“When I was young, the first music I listened to was ’80s hair metal, where most of the tunes were just vehicles for flashy guitar solos,” explains the guitarist and vocalist. “Then I discovered my dad’s Zeppelin records, and I realized what made them great was that the songs were well written. Eventually, I gravitated to more AM-friendly fare such as the Beatles and the Kinks, but Zeppelin first showed me the value of good material.”
If the 88s’ latest release, Over and Over [EMK/Mootron], is any indication, Slettedahl definitely learned a thing or two from the masters. But he maintains that becoming a first-class tunesmith didn’t come easy.
“Songwriting, like guitar playing, is something you have to practice every day if you want to get good at it,” he says. “The first few things I wrote were awful, but the more I did it, the better I got.”
In fact, Slettedahl became so immersed in composing that he says it permanently changed his relationship with the guitar.
“As I became more confident in my songwriting, I became less interested in being just a player,” he explains. “Now, I view the guitar as just a vehicle to help get my songs across. Even when I play a lead, I approach it like a songwriter. For me, the ultimate solo is something like George Harrison’s break on ‘Nowhere Man,’ because it sounds like it was sung as a melody first, then transferred to the guitar. It doesn’t come across like a bunch of licks.”
Slettedahl’s songs-come-first ethos even tempered his approach to choosing equipment.
“I play a Gibson ES-333, because I wanted a guitar similar to what Chuck Berry played, but I couldn’t afford an ES-335,” he jokes. “Mostly, however, I left the guitar sounds up to our producer Ethan Allen. The way I see it, if I come into the studio with a strong song, not having the perfect tone isn’t going to ruin it. And if I come into the studio with crap, all the vintage gear in the world isn’t going to save it!”