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T H E I N T E R V I E W: ERIC SKYE

Thanks for taking the time to speak to us Eric. Let us first congratulate you on your Santa Cruz Signature model! Thank you. Obviously it's an enormous honour to have the most important living steel string guitar builder make a guitar with your name on it. I frankly struggle with feeling worthy, which keeps me very motivated to move the ball down the field every day. The guitar has been out there for almost two years now, and it's so neat to get more and more emails from new owners. It's such a magical little guitar, with such a big, complex voice. It was great to work with Richard and everyone at Santa Cruz to achieve not only the exact sound I was hearing in my head, but also the hyper-responsiveness and feel of the guitar. It’s obviously a world class fingerstyle machine, but for the record, that little 00 is often the loudest guitar at the bluegrass jam too. GUITARBENCH MAGAZINE ISSUE 5 PAGE 1

Could you share with us how the collaboration came about? Five or six years ago Santa Cruz made me a 00 guitar that quickly became my main guitar. I used that guitar exclusively on the Slow Moving Dog album. When Richard Hoover proposed the idea of doing a signature guitar, it was very clear to us that it would be a 00. We spent about eight months going back and forth with ideas that essentially would be a very customized and refined version my original 00. There is the slightly increased bridge spacing of 2.25”, and the slightly wider nut width of 1 13/16. To me this is very fingerstyle friendly set up, but not so wide that it wouldn’t be great for flatpicking as well. We also talked a great deal about scale length. We concluded that the old Martin scale of 24.9 was ideal for what I do. We also increased the body depth slightly, to approximately an 1/8th on an inch, just enough to get the slightest bit more bass.


GUITARBENCH P LAY E R S | LU T H I E R S | C O LLE C T O R S

ACOUSTIC&CLASSICAL

Issue 5 2013


GUITARBENCH EDITOR: Terence Tan CO-EDITOR: Jessica Pau SALES/MARKETING: Jessica Pau PROOFREADER: Doug Shaker Contributing Writers: El McMeen, Ken Bonfield, Jose Bernardo WEBSITES: guitarbench.com Our Online Magazine: www.guitarbench. com

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WE HOPE YOU ENJOYED THIS ARTICLE! Please consider supporting us by subscribing. Just $8 for all 4 full Issues in 2013 EDITORSNOTE Thank you for viewing our free article from Issue 5 of Guitarbench! Our magazine focuses on acoustic & classical guitars with the odd ukulele and lap slide.

Issue 5 Published by: T.TAN

We have an emphasis on gear features, and in depth interviews with luthiers and players.

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T H E I N T E R V I E W: ERIC SKYE

I personally love a twelve-fret guitar for it’s volume and projection, particularly with a small bridge and a slotted headstock. We talked about backs insides quite a bit. I knew I wanted a rosewood for a little more warmth, especially in a small guitar. Cocobolo was suggested as it would provide a bit more clarity then Indian rosewood, with great projection. An Adirondack top is my choice because I play pretty hard sometimes and it just gets better as you dig in, like a good tube amp. My personal guitar is the prototype, and exactly the same as production model. From the very first notes played it was very clear that it was perfect in every way and our work was done. A hole in one. Almost two years later, and there’s not a single thing I would change. Maybe we can go back a bit and ask how you started out playing guitar and becoming professional?

When I was seven, and my sister was fourteen, my grandmother gave each of us guitars for Christmas. Mine was a red plastic archtop from Sears, and my sister got an inexpensive classical guitar, which I quickly commandeered. This was in small town Pennsylvania when Nixon was in office. There were no teachers around, and my parents were not musical. But I had one of Happy Traum's chord books, and I really just loved records and figured out how to play from them. It was good to have an older sister in the 70‘s, because while my ten-year old friends were listening to Kiss and 70‘s pop, I was nabbing Neil Young, Beatles, Allman Brothers, and Stones records. When I was thirteen my dad got a job in the Silicon Valley and we moved to the Bay Area.


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I found a classical teacher to keep my dad happy, and I got odd jobs to pay for a second weekly lesson to learn things by Cream and Led Zeppelin. He got me into jazz guys like Joe Pass, Kenny Burrell, Grant Green, and Wes Montgomery. I also started collecting old blues records like Muddy Waters, Robert Pete Williams, and John Lee Hooker. And I was a fan the California style of solo acoustic guitar of William Ackerman, Michael Hedges, and most of all, Alex De Grassi. If I had to pick just one guitar hero it would be Alex De Grassi. I started playing professionally in 1986, taking students and gigs. Did some rock, lots of blues... I was also able to take solo guitar gigs. My girlfriend’s father had a jazz band that did a lot of parties and stuff and he would refer me for wedding ceremonies. Very easy money for a young person. Played in some restaurants too. I lived in San Francisco for all of the 90’s. Again, played some blues, some jazz, plus some groove and funk stuff on electric guitar, and wrote a lot of contemporary solo acoustic fingerstyle things. I was seeing close to forty students a week in my house. After my first daughter was born in 1998, I thereafter focused entirely on acoustic music. We moved to Portland in 2001 and I released Acoustic Jazz Guitar Solos, which got me signed to a small label. While that deal went South, it did help get my name out there to magazines, radio, and stuff. I followed up with, For Lulu. and it went on from there. And somehow along the way I got very interested in bluegrass guitar too. I was admiring the technique, time, and tone of players like David Grier and Tony Rice. At first I was just trying to figure out what those guys were doing so I could apply it to my jazz playing, but after a while I feel in love with the music, the fiddle tunes.

GUITARBENCH MAGAZINE ISSUE 5 PAGE 7

I was admiring the technique, time, and tone of players like David Grier and Tony Rice. At first I was just trying to figure out what those guys were doing so I could apply it to my jazz playing, but after a while I feel in love with the music, the fiddle tunes. So would it be fair to say that you cut your teeth doing live gigs? Do you think it's an important part of a professional's development? I do think playing live is a big part of one’s development. It gives you a chance to notice what people react to. And you learn the value the things that matter much more than notes and technique, like groove, tone, soul, telling a story. I did cut my teeth playing gigs. And I’m glad I did, because I think going forward it’s very difficult to imagine how all but a very few will make a living wage from selling recorded music. Performing is going to have to be a bigger piece of the pie. This is fine by me. Even though I have a family I want to be with a much as I can, I do like to travel, and I do like being out there playing for people, making new friends. Interestingly, even though I’ve been doing gigs for twenty-five years now, only recently, in the last


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I see! Let’s move on to practice and composition- practice first, do you have a set regime? I am listening to, reading about, thinking about, music almost all day. In particular, listening. Having a great pair of headphones, and a little bit of time to close our eyes and be completely immersed in listening, that’s the oracle for sure -the wellspring. As far as actual time spent on the instrument, I try to get in something like four hours a day or more. Almost all of that time is in the context of repertoire. Looking at what’s coming up next on the calendar and prioritizing. I work with a metronome often. years, have I become completely comfortable with it. I've always struggled with being relaxed and playing like it doesn't matter, what it does. Maybe part of the artist personality is feeling like you're never quite good enough -which is ironic, because as a performer, you're kind of selling confidence. But you'll need very different skills in the studio? Not necessarily. Again, it's about playing like it doesn't matter, when it does. It's all about catching a glimpse of the special place, not about perfect execution or fidelity, necessarily. In my mind, you can take the technical side of the recording thing as far as you want, but at the end of the day it's about capturing an inspired performance. Think about recordings like Robert Johnson in 1928, or Pablo Casals’ Cello Suites in 1936, or Glenn Gould’s 1955 recording of the Goldbergs. All three recordings would be considered very poor quality by anyone's standards today, and yet they have given goose bumps for generations. I think my new album, A Different Kind Of Blue, is the first time that I've felt like I’ve been able to really let go, and capture it. As I said early about performing, for whatever reason, I've only recently gotten to a place where I'm pretty consistently relaxed and confident either on stage or in the studio. Late bloomer I guess.

When practicing improvisation, I’m a big fan of the iRealB app. With light headphones I play along to backing tracks, often very slowly, finding themes and variations, or sometimes maybe a new scale or something. I think if I had do it all again, I would’ve done a lot less technical exercises, and spent more time just learning and working on tunes when I was younger. If one wanted to be a writer, but mainly focused on typing the alphabet over and over again, it would take forever to arrive at something. The important thing to harness the ability to pull stories from yourself. As for composition, I’m going to lump arranging in with that, because the truth is I don’t write a lot of tunes. I have written some things, and I have it in mind to one day make a solo record of the non-jazz pieces that I’ve written over the years. Frankly “arranging” is probably too strong a word for what I do. A lot of my music is improvised. I do have some tunes that are pretty set, but more often I just have a basic framework on which build on in the moment. The important thing is to find a tune that I really want to play. You have to be careful to avoid choosing tunes you think you should be playing, or someone else thinks you should be playing, and really stick to what turns you on.


I don’t do too much transcribing, I prefer to steep in a tune and let it percolate for a while. For me, it’s really about time spent, and deliberate practice -trying to spend most of my energy on things that I don’t do well. And to have the discipline, and the acceptance of frustration, to be able to put just a little bit more weight on the bar each day. More ironing, less trying on of the clothes. My most productive practice time probably sounds like I’ve only been playing for a few weeks to a passerby. You would agree that spending the necessary time is a key factor? Wes Montgomery used to say that he didn’t practice, he just opened up the case and threw in some meat. If only it were so. I went to a workshop with bluegrass monster David Grier, and someone asked him what it would really take to play like him. Grier quickly shot back “quit your job.” I think some people thought he was being a little gruff, others thought he was joking, but I knew he was a serious as a heart attack. GUITARBENCH MAGAZINE ISSUE 5 PAGE 11

I’m a big fan of the somewhat controversial book Talent Is Overrated, where-in the author debunks the myth of “genius” or “gifted,” using people like Mozart and Tiger Woods as examples. His main point seems to be that there’s a number of hours for mastery of anything, and he feels the number is ten thousand. He also goes on to clearly underscore the difference between a deliberate style of practice and a casual style of practice. When I get students that tell me they are very serious, I find they usually greatly underestimate the level of commitment and sacrifice they’ll need. It’s at least a full-time thing if you’re hoping to one day hang your shingle as a player. I think all good players go through some period of total immersion. Again if it’s a matter of hours, a nine-year-old can get a nice chunk of that ten thousand in just one summer. If you’re older, have a family, and can only manage a few hours a week, it’d going to take longer. The good news is that most


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people are not trying to be a concert guitarist and just want to get better. And if they’re organized and willing to mostly work on what they don’t do well, they’ll make rapid gains in relatively short time. But it’s harder to sustain than it sounds. More than anything, when I teach, regardless of level and goals, the main thing I’m trying to share is how to practice. I wish I knew how to really practice thirty years ago... Much like Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers! I once spoke to John Renbourn and he practices close to 10 hours a day! But is there such a thing as good practice time and wasted practice time? Sure. If the goal is to move the ball down the field, “good” practice time would be more about being organized and pushing yourself, like an athlete that goes to the gym and puts a little bit more weight on the bar each morning -unlike myself, who goes to the gym and just sits in the jacuzzi eating chocolate energy bars. If rule number one is to keep your hands on the

instrument as much as possible, then there really isn’t “bad” practice. Though someone might say they “practiced for hours,” when it was mostly playing riffs they’ve known for years, fiddling with amplifier sounds, maybe running a scale or two, which is all fine, but not really the same thing as deliberate practice. Having said all that, I sure don’t want to make it sound like training for a sport. At the risk of sounding a little woo woo, perhaps the most important thing is to work on being an artist, to develop a voice, a point of view. In short, it’s a lot of hours, and years, but it’s not just about what you do with your hands and strings, you want to develop the whole thing. It’s a lifestyle. So it really depends on the individual? It’s individualized in terms of aspirations, goals, style, etc, but pretty universal when it comes to putting in the hours, and what you do in those hours, in my opinion anyway. I don’t believe in the idea of people being “gifted.” It’s all about working hard, and finding your voice.


And before we let you go, could you give us a heads up of what’s happening on the horizon for you? Job one is to continue to promote my new album, A Different Kind Of Blue, which is kind of a solo guitar re-imagining of the 1959 Miles Davis record, Kind Of Blue. Radio play all over the US has been great, the feedback has been super positive, so I’ll just keep trying to stay out there. I’ll continue to tour the country doing solo shows and house concerts, as well as workshops for music stores, guitar societies, and in private homes. The other thing I’m excited about this coming year is Mark Goldenberg and I making an acoustic fingerstyle jazz guitar duo record in Los Angeles this year. Mark is an LA guitarist to the stars, playing for Jackson Brown, Bonnie Raitt, Peter Frampton, Chris Issak... the list goes on forever.

GUITARBENCH MAGAZINE ISSUE 5 PAGE 15

He was also a long time student of Ted Greene, and just a brilliant fingerstlye player in every possible way. We’ve had a little bromance going on this year, with a few one shows in LA, the Bay Area, and Arizona. There’s a great spark there for sure. It’s very conversational when we play together. So I’m very excited and grateful to get to do something with Mark. Lastly, this is the year I plan to come out of the closet as a part time bluegrass flatpicker. I’m working on a duo project tentatively called the Eric Skye And Tim Connell Bluegrass Experiment. It’ll be an instrumental guitar and mandolin exploration of fiddle tunes. Both of us truly love this music, but are relatively new to it. I’m coming from more of a blues, jazz, and fingerstyle place. And while it seems like the vast majority of American mandolin players are born bluegrassers, Tim studied Brazilian choro, klezmer music, and Irish music at the New England Conservatory Of Music. So hopefully we’ll have something a little different and interesting and to say with this music.


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WE HOPE YOU ENJOYED THIS ARTICLE! Please consider supporting us by subscribing. Just $8 for all 4 full Issues in 2013 EDITORSNOTE Thank you for viewing our free article from Issue 5 of Guitarbench! Our magazine focuses on acoustic & classical guitars with the odd ukulele and lap slide. We have an emphasis on gear features, and in depth interviews with luthiers and players. Our lessons section is maturing with many professionals contributing tab and articles. We’d love to keep producing content like this, and would like to appeal for your help. By subscribing, we can keep these articles coming! Just click on this link. Warmest Regards and happy reading, Terence Tan, Editor.


PREVIEW Stay tuned for Issue 6 of Guitarbench Magazine. With our usual mix of great guitars, vintage and contemporary...

and with different perspectives...

interviews with luthiers..

and lessons from professionals....

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Guitarbench Magazine Issue 5. Eric Skye Interview.