Wayne Krantz

January 1, 2010

WAY N E   K R A N T Z   I S  A  G U I TA R I S T ’ S guitarist’s guitarist. He is a true innovator in nearly every aspect of guitar playing—melody, harmony, rhythm, tone, composition, improvisation, and groove—yet his rather deep music is immediately fun and accessible. And while Krantz has worked with a long string of fusion celebrities since his solo debut Signals was released in 1990, his music cannot simply be categorized as fusion, and his name is not widely known. That’s largely because rather than trying to produce music that fits easily into market niches, he has thoughtfully and methodically sought out new solutions to the hard questions that music continually asks him.

Krantz’s sonic originality and mastery of groove were rewarded in 1996, when he was offered a gig touring the world in the reactivated Steely Dan. From 1995 through 2007, he established a residency at New York’s 55 Bar in Greenwich Village, which served as a laboratory for the development of his trio sound as he collaborated with various bassists and drummers. His An Improviser’s OS, a guitar method setting forth a simple and unique approach to breaking free of the patterns that guitarists tend to be confined by due to unconscious habits, was published in 2005.

For the past 15 years Krantz’s uncompromising music has mostly been available only as CDs and downloads of live recordings sold on his Web site (waynekrantz.com), but in 2009 he returned to the studio with longtime collaborators drummer Keith Carlock and bassist Tim Lefebvre to record Krantz Carlock Lefebvre [Abstract Logix], a groundbreaking record which surprises and rewards listeners at every turn.

Krantz’s main guitars are a slightly modified Tyler Studio Elite, a ’67 Fender Telecaster, and a Tacoma DM14C steel-string acoustic. He plays through a Marshall 2553 head with a Matt Wells 2x12 cab, and a ’64 Fender Deluxe with a Bogner 2x12 cab. His pedalboard sports a Moogerfooger MF-102 ring modulator, a Dunlop Crybaby Classic wah, a Sobbat Drive Breaker Four, a Loooper bypass box, a Radial Switchbone, and an Alesis Microverb, along with Boss DD-3 delay, OC-2 octave, BD-2 overdrive (with Analog Man mods), RV-5 reverb, and TU-2 pedals. Krantz uses both Fender medium picks and his fingers to pluck D’Addario EXL 110 strings.

Share some thoughts about rhythm, time, meter, and groove on guitar, and how you apply them within your trio.

Placement is power. Also, placement is not a mysterious “feel” thing. It’s knowing where the center of the beat is and placing the note accordingly. Good placement is intentional. Bad placement is gestural. Rhythmic imagination and melodic imagination are either the same thing or almost the same thing. As for groove, even if the guitar isn’t invited to the bass and drum club, it can still crash the party. Interaction means giving up your own agenda to some degree. The more preconceived stuff you bring to the table, the less interacting you’ll do. Interaction means sort of “giving it up for the band,” as in any relationship, maybe. To me, the results are worth it in terms of keeping everything as fresh as possible.

You are both a champion and a master of sounding like yourself, something dealt with elegantly in your book. In that most readers will likely never see your book, share something that might inspire them to sound more like themselves.

I’m still hoping they’ll see my book. Imagine if everyone reading this bought a copy from my Web site—I’d be able to make my own studio records for the next ten years. Or live in Tokyo or London for five. Or buy a Les Paul. I’m not sure it’s important that everybody sound more like themselves. I’d like to think what I do can inspire someone to try to be more creative in whatever it is they do, which in turn could lead to a more personal expression of that thing. But many musicians work in contexts that demand a re-creation of something that’s already happened. Their gig depends on playing convincingly in a certain style and anything outside that will probably be perceived as wrong. Most gigs in the world are like that, and if all musicians suddenly became idiosyncratic, all music would grind to a halt as everybody struggled to reassess what the hell they were doing. It’s not necessary that everyone try to reinvent the wheel, just that some people continue to. I guess we could always use a few more of those, but everyone has their place in this thing. I will say this: In any context, no matter how rigid, even a couple of notes can go a long way towards making a player feel free, and, in turn, making a listener feel free. Maybe just a modest moment of inspiration, or maybe a more significant event in somebody’s experience or direction— there’s no telling what the impact could be. I think it’s worth trying to maximize the chances of something like that happening in whatever way I can. Why not?

“The more preconceived stuff you bring to the table, the less interacting you’ll do.”

Rather than presenting a limited amount of prescribed material to learn, your book outlines an open-ended practice regime that seems to be more about discovery—but discovery of what?

Discovery of what you really have to say, once you stop basing everything you play on what you and your hands know. The book is open-ended because anything comprehensive would have to be. That’s the true nature of music and of improvising. It’s not something to be learned, it’s an endeavor.

There are myriad guitar sounds on the album. I sense that these are not a bunch of pre-determined timbres, and that you are discovering the sounds in flight, both as you improvise and as you approach each composition.

Preparing guitar sounds at home never worked for me. The pedals sound different to me every time I step on them. It used to bother me, now I embrace it. The guitar sound has so much to do with the drum sound, the bass sound, the room, the audience—and ignoring all that would isolate me from what I’m trying to interact with. It’s not the most commercial attitude, but there’s some artistic precedent for it. And it makes for a wider array of sonics on a disc like this, recorded over the course of a week. All my favorite records are like that. It can sound unnatural to me if the guitar sound is uniform.

Regarding expression through tone, how do you arrive at a particular kind and amount of distortion—hands, pedal, amp, speaker, or ... ?

I mostly use the amp. The Marshall is almost always set on rhythm crunch and if I need more I either up the gain or add a pedal. For this record I also wanted a cleaner clean sound so I turned the Deluxe down to about half, but it’s often on 10 with lots of gain going into it. None of this is very smart or efficient but it gets the job done. I twist knobs and stomp on boxes until the distortion sounds the way it needs to in the moment. If I can’t get it immediately I give up and either go with it anyway or back off the idea. A lot of it is luck or something like it. Hand-wise, I’m playing more melodically now so it’s easier to dig in the right way for distortion. I used to have a jazzier touch that I picked up in college when I was playing more linear stuff. It was hard to get that to sound right with the fuzz. Wait, what am I saying? Everything’s hard!

How does the wah pedal fit into your sound? Is it a vocally expressive thing?

It’s probably my favorite pedal. It’s a corny sound, but so funky and wide, frequencywise. I connected with it early on. I don’t relate it to a vocal thing. I use it to underline rhythmic and melodic ideas, and as a tone control. It’s also an instant funk button in a way, if there can be such a thing. Some people simply hear it as that old sound they’re familiar with and don’t listen any deeper, but others get in there with what I’m actually doing with it. As with all pedals, there will be a day when I put it away for good. But I’ll miss it particularly.

The ring modulator is an area where most guitarists— especially those with lots of technique and ideas—usually fear to tread. For quite a few years now you have been using it a lot. What’s your approach and what are your thoughts on this effect?

Matt Wells turned me on to it years ago. I found a few zones on it that were useful and more or less stuck with them. I can get bored with the sound of the guitar, so it’s good to have at least one non-guitar sound to go to—though that can get boring too. I like the tonal randomness of it, but also the tonal choices you can make with it. It’s organic and funky sounding like the wah— and also funny like the wah.

Do you feel more like a drummer when you are in ring mod territory?

Either that or I try to deal with it melodically. As with the delay I never really know what’s going to come out of the box when I hit it. Whatever it is, I try to make it music or tweak it if there’s time, which there usually isn’t. The chance element is significant and some nights are just doomed to “wrongness.” It has an energy cycle, like everything seems to, but somehow the uncertainty of it feels right, even though it sounds bad sometimes. It’s like playing—you try to get better at making all the surprises good ones. It was a lot of trial and error for a long time down in that little club, but we came out of there with some pretty strong solutions to the age-old question, “What the hell do we do now?”

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