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David Kilminster - Interview

  by Lisa Torem

published: 24 / 1 / 2013

David Kilminster - Interview


Roger Waters guitarist David Kilminster talks to Lisa Torem about his solo album, 'Scarlet', which five years after recording it, he decided ro re-record and reissue in a new and expanded 'Director's Cut'

It is quite a challenge to write a simple introduction for a Dave Kilminster interview because he’s not a traditional, one-track troubadour -- he’s quite the quintessential Renaissance man. A gifted multi-instrumentalist, but more notably, a virtuosic guitarist, this British artist won Guitarist Magazine’s “Guitarist of the Year’ award with his rendition of ‘Sundance,’ and he has penned more than 200 articles for ‘Guitar Techniques’ magazine. He has created a comprehensive line of instructional DVDs for his students too. Dave toured with Keith Emerson (2002) and has been a repeat performer on Roger Water’s tours – first of all on ‘The Dark Side of the Moon’ tour (2006-2008) and then as first guitarist on ‘The Wall Live’ tour in 2011 and 2012. Dave not only fills guitarist David Gilmour’s shoes, but he stamps his talent on every onstage cadence, even if it means conquering a fear of heights. His 2004 debut solo album, the acoustic ‘Playing with Fire’, featured remarkable technique. On ‘Aragon,’ for example, Dave’s achingly emotive melodic lines, clean counterpoint and cutting-edge Flamenco broadcast his blossoming arranging skills. His ideas were sharp, bold and subtle. Yet, in retrospect, it seems like Dave Kilminster’s avatar was looming in the shadows, setting the bar even higher, trying to transcend his art from every conceivable direction. ‘Playing with Fire’ has exceeded many expectations, although getting it exactly right required patience, passion and precision. In 2007, he created ‘Scarlet’ which, in Dave’s mind, never received the proper royal treatment. So he set out to produce the album exactly the way it should have been, in 2012, with enticing string sections, demonstrative vocal phrasing and eloquent lyrics. On it he works with a high-calibre core of musicians he played with in Emerson’s camp: drummer Pete Riley, bassist Phil Williams and vocalist Anne Marie Helder. This revamped album, which he has called ‘Scarlet -The Director’s Cut’, is global and romantic. Dave uses piano, dynamic riffs, solo voice and ethereal backing vocals to create mysteriously beautiful worlds. In this exclusive Pennyblackmusic interview, Dave Kilminster shares his excitement about ‘Scarlet – The Director’s Cut’, performing, arranging and defying gravity. PB: Hi Dave. I would like to start right off by talking about the tracks. First of all, there are some lovely string arrangements on ‘Rain…(On Another Planet),’ ‘Harkness’ and ‘Brightest Star.’ As you’re chiefly a guitarist, how challenging was it to score these arrangements and why did you choose these songs as string-laden subjects? DK: I'm really glad you like them!! I'd never scored for strings before, but I have listened to so much classical music that I had all these string lines in my head and I knew that I didn't want to play them on a keyboard! I can always hear it when it is 'keyboard' strings or samples... they just don't sound right to me, and really wouldn't have worked for the beginning of 'Angel'. So I bought a little music book that told me the range of each instrument (violin, viola and cello), along with the right clef and musical signs and terms to use, and I just wrote the parts out by hand. I felt like Mozart! Ha,ha... but it was such a buzz, to give out these handwritten pieces of manuscript to the quartet and to hear them play the parts back perfectly... In fact if I had known it was going to sound so good, I would have scored strings for all the songs! PB: On ‘Rain’ you do a remarkable job of soloing on essentially a simple, but beautiful, five-note pattern. At the beginning, it had that minimalist feel, but then you go absolutely ballistic by the end. What was the genesis of this pattern? DK: Thank you... I wasn't actually planning on having a long outro for the song, but when we recorded the backing track (which we did 'live' in the studio) I just said to Pete and Phil, “it's going to be a fade out, so let's just have some fun at the end...” But they played so great and with a wonderful energy that I couldn't bear to fade it! So I tried to construct a solo that built in intensity, and got wilder and crazier as it progressed.... it sort of reminds me a little of 'Freebird'! PB: The album originally came out in 2007. This new version of the album has been remixed and remastered. What did you feel you needed to change? DK: It just didn't sound right... there were some phasing issues on the guitar tracks, the vocals were mixed too loud and dry, and we ended up using some drum samples that I was never happy about... I really tried to move on and record a new album, but I just couldn't leave 'Scarlet' sounding all wrong. I thought she deserved better, so I went back and (with the help of my good friend, Jamie Humphries) fixed everything, so that now it sounds like it should have done in the first place... although now I'm desperately overdue a new album! Perfectionism is definitely a curse sometimes... PB: Now on the song, ‘Angel,’ your lines are very poetic. You use imagery like: “lust in the twilight” and “moon dressed in scarlet” and “she dances alone in the rain.” Your voice at the beginning of the outro is so ethereal that it sounds like it’s coming out of a wind tunnel. This song must have had a special meaning for you DK: The subconscious is a truly amazing thing... 'Angel' has always felt like a special track to me, but I never actually realised where it came from until last year. I was talking to a friend of mine about a film I watched many years ago called 'Somewhere in Time', starring Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour. It was a little soppy and romantic, but I really loved the concept, and also the soundtrack, which contained Rachmaninoff’s beautiful ‘Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini’... so as I’m talking with my friend about this film I slowly begin to realise that ‘Angel’ was directly inspired by it - I even sing 'Somewhere in Time' in the chorus!!! But I'd never actually realised the connection until about five years after I wrote it! PB: My favourite almighty prog rock riffs occur in ‘Liar’ and ‘Static.’ Did they come to you in a dream or from some intense practice sessions? DK: 'Liar' is actually an old riff from my teens! So I guess that song was a long time in the making! And 'Static' came about from a jam I had with Pete and Phil. We were rehearsing for a ‘Keith Emerson Band' show before Keith got there, and Phil said, “Why don't we try and write a tune for Keith - maybe something in an odd time signature?”... so I picked up the guitar and the riff from 'Static' just appeared out of nowhere. PB: On ‘Chance,’ you ask: “Would you really want to know all the things that you’d be missing?” Is this literally about seeing into the future? Does this song reveal something personal about your outlook on life? DK: The song was actually written for a friend of mine that was very suicidal at the time... “If you could see into the future, Would you really want to know, All the things that you'll be missing, And all the joy that life can show…” I wanted them to try and look ahead... to show them a little light in the darkness, so that they could find some hope and maybe see a way out. I've gone through some desperately dark periods in my life, too, so I knew what they were going through... PB: On the album, you work with musician friends from the Keith Emerson camp and they really execute your ideas well. What system did you all use to expand on your ideas? And, speaking of Keith, did you two exchange a lot of musical ideas when you worked together? DK: There wasn't really a system... I figure with music that if you have to work too hard, then you're probably doing something wrong! I would just play Pete and Phil the song idea and they would join in. It was all very natural and spontaneous. I just really wanted them to have their own unique styles and personalities on the album. I mean, I can get on a drum kit and keep time and I can hit a bass and make some cool noises, but there's a special energy that only comes when a bunch of people are playing together and I knew the chemistry between us was amazing from our gigs together with Keith. Unfortunately, with Keith though, we never really had a chance to create anything new... I was actually just sketching out some ideas for a concept album with him, when I got the call to tour with Roger Waters. PB: You have performed on so many songs, but let’s just talk about a few. On a video of ‘Shy Boy,’ you really demonstrate a great deal of range. You’re jumping from barre chords to slides and bends and really making great use of the entire fret board, while sustaining a high level of emotion. ‘Sundance’ is another tune on which you demonstrate your mastery of the instrument. Can you describe some of the techniques you use to create such arrangements? DK: Well, 'Shy Boy' wasn't really supposed to be a demonstration of what I can do. It's actually a David Lee Roth track (from the 'Eat 'Em And Smile' album), which featured the unique talents of Steve Vai, and I was asked to transcribe it and record a DVD explaining how to play it. Then obviously at the end I just play the full track, which I guess is what you've seen online. It's not really 'me' though... just an instructional guide, of which I've done quite a few!!! 'Sundance,' on the other hand, is all me, although I'm really glad I don't play like that anymore! Ha,ha...There were all kinds of techniques on that one, but probably the most outrageous one is where I'm playing notes on the fret board with all eight fingers. I developed that particular technique a long time ago, so that I could play lines that sounded more like a keyboard... PB: The ‘Playing with Fire’ album was classically based. The shortest piece, ‘Music Box’, was 55 seconds, but others were much longer. Is it more challenging to get your ideas across in a short form or long form? DK: Not really... I just listen to the music, and it tells me how long it needs to be... I realise that sounds pretty Zen but it's totally true. I generally find that songs are as long as they're supposed to be... There is a little instrumental piece I wrote a while ago called 'Stardust', which is about a minute and a half long... I actually thought of trying to make it longer, but it just seems to be very happy at that length so I'm not going to mess with it. PB: You have discussed the guitarists who have influenced you in other interviews, but which ones would actually be team players as far as performance buddies? DK: That's a good question! I think most famous guitarists, although functioning well within their chosen field or musical style, would definitely struggle if you took them out of their familiar surroundings and comfort zone, and it actually takes a lot of empathy and mutual respect for two guitarists to play together successfully. It is as much about listening and reacting as it is about playing... Guthrie Govan is undoubtedly my favourite guitarist to work with though, and he's the only guy in the world I can think of that would function in any musical situation that you gave him! PB: You’ve been touring with Roger Waters on ‘The Wall Live’ tour, and in the second part of the concert you stand on top of a forty-foot wall when you play the solos on ‘Comfortably Numb.’ As if that wasn’t scary enough, there are pyrotechnics going on, the screaming of the crowds and a swirling whirlpool of lights. Any comments? DK: Yeah, how the hell did I get roped into doing that? No seriously, it is a rather daunting prospect every night... oh, and you forgot to mention the countless thousands of video/phone cameras, recording everything to put it up on YouTube too! I realise that it is a very big part of the show, and I know for a lot of fans it's their favourite Floyd song ever... and so I do feel a huge sense of responsibility when I'm up there!! And the fact that it's a very wobbly platform that I'm trying to balance on (not to mention cold and windy on some of the outdoor shows) really doesn't help either! PB: The show has had wonderful reviews and one critic called your performance “mind blowing.” I think everyone would agree that by taking on this role and being asked to replicate a studio album, you were being asked to fill some big shoes. So how did you master the tracks - by ear or through charts? DK: Yeah, it is an amazing show that Roger has put together... and I'm incredibly proud to be just a tiny part of it! Anyway, the first thing I did when I found out we were touring 'The Wall' was to go out and buy the album, as I'd never heard it before! So I just played it in my car for a while and then sat down and transcribed every single guitar part – I just wrote it all out in musical tab - as I didn't know which parts Roger would ask me to play. So I figured if I had everything written out then I could do any of the parts that he asked and then once I knew what parts I was playing I committed those to memory and ditched the music... as I hate reading music. PB: Will you return to the studio soon since ‘Scarlet’ has been so well received and will you tour in support of the album? DK: I was actually due to go into the studio December 10th-13th to record the follow up! I'd booked Pete and Phil again (of course!), and the engineer and the studio time... but then Roger asked if I could play the 12.12.12 concert for Sandy relief with him in New York, and so of course I postponed my recording to do that as I really wanted to help out. But all the new songs are pretty much ready to go, so I'm hoping to get into the studio in the next few weeks. I really can't wait! PB: Thank you.

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David Kilminster - Interview

David Kilminster - Interview

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