(The opinion of one guitarist who needs to work on his technique)
Words: Axel Carrington
In some respects, we're spoiled here in Perth. Of course, there are multitudes in ways we are not, not limited to all the usual bugbears you see spelt out in online rags like Perth Now, but if you're a participant in the local live music scene, there is an overwhelming amount of exciting, unusual and plain good bands and musicians. One thing I've learnt from trying to perfect a craft is that whenever you encounter another craftsman, you compare, take notes and blatantly steal ideas. I love listening to the sound of the guitar, more than any other – it can sound like anything and everything and there's nothing else quite like it.
A caveat: these are just my observations and these are limited to my own experiences in the scene and forgetfulness – I'm sure you could add lots more to this list. I also wanted to focus on people that have made me rethink how I play guitar, how to connect with my instrument and get the most of out of playing music. Whether you play an instrument or not, I guess the purpose of this list is to show my appreciation, perhaps shed a seldom seen light on musicians in town that haven't experienced nearly enough written respect or exposure.
Anyway, here's six of them:
Ben Witt (Ben Witt Quartet, Ben Witt featuring looper, Ben Witt featuring nail file)
Concession: my father is a guitarist too. Make of that what you will. He is also a keen critic, as all guitarists are, of others who play the same instrument. He has all the time in the world for bands like Boston, Thin Lizzy and Midnight Oil (of course I know you like other stuff Pops, merely trying to illustrate a point here). And yet – when he saw Ben Witt play solo at the Bird some months ago, his jaw practically met the floor in one fell motion. Mine too.
It's been interesting watching Ben experiment over the past 18 months or so – building on his reputation for tight, Ribot-esque weirdness by trying to destroy it. Wearing a hockey mask and dicking about with an electric shaver will do that. I hear more Africa in his melodic lines – less spidery Telecaster webs and more lilt, light, modulated major twists. There's still an element of freak out with Ben but it's so tightly wound and controlled that even with a smirk plastered to his chin, you can still see the brain ticking away – 'how can I get the audience into the palm of my hand, here?'
There's very little else I can add, because Mr. Witt's ability on his instrument is well covered and well documented. The only other possible thing I could add is trying to figure out what this dude is going to do next is a sport unto itself.
Sam Atkin (Shit Narnia, Moistoyster, Sam Atkin's little shop of Synths, Pool Boy's sampler boy)
One advantage of being a complete drunken idiot most of the time is the lack of inhibitions re-telling people how much you admire their work or whatever. I think more than any other person on this list, I've chewed Sam's ear off about how beautiful his playing is, probably to the detriment of my stupid brain. Sometimes, in my weaker moments, I'll try to remember a little trick or wizard move he did the night before on my own axe and fail spectacularly, and yet, will not curse or defame like times before, trying to figure out Charlie Christian licks – the best thing about Sam's guitar playing is that it is as idiosyncratic and dynamic as any others.
There are lots of elements at play here: there's mid-west emo fingerpicking, Sharrock-like workouts to the beyond, controlled eruptions of wonderous noise – he's even started tapping like fucking Van Halen fronting Cap'n Jazz. More than this though, it’s this keen sense of discovery and wonder that I hear in his playing that is so joyous to experience, sometimes a concept completely alien and foreign, once we get to a certain point in proficiency. Like Ben Witt, waiting to hear the next little scrape or bend in the neck that I haven't seen him do before is a world-making experience.
Joel Martin (Foam, Cool Band, Cool Band)
The benefit of writing this is reflection of one's own growth and journey, shined in another's. To see Foam play now is to see a bull rushing for the bleachers, to be damned with its own health and well-being, if only to try to discover how far people can go before they turn away in fright. Their unreleased material they are starting to play live is like a sand-soaked Shellac, shards of glass swiftly slicing you in half before retreating in the dark again – and for me, Joel's achievement in perfecting the art of 'nailing the sound of a deranged dude gazing off into the middle distance' is something worth celebrating.
The guy is also basically the best in town at controlled feedback bursts – it's practically a science for him. As soon as he switched from a Jaguar (my weapon of choice, but they seem to be as easy to tame as a slippery fish jammed into a greased melon) to a SG, it’s been nothing short of phenomenal sounds to burst forth from his axe. There's a great sense of economy and deliberate choice in Joel's playing too – not a note wasted, not a burst unexpected. I've just noticed a thread for all the guitarists covered so far, and the others to come: there is no limit to what these people can do.
Addison Axe (The Tommyhawks, Axe Girl)
Other than the sound of a six-stringed plank of wood, my heart lies with the sound of the saxophone – through those sheets of sound, plunkering keys and controlled breaths is the sound of the human voice, only obscured in the best possible way. I love guitarists that play their planks like they're actually just demented horns: think Sharrock, R.S. Howard, R. Jones of the Flips. Addison's playing to my ears is as close to this sound as I've heard, even when playing in a band with a saxophonist.
This snuck up on me – these little twisted lines, muted riffs, funny chord stabs, like waves crashing and receding again in the surf. She doesn't make a show of her ability, in so much as always choosing the path of least resistance in getting the point across perfectly. It's also wonderful in The Tommyhawks, where much of the sonic space is filled with the sound of the horn: it makes the band sound closer to duelling reeds, sparring out little jabs of sound that is as exciting and thought-provoking as it is just plain fun to listen to.
Jay Marriott (Skullcave)
The art of the riff is at once both mysterious and immediate, for you know to hear one is to instantly judge it either as an ear worm or something closer to an actual worm. Part of making this bizarre juggling act work is making sure your sound is right – Jay's guitar sounds like a behemoth fighting a titan at the edge of the world. There have been some Skullcave gigs where I don't give a shit whether I leave deaf or not, because standing in front of Jay's wall of amps, and I mean wall, is nothing short of breathtaking.
He's really worked on making sure his sound is as precise and pristine as possible, no wasted frequencies, no cul-de-sacs or spaghetti monsters lurking – Jay's playing is clinical, exact. More than this though, you can hear an ache and a fever, especially in the moments where the volume rages ever upwards. It's a blast hearing Jay play, because I honestly never thought I would hear somebody in town play like that – like their life depended on the chase of the riff and that if you weren't on board, well, hope you enjoy being crushed.
James Redman (The Limbs)
How hard is it to decide what to work on? The plethora of information available in almost every area of study at a click of a button is frightening to say the least. Continually bouncing around from idea to idea may not make healthy study habits, but it's a quality in musicianship that makes it interesting – James plays like he has fifteen tabs open on different esoteric topics at all times, forever flicking from one to the other in a demented bop of facts and figures.
James has also had a well-documented run of bad luck with stolen and broken gear too – you can hear the disenchantment and disappointment in his fingers. It's also resulted in positives though: there are few people in town who play like their brains are bouncing around the room, because to be settled is a burden, to stop at one thing is a curse. He's the closest thing we have to Coxon's sharp major 9th chords beaten and bloodied in a Northbridge gutter, and here's hoping the streak of luck turns good with people realizing we had this all along.
There are so many others to mention – Brendan Biddiss, Jane Azzopardi and Chloe McGrath, Ben Protasiewicz, Bryn Stanford, Jake Chaloner, Jacob Diamond, Caitlin Moloney and Nathalie Pavlovic, Pete Gower (the moment he steps on a fuzz pedal is the moment to see God), countless others. There's also the musicians in other scenes, like Perth's jazz stars, a level of skill and control that I can't even fathom. Maybe, if you got anything out of this, the thing would be to think about the craft and work that you do, how others around you can inspire you to different, greater areas of discovery and learning. I love the guitar and love hearing people play the guitar – let the passion for the things you love inform you how to get the most out of your own body.