Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Interview - Kris Kelly

Kris Kelly is the guitar coach at Kelly FretWorks and is the guitarist for the fusion group Fight Juice. You can hear Kris’ guitar work on the new Fight Juice CD Crack One Open available through CDBaby. Kris has performed with a number of bands including; Deadly Blessing, Ben Vega & the Believers and Heist, and has opened for such acts as; Pat Travers, Autograph, Vicious Rumors and Jennifer Batten in her early project; Girlfriend. He has recorded at world renowned The Plant studio in Sausalito, CA where he is featured along side rock icons Ronnie Montrose, and Night Ranger’s Jeff Watson and Kelly Keagy, on the IRS/MCA release of Heist's first album; “High Heel Heaven”. Kris continues to record, produce and collaborate in Northern California.

What steps have you taken to forge a career in the music industry?
The first, and most important step for me, was getting the Fight Juice CD Crack One Open finished and released. Now that it is released, I have a current slice of my guitar playing out there for people to listen to. That always feels good. Obviously, networking with other musicians is important and I have been doing that but the majority of my energies are focussed on my new guitar coaching business; Kelly FretWorks. Students are signing up at a manageable rate and I am now adding an on-line option for interested students with webcams. On the live performance front, I am collaborating with another local guitarist named Scott Way and we are putting together an acoustic trio with a percussionist. We should be ready for gigging in the Redding area of Northern California by spring/summer 2010 with a CD ready for release, as well. I have also put together a press kit for advertising in local magazines and websites. Any effort to forge a career in the music industry requires one to raise their flag. How else will folks become aware of you?

What advice do you have for people looking to get into the music industry?

Hone your skills by finding a good guitar teacher, because we are never finished learning no matter what level we have attained. Also, play with as many other musicians as much as possible as this will expand your musical pallet and vocabulary, significantly. Finally, the most important step is to define your dream or vision that you have for yourself. What is the sound, style, passion that is in your heart? Once you have identified that, stay focussed on it and do all that you can to achieve it.

What are the pressures in the industry and how do you cope with them?
With corporate controlled radio the way it is these days, it is difficult to get new, creative, and original material out there. The cookie cutter approach to making popular music, which is used by the music industry these days, stifles rather than encourages original creativity so it is important to get out, play for people, create your own website, and network with local media to spread the word. That’s where CDBaby, GuitarNine, ReverbNation and other independent artist websites really help. Staying on the path of originality is the challenge. The guitarists and musicians that I love to listen to are not successful commercially because they have stayed true to their own passion, which translates into originality.

During your formative years, what sort of practice regime did you have?

I would spin vinyl and try to learn what my first guitar heroes were doing. Bands like Rush, Aerosmith, Queen, Boston and Van Halen were my guides. After that, I found a good guitar teacher that was playing stuff that was along the path of where I wanted to go. That was when the growth really occurred. In those days it was basic repetition and improvement. You have to spend time in the saddle to get better.

What advice do you have for beginner and intermediate players who are trying to achieve a highly advanced level of playing?
Find a good guitar teacher/coach to help you continue to expand your understanding of your instrument. I’ll never forget reading that while Randy Rhoads was touring with Ozzy, he would find guitar teachers in the cities they were going to play in so that he could arrange for guitar lessons. George Lynch also gives props to his guitar teacher in some of his instructional material. That these “Masters” took lessons speaks volumes to their desire to always get better. I think it is a good attitude to take in life; that there is always more to learn.

What gear do you use and (more importantly) why?

I am not currently endorsed by any manufacturers but am always open to the possibility!  When it comes to electric guitars, I always try them out unplugged, first. I like an instrument that has a good resonance without an amp. I look for good sustain and vibration all over the neck. I like my necks thinner, in general, and always loved the Wizard necks that Ibanez makes. My current main squeeze is a Washburn N2. The neck is smooth and so easy to play. It is has an Alder body, a natural finish maple neck, Rosewood fingerboard, 22 jumbo frets, 25.5" scale,1.69" (43mm) nut width and Grover tuners. I plan on replacing the L500 Bill Lawrence bridge humbucker and stock neck pickup with DiMarzio Evolutions in the near future as I prefer a warmer, more harmonic rich tone. For years I believed that I would never settle for an electric that cost less than $1000, but have since changed my opinion. The Washburn N1’, N2’ and N61’ have convinced me that you can get very playable and comfortable guitars for much less. And with a few adjustments and upgrades, it can be a sweet instrument. My amp rig consists of a Voodoo modified Peavey 5150 II head and a Genz-Benz g-flex ported 2X12” cabinet. I am very happy with this combination. As far as pedals are concerned, I keep it pretty simple. My effects loop passes through a Boss DD-5 Digital Delay and a Boss PS-5 SUPER Shifter. Sometimes I throw a chorus pedal in there for additional texture. From my guitar, I run through an original Morley Bad Horsie Wah, a Peterson Strobo Stomp tuner and right into the head. I try and keep it simple. Generally speaking, I like an organic tone that is closer to a single coil sound with a bit more punch.

What parts of your playing reflects your personality and self expression most accurately?
Wow, that is a tough question. One of the basic forms of self-expression is speaking, so I try to form my solos, melodies and improvisation as such, which in part boils down to phrasing. I often think of listening to a great speech, and the way the speaker expresses him/her self, with subtleties in articulation of words and their use, dynamically. I hope that makes sense. It’s an abstract comparison, but a great guitar melody or solo should tell a story and it should evoke an emotional response from the listener. Is there a great difference in the emotional response of a listener to a moving Martin Luther King Jr. speech or a solo by a guitarist like B.B. King, Eric Clapton or Jeff Beck? I think not. So to answer your question, the part of my playing that reflects my personality is found in my phrasing. I hope that my expression and “story telling” evokes an emotional response from those that hear it. Great question!

What are you trying to achieve compositionally?
My greatest influences are George Lynch, Jeff Beck, Nuno Bettencourt, Richie Kotzen, Andy Timmons and Michael Schenker. To me, their playing speaks the most to me, compositionally. I try and tell a story to the listener with my guitar playing. Another way to describe it is to take them on a ride that affects them emotionally. Hopefully it makes them want to hear more of my work because they like the way it makes them feel. The technique that I have been focussing the most on lately is the tone I can get with my fingers. I use a pick but I also incorporate it with my index finger nail. Adjusting the amount of nail I use with my pick gives me some tonal variation and adds a grittiness and bite to my tone that a pick alone cannot yield. I also focus quite a bit on left hand string bending on a more subtle level than just wide vs. tight vibrato. It is more a focus on the slight bends that add an almost voice like phrasing quality to the melodic line that I am playing

Talk about the process of recording your album. Are there any tips and tricks that you could pass on? How did you choose the other instrumentalists (if you did).
A great piece of gear that I did not mention above is the Line 6 POD. I have the original POD V2.0 and recorded the majority of the guitar work on Crack One Open with it. Some guitar player friends of mine were quite surprised that I was able to get the tone I did using the POD. That being said, I do prefer the tone and response I get using a Shure SM57 in front of my amp rig. The songs on the CD that I recorded with my tube amp are; Corporate Casual, 3rd I, and the clean guitar and chunky rhythms of Goodbye (Reprise). The other musicians on the Crack One Open CD are folks that I found instant musical chemistry with. And I must say that it was an honor to be in a band with each of them. I did not choose them as much as we chose each other. I think it is important, when forming a band, to play with people that you actually like. Because in the long run being in a band is just like being in a relationship. You must like the one you are involved with.

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