Jane Getter Mixes Things Up on 'On'

Jane Getter is somewhat tough to nail down.
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Jane Getter is somewhat tough to nail down. Some see her as a jazz guitarist, others see her as a prog rocker, and still others see her as a songwriter, an inventor of scales, or the guitarist from the Saturday Night Live band. It’s all true. She’s played with jazz organist Brother Jack McDuff, released albums under her own name, and rocked the nation on SNL. Her current offering, On [Snapper], is credited to the Jane Getter Premonition and has her throwing down deep, powerful, proggy rock with an ensemble of badasses that includes Alex Skolnick on three cuts as well as bass god Bryan Beller and drum powerhouse Chad Wackerman. The introspective tunes feature intricate, complex riffs with equally intricate melodies floating over the top of them. The arrangements are dense but eminently listenable; the time signatures are complicated but feel natural. Whether you love the tunes or not, it’s safe to say you haven’t heard anything quite like them, and the musicianship is stellar throughout.

Getter comes across in conversation as an enthusiastic and curious student—as well as a champion—of all things guitar. She is quick to put the phone down in order to pick up her instrument to illustrate some musical point. She talks excitedly about other players who inspire her, what she likes about gear, how she navigates odd meters, and what it means to feel comfortable with new ideas. And, despite her deep knowledge of theory, she ultimately seems more concerned with how things sound and how they make her feel than what they might be called.

Several of these tunes have fairly complex riffs and complex melody lines that go over them. What’s your process for layering lines over your progressions?

There are three different ways the melodies come to be. Sometimes I sing along—just kind of humming around the riff—until I come up with something I think sounds good. Some of these melodies I actually wrote on keyboard, which I like doing because I’m much more fluid on guitar. I sort of go by ear on the keyboard because I don’t have my scale and arpeggio fingerings all worked out. I just go for it. So the simpler melodies come from the keyboard. On guitar, it’s basically the same thing: just kind of jamming along with the riffs and finding some melodic phrase that I think would work. If something catches my ear, I play it over and over again, then throw it on the demo and see if it still works when I step back and listen to it. Sometimes, if I’m unsure about something, I need to get some space and come back to it a few days later with fresh ears. That helps me figure out if I really like it or not.

There’s a heavy breakdown riff in the song “Train Man.” Is that something you crafted specifically for that tune, or was that in your head for a long time?

It was specifically for that song. That tune is about this homeless man who sat across from me on a subway. He started going off, saying stuff, and I knew it could be a song, so I started writing down what he was saying. At one point he said, “Gonna get rich and die.” I thought that was a pretty heavy line, so I wanted it to go into a heavy section after that. I don’t think I was in my studio when I came up with that. I was somewhere else warming up or practicing and I recorded it on my iPhone. I don’t really remember how I came up with that. My ear will lead me to places, and hopefully I’m able to find out where my ear is leading me.

How did you create those heavy tones? What was your rig for that song?

I used one amp on the whole album. It’s a Fuchs Full House 50 with a 2x12 cabinet. It’s the first time I recorded with that amp. I had just gotten it before I went into the studio, and I really loved the tone. For that song, I played my ’72 Fender Telecaster, which I used for the dropped-D tuning. My main guitar for the album, though, was built for me by Peekamoose Custom Guitars. It’s kind of a cross between a Strat and a Les Paul.

So you used the Fuchs amp for the entire record? Clean tones and dirty tones?

Yeah, all the clean tones and the dirty tones, except for the lighter distortion sounds, like the solo at the end of “Falling.” For that, I used my Maxon Overdrive, which I’ve had since the ’90s. I like that very warm, analog type of overdrive sound for melodies where I want just a little bit of gain but not a full distortion thing.

You get a gorgeous acoustic sound in “Train Man.” How did you track that?

I tracked it in my studio, actually, with one mic. I have a great 1973 Martin D-28 that just records really beautifully. I think there are two tracks of acoustic guitar on “Train Man.” I usually double them. I also used this new Yamaha AC3R acoustic. I got that guitar after I had done most of the acoustic parts, but I think that’s the acoustic on the song “Diversion.”

The bass line and the melody line work together in a very interesting way on “Logan.” You came up with the bass line first. Did you play it or is Bryan Beller playing that?

Bryan’s playing it. I don’t play any bass on the record at all. It’s all Bryan. I wrote all that stuff out. All the parts are all written out for the whole record.

So everybody was reading charts for these tunes?

Yes. They received the demos for all the songs, as well as the charts, and they each learned them however they learned them. Some of them were reading for the sessions, and some of them already had it memorized. But I always want people to put their personalities into it. I love it when they come up with ideas like, “This could be cool in this octave,” or “this fill might work here.” The people on the album are there because I love the way they play. I don’t want them to sound like the way I played on the demos. I want them to sound like them playing my parts.

In the last interview you did with us you talked about how you like to modify or create scales. Do you have any new ones that you’ve come up with?

I do. I spent nine weeks in India a few years ago and I really loved getting to learn about Indian music. I was influenced by some of the ragas that I heard, so I wrote a scale that is based on one of them. I call it the Chennai scale, because I was staying most of the time outside of Chennai, India. And then from that scale I created a really cool arpeggio that I used in some of the solos on this album—“Surprised” and I think “Where Somewhere.” The whole solo is not out of that scale; it’s just part of the solo. I also created another scale recently. I wanted to make a scale up that employs the flat 13 and the sharp 9 to use over a dominant chord. It’s not really a scale, it’s an arpeggio actually, with a sharp 9, a flat 9, a flat 13, a major 3rd, and a flat 7. This is a fairly new one that I haven’t incorporated into my playing yet. I’m still kind of messing around with it. It takes a few years for these things to truly become part of my vocabulary without having to consciously think about them. I need to get them not just under my fingers, but in my ear and my head too.

What would you say was your biggest takeaway from playing in the Saturday Night Live band?

My biggest takeaway is that I need to practice my sight-reading more [laughs]. I did okay. In that band, you have one rehearsal and you don’t get sent the music beforehand. You go and you sight-read and you’re playing in a band with these horn players that can read bug sh*t. They can read anything. As a guitar player, there’s more than one place to play the same note. So guitar players aren’t the best sight-readers sometimes, because you have to figure out your positions and stuff. My reading is decent, but I still could use some work on it. I can sight-read any chord symbols—that’s fine for me. Even weird chords or whatever, I can grab instantly. But the melody lines with syncopated sixteenth-note rhythms and wide intervals and stuff—that’s tricky.

You’ve covered a wide range of styles over the years, but do you think in terms of styles or is it all connected in your mind?

It’s all connected in my mind. I have a very eclectic taste in music. I love many, many different styles. I’ll get inspired by listening to a certain thing at one point and that will influence me. I feel that it all comes together in my writing. I just write what I hear.

Alex Skolnick on Playing with Jane Getter

Jazzy rocker Alex Skolnick is on three tunes on the latest Jane Getter Premonition album, as well as being in the live band. Here he shares his thoughts on what it’s like to play alongside Getter.

“Jane’s playing recalls a time before things got divided into very different camps,” says Skolnick. “For example, the shred-guitar scene has plenty of folks who are technically impressive but never learned advanced harmony and how to interact with horn players and pianists, so there’s little or no jazz influence. Meanwhile, there seems to have been an expectation in the modern jazz guitar scene to stay as far away from rock tone, licks, and dynamics as possible. But before then, there was a crop of great players who really could do both—sound good in a rock band or a jazz combo with horns and piano—folks like Mike Stern, Wayne Krantz, and Jon Herington come to mind. Jane’s approach reminds me of that era. She’s not afraid to rock out, but clearly has the vocabulary of a jazz artist. She has no problem exploring bends and pentatonics that are familiar to rockers, but she spices it all up with these cool angular, chromatic shapes.

“We’ve both done jazz and rock. She’s been in jazz a bit longer and I have more rock experience, but there’s still plenty of common ground, so it works really well. I’ll hear patterns of hers, some of them quite advanced, and I’ll try to answer that with my own interpretation of it, and vice versa. A good tradeoff is like a good verbal conversation.”