Artist Interview by: Fred Gerantab
September 2003 - In a world where longevity is a rare quality among today's musicians new and established, Pat Metheny continues to prove that his well of ideas runs deep to the Earth's core. In no need of introduction, Metheny has been heard in just about every configuration imaginable, but up until now his solo guitar works have been only a rare novelty at PMG tours in recent years. His latest CD, "One Quiet Night," exhibits Metheny in rare form: just a man and his guitar sans studio gear, a band and any distractions. The result is a beautiful display and a glimpse into a side of Metheny that many have waited to hear with great anticipation.
We caught up with Pat to discuss "One Quiet Night," and aside from the incredible warmth and intellectual edge we've come to know from past discussions, we smiled silently to ourselves knowing that his mind never rests; the ideas continue to flow even as the interview commences.
JazzReview: In an interview I read with guitarist Eric Johnson many years ago, he stated that there was a guitar a friend of his had, which songs just seemed to come out of whenever he picked it up. It is this way with your baritone guitar. Do songs just come out of it?
Pat Metheny: Oh definitely. Sometimes you get surprised even when you pick up a guitar and you find yourself playing things you wouldn't normally play.
JazzReview: Have long have you had this instrument and much time have you really worked with it?
Pat Metheny: Well, I actually have had it for a few years and didn't know quite what to do with it until one night when I remembered this certain way of stringing it up, which is like a half-Nashville tuning where the middle two strings are up an octave. It opened up this whole world of harmonic potential, and I just happened to have my recording thing with me and recorded it for 4-5 hours. Just kept playing and filled up three blank CDs with music, and took them on the road with me and listened to them on the road for the year that followed.
It seemed like it was a record at one point and worthy of release, and I had to add a couple of things on the end to really finish it off; and those were the tunes that were the more standard kind of tunes...the combination of the improvised stuff that came from that first night, some standard tunes and little strumming things I added in seemed to make it a real record.
JazzReview: As opposed to many other configurations you've played in, what are the challenges you've come across when it's just you and your guitar?
Pat Metheny: I think the challenge of playing is always the same regardless of the context, which is to sound good and come up with something that has connection to the reality of your own life, and can hopefully manifest into sounds that can inspire things in other people to make them look at their lives differently. Whether it's solo, trio or with the group, the aspiration is always the same. I can say playing solo guitar is something I never thought much about. It kind of came out this time in the right context to tell this particular story with solo guitar, and it made me think "well, if I did one solo guitar record, why did it take 30 years, and also why did I do it on a guitar that's incredibly hard to play in this bizarre tuning that's like a complete brain work to figure out. It then led to me think I should do a conventional solo guitar record on a conventional guitar, which I'd really like to do.
JazzReview: I was going to ask you about that. So you have thought about taking this concept further?
Pat Metheny: Yeah, I think that it's something now that I have done and know that it's a possibility and I'll keep it in the back of my mind always. Like "Ok maybe tonight's the night I can do a solo classical guitar record" or whatever, and fake myself out the way I did this time (laughs).
JazzReview: I know you mentioned the aspirations are the same playing in any configuration, however, do you find that since your mind is freed of thinking about the interaction between other players, or things that normally come with playing in any group situation, that perhaps the connection is greater in certain ways?
Pat Metheny: Well, it's funny because the process of recording the record, it was so unclear to me that I was making a record. I was just playing for myself. It's only since then in certain performance situations where I've brought the baritone guitar out where I would say I've experienced something like what you've just described, which I've really been enjoying.
I like the fact that I can stop; if I feel like stopping I can stop. It took me a while to realize that. While you're playing, normally you're keeping track of whether it's rushing, dragging, this that or the other thing, and I thought 'Hey, I can just stop'...and I did. That kind of flexibility is pretty exciting and it's new territory for me.
JazzReview: Where does the inspiration come from for this type of sound? Are you someone who has spent time listening to the greats of classical guitar, for instance, or legendary folkies like Leo Kottke, or does it come from the same point of inspiration as anything else you may do?
Pat Metheny: In terms of solo guitar, it's such a small niche; I can't really point to anything as being a major source of inspiration. The general things that are on my mind and that I like to think of as priorities in this particular setting have to do with dynamics and touch and tone production which is stuff I would tend to look to piano players for, particularly like Glenn Gould. That to me is sort of what it's about, the focus.
JazzReview: Speaking of dynamics and touch, do you feel that any of these nuances can get lost in over production, or have come to appreciate more now that you are in absolute control of these elements without any studio intervention?
Pat Metheny: You just hit it on the head, I think each playing situation offers different opportunities, and I feel lucky because I get to do all kinds of things, a wide array of formations, so it's something I feel great about.
JazzReview: So many of us have cited your music as the soundtracks to our lives, one way or the other. I'd like to know what the sculptor was thinking when the sculpture was being created…I know what I think or feel when I listen. What pictures run through your mind when you create?
Pat Metheny: It's kind of hard for me to have objectivity about anything of my own. I'm so involved in what it has been in the past and what it will be in the future that I don't allow myself the luxury of hindsight, and say, "Wow it was great that we accomplished that". My entire job is really about looking to see what I can do next. It may happen to me that I'm in a situation where I can hear a record and say "wow that fits in well with this or that", and the best is when I don't recognize it's me, and I think it sounds good, which happens occasionally. It doesn't happen to often but when it happens it's a nice thing.
JazzReview: Better be careful, you'll start buying your own records off the shelves.
Pat Metheny: (laughs) what I notice is that it's a very common thing amongst musicians to not listen to their own records and kind of just move on. It seems to be a part of the nature of what jazz is, is to go on.
JazzReview: I've always gotten the impression that geography is a big part of your music. Your connection with where you grew up, the views and the beauty that very often show up in a subtle way in photographs on your album covers. Your appreciation of the homeland, of land in general, which shines through often on your music.
Pat Metheny: Again, I don't' have the luxury of that. Honestly, for me when I'm playing, I'm thinking more 'should this fall after an E, or should this be louder or softer; should it get faster, slower?' It's very difficult for me to achieve the kind of poetic connection that I think that people find in the music itself. I can't really say that there's any kind of direct A to B type correlation going on in my mind, on the other hand I grew up in a place that has a very particular type of geography that is completely embedded in who I am, and that has very strongly affected my aesthetic sensibility. The whole idea where being in a place where the sky is very big, all of those things are such intrinsic components of who I am, that they're certainly there. It's just that the syntax of music for me doesn't allow for ventures out into the real world of humanity during the process of playing.
JazzReview: Do you ever get the benefit of taking the guitar by your son's bedside and playing for him?
Pat Metheny: Yeah man! It's fantastic.
JazzReview: Is he sometimes the first stop for previewing new music?
Pat Metheny: Ehhh, it's got to be fairly upbeat. (laughs)
JazzReview: I got it, you're competing with Barney, Thomas The Train and Blue's Clues and like...
Pat Metheny: (laughs) You got it!
JazzReview: When I think of you, I think "So many projects, so little time." Last time we spoke you said at any given point you have a million ideas for things to do. What is next, or some things that may (like this) have been sitting dormant in the back of your mind?
Pat Metheny: Well, in fact, we're more than halfway through the next Group record, which is very exciting. It's the same lineup as Speaking Of Now, and that band is a special one, and we wanted to get right to it. It's the best thing Lyle and I have ever done in terms of our writing together, certainly the most ambitious project we've ever done. I don't want to say too much, but it's probably one of the most significant things we've ever done.
JazzReview: Is there a guitar you haven't invented yet?
Pat Metheny: There are a couple in the pipeline right now, coming out pretty soon, which I've been working several years with different people on. Pretty cool stuff…
JazzReview: What's in your CD Player right now?
Pat Metheny: Well, "We Are The Dinosaurs." It's a kids record, mostly along those lines. Honestly I don't' get much time to listen like I used to. I used to go over to Tower and buy a bunch of records and listen to all of them. Now I've been listening to Dave Douglas' new record. I like that one. Anything by Brad Mehldau, I stay up on things only in a basic way. I don't really listen to anything over and over again lately.
JazzReview: What is it that some of the newer music is lacking?
Pat Metheny: In terms of my own priorities, the general area of development doesn't seem to be a priority among some of the newer guys. We hear a lot of people play real good, sounds great, they play a little idea that's followed by another idea, followed by another idea that's good. But for me, my aspiration has always been in connecting ideas and it just doesn't seem to be a priority for many musicians now. Sonny Rollins remains a role model for me to this day in terms of that, someone who really takes ideas and follows through with them to their logical conclusion before starting another idea. I think maybe it's a part of our culture now. We do really live in a sound-byte culture. My way of thinking may be an older model, but nevertheless I don't' really hear people developing ideas from a melodic level, particular things that really stand on their own as a melody. Another area is dynamics, and it doesn't seem to register on the map of many musicians. It seems like many people play medium-loud all the time.
JazzReview: What about texture? Kurt Rosenwinkel's new record is a great and rare example of making better use of space and sound as opposed to playing more notes.
Pat Metheny: I love Kurt, and he's one of the guys if you ask me "Who's going to be the next force in the future", and he's always right at the top of the list for me. I'm really curious to hear his new record. I haven't heard it yet.
JazzReview: Thank you so much Pat, it's always a pleasure to talk with you.
Pat Metheny: Thank you man, likewise.
For more information: Pat Metheny Group
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