The latest “15 questions” feature is with guitarist Glenn Johansson. Glenn rose to stardom during the mid 90’s with Britpop band “Echobelly” and is still creating music today. Guitar Jar caught up with Glenn to quiz him on his guitar equipment, technique and any projects he’s currently involved with…
…I spend a lot more time trying to learn new things and experimenting with different tunings which is a wonderful thing, it opens up brand new ways of writing for me…
Hi Glenn, before we get into the details of your equipment and technique, can you give Guitar Jar readers an insight to why you first picked up the guitar and how long you’ve been playing?
I took my first steps towards learning the guitar when I was about 13 years of age. My dad was quite keen on me learning to play an instrument because he is very musical himself but never did anything about it. I have been playing for about 25 years now and still learning.
In the first few years in learning the instrument, which guitarist(s) were you influenced by the most and why?
Players like Jimmy Page, Richie Blackmore, Hendrix had a big influence on me in the beginning, especially Page. His solos are so incredibly melodic. Later on I started to really appreciate Johnny Marr’s playing. I loved the stuff he was doing in The Smiths, the way he was layering his parts. It was truly beautiful! I really appreciate players who’ve got their own unique style such as The Edge, Mark Knopfler, Gilmour – I think it’s far more important to find your own voice than being able to play fast or flashy. It’s all about the level of emotion that you put in to it.
It seems you have a strong musical relationship with Sonya Madan (Calm of Zero & Echobelly). Do you write the music & lyrics together or do you keep to separate roles?
Yes, we have been working together since around 1993 when we started echobelly. I write the music and she writes the words, although we do influence each other.
Can you tell us more about your new band “Calm of Zero”? Have you written any material and who are you working with?
We’ve spent the last year writing and recording demos and have got nearly two albums worth of material. At the moment it’s only the two of us but we are looking for a drummer and bass player. We will be doing some acoustic shows in September just to try the new songs out and to get a feel for playing live again even though it’s just acoustic.
Despite your previous success, is it difficult to promote new ideas and projects?
The music industry has changed so much in the last ten years. There are so many different ways of promoting your music online these days so I think that record companies as we know them will eventually be a thing of the past. There are so many acts that are breaking through by having a song on an advertising campaign, something that would have been almost unthinkable ten years ago but now is perceived as a very attractive option to reach your fans. Therefore what’s really important is intellectual property rights i.e publishing. I also find that many people in the music business are looking for different business models and there are a lot of bullsh*tters around, some things never change.
I’ve been a fan of Echobelly since purchasing the “King of the Kerb” single as a teenager, but it was the single “Dark Therapy” that really turned me onto the band. I still rate the opening guitar to that track as one of my favourite guitar tones I’ve heard on record. I’ve got a feeling it was quite a simple setup – can you remember what guitar / amp / effects you used to record that track?
It was a mid sixties Gibson 345 stereo through a Marshall Jmt 100, a 555 Roland Space echo and a Marshall Blues Breaker pedal for the slide solo.
What equipment are you using these days?
At the moment I’m using Two Matchless Brave combos that sound amazing and an early seventies Marshall JMP 45. I still use Roland Space echoes a lot and I’m fortunate enough to own several different models. Guitar wise, I’m using a 1969 Goldtop Les Paul, a Les Paul Standard that I bought new, a 1972 Telecaster Thinline, a 1978 standard Telecaster. I use a Martin D-28 acoustic with a Sunrise sound hole pickup and I’ve also got a Guild 12 string acoustic. The pedals that I use at the moment are a T-Rex overdrive, a Keeley modified TS 9 Tubescreamer, a Boss TR2 Tremolo and a Boss CS3 Compressor.
Are you a fan of amp/guitar modelling? In the studio, are you averse to using this technology?
I think amp modelling is a really convenient thing for putting down rough ideas. I use Logic 9 at home for writing and when I’m trying out different guitar parts I tend to use the amp mods in Logic just for convenience and when I record it properly I use real amps. I still think it sounds a bit too processed and weird, however, I did try Amplitube Fender a while back and was quite amazed how close it sounded to a real Fender amp. Another problem with amp modelling is the lack of feedback, that reaction between the guitar and the amp, it’s just not there.
You’re a very melodic player. Do you have to work hard at creating the guitar parts or is it something that comes easy to you?
It usually comes quite easily to me. What I tend to do is record a basic backing track with a guide vocal and then I put my headphones on, have a beer or whatever and lose myself jamming for a few hours. Magic!
How often do you practice and what do you focus on to improve your technique?
I never used to practice much. During echobelly we were either touring, recording or I was writing so there wasn’t any time to practice, besides, I was playing all the time anyway. Now I spend a lot more time trying to learn new things and experimenting with different tunings which is a wonderful thing, it opens up brand new ways of writing for me. My standard tuning by the way is a dropped d on the high e (the thin e string) it gives the chords a slightly different nuance.
Have you had any nightmare experiences whilst gigging?
Fell on my ass during a gig in Manchester, felt like a right dork!
Your house is burning down. What’s the one guitar item you would save?
Oh, it’s like Sophie’s Choice, probably my standard tele since it was the first proper guitar I owned, besides my mum bought it for me and she’s no longer around.
If you could form a super group using famous musicians past or present, who would you have on drums and why?
John Bonham for power and feel and Ringo for his tasteful fills.
It looks like an exciting time ahead of you with your new project “Calm of Zero”. What can we expect to see and hear of you in the future?
Yes, we are very excited about it. It’s still in its infancy, we are starting out with a few acoustic gigs since we haven’t yet put a band together but hopefully we’ll find the right people soon.