In our March 2017 cover story, “Who Will Save the Guitar?” we reported on the rising commercial power and increasing cultural relevance of female guitarists - a theme that has consistently reverberated across popular, MI trade and guitar media ever since.
It shouldn’t be much of a surprise, then, that concerts bringing a collective of different artists onstage to celebrate guitarcraft would no longer be predominately events for male guitarists, and, in some cases, they would exclusively showcase female players.
And so, in the most organic of ways, guitar virtuosos Jennifer Batten, Gretchen Menn and Nili Brosh decided to collaborate on a short series of trio concerts.
“Gretchen and I are great friends, and we’ve always talked about doing live shows together with our collective bands,” says Brosh. “We also wanted to team up with another fierce guitarist, and we both came up with Jennifer, as we've always looked up to her playing and trailblazing.”
“I think the seed was planted when we were all asked to do a podcast together,” adds Batten. “There is a sisterhood building in the female guitar world as more and more new amazing talent emerges.”
The kick-off show is scheduled for Wednesday, November 6, 2019 at The Chapel in San Francisco.
We talked to all three guitarists about their thoughts and plans for the Batten-Menn-Brosh extravaganza, which is co-produced by Guardians of Guitar.
Male guitarists tend to produce events showcasing multiple players - such as Joe Satriani’s G3 concerts - pretty regularly. Why is this concept relatively rare for female players?
Batten: I think it comes down to money and muscle to pull in an audience. Even Satch has passed on some killer players basically due to popularity issues - meaning the ability for an artist to get asses in seats. If you’re not a guaranteed draw, there is typically minimal interest. It takes a hell of a lot more support to get any artist out there in a big-ticket selling way since the digital age. Touring is expensive, and YouTube views don’t necessarily translate to a live audience. As with most things, it comes down to money in the end.
Menn: My best guess is though the number of accomplished female guitar players is increasing substantially, it’s not yet half the number of professional guitarists.
What do you feel will be different about your show, as compared to other instrumental-guitar concerts that include various players?
Menn: I don’t know if it’s different from other guitar shows, but I do know we are aiming to present a celebration of guitar without providing a major overdose. To me, that means keeping solos and jams to a respectful length, featuring the other musicians and crafting sets that breathe and have some musical spectrum. I’d rather people leave wanting more, than feeling like they don’t need to hear a guitar again for a few months.
Batten: I chose to be the middle act because I’m doing my solo-multimedia show, and that will break up the visuals and audio of Nili’s and Gretchen’s bands for something completely different. Also, I’ll be sandwiched by two talented ladies who are on fire and super motivated to get their new projects out to the public. I think the audience will feel that hunger, and it will add another level of engagement.
Brosh: I think it will be the camaraderie. We're truly friends first, so we want to just have fun with this.
How will you present the three disparate guitar styles during the evening?
Brosh: I feel like it will naturally fall into place, and our distinct voices will speak through. All three of us have a strong sense of wanting to be ourselves, and we have our own unique takes on things. I'm not thinking we need a concrete plan.
Batten: Each of us will get our separate sets and present the best of what we do. No filler. We’ll join together at the end with a couple of tunes that will allow us to trade solos and have musical conversations. I think we’re all looking forward to that part especially.
Menn: I think our approaches and styles complement each other. There is general cohesiveness - we all play instrumental, rock-oriented music on electric guitars - but plenty of variety, too. Diversity within a night of instrumental music is always welcome - at least for me.
What do you most respect about your co-headliners as players and as composers?
Brosh: Their fearlessness and unapologetic ability to be 100-percent themselves. Both make no compromises in their playing or writing. They know what they want to say and go for it - regardless of outside influences or potential pressures from the guitar community.
Menn: Both are phenomenal musicians who fully apply themselves to excellence. They give guitar, guitarists and - much as I often resist saying it - female guitarists, a good name. Jennifer has been a hero of mine since I was a teenager. At first it was her mind-bending technique that drew me in. Her take on Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumblebee” was my unforgettable introduction, and I continually marvel at the treasures and lessons in her playing.
She’s virtuosic in the truest sense - musically fluent and tasteful - and her flawless execution serves a creative and expressive purpose, rather than an ego-driven one. I bow to the queen.
Nili is a ferocious player. When I first saw one of her videos, I immediately felt terrible about myself. I decided to reach out to tell her how impressed I was rather than wallow in envy or self-loathing. We became friends pretty much immediately. She never ceases to amaze me. Her consistency within incredibly difficult material is a huge inspiration. Her sense of timing and rhythm are bulletproof. She celebrates melody in her writing, and even with complex melodies, she takes care to make them comprehensible and accessible.
Batten: I admit at this point, I’m pretty jaded after 30 years of globe-trotting and listening. I’ve been given hundreds of CDs, and I rarely get past the first tracks, as I find most of them are clones of what has gone before. Nili and Gretchen have a unique approach that holds my interest. I’m proud of them as strong parts of what’s representing the next-generation of female guitarists.
What are some outstanding achievements in guitar from other players that have inspired you lately?
Batten: Mateo Asato is my newest fave. He has the most unique and fluid voice I’ve heard in quite some time. Lari Basilio is another. The fact they’re both emerging right now and are so musical - there must be something in the Brazilian water. What they do is a great antidote to some of the mindless shred that has preceded them.
Menn: Anyone who is familiar with Daniele Gottardo knows that a bias means nothing when it comes to appreciating what he does. Yeah, I’m married to the dude, and you’d think I’d get used to it. Nope. The more I’m around it, the more it astounds me. Getting to hear what he is doing on his next album is exciting. It may very well be the most intricately composed, sophistically orchestrated and beautifully realized musical offering by a guitarist.
Brosh: Lari Basilio's new album, Far More.
As players with formidable technique and advanced compositional strategies, do you attempt to reach out somehow to potentially wider audiences who may not be as "guitaristic," or do you "stay in your lane," so to speak, follow your muse and let the audience find you on your own terms?
Batten: For me, there’s a natural evolution of trying to find and present more meaning in my music than that of, for instance, my debut CD, where I played “Flight of the Bumblebee” and “Giant Steps,” in part to message my male colleagues - and mostly male audience - that I have chops too. Thirty years ago, I was entering much more of a boy’s club. These days, I’m much more interested in melody, and, in fact, one of the last tunes I learned is Aretha Franklin’s version of “Rolling in the Deep.” Her treatment of it knocks my socks off, and I’m trying to emulate every nuance, because there is so much to learn from a great vocalist.
Menn: Pursuing the types of music that inspire me to play and write has always been a primary motivation. On the other hand, music is a language, and I am interested in what comes across. I try to balance a strong connection with my muses, while observing what resonates with others. I strive for artistic integrity without pretense, and communication without pandering.
Brosh: I try not to approach writing from any perspective other than making the most solid composition I can. But I will say that strong melodies are the best bet I have at grabbing people's attentions.
What inspires the melodies you create?
Brosh: Immersing myself in catchy hooks as often as I can - living and breathing them, so to speak - gets me in the right state of mind to hopefully create more of my own.
Batten: I try to sing the melodies when I create them, because I think all guitar players that don’t sing are just frustrated singers that suck at it. Our instruments are there to translate what our voices can’t manage.
Menn: I listen to a wide variety of musical genres and I study composition and orchestration. I also love writing for other instruments, because each has idiomatic characteristics that can shape how I imagine and realize a melody. It can be a valuable and creative perspective shift to imagine a line played by, say, a cello or a clarinet, and see where that takes me when I go back to the guitar.
What constitutes a successful melody?
Menn: The easy answer is great melodies are memorable and sing-able with just enough unpredictability to make them charming. It’s hard to argue with that, but I don’t think it’s a comprehensive answer. There are many fascinating or delightful melodies that don’t fit that mold. Some music makes us stretch our ears more, and in doing so, we grow, and often end up bonding more strongly with the music.
What gear are each of you bringing to the shows?
Batten: A Washburn Parallaxe, a Digitech RP1000, a Line 6 HX Stomp and a BluGuitar AMP1.
Menn: My main guitar is my Music Man Silhouette Special with DiMarzio single-coils. My amp is a Two-Rock Bloomfield Drive and 2x12 cabinet, and the pedals are an Xotic wah, a TC Electronic PolyTune and a Providence Final Booster, Anadime Chorus and Chrono Delay.
Brosh: Most of the time, my main rig consists of a Peavey JSX head and an Egnater Tourmaster 2x12 cab, but I'm going to be trying something a little different. I'll be using the HeadRush Pedalboard with my signature set of tones I've programmed.
It must have been a thrill to develop this show.
Brosh: I’m super excited! What could be more exciting than playing your music alongside your heroes, who also happen to be your friends?