Wednesday, August 31, 2005

It's What You Play That Counts

I'm told that the August issue of Guitar Player magazine has an interview with Bernard and Phil of New Order (well Phil‘s sort of like the stock replacement guitar player who is filling in while Gillian is out of the band, but you get the idea). It’s an interesting interview that cuts to the meat of what I want to read in interviews with artists- the creative process. In particular, Bernard talks about writing and how "in the past we’ve had our fingers burnt" led to their current approach to producers. Here’s my condensed version of the interview:

BS: See, we write songs two ways. One way is me sitting in front of a computer with a guitar or a synth and constructing a track brick-by-brick. The other way is getting myself, Hookey [bassist Peter Hook], and our drummer Stephen together in a room and jamming. In that scenario, we would typically come up with three solid ideas, and then I would go off and write melodies and lyrics for those ideas. The problem with that way of working, however, was that when I left, the whole writing process came to a halt, because there wasn’t a guitarist around. But this time, when I left, Phil was there, and they could continue on.

Phil, you’ve worked with both Johnny Marr and Bernard. How different are their respective attitudes toward the instrument?
Cunningham: Totally different. Johnny is “Mr. Guitar.” You go to his studio, and he has books on the history of guitar, and a spare room full of every guitar you could possibly name. He’s obsessed with all things guitar. Bernard, on the other hand, has two guitars, and he uses them strictly as song generators.

Bernard, how would you describe your guitar style?
Sumner: I just try to keep what I do very basic, but I make sure that what I do is good basic. I’m not a virtuoso. For me, the guitar is simply a tool to make a track exciting because it’s a very punk instrument.

Yeah. I’m no more accomplished on the instrument than I was in 1979. I reached a level long ago where I was good enough to write songs, and I like to keep it that way. I’m not a big fan of virtuosity, because it’s not how you play that counts, it’s what you play—right? If you read a book, for instance, you don’t look at the typography, or how well laid out it is, you focus on the story. Also, I feel there’s something to be said for playing guitar with your brain, not just your hands. If you’re not amazingly articulate from practicing scales every day for five hours, there’s a certain crudeness to what you do. But you make up for that by using your imagination.

: Bernard doesn’t usually bring up the “me sitting in front of a computer” but equally interesting is the effect this may have had on NO’s song structures over the years. In most of the band’s songs the vocals are rarely central, and instead of the standard verse-chorus-verse approach many of their songs go back into further instrumental passages after the vocals wrap up and this might have come about from the Gillian days when she would add some extra melodic synth components while Bernard went off to write lyrics.

Oh, the NO “Singles’ album looks like it really is going to happen later this year. No word yet about a US release.

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