By Alison Richter
Laurence Juber is perhaps best known for his years as lead guitarist for Wings (1978 to 1981), but his multi-faceted career covers much more ground than his work with Paul McCartney’s iconic band.
Juber is an award-winning virtuoso of fingerstyle guitar who has released more than 20 solo albums, including his latest, Under an Indigo Sky. He has composed soundtracks, TV and musical scores and performed on hundreds of studio sessions behind a diverse range of artists.
A recent two-disc set, Catch LJ Live!, captures Juber onstage in a package that features an audio recording and concert DVD. He also has a book in the works, planned for publication in early 2014, that details his life as a musician, his guitar work and, of course, the years with Wings, featuring his photographs from that period as a centerpiece.
We recently chatted with Juber about performing as a solo guitarist, his new book and more.
GUITAR AFICIONADO: Your contact address is direct, which is surprising. Are you self-managed? Do you also oversee your publicity?
I am self-managed. I have an agent. I have a guy who handles basic press releases for me. He is the editor for the book I’m doing. I’ve also worked over the years with an old friend who’s a media manager that I sometimes hire, but a lot of what goes on is what I put together myself, but there’s a limit as to how much time I have to do that.
How do you manage the volume of interview requests?
It’s not that difficult. I don’t get a massive volume. It’s manageable, and I like keeping things personal because it’s in the nature of the acoustic guitar world — things tend to function on a more grassroots level. So keeping things personal works quite well and I’ve seen it done before.
My father-in-law, who was a television producer, would routinely handle all of his own fan mail. It’s doable. I do my own Facebook page and Twitter.
I like to be on top of the metrics of this stuff because it’s so easy to be seduced by the technology without necessarily recognizing the effectiveness. I’ve always been pretty hands-on with what I do. For a long time I was my own agent, too, but that got unmanageable.
How much can you tell us about your upcoming book?
It’s a photo book, a coffee table book. I have a lot of pictures that I took when I was in Wings, especially when we were in the studio. I was offered the opportunity to get that stuff published, and it evolved into something a little more wide.
It has some depth to it as far as the focus not only on Wings, but also on guitar-related stuff and a lot of cool and interesting things, but the centerpiece is this collection of photos. There’s quite a lot of text. I think we’re up to about 45,000 words at this point. It’s led me to some interesting things, including some family-tree research and stuff like that. I believe it’s coming out in the first quarter next year. It’s an interesting exercise.
Are you still an active photographer?
No, not so much. At that time, it was just an opportunity, and because I had Linda McCartney as an example of somebody that was routinely documenting stuff, I thought it would be a great opportunity to do so. I enjoyed taking photos, but my problem is that when I’m traveling, my priority is dealing with guitars and stage equipment.
Having a really good camera with me is not the most practical thing, so when I’m traveling it tends to be more snapshots than photography. Some of that is just a question of time. I have a lot of images, but to go through them and do constructive things is a different issue, and my priority is the music.
When it’s one man, one guitar and a theater, can you count on consistency of sound — unlike a full band, multiple instruments and an arena?
I can count on a consistency of sound now because I always loved the self-sufficiency of the folk guitar player. I always loved going to see somebody in a folk club and it was just them and a guitar and it was complete. It didn’t need the full band to make it happen.
That really worked well with my sensibility in terms of being able to deconstruct music and recreate it on the guitar with this kind of technique that is somewhat based on a classical approach, but with a rock and roll and folk and jazz sensibility infused into it. I don’t have to do lengthy soundchecks because there’s no band, and you’re not dealing with drums and all the stuff that tends to make life a lot more complicated.
My soundcheck is very quick, and at this point, because of the gear I use, it’s pretty much plug and play and I know what to expect. If there are issues sonically that come up in soundcheck, it’s usually because the house has been EQ’d to accommodate a different kind of instrumentation. I usually say, “Flatten everything out and we’ll be fine,” and we are. Sound is not something I’m worried about when I’m going from gig to gig.
By the same token, it’s you and only you. The buck stops and starts there, and it’s on you to entertain and engage the audience. Pressure on? Pressure off?
It’s pressure, but it’s pleasant pressure because I’m doing what I love to do. I wouldn’t be up there if I didn’t feel I was adequately prepared to entertain and to keep it going. There’s a certain amount of wear and tear that happens to a person from traveling, so I try to make sure before I get onstage that I’m suitably warmed up.
Back in the 1970s I learned transcendental meditation, which is a great technique for getting caught up on lost sleep, so if I’m flying to Japan and have to do a concert the next day, I can get myself into a performance zone fairly quickly. But it’s par for the course when you put yourself out there as a solo performer.
I’m not singing, so I don’t have to think about my voice. That’s one of the reasons I went with purely instrumental music — because I felt that I would rather put all of my energy into being the best guitarist I could be, rather than compromising that and also developing vocal skills. That doesn’t mean that once in a while I won’t throw in an encore where I will sing, but it’s for the fun of it rather than for the career path of it.
It’s a big responsibility to be the only person onstage, but what’s really interesting for me, because I was a very shy, self-conscious teenager, is that over the years, becoming a performer was almost self-administered therapy for that. It forced me to get out there and be able to present myself in front of an audience. One of the things I found helpful, coming from a non-musical point of view, was watching comedians onstage and seeing how they dealt with an audience, worked out their material and added information, and were able to command an audience’s attention.
Part of that, I think, has informed the way that I’ve composed pieces that are intended for live performance and choices of repertoire that have some resonance with the audience. The fact that so many people are familiar with Beatles songs and the Great American Songbook, those choices are not only favorite songs of mine but favorite songs of the audience, so that resonance happens.
It’s not just me onstage; it becomes a synergy between the audience and me. There’s a feedback that happens, and I’m not just standing there feeling terribly self-conscious. I’m actually part of a dialogue with the audience.
Read more of Laurence Juber’s interview here.
— Alison Richter
Alison Richter interviews artists, producers, engineers and other music industry professionals for print and online publications. Read more of her interviews right here.