Jeff Aug

July 1, 2009

JEFF AUG IS THE SORT OF GUY WHO DOESN’T SHRINK FROM a challenge. For example, last March he set the Guinness World Record for Most Concerts Performed in Different Countries in 24 Hours, by playing six shows in six European countries. “When you release an album, you’ve got to do a tour to support it if you want the backing of distributors and retailers,” says Aug. “I had just come off the road from touring as a member of [legendary British vocalist] Anne Clark’s band, and I was preparing to go back out on a different tour in a few days, so I had to cram in a European tour in one day. Also, setting the Guinness record was a way of doing something special that might make the release of my new album a little more newsworthy.”

The “different tour” that Aug rushed back to prepare for posed a daunting challenge of another kind— opening for Allan Holdsworth. Fortunately, Aug had already kicked off some shows for the iconic jazz-fusion guitarist the previous year, so at least he knew what to expect. “Intimidation was the name of the game during the three-month period leading up to my first shows with Allan,” confides Aug. “Holdsworth draws audiences that are 99-percent guitar players, most of which are about 120 times better than I am, so I was practicing pretty ferociously beforehand. After I played the first show and no one threw anything at me, though, I was able to relax a little and give both the music and myself some space to breathe. It was a great experience, and I sold a ton of CDs.”

Even recording his latest solo album was atypically challenging. All of the songs on c [netMusicZone] were recorded in one pass with no punch-ins or other edits. “I was planning to record a solo album at home on MiniDisc, but my friend Murat Parlak had just bought some great new recording equipment that he wanted to try out, so he asked me to record at his studio,” says Aug. “He was still coming to grips with the technology, however, and wasn’t comfortable punching in or compiling tracks, so it came down to me playing the pieces all the way through as best I could. I’d typically spend a week practicing one or two songs and then we’d record them on the weekends. We’d record several takes, but almost all of the ones that made it onto the album were the first ones, because a lot of times the second, third, and fourth takes just didn’t have the same energy and feeling, even though they might have been played more precisely. That obviously wasn’t a very efficient way to work, and it took all summer to complete the album [laughs].”

Although Aug refers to himself as a “fingerstyle” guitarist, he takes a more flamboyant and muscular approach than is usually associated with the style. “I used to love records by great fingerstyle players such as William Ackerman and Alex De Grassi, and I always admired them and kind of aspired to be like them,” says Aug. “But I was also into really heavy bands like Black Sabbath and Corrosion of Conformity, and I wanted to have some of that energy, groove, and drive. The other thing is that when I started out gigging as a solo acoustic instrumental player, I was performing at places like Starbucks and Borders and small clubs, and I was playing quaint, quiet, new-age-y, pseudoclassical stuff, because it was nice. Then, I started adding some heavier riffs, and realized that I got more applause and sold more CDs and got better tips when I rocked it out a bit—just because it demanded more attention. So that’s what I concentrated on. I still play one very quiet piece in my set, but for the most part I love to go out on stage and rock it.”

Indeed. Aug is big on aggressive pull-offs and hammer-ons, rapid-fire finger rolls, thumb thumping, and even a little bout and top slapping for kick drum effects—though he avoids the slaphappy bombast typical of many contemporary players. One thing Aug doesn’t use is his index finger. “It’s taking a sabbatical,” he jokes. “When I first started learning to play fingerstyle, I employed a hybrid technique where I’d hold the pick between my thumb and my index finger, but I found that I often wound up tucking the pick into my index finger and playing with my thumb instead, so eventually I just quit using the pick altogether, and my index finger no longer had anything to do.”

Aug’s primary acoustic is a limited edition Lowden 035c SLE Fingerstyle model with a Fishman under-saddle piezo pickup, but no onboard volume or tone controls. “The volume response is exceptionally even across all of the strings, with a tight bottom end, so I just plug it directly into a DI box and the FOH engineers usually don’t even have to add any EQ. I use D’Addario EXP16 Light coated strings, and the Planet Waves Circuit Breaker cable with the on/off switch on the plug.”

Dropped-D is Aug’s most commonly used tuning, though he switches to alternate tunings for some songs. “Live, I play a few pieces in DADGAD, one in DADDAD, and if it is a really long show I’ll tune down to a C chord, which is C, G, C, G, C, D [all tunings are low to high],” he explains. “On the new album, however, I play a larger percentage of songs in standard tuning than I have previously.”

Aug mostly plays electric guitar when working with Anne Clark, and he’s considering buying an electric baritone and plugging in with Floating Stone, his currently acoustic duo with drummer and percussionist Niko Lai—but he finds all of the gear involved to be limiting. “That’s one of the reasons why I really love the acoustic guitar,” he enthuses. “I can take it anywhere without having to haul around a big amplifier and lots of effects. When I’m touring with Allan I bring an acoustic guitar, a guitar stand, and a cable— and that’s it!”

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