Dewa Budjana

Dewa Budjana is a rock star in his homeland of Indonesia.

DEWA BUDJANA IS A ROCK STAR IN HIS HOMELAND OF Indonesia. As the guitarist and principal songwriter for the mega-popular quartet Gigi, he interjects interesting harmonic twists and the occasional heady solo into the band’s otherwise straight-ahead pop songcraft. Formed in 1994, Gigi has released 15 studio albums, and continues to draw large crowds and move tons of records, the most recent being Live at Abbey, recorded at the hallowed London facility of Fab Four fame.

Budjana’s parallel solo career, however, is likely to be of particular interest to guitar enthusiasts. His diverse and highly inventive compositions infuse jazz-fusion with renewed vigor, and his wonderfully imaginative and melodic guitar playing pays homage to past masters, while simultaneously providing fresh perspectives. Bassist Jimmy Johnson and drummer Vinnie Colaiuta back Budjana on his latest release, Surya Namaskar [Moonjune], which also features cameos by keyboardist Gary Husband, guitarist Michael Landau, and several superb Indonesian musicians.

Besides playing guitars, Budjana collects them, and he is especially fond of painted and otherwise decorated guitars—so much so that he founded a guitar museum in Ubud, Bali, that will open in 2015. “The building has three floors,” explains Budjana. “My collection is on the first floor, a collection of instruments from Indonesian players is on the second floor, and on the third floor is the international collection. I already have guitars from Robby Krieger, Steve Vai, Allan Holdsworth, Michael Angelo Batio, and Guthrie Govan.” Thirty-four of Budjana’s painted guitars are chronicled in Dawai-Dawai, which includes interviews with the painters and photographers.

Did you study Indonesian and/or Western music formally?

No, I am almost entirely self-taught. I grew up with traditional Indonesian gamelan music and it forms my roots, but I didn’t study it formally and I don’t play any traditional instruments. I did take lessons from the legendary Indonesian jazz guitarist Jack Lesmana back in 1985, and also from his son Indra Lesmana, but mostly I learned from listening to music, from books, and from magazines. Actually, Guitar Player was my best reference.

But you do read and write music, and have even arranged some of Gigi’s songs for orchestra.

Yes, long before forming Gigi I was a session musician for the Indonesian National Orchestra and also in some big bands, and I learned about orchestration as a result of those experiences and simply by doing. Now, when working with musicians in the studio, I communicate my music with sheet music and also verbally.

How does traditional Indonesian music, particularly gamelan, enter into your compositions and your approach to guitar playing?

Basically, I begin with a melody line that is influenced by Balinese gamelan, Sudanese kendang percussion, or Borneo suling bamboo flute, and combine it with modern chordal harmony. Most of my compositions—such as “Dalem Waturenggong,” “Surya Namaskar,” and “Lamboya” on Surya Namaskar—came from Balinese melodies. But there are many colors of gamelan from the various regions, with pentatonic scales being the most common, though also seven-, nine-, and ten-note scales, and the pitches may be equal-temperament or not. The tuning depends on the leader of the orchestra.

The music you write for Gigi and for your solo records is radically different. Does your creative process differ when you are writing in those two styles?

Yes, it differs greatly. In Gigi we do everything as a team—composing, arranging, producing—but for my solo recordings I do all of those things myself, though I sometimes get input from the other players while in the studio.

Surya Namaskar differs from your last few solo albums. What led to the change in style?

Peter Erskine was the drummer on several of my previous albums, and his participation inspired me to compose and arrange in particular ways. When it came time to record Surya Namaskar, I wanted to go for a more progressive-jazz-rock sound and Jimmy Johnson, who also played bass on my previous album, recommended Vinnie Colaiuta. Then, once Vinnie had confirmed, I composed material with him and Jimmy in mind. Often the inspiration for my music comes from the spirit and energy of the players involved.

Are your main guitars Parkers?

I prefer to play Parker Fly guitars because they are very light and I like the tension and feel of the fretboards. Most of them also have piezo pickups, and I love the clean sound I get with those. I have five Deluxe models, a Mojo, three Nitefly models, and some P Series instruments. A few of them have custom artwork carved and/or inlaid into the tops. I also always use my PRS McCarty Hollowbody, whether recording with Gigi or solo, and I have PRS Custom Soapbar and Custom 24 Anniversary guitars, as well as the Klein guitar I’ve played for many years.

Recently, I acquired a Tom Anderson Hollow Drop Top Classic guitar that I mostly used on Live at Abbey and on Surya Namaskar, as well as a Duesenberg Starplayer-TV with a piezo and hexaphonic synth pickups installed that I bought while doing the session with Antonio Sanchez in New York earlier this year, and now it is my main electric guitar for both solo work and with Gigi. My main live acoustic guitar is a Godin Multiac Steel, my main acoustic when recording is a Taylor 712C. I also have a Lowden that I like a lot, and a Takamine nylon-string. Actually, I have many guitars, but these are the ones I play most frequently.

What brand and gauges of strings do you use?

I use D’addario Strings, .010-.046 for electric and .011-.052 for acoustic.

Do you play just with a pick, or sometimes with your fingers, or a combination of both?

I combine both, and I use 1.0mm Pickworld Delrin picks.

Do you ever use non-standard tunings?

Not really. Sometimes I’ll tune to dropped-D when recording, but I’m always in standard tuning when performing live.

What amps are you currently using?

I love direct recording and from about 1990, I used the Mesa/Boogie Preamp and TriAxis Preamp. Since 1994, I have tried to use more amplifiers and miking systems, including Mesa/Boogie Dual Rectifier and Lone Star amps. Now, I’m using Bad Cat Cool Cat 30 and Lil 15 amps, along with my main system, which is a Bob Bradshaw Custom Audio Electronics CAE 3+ SE Guitar Preamp and CAE RS 24 MIDI Controller, into a Mesa/Boogie Stereo Simul-Class 2:Ninety Power Amp and two 1x12 cabs. When going direct I use a Line 6 POD Pro or a Fractal Audio Systems Axe-Fx II.

Do you have two different setups for playing with Gigi and for playing solo?

I use a more complex setup with Gigi, which is basically a power-pop trio. There are three outputs from my guitar: electric, piezo, and synth. The electric signal goes into the CAE system, the piezo goes directly to the P.A., and the output from the synthesizer also goes direct to the P.A. Plus, there’s a POD Pro in the CAE system that also goes to the P.A., and that sound is combined with the sound of the miked-up amps. My solo setup is much simpler. The electric signal goes to a pedalboard, the piezo goes direct, and there is no synth.

You have quite a few pedals both on your pedalboard and in your CAE switching system. What are a few of your staples?

The Pro Co Rat has been my main distortion pedal since 1986. There’s one on my pedalboard, along with an Ibanez TS9, a Free the Tone SOV-2 overdrive, a Strymon Time- Line delay, a Line 6 M5, and a Z. Vex Fuzz Factory pedal. These go straight into a Bad Cat or Mesa/Boogie amp. Other pedals that I use frequently in my rack system are a Providence OD, Pete Cornish SS-3 and CC-1 overdrives, a Fulltone Octafuzz, a Demeter Fuzzy Octavulator, and a Neunaber Chroma chorus.

How did you get that fantastic fuzz sound on the solo for “Fifty” on Surya Namaskar?

I played a Klein guitar through a Fulltone Octafuzz into a CAE OD-100 amp, but I also split off and recorded a dry signal and later reamped that direct track through a Z. Vex Fuzz Factory and my Mesa/Boogie TriAxis in my home studio.

Is that a Coral Sitar on “Kalingga”?

That’s a Jerry Jones Master Electric Sitar, based on the Coral Sitar from the ’60s.

“Duaji Guruji” has a Mahavishnu Orchestra flavor in some sections. Was that intentional? And what time signatures are you playing in on that piece?

The Mahavishnu Orchestra was my biggest influence going back to when I first played in a junior high band, and that composition was dedicated to Guruji John McLaughlin. In fact, I asked him to play on the track, but he was too busy touring to be able to do it. The piece is in 13/8, but it switches to 4/4 in the chorus and solo sections.

Similarly, the Allan Holdsworth influence comes through during your solo on “Lamboya.”

I never try to copy, but Holdsworth is another of my heroes, as well as Pat Metheny and Bill Frisell. Actually, though, that solo was entirely spontaneous, in response to what Jimmy and Vinnie were playing.

What time signatures are you playing in on that piece?

The intro and verse are in 11/8, and the chorus and solo sections are in 7/8.

Despite your formidable chops, you always emphasize melody in your playing.

I’m not a shredder. For me, the melody and the song are always the most important things.

How does spirituality inform your music and guitar playing?

To make people happy gives full satisfaction to my soul.