I recently had a chance to listen to Brett Garsed’s new cd, “Dark Matter” which is receiving tons of accolades. To me, the album is a rollercoaster ride of tones and emotion and growing on me each time I listen to it. The Australian born guitarist has worked with Frank Gambale and Shawn Lane, toured with Nelson, released his own rock fusion and improvisation instructional videos, and recently completed a record tour with John Farnham.
He currently lives in Australia after residing some 14 years in Los Angeles, he was kind enough to take some time and answer a few questions for GN.
Interview with Brett Garsed
1. I’ve read in previous interviews that finding your own “voice” as a guitarist is important to you and it’s more that just building up a library of licks. Considering most guitarists start off learning to play the songs/licks of their favorite artists, how can they break free from that and what do you suggest to them to help forge their own path?
BG: I suppose the first consideration would be whether improvisation is the goal as opposed to composing and duplicating solos in the same way for every performance which is another discipline all in itself. If improv is the direction then a deeper understanding of harmony is needed so transcribed ideas can be broken down and analyzed to see why they work. Also, the whole point of improvisation is to be free and not constrained by a lack of ideas or an understanding of the instrument so that work in itself will lead to more personal ideas and the development of a personal and unique voice. I felt that the time I was putting into learning other people’s ideas could be better spent developing my own. I could transcribe solos from albums but it was the deeper understanding of why those players used those particular notes that eluded me so I figured I could devote more time and effort to trying to understand my own concepts at a deeper level.
It helped me explore my own creativity as I forced myself to come up with my own licks and lines rather than looking to others. I should mention that this approach was part of my own personal experiment and I continue on that path to this day but this avenue may not be suitable for everyone, I just feel it works for me. I don’t think I have the huge vocabulary that a lot of other players do but I really believe that what I play is largely unique to myself which is a good thing considering I’ve appeared on albums alongside some of my biggest influences.
2. Your latest cd, “Dark Matter“, is not what I would consider “easy listening”, but I would say it easy listening especially if you’re a fan of guitar in that I think it’s an emotional rollercoaster for me. How would you describe the album and is there an emotion or feeling that you convey through it?
BG: Rollercoaster is actually the best description I could have come up with as well! My compositional approach is to write strong melodic hooks and combine them with challenging and interesting changes for me to improvise over. I like the songs to take a journey and since I’m working outside of a pop framework the songs can be as long as they need to be and they can go in any direction emotionally so I feel I’m just indulging the genre
I’ve chosen as there really are no rules when it comes to instrumental music, or at least I don’t feel there are. My life is probably like everyone else’s in that it’s a constant series of ups and downs so perhaps that’s why it comes out in the music. There is a massive variation of dynamics in some of the songs on “Dark Matter” and it made the album very challenging to mix. I should give a huge shout out to Ric Fierabracci for his incredible mixing and mastering of the entire project as well as his amazing bass playing. Very talented fellow indeed!
3. When you were younger you took classical guitar lessons, what prompted you to take them? What did you ultimately get of them? And would you recommend them for every aspiring guitarist?
BG: I wanted to study classical guitar because of Ritchie Blackmore and anything Ritchie did was the way to go as far as I was concerned, especially at that young age, but what I did get from it was a profound love and respect for the repertoire and the intense technical skill required to make it sound effortless and beautiful. I wasn’t cut out to be a classical guitarist unfortunately as my hands are quite small and my stretch on the instrument is lousy but I’m sure the study played a big part in the development of my right hand technique and I also learned how to read music. I’d recommend almost any kind of study if the opportunity is there.
4. I recently interviewed Frank Gambale, what was your experience like recording with him and do you still keep in touch?
BG: Frank has been a tremendous influence for me and he really is one of the most original musicians out there. It was an incredible honor for me to appear on an album with him and also to get to meet him. I haven’t heard from Frank in a while but I’m sure he’s busy as usual. Fortunately for me I was the first person to lay down solos on the “Centrifugal Funk” album that I recorded with him and Shawn Lane. If I’d heard Frank and Shawn’s solos before I’d recorded I probably would have run away in terror!
6. You toured with Nelson in ’91, how did you get that gig and from what I recall they were huge, so was it a great experience for you? Also, did you see the end of there popularity coming?
BG: Nelson was a great experience as we all got along together really well and remain friends to this day. Also, the level of musicianship in the band was extremely high so it was a pleasure to play with the band. The songs had “Hit” written all over them which I really enjoyed as I’m a huge fan of pop music, especially if it’s full of great hooks which the Nelson material was.
I don’t think I saw the shift in musical tastes coming but when it arrived it didn’t take me long to realize that there was a definite change happening. Luckily I’d started writing and recording with
TJ Helmerich by then so my own direction had changed as well. Thanks to Nelson I was able to experience touring in the USA and I ended up living in LA for the next 13 years. Despite it being a very successful band I didn’t make any substantial money from all the hard work but I couldn’t put a price on the experience so I consider myself very lucky to have been there.
7. Did you always set out to play guitar for a career? Were there moments that you had doubts making it and if so did you have a back up plan?
BG: I left school at the age of 15 and became an apprentice plumber, a job I continued for the next 7 years until I got the gig with John Farnham in 1986 so the backup plan was already in effect. I come from a rural part of Victoria, Australia and grew up on a farm so it was just the normal thing for young people to do in that area which was to get a job and begin your working life. At the same time I was doing gigs with a band that I formed with friends so my main desire was always to be a professional musician.
I sent out demo tapes during 1985 and one of them ended up reaching John Farnham’s management so he offered me an audition. I got the gig and did a short tour with him later that year, went back to plumbing during early ’86, recorded all the guitars on his “Whispering Jack” album during June of ’86 and went back to plumbing for a few more months. We started touring in October of ’86 and right now I’m on the road with him celebrating 25 years since that album’s release.
“Whispering Jack” is still the highest selling album in Australian history so it’s been a tremendous honor to be a part of John’s career and it’s thanks to him that I’m able to be a professional musician. It’s one of the most challenging industries to try and make a living from and it’s not getting any easier but I’m grateful that I can work at any level doing something I love to do.
8. On a side note, I don’t know if your a fan of beer, but a friend of mine enjoyed some Cascade lager while traveling in Australia, evidently they don’t import to the US … am I missing out of some good suds?
BG: I do enjoy a beer and yes, Cascade is worth checking out! Boags is also a great beer and they’re both brewed in Tasmania. Come over for a holiday!
9. For beginning guitarists, what do you recommend they concentrate on and also not waste time on that you’ve learned from experience?
BG: I’m primarily self-taught so I had to use my own judgment as to what aspects of musicianship to work on or focus on and I didn’t always get it right!
The best advice I feel I could give so a younger musician doesn’t make the same mistakes that I did would be to keep the practice routine changing and not focusing on the same thing all the time. Work on everything, rhythm, soloing, changes, chords, reading etc but keep the sessions on each subject a reasonable length of time so you don’t get bored or spend so much time on the favorites that there’s not time left for other aspects you may need more focus on.
I quite literally had no one around to ask for guidance or advice as no other musicians in the area were interested in fusion or improvisation so I had to just try and figure things out from listening to the albums. We only had 3 television channels available to us and 2 of them didn’t broadcast during the night so if there were any musical performances shown where I could actually learn something visually it was rare, not to mention pure luck that I happened to be watching at the time.
10. In using ESP guitars, Digitech RP 1000, Bogner Extasy Amps, what qualities(tone, functionality, ease of use?) do you consider most important in choosing equipment to play live and record with?
BG: All of those things are important as there will never be a more chaotic situation than a live gig, or at least the potential for it to be chaos is always there so the simplest setup always works the best. I like to travel with one guitar that can do the whole gig so I make sure it’s in good condition and set up well so that it stays in tune and doesn’t break strings. I like to have a simple pedal board and a combo amp so that I can get in and out of the gig in one trip.
I’d love to have racks and multiple amps and cabs but it just isn’t practical for most small gigs here in Australia so a simple, compact and effective setup is what I like. Reliability is essential. I went through years of amps breaking down at the worst possible time so it made me determined to find equipment that was rock-solid and delivered the sounds I needed. My ESP guitars are unbelievably well made and never let me down. I use an SWD amplifier for live gigs which is made locally here in Australia and it’s also solid as a rock.
11. Any plans on a US tour for you? What are you currently working on?
BG: I’m on the road with John Farnham until early December, after which I’m going to start working on an album with Ric Fierabracci, Phil Turcio and Daniel Adair who is the drummer for Nickleback. I’ll be doing more gigs in Melbourne next year with “Damage” which is the fusion band I play in with Phil Turcio, Craig Newman and Gerry Pantazis who all played on “Dark Matter”. No plans for a US tour unfortunately as I’m a self-funded artist and these days just recording and releasing an album is a strain on the budget so touring is absolutely impossible as I’d go broke within a week.
I’m hoping “Dark Matter” can raise my profile enough that perhaps a promoter might consider moving me and my band around for shows as I’d love to do a tour. Regardless, I’ll always continue writing and recording as it’s something that I just love to do.
For more about Brett and his music, and to sample tracks from “Dark Matter”, visit his website at: