THE BEYMAN BROS. ARE ACTUALLY NOT
brothers per se, they’re Christopher Guest and
David Nichtern (with help from their little bro,
CJ Vanston). The two childhood friends have
been playing music together for decades, but
their paths have crossed professionally only a
few times, most notably in their college years
with Voltaire’s Nose. They both enjoyed success
separately, with Nichtern penning the hit
“Midnight at the Oasis” and working with such
diverse artists as Maria Muldaur, Jerry Garcia,
and Paul Simon, as well as working on motion
picture scores and running his own label,
Dharma Moon. Guest, despite his success as
a writer, actor, and filmmaker, is best known
for his portrayal of legendary Spinal Tap guitarist
Nigel Tufnel, a character so iconic that
he influenced how amps are manufactured and
forever altered the way guitar music is talked
about. Guest and Nichtern have always jammed
when they got the chance, most recently in
Guest’s kitchen, where the two would spin
dreamy, improvised acoustic tapestries on guitar,
mandolin, and mandola. Those jams evolved
into the tunes on Memories of Summer as a Child
[Dharma Moon]—atmospheric, cinematic
soundscapes that are a bit like what might
happen if yoga music was played on bluegrass
instruments. It’s at least a little ironic that
Nichtern and especially Guest would release
their latest musical effort under assumed
names, because this is what they actually sound
like when they’re simply playing like themselves.
How did this record come to have such an open,
Nichtern: These kitchen jams, which were
generally either two guitars or guitar and mandolin,
crossed over a bunch of styles: bluegrass,
jazz, Americana, and floaty stuff. My label,
Dharma Moon, is prominent in the yoga world,
and I thought we could do something with an
Americana vibe that would have that openness
and spaciousness with all the wonderful flavors
of the improv we do.
All three of you have experience with soundtracks.
Do you think that informed how these songs
Guest: David and CJ have written movie
scores. That’s not something I do, but I agree
it has that feel. It’s reminiscent of something
very visual. When we sat down to do this,
this stuff kind of just came out. It had a longform
feel that was open and had these twists
and turns. It wasn’t conceived as being cinematic
but I think ultimately it is.
Talk about how the tunes would develop.
Nichtern: We’d come up with an A section,
a B section, and so on, then we would
map those out. Then CJ would come up with
some kind of groove that we would cut basics
over. CJ would ornament it and develop the
arrangements after that. We didn’t want it
to be too much in the traditional song form.
We wanted it to be like acoustic chill music.
Did you punch the individual sections in?
Nichtern: No. Once it was planned out
we would record from beginning to end.
Who’s playing the lap-slide on “Triad”?
Guest: I am. I played my 1954 Fender
lap-steel that I bought some years ago. They
have amazing pickups—a lot of people take
those out and put them into other guitars.
When I bought this instrument, I didn’t have
any interest in playing it in the conventional
way, I just thought I could get some interesting
sounds out of it. I did that track at
home and recorded it direct—no amp—just
straight into Logic. I played it through a Fulltone
Clyde wah pedal and it has this haunting
You play a lot of mandolin, mandola, and mandocello
on this record, but most of our readers
know you as a guitarist. How do you see yourself?
Guest: Well, I don’t see myself all that
often [laughs]. I do play some guitar on the
record, some electric and some lap-steel wah
tracks, but mostly mandolin. In the last 20
years or so I’ve been playing a lot of mandola.
I especially enjoy the mandola and you
don’t hear it very often in bluegrass, because
they tend to use mandolin. The mandola has
typically been buried in these mandolin
orchestras. It felt like a warm thing to add
to these songs. My mandocello is a Gibson
from 1916. The mandola is a Gibson from
1924, which is a key date for Gibson instruments
because it falls within the Lloyd Loar
era, and his instruments are very sought
after. I play modern mandolins: a Collings
and a Monteleone.
How do you tune the mandola?
In a typical string quartet you have the
violin on top, then viola, then cello. In the
mandolin world, you have mandolin, which
is tuned the same as a violin. Then, a fifth
below that you have the mandola, then an
octave and a fifth below you have the mandocello,
which is usually used as a singlenote
instrument. They’re all double-string
How did you cut the slide parts?
Nichtern: Chris has this tradition of giving
me guitars for my birthday, and I played
a little Papoose acoustic that he gave me for
that slide part. Slide is one of my favorite
things ever, but I never thought I could do
it. Four or five years ago I started doing it
without really knowing how, and now every
once in a while I’ll whip out a bottleneck to
give a certain flavor to a melody.
Did you mic the acoustics or use pickups?
Guest: I prefer to mic them, even though
my Collings has a Sunrise soundhole pickup,
which I think is the best, as far as those
things go. I like old Neumanns, the U84s
and U87s. At home I have some Shure mics,
a KSM32 and a KSM44, which are surprisingly
good for acoustic instruments.
David, you wrote “Midnight at the Oasis.” How
did you feel when that tune took off, and what was
it like to watch Amos Garrett track that classic
Nichtern: It was delightful, energizing,
and fun. It was an uncompromising tune,
and it came out very spontaneously. I was
Maria Muldaur’s musical director at that
point and I helped produce part of her first
record. For it to take off was really great.
Amos’ solo is so unique. He constructs his
solos. He gets the first line and the second
line and he strings them together. That solo
was about four hours’ worth of work in the
studio. The song has lived on in a beautiful
way, and Chris was kind enough to use it in
Waiting for Guffman.
You, Christopher, are an icon in rock folklore.
No one quotes Jimmy Page, but people quote Nigel
Tufnel every single day. What’s it like to be the
most famous fictitious guitarist of all time?
Guest: It’s a very schizophrenic situation.
It’s difficult to explain how I got into
this mess. I had been a writer, an actor, and
a musician at the same time. When we did
This Is Spinal Tap, we had the opportunity to
not only create that story but also to actually
write music and act it as these people. That
eventually turned into four tours all over the
world, playing to very large audiences as these
characters. Now they’re real entities. It turned
into this real thing where we got to experience
the joy of playing at these amazing
venues. And we played as Tap would play,
meaning it has to be good enough so that people
will sit there for a couple of hours, but
there are all these interior musical jokes that
guitarists get and all these musical decisions
that may not be the best in terms of taste. It’s
not that they play badly—it’s their pomposity.
It’s very different than what any of us
would do as ourselves.
Nichtern: I think that’s an important
footnote here. Chris is a wonderful musician,
but there’s never been a context where
he has been himself. This record is the first
instance of that.
In the pivotal deli tray scene in Spinal Tap,
Nigel is reading the story on George Sakellariou
in the November 1982 issue of Guitar Player, with
Randy Rhoads on the cover. Would you be willing
to feature GP in another of your movies?
Guest: I’ll keep that in mind.