The latest “15 questions” feature is with guitarist Sean Tyla. Some of the more mature readers of Guitar Jar may be familiar with his name, or the name of his band, The Tyla Gang, who had a successful spell in the music industry during the late 70’s, performing over 800 concerts in just 2 and a half years. After a hefty sabbatical, The Tyla Gang reunited and hit the road again in 2010.
Guitar Jar caught up with Sean to quiz him on his musical journey, experiences and his guitar playing technique.
…play from the heart and ignore trends and fashions in the industry. Good music is spontaneous and timeless – bad music is generally contrived and soon forgotten…
Hi Sean, 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 heard ‘Rock Around The Clock‘ by Bill Haley & the Comets when I was ten and conned my father into buying me a classical guitar; I promised to take lessons at my boarding school! I did but it was a useless exercise for the teacher. I haven’t stopped playing since. I guess that’s 54 years! £%$*!
Your career originally kicked off in the 70’s. What was the main reason for the band originally calling it a day?
Well, the first band I recorded with was Ducks Deluxe which I formed with Martin Belmont. We faded away after three years because RCA records turned their commercial focus elsewhere. We were highly popular live but punk was just around the corner and like every other major label, they chased the trend. The Tyla Gang followed on from that.
You signed to Stiff records originally in the mid-70’s, then with the California-based label, Beserkley Records. You must have been “living the dream” back then, touring across the States. Did you have the opportunity to tour with any household acts and do you have any amusing (but clean) stories to share?
A lot of it is in my newly-published autobiography, ‘Jumpin’ In The Fire‘, [blatant plug], but I remember offering Phil Lynott my sofa for the night in my hotel in LA and he took the bed while I was gigging at the Whisky and stayed three weeks! We opened for Bob Seger in ’77 somewhere; I think Santa Cruz and I saw him pick his nose and eat it! Read my book!
You’ve pretty much finished recording a new album. How was the recording process for this time around? Did you embrace new methods and technologies and when can we expect the album to hit the shelves?
I made a solo album in 2007 and came face to face with digital recording for the first time. If it had been around in the ’70s we would have saved a lot of time and money, that’s for sure! I use it at home but in the studio, Ken Skoglund, our Swedish producer encourages us to play well and keeps the whole process as natural as possible, despite the fact that we are using Pro Tools. I am completely against toys like vocoders and Ken has utilised as little effect on vocals and instruments as is possible and I agree with that. It took ten days total to record and dub and will be out September 2011.
Your music sounds similar to what some younger bands are trying to achieve these days. Do you have any words of wisdom to pass onto any Sean Tyla protégés?
Play from the heart and ignore trends and fashions in the industry. Good music is spontaneous and timeless – bad music is generally contrived and soon forgotten.
Some of your old vinyl is selling for impressive prices on eBay! How do you feel about that and have you got spare yellow vinyl prints of “Moonproof” lying around?
I’m not sure it’s great to see fans selling records! I lost all my vinyl in a robbery many years ago, so the answer to the second part of the question is NO, I’m afraid.
Your tone is great, classic rock n roll. Can you guide our readers through your live setup?
Thanks. I’ve had a million pedals and the Hermida Zendrive deserves a special mention but on the Tyla Gang albums of the ’70s I just ran my Traynor 80-watt heads at 11! The only pedal I occasionally used was a Gibson Maestro MP-1 Phaser that Alex Lifeson gave me. You could screw the input volume up on it (‘Balls’) and it sounded great! Nowadays, I run a TC Nova Systemwhich has analogue drive and boost but is digitally programmable.It also has the most pristine delays and modulations on earth which I use a lot. As I virtually commute to Sweden nowadays, I needed something that I could take on board a plane as hand luggage and it’s perfect for that purpose. I generally run that into an original 1957 Fender Twin or a 1966 Fender Deluxe Reverb – also original, it really depends on the gig. My main weapon is a black Duesenberg 440 but I use my Swedish agent’s cherry, ’67 Gibson 335 as a spare now. I never run the Twin over 3 or the Deluxe more than 5 and I have the Nova set up for a very mild crunch, I let the PA do the work!I use Doozy (Duesenberg) DSA10 strings, (010-013-017-028-042-050) which suit the slightly longer neck – they feel like 11’s. I have always controlled the amount of ‘dirt’ I want in the sound by hitting the guitar hard or not so hard – it works for me.
I’ve been told that I actually own your old Duesenberg Starplayer TV Hardtail – it’s a great guitar! Two questions: why did you get rid of it and why did you opt for a mirror scratchplate as opposed to the stock speckled one? It’s a nightmare to clean!
I sold that Duesenberg Starplayer TV because I was going through a tough period financially but I regretted it enormously once I got through that. I put the mirrored scratch plate on so it would piss off the guy who bought it! Seriously, I’ll have it back anytime. (You have to pull it from my cold, dead hands first!Sam)
How often do you practice and what do you focus on to improve your technique?
I rarely get time to practice but it’s generally just finger stretching exercises when I do. Unfortunately, it is more a matter of retaining technique rather than improving it at my age! I try to stave off the onset of arthritis by using all four fingers on pentatonic scale runs mostly. I pick up my Collings D3 acoustic, (which has a high action with Elixir 12’s) whenever I can to keep my fingertips as hard as possible between tours. That’s a tip from me.
Your house is burning down. What’s the one guitar item you would save?
My Collings D3 – it’s the loudest acoustic guitar in the world and unique – no two are the same, it really is awesome.
A DeLorean time machine has just burst onto your front lawn. With your hover-board in hand, you’re ready climb in and hit 88mph. Will you go to the past or the future and why?
It would be nice to hang out with Duane Allman or Howlin’ Wolf but the future holds the most fascination for me. I’d like to know if I’ll still be playing at 80, I certainly plan to be.
If you could form a super group using famous musicians past or present, who would you have on drums and why?
Anyone with great taste would probably plump for Jim Keltner – the King of Rhythm – but I think I would have to choose Abe Laboriel Jr – his power frightens the life out of me! McCartney picked himself a winner there.
Lager or Cider?
Neither. I don’t drink anymore, haven’t done for fifteen years and before then it was good, strong English ale.
What’s the plan for you musically for the next 12 months?
Well, 2011 is mega crazy. I’m back in Sweden the day after Boxing Day to rehearse with a new band I’m involved in with Billy Bremner called the Trouble Boys. We play four inaugural gigs in January – all in Sweden. Then I’ll be mixing the new Tyla Gang album with Ken Skoglund after that. There are four or five weeks off then so I can write some new material for a new Ducks Deluxemaxi EP and after that, we’re back in Sweden for an Easter tour with the Ducks (plus some recording) and then I’m straight out on the road again with the Trouble Boys through the end of April and beginning of May.It’s very hectic! The TBs have a lot of festival commitments this summer and we have to record an album too. We also are booked to go to Japan in early September just before the Tyla Gang kick off their Autumn tour of Scandinavia in support of the new album. I said it was crazy!