Allan Holdsworth interview (Music Maker 2003)
Allan Holdsworth itw by Richard Hallebeek in 2003
A few years ago, after a few too many, I talked to a friend of mine and was kind of 'complaining' that I had already interviewed all my favorite guitarplayers, what to do now? 'Well, interview them again", he stated flatly. Which is of course a great idea and so I present you.. Allan Holdsworth, part II.
Allan was playing De Boerderij in Zoetermeer with Ernest Tibbs and Joel Taylor. Sony scheduled an interview for me that I was happy to do, but since Allan was late from playing Belgium the night before, the interview got cancelled that same afternoon. I went to the gig with drummer Bas Cornelissen. Surely we found Allan at the bar, we talked a bit and being the English gentleman he is, he suggested to have our conversation anyway, during the break of the gig. Bassie asked some questions here and there too.
- How do you prepare for a tour like this?
'We did a few gigs before. You know, play with Ernest and Joel. And we did a couple of gigs in L.A. before we came on. On this trip. We had about a week or so off before we actually left.
- Just gigs or did you also do rehearsals somewhere?
No. These guys don't need to rehearse.
- Yeah, it's jazz...!
(Laughs) I'm the one who needs to rehearse, these guys don't need to rehearse!
- Your playing with a new bassplayer tonight, Ernest Tibbs. How did you meet him?
Through Joel (Taylor-RH) Because there was something that happened with Dave and...Joel suggested Ernest. And so I hooked with Ernest and we did a gig in San Diëgo. Sounded great to me, so..we kept going.
- What happened with Dave Carpenter, was he busy, or...?
Oh.... it was a long story. It's a long story.
- I heard that you were gonna do an album with Chad Wackerman?
- Internet gossip.
Yeah. We did a live album in Japan last year. But that was all. And I haven't got anything else lined up with Chad. At the moment. So we're gonna do something when we get back. With Joel and Ernest.
- Are you composing for that already?
Yeah, I got some tunes already and I need to write about four or five more new tunes and then we can go on sometime in the middle of december hopefully. We can go and record something.
- You wrote so many 'chord' tunes already, is it hard to find something new?
No, no. It's not. It's just that..my life was disrupted by other things. You know. They were totally unrelated to music. Otherwise I would have already had enough tunes for an album you know. Usually when I get into it, it doesn't take me that long. I haven't been into it. I was just trying to deal with the other side of life, you know.
- When you compose, you try to avoid stuff you've done before, right?
Oh yeah, I always try to avoid it. But you can't avoid it a 100% because it's like a personality thing, it's like you can't put on a new face every day. You're kinda stuck with the one you got, wether you like it or not (laughs) I think this album will be pretty different just because of the way that Joel and Ernest play together. I think it's gonna turn out pretty different.
- It's a cool rhythm section. They sound tight.
Yeah, I'm enjoying it. I love playing with these guys.It's great. I have a lot of fun. They push me.
- You've been playing for such a long time, what keeps you going and inspired?
I always get inspired, you know. Sometimes I'm really uninspired. Sometimes I don't know what to do. Sometimes I don't feel like I wanna do anything, you know. I don't know but I can't do anything else (laughs) I can't do this but I can't do anything else, even less (laughs)
- Well, at least you love what you do, so..
Yeah, I just wish I could do it...like it started out as a hobby and it'd be nice for it to be a hobby again. Cause I need enough to do all the shit you don't wanna do, you know. And I did a couple of things in the last couple of years that I really didn't wanna do, but I did it anyway.Just to survive.
- Like what for instance?
Well, the live album from 1990. I would have never, ever..well I mean it doesn't take a genius to figure out that if a guy has an album from 1990 and he doesn't release it there's abviously a very good reason why. And there was.
- Whas that the live in Japan?
Yeah. And I hated it.
- In the past you recorded things with vocals, like on Secrets. And it...
...Rowanne, yeah Rowanne is great. She quit singing though. She got married and she doesn't sing anymore.
- Do you ever think about using vocals again?
- How did that start out on secrets, was that something you heard immediately?
Certain things, even though the vocals took up only very short sections of tunes, typically they weren't very long, they didn't involve a lot of the music. I mean some of them did. Like against the clock when Naomi sang it, that was kind of a longer piece. But usually with Rowanne, they were very short things, like maybe introductions or endings. It was very easy to communicate with her very easily. And she really is a great singer. Sometimes I feel like.. I think words are good. Not all the time, you don't need them all the time, but sometimes I think they are.And when I first her do that thing on Atavachron, where she did 'All Our Yesterdays', and that was very important. To have the lyrics on there, 'cause they were very..they meant a lot, you know?
- We're almost 20 years after the invention of the Synthaxe, but there's not much new stuff coming out in that arena, except for some glitchy pitch-to-midi guitar synths from Roland. Do you see or expect anything new?
I don't know. I haven't seen anything. I've never seen anything that came close to it. Nothing. Having the keys on it and just the whole way the whole thing worked was just really amazing. I felt like I could get inside it, it felt like part of me. And most of the other ones you know, they don't work. You have to make it work with a guitar sound, mix the guitar sound with the synth sound and half the notes are missing, you know. With the Synthaxe, that doesn't happen.
- What about the VG-8? You're not using that anymore?
No. I sold it out of desperation. But I would have liked to have kept it 'cause it was a useful tool. I actually liked it a lot. I thought it was a really great thing.
- On Flat Tire when you do the more rubato pieces, how did you work that out without a click?
The ones that were like the more orchestrated pieces, there was no click.There was only a click for the tunes that had...like time on them, like Eeny Meeny and Bo Peep where Dave Carpenter played bass on, those were the only tunes that were done with a click.
- You use an old Atari for sequencing stuff, right?
Yeah (laughs) I have an ancient old Atari 1040 Ste.
And it still works?
No, mine broke. It took me forever to find another one. My friend Eddie searched the internet forever and ever and he found two. I have two now. One is an old STe and the other ones an S...there's one that has an extra letter on it that's got more memory. That's the one I needed. So I do have a new one. Well, a new old one you know, it's a thousand years old. It works good for many because I like the Steinberg software, it was good.
- It was very stable. More stable then most PC's.
Yeah. I just used it because I started with the PRO 24 which worked just like a tape recorder.That's the way I like to use it. And Cubase was really easy to do that. Even though it took me a while to switch from SP24 to Cubase. But when I switched to Cubase, I was using the 1.05 the oldest software. 2.0 actually. But the new ones are good because they always change the software, there's always something that the old one does that the new one doesn't. I like to use the old one, 'cause that was the one I was most familiair with.
- Your live setup is pretty compact now compared to all the gear and rack stuff you used live in the past. The Yamaha UD stomp replaces all the intellifexes.. this way it's more convenient to travel to I guess.
Yeah, I've tried and make it simpler. If you have it in a rack it's already wired up and you just plug it in. But now I have to rewire it every night, but there's less stuff to carry around, but it's more diffucult to set up. Before it was easier to plug in. But there was more shit to carry.
- The Yamaha amps are waiting for you here when you travel to Europe?
Yeah, but according to Patrizzio who's our agent, he said they don't make those anymore so he's gonna try to hang on to them.So keep em for..so when we come on the road again next year I can just use the same stuff that I got this time. When we go to Athens (they would fly there the same evening without the equipment..RH) we don't know what we're gonna get. I take my little boxes and cables and wires and stuff but I don't know what we're gonna get. I think I get two Twin Reverbs and Two marshall cabinets (laughs)
- You love the saxophone and recorded with trumpet player Walt Fowler on '16 Men Of Tain'. Do you ever think about recording some more with a horn player?
Yeah, I'd love to do something more with a horn player. It was just always like a budget problem. It's hard enough trying to pay the guys in the band to do it anyway. A lot of times guys do it for next to nothing already, so..It's just because they want to do it. So it's kinda difficult with a horn. The last one it was nice because Gary Novak and Dave knew Walt Fowler. So it was nice to talk Walt Fowler into coming down and doing some stuff on that one which sounded great. I like trumpet and guitar actually. I like it a lot.
- Would be nice to orchestrate something like that in the themes too.
Well, it would you know can afford to take four guys on the road but I usually can't. Usually there's not enough money to pay these guys what they're worth. So when you get four guys, it's next to impossible.
- When you were studying the guitar, was there an eye-opener for you or anything that you encountered that made you realize you were on the right track?
Well, just hearing people that were really great. It didn't matter what instrument it was. I was never fixated with the guitar as an instrument as such. Maybe because I never really wanted to play the guitar. I know a of guitar players, everything they're listening to, they focussed entirally on one thing, like the guitar. But maybe because I didn't wanna play the guitar, I never got to that state. So I used to just listen to music in general. I had a lot of guitarplayer friends that only listened to guitar. I played em all this shit and they'd go:'oh it doesn't have a guitar on there, I don't wanna listen to that'. It's like c'mon man, just listen to the music, you know, forget what it's played on, you know. I always think of an instrument as just being a tool. It's like, it doesn't matter if John McLaughlin played the trumpet, it'd still be great. And if John Coltrane played the piano it would be sounding great. I don't really think it mattered. It didn't matter if I heard something that was like really amazing and it didn't matter what it was played on, I would still get a lot of inspiration from it. Although I did really like horns, you know. I love particularly John Coltrane. That was a big changing point in my life, when I heard him. Versus what I was listening to before that. It made me realize that there was other ways to play over chord changes that didn't sound like...you couldn't... when I used to listen to those old records and there was Cannonbal Adderly and a lot of like other great bebop players. I could here the history in the playing. I could hear where it came from. And when I heard John Coltrane, I couldn't hear where it came from. It was like, where the hell did he come up.. how did he come up with that? Everything was working you know. That was like a real revelation. I was going, ok, so there's gotta be another way to play over chord sequences and stuff that doesn't sound like it came from somewhere else, you know. I tried to do that, I'll never be able to do anything like that, but...just the inspiration, it's awesome.
- Any period or album of John Coltrane you particularly like?
I like mostly all of it. But I particularly liked the album, my favorite, I actually was telling Ernest one of my favorites was an album called Coltrane's Sound. That was one of my favorite Coltrane albums. 'The Night Has A Thousand Eyes' and then he playes my favorite tune on that record was the last one, it was 'Satellite'.They played it as a trio.McCoy Tyner played on the whole record except that one track. And it's not because I don't love McCoy Tyner, I do, I think he's insane. But is was just that one piece of music, it was like.. jezus that's pretty awesome. Yeah, I still love that one.
- Any plans for instructional video's or books for the future?
No, I mean there's so many kinda bullshit bootleg books that were out there that were half way finished and half done and...The guys don't pay you any money to do books, you know if somebody says uh ok, we'll give you $1500.- to do a book, by the time it takes you to do a book, you're broke. The last thing that I did was this thing called 'Melody Chords For Guitar', but it wasn't my book, it was written by my father. And the whole idea was, I wanted to show people what I had been thought by my father. Not me, I didn't write that book. My father did. So that's why some of it's funny. The way that he..explains notes and...you know flat 10's instead of sharp 9's and whatever. His whole thing was different, he was coming from a different era you know, 'cause we were a few generations apart. But the guy wouldn't do it. It was supposed to be Melody Chords For Guitar by Sam Holdsworth edited by Allan Holdsworth. But he was a real, forgive the word, asshole about it and he wouldn't do it. He just said no and I got into a war with him, like a legal battle with him, but...because of the way that the contract was, he kind of won. So it was really sad. I think I managed to get something in there about the fact that my dad dit it, it's pretty obvious it's not what I do now. What I was trying to show was what I'd been taught before. What I'm gonna try to do now is, now that I've got a computer is to write one over long period of time. So I don't have to worry about it, I can do it in my spare time. And whenever I decide it's there, Maybe sell it through my site.