Friday, January 21, 2011

Lars Haavard Haugen - The Truth and Six Strings - the interview on the album

"You know, Tony, that's it. We spend all those years playing, to finally be ourselves."

And so it is, was, and always shall be. The humble words of any great musician who has accomplished the ages old task of discovering, learning, and mastering their trade to becoming not what, but who they are. There are no shortcuts to musical greatness, and Lars Haavard Haugen has taken all the steps necessary, and has achieved said greatness. This is reflected in his many years, and records with Norway's Hellbillies, and never more so than on his first solo outing, Six Strings and The Truth.

You most likely do not yet know Lars, or his work if you are an American reader. If you're reading this in Norway, you've probably been enjoying Haugen's work since the early nineties. On January 31st, Six Strings and The Truth will be released by EMI Norway, and hopefully available to American listeners via iTunes. Here is the official video of Landscapes, the album's first single:

I spoke with Lars yesterday at some length about a great many topics, but we started with his new record.

Lars Haavard Haugen, "I have been thinking about this for many years, to record a solo guitar record. I worked on my writing and playing for a long time, and finally felt that it was time. I began recording this in January of 2007, and worked on it between tours, records, and my other work as a producer and session player."

It was a little surprising to hear that the record was tracked over a three year period, as it sounds so coherent, and spontaneous that it could have been tracked in a month. While the range of styles and technical skills involved are tremendous, the record is an amazingly easy and enjoyable listen. Haugen had this to say about the process:

"That is probably due to the fact that we recorded it in my studio, using basically the same equipment throughout, the same rhythm section, and mostly the great engineering of my partner at the studio, Lars ( he laughs, and doesn't give a last name, and I forget to ask). Lars handles all the technical end so as that I can focus on writing, and playing the guitar.

"We cut the record mostly live, though I did on several tracks record the guitar separately, mostly to utilize our large room, and play very loudly, utilizing various microphones and techniques. Sometimes, on tracks such as The Drone, I played in the control room, and recorded the amps in our room to capture a huge sound."

One listen to The Drone and you will instantly hear what Haugen is saying. Utilizing a Jerry Jones twin necked 6 string/baritone, the opening of this tune is as big a sound as I've ever heard captured, as if Haugen had channeled John Entwistle's huge bass tone, and combined it with his own unique guitar voice that evokes everything from Brett Mason to Jimmy Page, but always manages to sound like Lars. The man has his own unique presence, quite apart from his influences.

"Back in the seventies, my brother returned home from studying in America, and he brought with him many American albums. I was taken by the Dixie Dregs. They greatly influenced my playing (I was in my teens at the time), and the way they changed directions within tunes really stuck with me. I have tried to incorporate that into my work. I like to keep things interesting for myself, and the listeners."

Haugen also mentioned Albert Lee, Brett Mason, and some other seminal pickers as early influences. Certainly their influence made an impression on not just Haugen's playing but also on Lars' guitar choices:

"I recorded a great deal of the album with my Tom Anderson Hollow-T. I really like its big, full tone, but it still retains great Tele tones."

For those unfamiliar with the Tom Anderson Guitar Works magic, here's a few words from the maker:

"To be able to consistently deliver this mystical tone, Tom Anderson Guitarworks created the Hollow T Classic. The hollow chambered body nurtures a healthy fullness without giving up the twang factor. In their July 1993 issue, Guitar Player Magazine conducted a monumental guitar test. They called it “Tele Visions.” The banner on the cover of the magazine read “Shootout! 32 Telecasters & Tele Copies Rated.” They compared 32 “Tele”-style guitars from all different manufacturers. The winner was the Tom Anderson, Hollow T Classic. They concluded their write up of the Hollow T Classic by stating, “In our humble estimation, it just doesn't get any better than this”—very nice of them to say so," Tom Anderson Guitar Works.

Haugen adds, "I also used my PRS David Grissom model which I enjoy playing a great deal, a Collings L-35 that I used on parts of The Drone, and the Jerry Jones double neck with the baritone neck on the bottom, and six string on top."

I commented on the tremendous, dulcet tones on the re-recording of an earlier Hellbillies title track, Urban Twang, asking Lars which guitar he used for the lovely Bigsby sounding trem work. He looked at me with some surprise and laughed quite heartily. Then he spoke:

"Ha, there is no tremolo bar on the album at all! All the bends are just bends as I played them," He said with a rather large grin, "I am a big fan of Albert Lee, and especially of Jerry Donahue, do you know of him?"

Then it was my turn to laugh. Jerry Donahue pops into my life from time to time, I have worked with Jerry on several occasions, and he is a dear friend of my editor, and of course, I have enjoyed his playing since his days with Fotheringay, and Fairport Convention. If I'm not mistaken, I think I also consulted on some early beta testing of the Whirlwind JD-1 preamp pedal that Donahue designed.

Lars continues, "All of the notes are my bendings. I love pedal steel, which I play some, and have always sought to emulate, and integrate pedal steel bends into my regular guitar work. It adds to the expression."

Urban Twang (Slight Return), is destined to become this year's big guitar instrumental track. Classic in the same sense as Cliff's of Dover, Surfing With The Alien, and dare I say, the Santos and Johnny classic, Sleep Walk. Yes, it is that good. Its melody, poignant, and heartfelt will remain with you - expect to be humming its refrain for some time.

I first became familiar with Lars through his relationship with 65 Amps.  He had attended an amp unveiling party just prior to NAMM ( a few months, actually), and their attention towards him garnered my interest. I asked him about how he discovered 65 Amps:

Lars, "I was introduced to 65 Amps by their Norwegian dealer, VINTAGE GITAR. I believe I bought the first of their amps in all of Europe, a Marquis model (no longer in production). It was simply the best amp I had heard. I have owned and played many amps, Dr Z, Matchless, Big Cat, and they are all great amplifiers, Tony, but the 65s, they just have something extra, that smack. It's hard to explain, but it sounds the best, just brilliant.

"Then, I came to America with this dealer, and I had the opportunity to go to the NAMM show, where I met Dan Boul, Peter Stroud, and Myles Rose, all very great guys. So, for a long time I was using the Marquis, and the Royal Albert as my main stage amps, always in tandem. They offer very different sounds that when combined make a huge tone.

"But now, I have changed my live rig over to a Monterey 22 watt model, and a Tupelo 20 watt. This is to reduce my stage volume which had become just too loud. The Monterey is very warm, and has great bottom, and the Tupelo is brighter. I have had to adjust to having less headroom due to the lower wattage, but they sound fantastic together."

 I asked Lars if he used the 65 Amps Monterey on one setting, or employed its channel switching capabilities?

Haugen says, "No, I use the channel switching. Unusual, because this is difficult for many amplifiers, but with 65s it works very well. They sound great."

Actually, 65 Amps don't employ conventional channel switching, but rather they employ their unique proprietary Bump technology - from 65 Amps website:

"The Monterey is designed with the purpose of delivering classic American amp tones with a greatly enhanced vocabulary that extends across the Atlantic to Britain. The Monterey can go from classic warm and hot American tones to a wide palette of modern, rich boutique distortions at the flip of a switch.

"All of this is done without the normal sacrifices that one associates with classic American amps. The bass response stays tight and composed throughout the tonal spectrum of the amp. Distortion is robust, complex and unhampered by the normal shortcomings of traditional circuits. This means: no flabby low-end, no shrill top-end; a pleasant, detailed rendition of your favorite 6V6 vocabulary with many new voices, American and British, added.

"The Monterey employs our trademarked Bump™ control. The Bump™ control is a much more effective alternative to traditional channel switching. The Bump™ allows the user to both gain-up and re-slope the amp's tone stack allowing much more midrange to flow through the circuit; thereby gaining up the entire amp naturally and not inducing false preamp gain that creates fizz and buzz. The end result is the effect of having two amps in one."

Lars goes on to talk about his equipment, "I always use my Voodoo Labs Sparkle Drive, the green Line 6 delay pedal (DL-4), two compressors - a Keeley Classic Compressor that I use for single coil guitars, and a Diamond Compressor for humbuckers. The compression is always in line, I use it almost always. Compression for me removes the harshness, and smooths out my tone, while giving some extra push. Thank you for noticing it, it is a big part of my sound!

"I used an Empress Tremolo pedal on the track Closing Time, I like its sound, and it has a tap feature that I really like having available to me to use whenever I like!"

Haugen plans on playing some festivals, and shows around Europe throughout 2011 to promote Six Strings and The Truth before he reconvenes with his regular band of the last few decades, Hellbillies, a Grammy winning act in their home country of Norway.

Hopefully, Six Strings and The Truth will awaken American audiences to the talents of Lars Haavard Haugen. He has succeeded in recording a truly great guitar instrumental record, and that is a mighty feat. So often, guitar records are the result of a player's ego, as opposed to a result of their creative gift. Haugen has proven the exception, and produced a record for the listener, one that will stand up to repeated listening and may be destined to become a guitar instrumental classic.

Lars Haavard Haugen is a great guitarist, of this there is no question. His playing is tasteful, chops laden, and his tones are superb. He also has developed great compositional skills, and his songs are just that - not just frames on which to hang a thousand cool licks (which he does have), but memorable tunes that are full of great imagery, and emotion. As I said in my earlier review of Six Strings and The Truth, you should hear this record not for Lars' sake, or because I said so, but rather because as a listener and lover of music - You Deserve To Hear Music This Cool!

Thanks to Lars Haavard for his generosity and time, to Libby for her expert editing, and to all my friends who may happen upon this. Namaste.

No comments: