Alexis Harte's Evolution From Rock Guitar Ace To Acoustic Troubadour

Who Is This Guy?Alexis is a multi-instrumentalist, composer, sin-ger, and performer. On his two self-produced albums, Sunlight Loping and Junebug [], he plays everything from acoustic and electric guitars to recorders, flutes, and even the balafon (an African xylophone).
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Martin 000C-16RGTE cutaway auditorium and sunburst 1960 Gibson LG-2, strung with Martin SP+ coated strings, gauged .012-.054.

“If it’s a decent P.A., I go direct into the board,” says Harte. “I also use an SWR California Blonde acoustic guitar amplifier, but it’s usually not projecting into the audience. I generally have it turned around toward the band—specifically, the bass player and drummer—so they can monitor me better when we’re playing hard.”

“I don’t use any effects. The only pedals I have in my chain are a Boss TU-2 tuner pedal and a Boss LS-2 Line Selector channel switcher—which I use only as a level boost. By setting the volume on one channel higher than the other, I can kick on the louder channel for solos or melody lines that otherwise might not cut through the band. I hit the strings pretty hard when I play rhythm, so it’s nice to be able to get close to the same power out of single-note riffs.”

“I primarily use three tunings: standard, DADGAD, and a tuning that features stacked fifths on the lowest three strings, by way of dropping the lowest string down to C and the fifth string down to G, leaving the other four strings standard. I got that tuning from Richard Thompson and his song, ‘1952 Vincent Black Lightning.’”

“They fall into three or four main categories. The first would be the Jimmy Page/Keith Richards blues-rock school of guitar. Next comes the Mississippi John Hurt, Leo Kottke, John Fahey lineage of acoustic players. And in the last five or six years, I’ve really been into West African guitarists like Habib Koité and Oliver Mtukudzi. I’m also heavily into Brazilian guitarists like João Bosco and João Gilberto.”

“Using the typical genre names, I’d frame my music as high-energy acoustic folk/pop. It’s kind of Americana, too. I heard one person say my music is kind of archivist—it’s like something from the ���30s that has been brought up to date. Once I have the song, I try to find the appropriate style of music to fit what the song is trying to say.”

“There’s a song called ‘Parrots’ on Sunlight Loping that is a good example of what I’ve been pursuing lately, which is a rhythmic fingerpicking style that features a steady bass part—almost like an ‘oom pa’ tuba line—occurring against a melody on the upper strings. This approach has a built-in rhythm that is so strong that my band is having to learn to play around it.”

“Being a person who used to be solely a guitarist, the toughest—and perhaps most liberating—thing I’ve learned about songwriting is not to be too committed to a guitar part until it’s being complemented by the right melody and lyrics. A lot of guitarists get so entrenched in a particular riff or chord progression, it stifles the development of their songs. The song should steer the guitar parts, not the other way around.”