California Guitar Trio features three immensely talented and intriguing guitar aficionados from far reaching corners of the Globe. CGT is Paul Richards of Salt Lake City, Utah, Bert Lams of Brussels, Belgium, and Hideyo Moriya of Tokyo, Japan. The band first met in England at Guitar Craft Courses hosted by Robert Fripp in the late 80s. Richards, Lams, and Moriya attended several of these intensive Fripp classes before touring worldwide with Fripp‘s League of Crafty Guitarists. Formal inception of The California Guitar Trio occurred in 1991 and the rest is history as the group has toured the world around, performing with legendary artists in dozens of countries, mesmerizing vast audiences with their intricate classical reworkings of progressive jazz, blues, surf tunes, and original compositions.
Blow The Scene Senior Staff Writer, Adam Rauf recently caught up with all three members of The California Guitar Trio for a full feature interview as Bert Lams, Hideyo Moriya, and Paul Richards discuss tour life, studying with Robert Fripp, their latest full-length Andromeda on Karate Body Records, and much more!
Adam Rauf (Blow The Scene): How did you guys all meet and decide to jam together? Presumably, Fripp‘s school is pretty selective about the talent, but what else brought you guys together?
Paul Richards: We met in 1987 while studying music with Robert Fripp on a series of “Guitar Craft” courses that were held in Europe. The three of us were part of the “League of Crafty Guitarists” which was a sort of guitar orchestra with Robert and the students. We did many performances in Europe and the USA with the League. The three of us became quite good friends during this time. And musically, one of the things that drew Bert, Hideyo and I together was our interest in playing classical music, which was a bit of an anomaly in the League.
Adam BTS:What was different about recording Andromeda compared to your other albums?
Paul Richards: Andromeda is the first CGT album of only original music written by Bert, Hideyo and myself. All of our previous albums featured a mixture of arrangements, covers, original, and classical music. We’ve always enjoyed experimenting with blending electronic effects with our acoustic guitars, and I think we’ve taken this to a more extreme level with Andromeda. We recorded the album using vintage analog equipment in a studio in Louisville Kentucky which helped get some great acoustic guitar sounds. We used various digital and analog effects to modify the acoustic sounds to produce a wider variety of sounds and textures. No electric guitars where used, although you may find that hard to believe when listening to the album. This is also the first album that we have released on vinyl through karatebodyrecords.com
Adam BTS: Were you worried at all about the audience and critical response to an all-originals record?
Bert Lams: The most critical response is our own. If the music resonates with us, we know it will speak to our audience. In the past twenty years we have always pursued the music that we really love to play, and the audience responds to that. I believe that real artistry hinges on this principle.
Adam BTS: What is the writing process like for you guys? Do you just jam and see what comes out, or do you prepare scores for each other?
Bert Lams: it goes many different ways. For most of the pieces one of the Trio members will come up with a basic idea for us to work on. It is not always easy; sometimes an idea takes off and a piece is written very quickly. Sometimes an idea resonates but it takes a while, and some struggling for it to take a final shape. We ‘test’ a lot of our originals in front of the audience/ They often provide us with the needed feedback to make a piece work.
And sometimes a piece is all written out—on our latest CD, Hideyo wrote a piece called Hazardous Z—he sent us a score. Paul and I then adapted the score to fit with the ideas we had for the piece. To me, the real magic usually happens when we are all in the same room.
Adam BTS:How much time do you guys actually spend with each other when not writing/recording/performing? Are there any places you guys like to go hang out?
Paul Richards: When we are not on tour, Hideyo lives to Japan, Bert lives on the East coast, and I live in Utah. We are in touch on an almost daily basis, working together via the internet on music and business. While we are on tour, we are together most of the time. It wasn’t until just a few years ago that we could afford separate hotel rooms. Before that we were all piling into one room, so we were together ALL of the time! After all these years, we are still very good friends, and go for dinner together and even spend our days off together. As for places we like to go hang out, it depends on where we are. One of our favorite places is Ristorante Il Teatro Le Capitole in Quebec City Canada.
Adam BTS: What’s it like working with Tony Levin?
Paul Richards: Tony is one of the most amazing musicians on the planet. His playing always touches my heart. Every time we play together I feel like I learn something from him in a musical way. He’s a great guy too, and fun to spend time with. He doesn’t seem to mind scaling down to our level of touring after he’s just been on the private jet, 5 star hotel tours with Peter Gabriel. And he also loves the Ristorante Il Teatro Le Capitole in Quebec City, where we’ve been together many times.
Adam BTS: What kind of venues do you guys like playing in the most? Theatres, bars, clubs, house parties? Which has the most receptive audience?
Bert Lams: We really enjoy the challenge of playing in different situations. In any given tour we may find ourselves playing a festival for several thousands of people(like last year in Quebec City), and the next week we might play a small club on a Monday evening for a handful of people. It makes no difference to me; we need to give our best to the people that came to see us.
With CGT we are fortunate to play different venues every day-and that makes our life interesting.
Adam BTS: For the gearheads out there, what effects do you guys like using live?
Bert Lams: We mainly rely on the sound of our acoustic guitar: Breedlove custom guitars.
Paul and I are experimenting with a new guitar pick up system (LR Baggs-Anthem).
Hideyo uses a Roland VG 99 with a RMC hex pickup.
Paul uses a Roland GT-6 multi effects pedal board and an Eventide Time Factor.
Bert is using an Eventide Eclipse and a few stompboxes: a Kraken distortion pedal, built by my friends at Full Custom Music in Harrisburg, and an MXR distortion and compressor.
In addition to the pickups we also use Beyer M190 microphones on the guitars.
All three guitars go into an Eventide Eclipse unit–we use a swept reverb setting on this.
We also use an in-ear monitoring system, so we don’t need any monitors on stage(saves a lot of time during sound check!)
Adam BTS: What kind of bands do you like playing with? Is it a nice change of pace to play with a heavier band, or do you prefer playing with acoustic acts?
Paul Richards: Over the years, we have played with just about every kind of band that you can imagine, and maybe even a few that you can’t. King Crimson, Stickmen and Steve Lukather were the loudest bands we’ve played with and I was happy that we played before instead of after them! Acoustic acts are generally preferred as openers, but it really depends on the act. The best opening acts are the ones that genuinely warm up the audience. Playing just the right amount of time, just the right volume, getting the audience ready to hear more music. I can often tell how well the opening set went by the way the room feels when I walk out on stage for our set. And it’s also possible to see how well the opener does by their CD sales after the show. We are always happy when the opener sells lots of CDs!
Adam BTS: Do you feel that the internet [and music sharing] has helped or hurt you guys as far as sales and concert attendance goes?
Paul Richards: One of the positive aspects of the internet is that it has allowed us a much more direct connection with the fans. People can buy CDs and downloads directly from us on our website. And with Facebook and Twitter, we can keep in closer contact with the people who like to come to our shows. This has definitely helped our concert attendance. As for music sharing, I’m sure we lose sales to people who download our music for free on the internet. There are ongoing arguments on both sides which seem to me to be unending. At the moment, instead of putting my energy into arguing about it, I prefer to find positive ways to deal with the situation. One thing that we are currently doing that works really well: We tour with high quality recording equipment and a CD duplication tower. We record the shows and then duplicate the CDs at the merchandise table. The audience can buy a CD of the show they’ve just seen immediately after the show. This has helped increase our sales at shows. For the Andromeda CD, we put a lot of time into making the CD packaging really nice. And by doing things like offering it on vinyl, we hope to encourage people to buy the album rather than just download it for free.
Adam BTS: Who were your idols growing up?
Hideyo Moriya: When I start to play a guitar, The Ventures was my hero at age 12, my interest was focused on Instrumental group . Then I saw the Beatles “A hard days night” on TV at age 14, they became my hero after that. I bought one album every month with my friend, since I didn’t have a money around that time.
Bert Lams: First music that really hit me: “Venus” by Shocking Blue (a Dutch band), and the “Four Seasons” by Vivaldi. I taught myself how to play the guitar by playing in a local blues/rock band, and by meticulously copying solos by John Fogerty (“I Heard it through the Grapevine”, and “Suzy Q”), and of course, Ritchie Blackmore (Deep Purple-Made in Japan). Later on I listened a lot to classical guitarist Julian Bream.
Paul Richards: When I was around 10 years old, the first two guitarist that I remember that really struck me were Brian May and Joe Walsh. At 13, I saw Alex Lifeson with Rush play on their Hemispheres tour, and it was at that concert that I knew for a certainty that I wanted to be a musician. Steve Howe and Jimmy Page were also very influential when I was a teenager. Around 18 years old, I began listening to a much wider variety of music and musicians including John Coltrane, Miles Davis, John McLaughlin, and of course Robert Fripp and King Crimson and on and on.
Adam BTS: If I recall, I thought all of you guys were married or in a long-term relationship at least. How does being on the road affect that, are they cool with it or is it pretty hard?
Bert Lams: My wife hates me being away, but on the other hand she understands that this is what I love to do and she tries to cope with it. We aim to keep our tours reasonable: two weeks out is fine, three weeks is great, four weeks is long, five weeks is too long, any longer than that is bad for us and our soul mates…On rare occasions we fly our wives out for a few days—it makes a big difference if we can break up longer tours with a visit, especially if we happen to be in a nice place!
Paul Richards: It’s always hard to be away for long periods of time. Only a very special woman can be okay being told time after time by her husband “good bye, see you in a month”. My wife likes to come along when possible, especially when we are going to places like Tokyo, Paris and New York.
Adam BTS: What was your favorite show to play to date? If not a show, perhaps which country you like touring the most?
Hideyo Moriya: Beside USA, it is nice to play in Italy, the audiences are very enthusiastic and food is good. One down point is we always play late at night.
Bert Lams: Though I love touring in Italy, South America and Japan, my favorite place to tour is the US. We have a loyal fan base here, and I enjoy touring and knowing that I’m still ‘home’. On the other hand I quite like to explore new places: last year we played a festival in New Zealand. It was awesome. I’m looking forward to a short tour in South America in May with the CGT as well. Adventure calls.
Paul Richards: One of the most spectacular shows that we’ve done was in Quebec City, playing the summer festival there for about 60,000 people. Although, I have to say that it wasn’t my “favorite” show because it was so overwhelming playing in front of that many people, it was difficult to actually enjoy the experience. Austin Texas is one of my favorite places to play, we’ve had many great shows there. And I agree with Hideyo and Bert about Italy, and Japan too.
Adam BTS: How long had you guys been playing before studying under the tutelage of Robert Fripp?
Hideyo Moriya: I played guitar perhaps 18 years before Guitar Craft, but it doesn’t count any advantage.
Bert Lams: I had been playing for about twelve years-the last six years of that I studied classical guitar at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Brussels. I was a full time classical guitar teacher in Brussels before I moved to the US.
Paul Richards: I was 21 years old when I began studying with Robert Fripp on the Guitar Craft Courses, so I had only been playing guitar for 8 years at that point.
Adam BTS: What was it like to get taught by Fripp? Did he give you any words of wisdom that still stick today?
Bert Lams: It was an incredible experience. It was ‘hands on’ and very direct–like an apprentice would learn from a craftsman-directly from experience. For instance: In 1989 I was invited to attend a ‘performance course’. I had no idea what this was going to be all about; when I showed up we were told we were going on tour for six weeks: we travelled Europe on a school bus in the midst of a brutal winter. Robert is a true gentleman , and a generous, supportive friend. I feel privileged that I was able to be his apprentice.
Paul Richards: Studying with Robert changed my life. I wouldn’t be playing with the CGT if I hadn’t taken the decision to study with him. He takes guitar playing seriously, and is very good at sharing his many years of experience with others. He’s very “in the moment” and depending on the situation, I’ve seen him be very demanding, and uncompromising. At other times, he’s one of the funniest most entertaining persons I’ve ever met. Robert has been very kind, generous and supportive of the CGT. He taught us a lot about the music industry and always encouraged us to keep the copyrights for our music. Which has literally been one of the most valuable bits of advice we’ve taken from him.
When things go wrong as a result of bad decisions made, I often hear his words in my mind: “you do shitty things for as long as you do shitty things”, or put positively, “You do what is Right when you accept nothing less that what is Right”. While I continue to work on this principle of accepting nothing less than what is right, I’m happy to have his words ringing in my ears!
Adam BTS: What’s your favorite type of food [or restaurant] to get on the road?
Hideyo Moriya: Asian restaurants are good with me. But, any type of local favorite restaurant is also very good.
Bert Lams: I like home cooked food, and am always really happy when one of our friends serves us a home cooked meal.
Paul Richards: I like to watch the food network and I like to cook. When we are on the road, I use Urban Spoon iphone app to help find good restaurants. And I have a list of places that Guy Fieri (from Diners, Drive-ins and Dives) has visited across the country, and we’ve been to quite a few of them. On many days, we have very difficult schedules, traveling to the next city and playing shows, so we have very limited time to eat. We often take what we can easily find easily, which can be very hit and miss.
Adam BTS: Who gets to do the driving, or do you split it pretty evenly?
Bert Lams: Paul and I do most of the driving these days. Hideyo is responsible for guiding us to our destination with his GPS system.
Adam BTS: If you all were to throw down in a game of Scrabble, who would win?
Paul Richards: I am the only one in the band that likes to play Scrabble! If we were playing in Flemish, Bert would win. If we were playing in Japanese, Hideyo would win. If we were playing in English, while Hideyo‘s English is quite good, I think that Bert would give me the biggest challenge, and perhaps he could even win!
Interview by Blow The Scene Senior Staff Writer,
Read the Blow The Scene Review of California Guitar Trio‘s latest full-length Andromeda
For more info go to The Official California Guitar Trio Website
Order Andromeda on Vinyl from The Official Karate Body Records Online Store
Top Image Courtesy of Joe del Tufo