Shawn Lane still remains a mystery to music fans in the UK. even though he voted best new talent in Guitar player magazine’s 1992 poll and has drawn praise from the likes of Vernon Reid, Eric Johnson, Kirk Hammett and George Lynch …. By Cliff Douse
Shawn lane interview taken in October1994:
Lanes Tapes have been passed around guitar circles for years, but his debut Warner Brothers album “Powers Of Ten” has been difficult to obtain outside the States. His original tunes show a wide range of influences, ranging from Heavy Metal and Blues to modern Classical music. His soloing displays an incredible technique (he’s been described as the fastest guitarist alive). while remaining melodic and lyrical.
Also a fine bassist, pianist and drummer. Shawn is currently working on a new album and has recently
been involved in projects with Mark Varney and Dweezil Zappa.
“Dweezil did this song that’s over an hour long, with Eric Johnson, Briand May, Albert Lee, Paul Gilbert, Steve Vai and Joe Satriani. Its probably the song with the most guest guitar players ever, and its coming out on the Barking Pumpkin Label”
Lane also played piano at Paul Gilbert’s wedding.
“I did the Wedding March and a piano arrangement of a Mr Big song. I tell you, I’ve played a lot of gigs. But doing the Wedding March was one of the most nervous moments I’ve ever had.”
Does Shawn see himself as a multi-instrumentalist or a guitarist who plays a load of other instruments?
“I see myself as a composer and multi-instrumentalist. I’ve been playing the guitar for a little over 20 years. Which is longer than I’ve played any other instrument, so it’s probably the one I’m most proficient on. The piano would be next and then the drums. I have a whole lot of influences on the different instruments and they cross-pollinate each other. For Instance, I may be inspired to play something on the guitar by listening to a drummer like Vinnie Collaiuta or Trilok Gurtu. Or I may be inspired to play something on the drums by listening to a guitar player such as John Mclaughlin.”
How does Lane find time to keep up his proficiency on all these instruments?
“Most of my guitar practicing would come from playing a tot of live gigs. Over the last 15 years, I’ve probably played a thousand gigs with various Top 40 bands and then with my own band. So I don’t really practice much guitar at home. At home, I tend to practice on the piano a lot and when I’m recording I tend to play a lot of drums. It takes me about a month to really get my drum chops up. In the past, I’ve mostly composed on keyboards. But on the new album I’m doing most of my writing on the guitar because they’re guitar-orientated tunes.”
Lane joined the Rock band Black Oak Arkansas at the incredible age of 14. How did that come about?
“I was playing in an original Heavy Metal band. We opened for another group that was managed by the same guy who did Black Oak Arkansas. And I heard that they were doing auditions for a guitar player. So I Just went along and somehow got the gig. That was back in ’78. One of the first shows I did was on the same bill as REO Speedwagon and Ted Nugent. There were probably about 50,000 people there, which was a real big thing for a 14-yearold kid! We also played at the inauguration of Bill Clinton as Governor of Arkansas.”
Some would say Shawn is rare among flashy players in that he actually sounds melodic and musical.
“That’s because I don’t look at the guitar in terms of licks; I try to think more about melody. Sometimes it doesn’t work, but when it does I’m very happy with the results. I suppose a lot of the flashy Rock guitarists are Influenced by Classical music. But only up to the era of the likes of Paganini. They gel a lot of lines from that, but then they never go on to be influenced by the music of Chopin, Liszt, or even later people like Ravel or Debussy. So there are influences that can be drawn from later classical music which can really open your phrasing up.”
Major record labels are notorious for pulling their artists into the mainstream, yet there are a lot of exploratory ideas on ‘Powers Of Ten’.
“Warner Brothers have been really great about that. Their Progressive division are really great people and have other original artists signed like Bela Fleck and the Flecktones. And they’ve been really good about giving their musicians the artistic freedom to do whatever they’re best at.”
Lane also joined forces with fellow six-stringer Frank Gambale on Mark Varney’s ‘Centrifugal Funk’ project, although he wasn’t really happy with the results.
“It was kind of prefabricated. The tracks had already been laid down and then people were got in to solo without really having much contact with each other. On a couple of the songs, the solos that I played were the first take and I’d never even heard the song first.”
Is Shawn planning to maintain his present recording direction?
“Well, I’m trying to do something that would appeal to a wider audience, but without alienating as much spontaneity as possible. It’s pretty hard work, but it’s a lot of fun. I usually only spend two or three days on any given song.
“I’m getting a much better guitar tone on this album. I’m using Ibanez guitars at the moment. A guitar they call the Ghostrider, although there may soon be a Shawn Lane model. There’s also another guitar I’ve been using lately called the Talman. a guitar with three lipstick tube pickups. It’s really similar to the old Danelectro guitars and it’s great for Bluesy stuff. I tend towards rosewood necks and I like guitars with a little bit of an arch on the top. For 20 years
I used Holmes Mississippi Bluesmaster amps, but recently I met an amp engineer called James Brown. Who helped design the 5150 amps for Eddie Van Halen. He analyzed what it was about the Holmes amps that I liked and managed to come up with a program. Peavey has a unit called the Pro-Fex II preamp and I run that with a Peavey PVCS400 amplifier. And with some of the custom programs they put together down at the Peavey plant 1n Meridian, it really is the closest thing I’ve heard to those old Holmes amps. In some ways, It’s better because it’s more dependable. Then I also use a Bob Gjika amp. He’s from Austin, Texas and he makes really awesome tube amps. I’ve never heard anything like the sound his amplifiers get! It’s a pretty large amp, so I use that for a full-fledged tour or in the studio.”
What are Shawn’s current listening preferences?
“Generally I’m a big fan of music, films and the arts in general. On the guitar side of things, one of the most amazing players I’ve ever heard is Ted Green. He’s probably best known for his book, ‘Chord Chemistry’, but he does this amazing chord solo Jazz-style guitar. I also heard him do a 10 minute improvisation on a Telecaster through a Fender amp, and it was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard. He cut a record some time ago, which Is very rare and difficult to find now. There’s also Derek Bailey, who is incredible. But I’ve been listening to a lot of other stuff, like Tori Amos and Michael Nyman.”
Are there any musicians who Shawn would particularly like to work with?
“Yeah, there are loads of musicians I really admire. I’d really love lo work with someone like Joe Zawinul. But the problem with me is that I feel uncomfortable playing with people I admire because I just want to listen to them rather than play myself.”
And a message for those who might aspire to Shawn’s position?
“When I started playing, there weren’t any instructional magazines and videos like there are today, so I just had to jump in and make music at a simple level and take it from there. So I believe it’s important for people to start making music at whatever level they are at. The fact that we have all of this information at our fingertips now is good, but I feel that sometimes players get so into building up their chops that they don’t find their own identity by just making music. There is valid music to be made at any technical level; I’ve heard people at the most primitive technical level make brilliant music.”
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