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A Conversation With… David Rhodes

Thursday, July 18th, 2013

David Rhodes at Real World Records

Welcome to a new regular series from Canadian Musician contributor Jeff Gunn. In addition to his own solo career and a line of guitar method books called Hidden Sounds, Jeff is also the guitarist for acts such as Emmanuel Jal and Kae Sun. In the first edition of “A Conversation With…”, Gunn speaks with longtime Peter Gabriel guitarist David Rhodes. Look for more soon. www.jeffgunn.ca.

Picture this – sitting across a table from a world-class guitarist in a small pub in the West English countryside who happens to be one of your all-time favourites and who you used to watch and listen to on Peter Gabriel’s Secret World Live DVD as a 15-year-old aspiring musician. The guitarist in question is none other than David Rhodes.

Most of us know Rhodes from his role as Peter Gabriel’s guitarist over the years. His unique guitar style has been a key component of Gabriel’s ever-evolving atmospheric sound. He played on such hits as “In Your Eyes,” “Red Rain,” “Biko,” and many more. Initially, Rhodes opened for Peter Gabriel in his band Random Hold (Polydor Records) and it was during this period that Gabriel invited Rhodes to record with him on his third solo album, Peter Gabriel (1980). Rhodes began to regularly tour and record with Gabriel thereafter.

Beyond Gabriel, Rhodes has carved out a well-rounded career recording with such acts as Loreena Mckennitt, New Order, Paul McCartney, Roy Orbison, Talk Talk, and Scot Waller as well as a contributing to a plethora of other sessions. Most recently, he has released an album simply titled Rhodes, which also features drummer Ged Lynch (The Charlatans/Peter Gabriel) and bassist Charlie Jones (Page and Plant).

Looking back on his music career, Rhodes notes that from his first music expressions as a teenager he has maintained an interest in the art of “noisemaking.” Early on, Rhodes used tape loops and was interested in creating what he terms “anti-pop.” He describes his own playing as “naïve Euro guitar” maintaining an interest in European music over what is happening in American Pop.

After performing on the same bill as David Rhodes and Peter Gabriel at the Roseland Ballroom in New York City, I had the opportunity to travel to England and ask the veteran guitarist some questions:

JG: What were and are some of your musical influences?

DR: After a schoolmate’s older brother introduced me to the music of Miles Davis and Art Tatum, I developed an interest in jazz as well as a love of noise. John Cage once wrote “all noise is music” and I have embraced this idea. Early influences included John McLaughlin’s album Extrapolation for his sparse playing and the music and guitar styles of Chris Spedding. Lou Reed’s music has also been an influence. My tastes have changed very little over time.

JG: What do you listen for in songs?

DR: I am interested in way in which the mood is created in a song. Specifically, I listen to the way in which one note or chord can create and contribute to the mood of a song.

JG: How would you summarize your style of guitar performance?

DR: I play economically. My goal is to create a mood. I enjoy taking one note or a few notes in order to create a desired mood in a song. As a guitarist in a band with a singer, my role is to always support the vocalist and I am aware not to step out of that role – to remain an almost invisible part of the whole.

JG: What guitars do you use live and in the studio?

DR: I use my Gibson Robot Les Paul live and in studio as well as my Fender Telecaster.

JG: What can David Rhodes fans expect from your new solo album Rhodes?

DR: Well, my goal on this album was to create a live feel. There are not so many overdubs. Look for the song “Waggle Dance,” which is loosely based on how bees move. The album is available in both vinyl and digital formats. I wanted to make the album available on vinyl because in a world of short attention spans, the act of lifting a needle onto a record draws the attention of the listener in a powerful way – as if to announce “now were going to listen.” It encourages the act of listening.

JG: What advice do you have for up-and-coming guitarists?

DR: Never copy other people. Find your own sound. Also, think about a second career – lean times need to be dealt with, and there will be lean times.

Following our conversation at the pub, David and I took a stroll to Real World Records and he showed me some of the guitars he used on Peter Gabriel songs like “In Your Eyes” and pointed to the valley where he recorded the backing vocals to “Biko.” Rhodes attention to both musical detail and the potential of minimalist sounds to create a meaningful musical result is immediately evident throughout our conversation.

As I boarded the train from Chippenham back to London that afternoon, I can tell you that those guitarists interested in noisemaking and generating atmospheric moods will no doubt find exactly what they need in David Rhodes new album Rhodes, available at www.davidrhodes.org. Look for tour dates in late 2013 and 2014.

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