Paul Gilbert & Robin Trower: Idol Curiosity
GILBERT So that you’re not just babbling, you’re telling a story right off the top of your head.
TROWER Absolutely. It’s got to be compositionally right for the song, not just some licks you’ve learned and are overlaying.
GILBERT As you’re improvising, are there certain things you focus on to help your improvising? Are you listening to the drummer?
TROWER No. When I’m improvising long, moody solos, I tend to not hear what I’m playing to. I’m sure it’s there subconsciously.
But I’m so wrapped up in what I’m doing that I’m not consciously hearing what I’m playing to.
GILBERT So in order to do that, you have to be at a point where things that a beginning guitarist would struggle with, like where to put your fingers, are no longer an issue.
TROWER Yeah, that’s right.
GILBERT So that’s the trick to soloing emotionally!
TROWER Well, it is. I’ve got a new piece. I’m thinking of doing an instrumental album next, and one of the things I’ve written is called “The Triumph of Heart Over Mind.” And that, to me, is what you’ve got to achieve. It’s got to be emotions first—getting the head out of the way— because the emotions will put you somewhere you couldn’t think of. That’s the trick really: lose yourself completely and just let it flow.
GILBERT Outside of music, are you a particularly emotional person?
TROWER I think I’m sentimental. A romantic and sentimental, yeah. I don’t know if I’m particularly emotional, because I’m very even-keeled.
GILBERT Do you pick up a guitar and work out pent-up emotions?
TROWER That helps a lot, yeah, that outlet.
GILBERT I haven’t quite been able to take all the things from the brain side of my playing into the heart side yet. They gradually fall into the heart side, but there’s a fair amount of stuff that I’ve still got to think about. When I’m performing live, I can tell the difference, and I like the heart stuff better, so I’m always trying to think of a solution to this. One of my solutions is to imagine
that you [Trower] are at the soundboard, watching the show. And I think, If Robin’s here, I’ve got to discard this noodly stuff and play something that’s meaningful and cool.
TROWER You know what Obi-Wan Kenobi says to Luke Skywalker: “Let go. Use the force.” And that’s what it’s like. You’ve just got to let go. You can’t think about it. You’ve got to assume that your fingers know quite where they are. The conscious part of playing, that’s not really important. It’s the subconscious. You gotta let the subconscious do it. ’Cause it’s all in there.
GILBERT If you were playing a show and could have someone at the soundboard who you feel would inspire your playing, who
would it be?
TROWER Jack Bruce.
GILBERT Reading through some of your older interviews, I was surprised to see you talk about using the middle pickup quite a bit.
Most Strat players tend to flip to one of the outside positions. What’s so appealing to you about the middle?
TROWER It’s got more crunch to it, but it’s clear. It’s clear, but not so keen as the bridge.
GILBERT And I was surprised that you said you keep the volume control around seven. You don’t have it on 10 all the time.
TROWER Well, when I’m playing behind the vocals I’ve got it to seven or eight. And then I’ve got that extra bit for solos. When you’re playing single notes you need more volume. But when you’re playing chords and things, you’ve got to clean it up a little bit.
GILBERT Another thing: do you use the whammy bar?
TROWER Oh yeah. I wouldn’t be without that, definitely. Just for vibratos on chords.
GILBERT But most of your vibrato, I think, comes from your hands.
TROWER Yeah. But for chording, the whammy bar is such a nice thing. Even though the tuning problems are horrendous, I couldn’t
play without one. There’s so much I do with it.
GILBERT So tonight, before you go onstage, do you have some way to prepare? Do you think, This is gonna be the best night I’m ever gonna play in my whole life?
TROWER No, because it isn’t. That’s down the road apiece.
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