Guitar virtuoso in harmony with life
Bruce Mathiske (pictured) returns to the Gold Coast tomorrow to show off new album which finds the Australian guitar maestro at the peak of his powers, writes
Congratulations on My Life. Why did you decide to make an autobiographical album at this point in your life?
It kind of evolved into it. It started as Somebody’s Life, with a concept of writing about other people’s lives, then it just grew into my life using influences from my childhood, teens and right through to now, with my world travels plus a couple of great tributes to a couple of guitar legends, Chet Atkins and Charlie Byrd. What did you discover about your life – and your music – in making the album?
I discovered that my life has been very rounded and diverse, interesting, challenging but also very rewarding. And in a way, this album is the first chapter that now paves the way for the rest of my life with some exciting new musical challenges coming up. My career has culminated in this album and so it’s now time to move on to something else. Do you think your playing has reached a new level on the album? Or have you become more adept at all the elements involved – production, composing, arranging . . .?
Good question, yes and yes. All those different elements have helped each other to make me a much better all-round musician as well as guitarist. It feels like it’s only been the last few years I can really hear the music sing and dance more vividly in all aspects. How has technology impacted the way you approach recording? Is it important not to become too infatuated with advances in the studio, especially recording acoustic guitar?
Absolutely it is important. I make sure I do quite a few takes without click tracks etc as music must be dynamic, which is soft and loud, but rhythmically must be able to move. We tend to play like machines now but music was never meant to be mechanical, so it’s very important to not get caught up in technology. My Life has been described as your ‘‘magnum opus’’. Does it feel that way to you, too?
Yes, very much. In a way it seems like all the albums I have done previously have lead to this point and it is the first album I have been happy with all aspects of. You strap on a Fender Strat on the album to cover the infamous shooting accident that nearly killed you. Does this mean electric guitar is the devil (ha ha!)?
Ha ha! I like that question. No the electric guitar is great and I used to play it a lot but I found I developed my own individual voice better on acoustic guitar. You started playing guitar when you were seven and took to it like a duck to water. In hindsight, do you see what the appeal of the guitar was to you back then – and is it the same appeal as now?
Yes, I still love it as much today and practise and play every day. What I have found, though, is the guitar is a vehicle for my creativity and I love the music that is possible to create with the guitar, whether it be as a solo instrument or as I’m using now, moving forward with an orchestra. You didn’t discover Chet Atkins until later (when you were 21.) How big an impact did his playing have in opening your eyes to new possibilities? Has anyone taken playing to a new level and influenced other guitarists the way he has since?
He was the biggest influence I have ever had. It changed my whole way of playing. I realised then that I could play the styles of music I loved – like classical, jazz and later world music – but using some of Chet’s picking techniques. All self accompanying on one guitar. I’ve practised day and night ever since. You draw inspiration from (literally) everywhere and distil that into your own brew. What are you most proud of about your touch/signature as a guitarist?
A critic once described me as ‘‘uninhibited by direction’’ so I think the fact I am a genre unto myself and have my own signature and know where I fit in makes me proudest. I think out of the great melting pot that has been my musical growth, there has definitely ended up a distinct Mathiske style and sound. It’s one thing to play well on a recording; it’s another thing to deliver the goods live and connect with audiences. What’s the key to connecting for you? Does introducing songs/ sharing stories with the audience help?
The key is to always tell the truth and that is both musically and on a personal level. That is to say because I always go out there and play the music that I love to play, I then enjoy it and the audience enjoys it and I’m sharing my best with them. Eddie Van Halen has said he hated ‘‘storebought, off-the-rack’’ guitars, because they would not do what he wanted them to do. What do you look for in a guitar?
A store-bought guitar! I play lots of them because they are all different and one will just jump out and feel and sound at home with you. I currently play Ayers guitars and I simply played their guitars in their showroom and guitar No. 6 just chose itself. US guitarist Steve Miller says he has been looking after his fingers and hands with exercises and physio since he was a teen to make sure he can play forever. Do you do anything in particular to look after yours?
Strangely no, but I am very protective about my ears. I have this great love of music and that’s both playing and listening and it’s very important to me. Do you owe it all to a good span and long fingers? Could you have been as good a guitarist with stubby little fingers? Ha ha!
If you decide that it’s what you want to do, I think you are just as good with whatever you are given. The gypsy jazz great, Django Reinhardt, hasn’t been bettered to this day and he only had two ½ fingers.
My Life is out now. Bruce Mathiske plays The Arts Centre Gold Coast tomorrow at 8pm. Tickets are $43.