Interview with Guthrie Govan: “I don’t generally warm up before a show, as I enjoy the feeling of walking on stage, picking up a guitar and being genuinely pleased to see it”

Guthrie Govan, is one of the most innovative guitar players of the last year’s, he has made transcriptions and articles for the most prestigious guitar magazines, has toured with ASIA, Steven Wilson or Hans Zimmer among others, and with his trio project The Aristocrats with Bryan Beller and Marco Minnemann, at this moment he has an uptight clinic schedule that keeps him touring across the world.

Guthrie took some minutes to answer questions from our audience prior to his show in Chile this June 08th and tell us how is progressing the new Aristocrats album, tour with Hans Zimmer, and confess who is his “guilty pleasure” artist…

1) Do you have or recommend a warm up routine before a show?

I don’t generally warm up before a show, as I enjoy the feeling of walking on stage, picking up a guitar and being genuinely pleased to see it. I wouldn’t want to recommend any particular policy on this topic, though – a player should do whatever they need to do to “get into the zone” before a show, and we’re all different.

2) Have you ever, perhaps as a young musician felt that you were not good enough, and what you did to overcome that?

I still feel that way – just ask anyone who has spent time with me in a recording studio! I think the important thing is to find a balance where you’re able to criticise the weaker aspects of what you do without becoming too focused on negativity. If you start to believe that everything you play is great, you run the risk of no longer improving, but being excessively self-critical runs the risk of no longer deriving joy from playing… which is just as bad. Both extremes are dangerous, but somewhere in the middle lies a healthy balance, I think.

3) What was the biggest obstacle in your career?

I’m not sure I can think of a truly big obstacle in my story. I feel that I’ve been very fortunate in my career and that good things have happened to me much more often than bad ones. I started out with no particular business plan and yet somehow I ended up in a position where I’m able to travel the whole world playing strange instrumental music: I’d have to say that makes me a relatively lucky musician, as I really am doing pretty much what I always wanted to do!

On a more philosophical note, I quite like the idea that obstacles can often teach you something useful and that figuring out how to deal with common problems is actually an important part of becoming a complete musician. My entire touring career has felt like a long series of small obstacles… dealing with things like jetlag, food poisoning, poor monitoring, unreliable electrical supplies, tedious visa application processes, delayed flights and one one occasion having most of the band’s gear stolen from the tour van. However, there’s generally a way to overcome such things and ensure that you can still deliver the show (with one exception: I’m not a fan of playing outdoor shows during rainy storm conditions, as I have occasionally been asked to do – the idea of being electrocuted on stage really doesn’t appeal to me!)

4) Have you played a 7 strings guitar and do you feel attracted by 7 or 8 strings modern type guitars?

I actually have a Strandberg 8-string guitar, which I use during some of the “superhero” portion of Hans Zimmer’s live set. I actually feel more comfortable with an 8-string guitar than a 7-string one: the latter feels a bit like a guitar with the wrong number of strings whereas the former feels more like a distinctly different instrument so, paradoxically, I find it less confusing.

In all honesty, I don’t feel particularly attracted to extended range guitars, as I’m still trying to figure out all the things you can do on a regular 6-string instrument…

5) How you do to expand your personal lick library and be better improvising?

I spend a lot of time talking about this stuff during my clinics but the short version is that I think improvising should be about conveying the melody you hear in your head, rather than the shapes your fingers want to play. This requires a good ear so I’m a big fan of transcribing everything you hear and internally singing everything you play… I don’t want to be thinking about the names of scales and arpeggios whilst I’m trying to create something with a guitar, as I think that would be a distraction.

6) What caught your attention of playing with Hans Zimmer?

Touring with Hans and getting some insight into his musical approach has been a wonderful experience. The biggest challenge for me was working out effective guitar parts for music which already sounded great without any guitar – the context of an army of electronic sounds combined with an entire orchestra requires a very different guitar player to the one you might want to hear in a power trio format!

At any rate, I’ve really been enjoying working with HZ as he really seems to trust his musicians and doesn’t want to tell them how to play their parts in microscopic detail. Part of his creative process seems to require forcing unusual musical elements together in a quest for chaos – he has a real ability to pick out and isolate something special and unique within that chaos, where other people might hear only confusion. Because of this approach, I’ve come to feel that I can try some fairly crazy things in his music, knowing that he’ll tell me whether or not he likes it: it’s cool that he welcomes such input.

7) Is there any music style or artist that you feel is a guilty pleasure for you?

I have some fairly eclectic listening habits so I think virtually anyone would be puzzled by at least some of the music on my iPod. However, none of it really feels like a “guilty pleasure” as the “guilt” part of that phrase is really describing fear that someone else might not like the same things as you. This can easily be solved by ceasing to care about what other people like and not worrying about their judgement. The enjoyment of music is a hugely personal thing so there’s no “wrong” way to do it.

Having said all of that… I hereby confess that I like the Carpenters. 😉

8) How is going the recording of The Aristocrats new album?

It’s done! We’re all pretty happy with the new music so we’re really looking forward to the summer of this year when the album will be released.

9) Do you use any structure or strategic plan to develop your creative process?

Not really – creating musical ideas is a very random process for me and I don’t really want to understand how it works: I’m happy simply to hope that it does work. (Occasionally!)

10) What tips could you give when approaching complex bass and drum parts (odd time signatures)?

I think one important element is learning to feel the time signature, rather than counting along. Some of the folk music from a country like Bulgaria is in a truly bewildering array of time signatures but the people who actually grew up with that music seem totally comfortable with the groove – not because they learned to count along, but because they learned to dance to it!

thanks again for the time, we’re very looking forward to see you soon.

Guthrie Govan will be performing in Chile and Mexico in June 2019


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