Graham Greene is one of my favourite musicians: his music is in constant rotation in my house (it makes for perfect writing-music, for starters), and he’s also a genuinely hilarious and friendly guy. He has released several solo albums and EPs in his career, and has been part of bands like Ice Tiger, Flash Harry, Jac Dalton, and Resonance Project (with his wife Donna G, an outstanding vocalist). Graham has also worked as a music producer, and is endorsed by Ormsby Guitars and Mesa/Boogie amplification.
I’ve been fortunate enough to get an early listen to his new EP, ‘The Guitar Vinci Code’ (coming soon!), and it is another amazing release from “the Guitar Shaman from Oz”. On my first listen, I confess I had goosebumps: it really is that good. I’ve interviewed Graham before (read it here), and I’m so grateful and happy to have a chance to talk to him again about his work.
Q. Last time I interviewed you, you had just released the EP Down Devils Road: a fantastic EP. Now you’ve been working on a new EP called “The Guitar Vinci Code”. How would you describe the vibe and mood of this EP, and how does it compare to “Down Devils Road”.
GG: When I was recording the last few tracks of the last album, I had started experimenting with orchestrations to augment the ‘rock band’ sound, and was pleased with the results, so I have spent this new EP exploring that direction to a fuller extent. The vibe of The Guitar Vinci Code is more focused on the blend of rock band and orchestra, as opposed to my usual bits-and-pieces stylistic approach, and I think this has resulted in a more cohesive sound. The mood is brighter, as a lot of the compositions came from a happier place – there is still light and shade and some dark sounds and passages, but a more positive feeling overall. Parts of Down Devils Road were a struggle from a personal standpoint, but this one just flowed.
Q. What’s the story behind the EP title? (By the way, I have a feeling I’m going to like your EP a lot more than I liked Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code”…).
GG: As can be gleaned from a lot of my track titles, I have a fondness for messing around with words, and this title is no different. In fact, I had the title in mind for a few years before I wrote anything that it would suit. A few of my tracks have been written to suit a name idea, and I find it a fun approach to composing. With the title track, I knew that this was going to be The Guitar Vinci Code by the time I had finished the backing tracks, so I had the title in mind when writing and recording the melodies and solos. It also fit the whole EP, and was a cool inspiration for the artwork.
Q. And having seen the full artwork for this release, I have to say that it is pretty mind-blowing! Do you have any favourite tracks or musical moments from the new EP? Anything that was particularly fun or maybe challenging to write.
GG: The opening track was really fun to record, partly because I didn’t play any solos on it. I had put in a string line as a place keeper for the melody guitars I had planned, but once I started laying down the rhythm guitars and hearing the blend of heavy rhythms against the singing string section, I thought, “you know, the guitar doesn’t need to be playing this”. I also added Irish Bouzouki, Celtic Flute and Bodhran to the mix and had a ball.
The closing track was a challenge, inasmuch as it was in three distinct movements with slightly different instrumentation, and needed to develop in a smooth arc, much like a good story. I approached the guitar solos differently in each section while maintaining a common thread and allowing the guitar to interact with the other instruments, which on this track included strings, horns and woodwinds as well as drums, bass and keys. A creative challenge, but immense fun. A bit like finger painting with notes, rhythms and melodies.
Q. I love that comparison to writing and painting! One track that I’m really excited to hear is a sequel to the track “Raven’s Eye” from your album ‘Leap of Face’. I love the first Raven’s Eye… so can you talk about how and why this musical sequel came about.
GG: I had always intended to write a sequel to Raven’s Eye Pt.1 and was waiting for the right time, which I believed would announce itself. After completing Down Devils Road, I had time to start messing around with ideas and just kept playing with it while I was writing and recording other tracks. I was a couple of tracks into this latest project when I felt it was time to start committing ideas to disc – I had some riff ideas and a rough arrangement of the existing bits and pieces, so made a start. Once I had some basic beds down, the ideas just flooded in and Raven’s Eye Pt.2 was born. It was a very satisfying piece to create, play and record, and I think it perfectly complements its older sibling. I even snuck a little quote from the main melody from part one – I was feeling quite clever at that stage. (laughs)
Q. You made me laugh (out loud!) on Twitter recently when you tweeted (and I quote): “Some of my greatest musical moments have been fuckups artfully disguised as inspiration.” I just love that, and would you care to elaborate?
GG: Haha! Yes, I remember tweeting that when I had been thinking about how much credit we can actually take for our creations, be they written, painted or performed. A dear friend of mine, Dr. Errol H. Tout once described the creative process as grabbing ideas out of the air as they flew past, and I have to say that I see his point clearly. Another occurrence – for me, anyway – is what I call “the beautiful accident”, where I will go to play something, completely stuff it up, and in doing so happen upon something that is better than my original idea. This has happened to me on numerous occasions, both on stage and in the studio. The trick is to not look surprised when it happens.
Q. A few years ago you played with the Graham Greene band (there are some excellent live videos of that on YouTube): any chance of that band getting back together?
GG: Every chance in the world! I recently spoke with Troy (Brazier, drums) and Jim (Awram, bass), and we start rehearsals in a couple of weeks. Those guys are my favourite people on the planet to play with, and are just an awesome rhythm section. We’re going to bash out some golden oldies from Leap Of Face and Club Voodoo to get back on our musical feet, then get stuck in to newer tracks from the last two CDs. I think we’ll come up with a killer set to take out live, and I’m really looking forward to beating the boards again with new material and a fresh outlook.
Q. That is fantastic news! And speaking of bands… Some people may know that you were the guitarist in Flash Harry once upon a time. As I understand it, there was a reunion with the guys in that band a while back. You played a one-off gig which resulted in a (reportedly) kick-ass performance and some amazing photos… What was that reunion like, and how did it feel to play those tunes again?
GG: Very much like riding a bike – we had two rehearsals to prepare for the gig, and we clicked back in during the first song at the first rehearsal. We did so many gigs together, I guess it’s something you don’t forget. It was fun to approach the old songs as the musicians we are now and throw a few extra bits in here and there that we wouldn’t have thought of back then. There were a few real high points through the night – Hotel California and Born To Run come to mind – and Ty (Coates, Flash Harry’s lead vocalist) was in amazing voice. It was fun to have a nostalgic gig and give a nod to the past while moving forward.
Q. You have long used Ormsby Guitars, and now there will apparently be some very special guitars with your name on them: tell us a bit about that.
GG: At the start of my relationship with Ormsby Guitars (eleven years ago), Perry Ormsby hand built my three signature series guitars – the GG6, GG6FG and GG7. A little while ago, Ormsby Guitars released their first production guitars – the Ormsby GTR models – to pretty much worldwide acclaim, so we are now going to offer a six string and seven string GTR model based on the GG6 and GG7. We’ve made a couple of design tweaks for these new models, and response from the guitar community has already been positive so far. I’m quite looking forward to this new phase of my Ormsby journey.
Q. That sounds awesome! What was it about playing the guitar as your main instrument that first attracted you? What is it that makes you love playing the guitar?
GG: There has always been something about the guitar that feels perfectly natural to me, the way it sounds, looks, feels… My first impressions were uninformed ones, of course, so it was really just the feeling of purpose when I made those notes. It was like having a magic power, bending sound. I still have that fascination for what the guitar can do, and the quest for new things is an ongoing one. There is also just the pure pleasure of putting a guitar on and playing. You hear players talking about those magic moments when everything comes together and sounds perfect, and those moments most definitely exist. When they happen, that feeling of purpose is rekindled. There’s nothing like it.
Q. What was your first guitar?
GG: My first guitar was a $99.00 Sakai SG copy bought from a store called Vox Adeons in the Hay St. mall in Perth, circa 1976. The guitar was originally $100, but there was a small scratch in the back of the headstock so the salesman gave us a whole dollar off. As it turns out, that salesman went on to make some of the best drums in the world – Chris Brady. Chris and I met again years later, and have been friends ever since. My dad took me in to town to get the guitar, and by the time we got home I had taught myself the intro solo to Roll Over Lay Down by Status Quo by memory. That’s where it started, in the back seat of Dad’s car between Perth and Kelmscott.
Q. For the gear-heads and guitar-lovers out there: what are your guitars and gear of choice to use in the studio and on stage?
GG: My main guitars are the three Ormsby GG series, but I do borrow guitars from Perry on a regular basis, either for a sound or just inspiration, so there’s always an extra guitar or two sitting around. Onstage, my main rig consists of my Mesa/Boogie Road King 212 Combo plus a Mesa/Boogie ¾ back 212 extension cabinet. The four channels of the Road King gives me all the tones I need with headroom to spare, and I have a Digitech IPS33B harmonizer and Lexicon delay in a rack which is switched from my pedal board. My stomp boxes are minimal but classic – Ibanez TS9, MXR Phase 90 and Boss Chorus with a Dunlop Vol/Wah. I rarely use my pedals when I record, and on this new EP I recorded all the electric guitar tracks using a Mesa/Boogie RectoVerb 25 head through a Mesa CabClone speaker simulator, which sounded huge.
Q. What music are you listening to right now? Any bands or artists you find particularly interesting?
GG: I generally don’t listen to that much music recreationally apart from some classical music in the car, but occasionally I will find something that will catch my ear and get me thinking. Before I got seriously into finishing the EP, I had been listening to the latest albums from Toto, Nightwish and Joe Satriani, all of which were great. I enjoy listening to classical music because I can experience it as a listener, not being as familiar with it as I am with modern music, which I can’t help but analyse. With people like Beethoven, Mozart and Liszt, I can just sit there and go, “wow”.
Q. Is it true that you’ve exchanged CDs with the other famous Graham Greene (the actor), and might there be a collaboration happening there?
GG: Yes, it’s true. Through a mis-tagging on Twitter, Graham and I wound up looking at the same tweet and sharing a joke. Graham had done a comedy rap album called Rap For Old Guys and I had done Down Devils Road, so we did a swap. I had mentioned in passing that I should record some music for Graham to rap over, and he thought it was actually a good idea, so we’re messing around with some ideas and will see what eventuates. I have no idea what we’d call it – the act, I mean. It could get confusing.
Q. Haha, I will be keeping an eye out for this dynamic duo… And instead of my usual “favourite albums” questions, I’d like to ask you to pick five tracks, whether old or newer, that stand out for you as a guitar player.
GG: The first guitar riff that got me was Flight of the Rat by Deep Purple. Not my favourite track now, but it was my lightbulb moment. Just I thought I was getting good, I heard the live version of Freeway Jam by Jeff Beck with the Jan Hammer Group. That sat me on my arse. The exact same thing happened with the Steve Morse Band’s track, Cruise Missile. I was getting cocky, and blam. Reality check. Larry Carlton’s solo in Kid Charlemagne holds a special place in my heart because it concludes with the first right hand fretted note I ever saw. Just one note, but when Cliff Lynton taught it to me I suddenly understood how Eruption was played, and my head exploded. Big moment, that. Larry Carlton may not be an obvious influence, but his track Room 335 is a workshop in style, technique, composition and melody. He blended jazz sensibilities with a smooth distorted guitar tone and energy that was a personal benchmark for quite some time.
Q. What other projects do you have on the go right now?
GG: My immediate focus is, of course, to get the new EP out and get the live show rehearsed and on the road. I think I’ll be taking it easy in the studio for a while, but I do have an idea or two that weren’t suitable for this EP that I may record for a couple of digital single releases. I was recently filmed and interviewed for a locally produced documentary segment, and that is being edited over the next few weeks. I have a guitar clinic coming up in about a month, and I also have some promo duties with Ormsby Guitars towards the end of the year that will probably carry over into 2017. Nothing else is on the books, but I have more than enough to keep me occupied for now, so I’m happy.
Thanks so much to Graham for taking the time to do this interview! Check out the teaser trailer for The Guitar Vinci Code below, and grab a copy of this EP as soon as you can: it’s a must-have.