s a pity that so many young guitarists aren’t really aware of him. I would even class his compositions as some of the strongest in the 20th century. I put him up there as one of the more important 20th century composers. He’s like a Chopin of the guitar. So he’s one that I really admire. He influenced me a lot.”
On aging: “I’m probably as good as I’ve ever been. Maybe when I was much younger, my reflexes were perhaps a tiny bit faster—maybe. I don’t know how long it’ll last—I’m in my 50s, but I’m playing very strong, and also my musical maturity is self-evident. Music’s a funny thing. If you keep doing it, you grow with it. … I feel like a very mature musician. I’m not declining yet. You can play it ’til you’re pretty old and still do a damn fine job with it. … Segovia was playing into his late 80s. … The great thing about music is it’s illuminating at every stage and every level. It’s just all a beautiful journey.”
The American Theatre will host International Guitar Night at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday. Ticket prices start at $25. For more information, visit here.