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California Guitar Trio

Interviewed by Gary Hill
Interview with Paul Richards of California Guitar Trio from 2010
MSJ: It's been several years since we've done an interview with you. Can you catch the readers up on what's been going on the last year or two for you personally and CGT?
I have been very busy with all things CGT. Even with the difficult economy, we have been keeping busy touring and recording a new album. It seems that even when times are tough, people are still listening to music and going to concerts.
MSJ: If you weren't involved in music, what do you think you'd be doing?
I really can't imagine doing anything else. When I was in college, my Father encouraged me to get a degree in something other than music because he thought it would be more useful to me. I tried quite a few different fields, but nothing really seemed to fit, and all the while the only thing that really gave my life meaning was music. So I had no other choice. It was always very clear to me that music was my path.
MSJ: How would you describe the sound of California Guitar Trio?
This is not my description, but it's the one I like best right now. It comes from one of my former guitar teachers, Don Ayers from San Francisco. He made this observation after seeing a CGT show in Berkeley a few months ago:  "Pristine acoustic guitar to electronic soundscapes.  The Trio can create music which sounds like it is performed on a kind of ‘superpiano’ and at other times reveals an ethereal, otherworldly psychedelia."
MSJ: You guys do some intriguing covers. What's the process like for picking them?
Each arrangement and cover piece has a different story. Some are suggestions from friends or fans. Some are pieces that we've know from our childhood, like “Echoes” and “Bohemian Rhapsody”. All of them have some kind of resonance with us that excited us enough to make an arrangement and play them. We have lots of suggestions from fans, and a huge list of pieces that we'd like to try doing, we just go for the ones that seem to connect with us in the moment.
MSJ: Have you gotten feedback from any of the original artists about your covers?
Yes, we had been doing a cover of “Heart of the Sunrise” by Yes for a number of years, and Jon Anderson heard about this and liked it. We invited him to sing with us in Los Angeles at the NAMM show, there is a video of that on youtube. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ig6WOlsAYuk

It went so well, that we were invited to perform with Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman for 60,000 people at an outdoor festival in Quebec City. There is also a video of that on youtube! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ve-qO4E9ekI
MSJ: The whole idea of passing off notes - each guy taking one note in a progression along the line - where did that come from? I don't remember ever hearing anyone do that before. Was there ever a precedent for it or is it a purely original CGT thing?
We call that "circulation". It comes from the Robert Fripp Guitar Craft courses. On the Guitar Craft courses, we would sit in a big circle with 20-30-plus guitarists, and Robert would give the instruction to play one note and pass the note to the person on your right (or left, or many variations on this). The notes would travel around the circle, and if we were all listening to each other it changed from being an exercise in listening, into music - amazing. It was one of most important things we learned from Robert, and continues to be a fundamental part of what the California Guitar Trio is all about.
MSJ: What's ahead for you?
We are just now completing a new CGT album of all original music. We hope to have this released sometime in the spring. In the past, all of our albums were combinations of arrangements, covers and our own music. This is the first album that will be entirely CGT original music. And it includes several improvisations that were recorded during our sessions in the studio.
MSJ: Are there musicians you'd like to play with in the future?
I am very fortunate to have played with many of the musicians that I dreamt of playing with: Robert Fripp, Tony Levin, Jake Shimabukuro, Trey Gunn, Jon Anderson, Rick Wakeman and many more. I would like to play with Tommy Emmanuel and also Rodrigo y Gabriela.
MSJ: Speaking of that - any interesting stories from your involvement with Robert Fripp?
There are so many interesting stories, let see, is there just one that I could include here? Here is one: Back in 1990 we did a European tour with Robert Fripp and the League of Crafty Guitarists. I think there were twelve guitarists on stage for the tour. When we were all warming up for the show backstage, it could be a bit of a challenge for twelve guitarists to all find a spot to practice. At one particular show in Germany, I was practicing guitar in a small shower room in the dressing room area. Robert Fripp came into the shower room as if he had something really important to tell me. He came inside the small shower room, farted a huge fart, and then quickly jumped out of the room, and closed the door, blocking the door so I couldn't get out!  
MSJ: Do you think that downloading of music is a help or hindrance to the careers of musicians? It's been said by the major labels that it's essentially the heart of all the problems they are having in terms of lower sales - would you agree?
I try to see things from both sides of this argument. Robert Fripp is very much against downloading music for free, and how it's essentially stealing from the artist. On the other hand, from my own personal experience, I don't know how many times someone has shared a bootlegged CD or sent me a bootleg mp3, saying "here, check this out, you gotta hear this" that has turned me onto new great music, and I end up buying CDs and concert tix of this band that I may not have heard of before. So I really think that it comes down to the motive behind it. I personally don't download music for free on the Internet, and I know that buying CDs and downloads helps support the artists. So if that's the end result with sharing bootlegged music then I'm okay with that. But people that never pay for any music they download or never buy concert tix and just try to get as much stuff for free and never support the artists...that is bad!
MSJ: In a related question how do you feel about fans recording shows and trading them?
When we toured with Robert, there were very strong rules about no recording and there were security people going after anybody caught recording the shows. We don't do that at CGT shows. And we've generally been open to people who have wanted to record our shows. At the moment, we are touring with a recording system and CD duplication tower to record or shows live and sell them on CD immediately after the show. We are doing a matrix recording, which is a combination of microphones on the guitars and direct signal from the guitar pickups. The sound quality is superb. And while I know that some people enjoy making their own recordings and trading them. I would encourage people to buy our recordings, because not only will they sound better, but it also helps us out a lot!
MSJ: If you were to put together your ultimate band, who would be in it?
Well, one idea that we had talked about was doing some shows with CGT, Tony Levin, Bill Bruford and Jon Anderson. It looks like Bill has retired from performing, and Jon is just doing solo shows now. So it's not likely that this is going to happen.
MSJ: If you were in charge of assembling a music festival and wanted it to be the ultimate one from your point of view, who would be playing?
King Crimson, Yes, original Genesis, Tool, Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, Radiohead, St. Vincent, Montreal Guitar Trio, California Guitar Trio, Dirty Projectors, Citay, Steve Reich, Phillip Glass, The Adrian Belew Power Trio, Les Claypool and the Robert Fripp String Quintet!  There are many more, but that would turn into a festival lasting several days!
MSJ: What was the last CD you bought, or what have you been listening to lately?
St. Vincent and Dirty Projectors: Check out this video of of Dirty 
Projectors, the singers do something like CGT's circulation:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WXjtDwJGeDI
And check this one of St. Vincent:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dakYYtuGPRI
MSJ: What about the last concert you attended for your enjoyment?
Red Rock Hot Club, they are a gypsy jazz band from Salt Lake City - friends of mine and excellent players.
MSJ: What has been your biggest Spinal Tap moment?
There are so many! It seems like we have Spinal Tap moments almost every day while on tour. There is the Spinal Tap scene where they are opening up for the puppet show at the amusement park. We occasionally have those kinds of gigs. Luckily it's very rare! There was one of those recently in Sedona Arizona, very few people in the audience and group of religious cult "enlightened people" doing a freak dance by the side of the stage while we played Bach's “Toccata and Fugue”.
MSJ: Finally, are there any closing thoughts you'd like to get out there?
I consider myself very fortunate to have the opportunity to travel the world and play music for people. Many thanks to all of the people who continue to support CGT music, coming to our concerts, paying for downloads, buying our CDs, and DVDs.  Oh, besides the new CD that will be out in a few months. We also just released a new DVD filmed in HD by a CNN camera crew in Atlanta. That one is now available on our web store at cgtrio.com.
MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2010  Volume 2 at lulu.com/strangesound.
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