The trio of musical geniuses, The Aristocrats, are ready to hit Australian and Asian shores soon. Fans are excited to watch drummer Marco Minnemann and guitarist Guthrie Govan in action with bass player Bryan Beller, for a blend of spontaneous fusion rock. Metal Wani’s Rishabh Mansur got in touch with Guthrie Govan, of Steven Wilson and Hans Zimmer fame, about the tours, his playing style, and much more! Here’s the detailed conversation:
Hey Guthrie, Greetings from Metal Wani. How are you doing today?
Most resplendently – and thank you for asking!
Awesome. First of all the fans are excited to see you and The Aristocrats in Australia and India soon. What is your experience from playing in these places in the past/with your other bands?
Any band touring in that continent can expect to encounter a very broad spectrum of cultural variations. Just as the food will vary enormously from one area to the next, so too will factors such as the level of attention to detail with which the event is organised, the way the audience expresses its enthusiasm, the reliability of the rented backline, and so on.
Even though each country you visit will naturally exhibit its own unique cultural “flavour”, you’ll always find one thread of continuity running all the way through any international tour: wherever you play, the people in the crowd have chosen to come to your show because they’re motivated by a passion for live music. Consequently, however weird and unfamiliar things might get between one gig and the next, there’s always a reassuring kind of bond between the crowd and the band whilst you’re actually playing – a sense that everyone is there for the same fundamental reason.
A pleasant surprise for me came when I did my first clinic in India and it became clear that everyone in the audience could clap along perfectly – almost nonchalantly – with any piece of music I could throw at them, however bizarre the time signature!
Hahahaha… that’s true. Now let’s talk about your Australian shows in October. From your perspective, how well-known is The Aristocrats in Aussie land?
I really wouldn’t like to say – arguably, a more revealing insight might emerge if we could ask Australia about our popularity level there, rather than vice versa!
There’s only way to find out for sure about the musical appetites of any given territory: it requires both the band and the promoter to be willing to take the risk of committing to a tour. So that’s precisely what we’re doing right now and, needless to say, all we can do is just hope that everything will go well. Well, I suppose I can at least add this: I definitely found the turnout and overall response to be very encouraging when I did my first Australian clinic tour a couple of years ago so I’m choosing to be cautiously optimistic about our forthcoming tour as a full band!
Yes, Australian fans have a diverse musical taste as compared to fans in States or Europe. I guess you might be surprised to see metalheads, jazz, blues fans coming to see you guys live. What should the fans expect from stellar musicians such as yourself?
I actually observed the diversity of which you speak when I played at the Adelaide Guitar Festival a couple of years ago. I was really impressed by just how musically cosmopolitan that event was: it was a lot of fun to be on the same bill as players from so many different musical disciplines. A number of classical and bossa nova fans came to check my gig out, and I saw quite a few Metallica t-shirts in the crowd at Yamandu Costa’s performance. I deem such cross-pollination to be entirely a good thing!
This kind of open-mindedness fills me with hope that the Australian audiences which await us will really “get” what the Aristocrats are trying to do. Even though we’ve kind of trained ourselves to tell interviewers that our style of music is “rock-fusion” – well, you have to call it something, right? I think the overall sound of our band comes more from how we play rather than what we play, so pretty much any genre is welcome in the Aristocratic melting pot.
Above all, we genuinely derive a lot of enjoyment from playing together so that’s really the main thing which we aim to share with the audience. Everyone in this band strongly feels that entertaining people is a whole lot more fun and worthwhile than just trying to intimidate them with a display of gratuitous technical proficiency. Though, having said that, I guess we do play quite a lot of notes, anyhow!
Absolutely, it looks like fans in India are ready to have a whole lot of fun at your shows, which were sold out just couple of hours after they went online. Did you expect such a response?
Well, I did an all-too-brief clinic tour in India a few years ago and it struck me that music, in general, just seems so very alive there: it’s abundantly clear that the people really, really care about it. This being the case, I’ve been raving about the place to Marco and Bryan ever since we met (“We have to find an excuse to play in India!”) so I was almost relieved to see the insanely enthusiastic response when we initially announced those shows. I knew there would be at least some enthusiasm, but I have to admit that I was taken aback by just how much of it there was!
Oh, that’s definitely due to the individual musicians from your band! As a whole, your music gels well despite sounding spontaneous, and the fans love that. But how does this spontaneity work in a live scenario?
Well, I like to think that the initial writing is an important aspect of what we do: when we’re making a new studio album together, we really do our best to compose some ‘actual music’, as opposed to simply constructing a repertoire of vehicles within which to indulge in interminable fusion soloing.
When we initially learn the songs prior to a tour, we exercise a fair amount of attention to detail and there are quite a lot of little “signposts” within the structure of a typical Aristocrats tune. Once we feel like we know the rules, that makes us feel a lot more comfortable about breaking them so… as soon as we’re actually out on the road, we immediately start taking irresponsible musical risks with the material in any way we can, to keep things fresh and to allow the songs to “evolve” in the manner of their choosing. (Some risks work better than others. If we try something silly and it seems to work particularly well, it often ends up becoming an official part of the arrangement!)
I do feel that the three of us have an unusually good connection: a lot of interactive/improvisational things happen organically and naturally with this lineup which would require rather more rehearsal and planning if you tried to replace any one of the component members. The first time we ever played together, it immediately felt like we already “knew each other” and the (literally) hundreds of gigs we’ve done since then have allowed that initial chemistry to evolve incrementally. The fact that we’re all so comfortable and familiar with each other’s musical personalities enables us to be that much more experimental and unpredictable on stage because we’re always really listening to each other. I’d definitely say that the live scenario is what comes closest to encapsulating what our little trio is all about.
This chemistry that you speak of, how different was it when you played with an artist like Hans Zimmer?
As you can perhaps imagine, it’s a totally different experience: in fact, there were more people on stage during those Hans Zimmer shows than there were in the audience at many of the jazz gigs I’ve done in the past! Sometimes it’s nice to be a smaller component in a larger machine and the Hans tour was perfect in that respect. HZ puts a lot of thought into how he chooses his touring personnel so he can then relax and trust everyone to play something appropriate, rather than micro-managing every musician: consequently, I felt rather more freedom than I had anticipated in that band: I was welcome to come up with suggestions, play bizarre instruments etc. (He seemed particularly fond of my 8-string and my fretless guitar!)
Perhaps my favourite part of doing that tour, however, was the fact that I never got tired of playing the music at any point: it’s all really good – and that factor can really help to make a long tour much more bearable!
Speaking of tiredness, people won’t get tired of The Aristocrats any time soon, as it looks. So how are you guys planning to keep the momentum going? A new album or a new solo album perhaps?
I haven’t really thought that far ahead: at the moment, I think all three Aristocrats are still very much in “tour mode” and I expect that we’ll all start trying to plan out our next steps around December time, after the end of our South American tour (which will, in all probability, conclude this current album cycle.)
In related news, I suppose I really do need to make another solo album at some point but I’ve long since stopped trying to estimate when that will actually happen: I’ve tried making such predictions in the past, but my success rate has proved to be unremarkable at best.
Solo albums seem to be the popular thing now. Do you and Marco have plans to record Steven Wilson’s next solo album?
You’d have to ask Steven: only he really knows what he’s planning to do next!
Alright. I hope that happens soon. Now I wanna talk about something which is very close to my heart. Your guitar solo on “Regret #9” of Hands.Cannot.Erase. album still gives me chills. I heard it was recorded in one take. Is that true? What memories do you have of this particular song?
Glad you liked it! I’m pretty sure it was indeed done in one take – in fact, I vaguely recall seeing a YouTube video which documents that very moment – but from my perspective, I don’t think there’s anything particularly remarkable about that: it’s just the way the whole “epic guitar solo” assignment always seems to pan out whenever I’m working with Steven. My solo on “Drive Home” (from SW’s ‘The Raven That Refused to Sing’ album) was done in much the same way: “Drive Home” and “Regret #9” both featured pretty long solo sections and whenever I’m confronted with such a ambitiously-proportioned blank canvas, it’s generally easier to maintain continuity and “tell a story” within the context of one uninterrupted take. I’m sure I could have recorded a more “perfect”-sounding solo by piecing something together in the studio, one lick at a time, but with that approach you always seem to sacrifice something in terms of the overall flow. I think the “stream of consciousness” type of solo really needs to be improvised in one take, in real time, otherwise the finished product will somehow lack a coherent “narrative arc”.
This ‘flow’ that you talk about may be what many listeners can identify as the signature Guthrie style of playing in a song. How would you describe this style in connection to The Aristocrats?
Honestly, I have no idea how to describe my style, as there’s really nothing calculated about it: most of the time, I’m just doing my best to “use the Force”. I’ve been playing guitar since I was three (or so they tell me) and I learned entirely by ear, so for me playing feels a lot like talking: I just do my best to complement whatever else happens to be occurring in my musical environment at any particular moment. Doing that basically entails imagining what you’d really like to hear a guitar contributing the song at any given moment and then trying to replicate that idea in real time, whilst it’s still fresh. It’s all about listening and responding, really, and for me personally that whole process always seems to work best when I let it happen on an intuitive, subconscious level.
Okay, I’ll admit that I’m kind of hoping that by providing such a vague, flimsy description, I might somehow be provoking a few of your readers to check out some of The Aristocrats’ music, just to satiate their curiosity!
Excellent. We hope that happens too! Thank you for your time, Guthrie Govan. Cheers!
Australian Tour Dates below:
Saturday, October 8: Manning Bar – Sydney