OZ NOY CHATS TO GT...
With his new Snapdragon album out and an exclusive soloing masterclass in this issue, Oz chatted with Jason Sidwell about his music, his processes and favourite gear.
You have a reputation as a guitarist that works within the areas of jazz, R&B and blues. What are your favourite elements from these genres and how do you shape them with your music?
I’m basically a jazz musician-guitarist that can play other styles of music because I grew up as a studio musician. I started doing recording sessions in Israel when I was 15 so I had to learn the basics of different styles and how to feel comfortable playing to a click. Additionally, growing up in the 80s meant rock and shred was big - I loved it! So, jazz is where my education and harmonic and melodic knowledge is coming from. Funk and R&B is where my groove and pocket is coming from. Blues is where my expression and tone is coming from; blues is the glue to everything - if you can play the blues you’re in business!
How long did Snapdragon’s nine tracks take you to write?
It’s hard to say because I collect ideas all the time. When I have a concept for an album I’ll start writing but it goes over a period of time, could be maybe two years sometimes! This album is basically Vol.2 of my last album, Booga Looga Loo so some of the songs were written for that album and I ended up using them for Snapdragon.
Do you have a typical approach to writing?
Yes, the main thing for me is to have a concept and direction of what record I want to make. Once I have that I often will listen to records in that style. For example, Boogal Looga Loo and Snapdragon are kind of late 60s, early 70s jazz, where jazz got electrified and start mixing with R&B and funk grooves. Most of my writing starts with thinking about what kind of drum groove I want to write over.
Do you rely on instinct or do you set certain parameters to shape a piece?
Both. I got to do both cause it’s hard to write. I need all the help I can get, especially now I’ve reached my 10th solo album! That’s a lot of writing and you want to make sure you’re not repeating yourself, which can often happen if you don’t pay close attention. Instinct is the main sauce though!
Your albums often work on two levels - musos marvel at your broad vocabulary and phrasing, while casual listeners may well be inclined to them for a good time in a music venue! How much do you consider the vibe and‘dance’ appeal of your music?
To me it’s always starting with a good song and a groove that feels good to listen to. That has always been the case with me since the beginning. When a groove feels good I get inspired to write. I also try very hard to write simple and catchy music which is the hardest thing to do! It’s way simpler to write long and complicated lines and polyrhythms, but I’m not into listening to that kind of music or playing it. That might sound weird to some people because they have an idea of me doing the exact opposite, but if you really listen to my albums from the past 10 years, you’ll hear that the music is pretty simple and the grooves are pretty straightforward. There are some twists and turns here and there that might make it sound complex, but it really isn’t.
How do you choose musicians for a track?
Usually when I write I’ll think of a specific drummer or a drumming style, or sometimes after as song is finished I’ll play it live for a while and start getting the vibe of who will be the right guy to play on it. A drummer is the sound of your band and the song, so to me it’s the first thing; once I have the drummer it’s easier to match a bass player. I like to use specific guys that I’ve played with before and I know exactly how they will sound together, so I choose them by how I want the song to sound. If I call Weckl and Genus, Vinnie and Patitucci or Dennis and Will I pretty much know exactly what I’m going to get.
You have a reputation of being very creative on your adaptations of songs. The angular rhythmic feel of The Meters’ Cissy Strut and the laid-back bluesy feel and chord tweaking of Steve Wonder’s Let Your Love Come Down spring to mind. What shapes your initial processes when adapting songs like these?
To me, songs are a platform for improvisation so a lot of times when I write I make sure that the improvisation part will be inspiring, interesting and also open enough for me to do what I do. It’s not always easy to find those chord changes and grooves but once I do then I get inspired and can go for it. When it comes to covers it’s pretty much same process, but I need to really like the song before I play it, then I need to make sure it sounds good on guitar. Once I have that going, I start playing it live and exploring where I can go with it.
Outer Look has quite a groove! How did this piece come about?
It’s based on Inner Urge by Joe Henderson. I took the form of his song and wrote my own song on top of that. A lot of time I’ll use an exciting form that’s got a direction of harmony, and it’s fun to write that way. Snapdragon is also based on another Joe Henderson song called Black Narcissus. Twisted Blues is written over Wes Montgomery’s Twisted Blues so I have a few others that were based on this writing approach.
Boom, Boo Boom haas quite a busy head on it and a stunning guitar solo. How important has your jazz standards study informed who you are as a musician?
To me it’s everything! That is where my language is and that’s where I develop and keep developing my voice.
Groovin’ Grant has a great swing rock feel and features Adam Rogers. Having worked with guitarists like Eric Johnson and Mike Stern in the past, how do you accommodate another guitarist into a new piece?
I love playing with two guitars! I do gigs in NYC pretty often with another guitar player. It’s very inspiring to me and also gives me a kick in the butt. The tricky part is not to make it sound like a shred guitar fest and more of an organic band sound. I try to play with guys that sound different enough from me that we can complement each other and sound like where making music and not only guitar music.
Do you feel a responsibility of having a blues based vocabulary as most of your music features a Fender Stratocaster?
Yes! I don’t know if responsibility is the right word though. The reason I play a Strat is because I love that tone mostly in the blues or pop context, but I also play a Tele and a Les Paul which are still deeply connected to the blues for me. I just think blues is a form of musical expression that I really love on the guitar.
What is your appreciation of guitar practicing?
I think it’s super important and could be fun but I don’t do it nearly enough this days.
Do you do it, how often and what is typical for you to focus on?
I try to do it every day but it doesn’t always
“Jazz is where my harmonic knowledge is coming from; funk and R& B is where my groove is coming from; and blues is the glue to everything”
happen. I will play guitar and noodle every day but to me that’s not practising, that’s just keeping my chops up. I like to play classical guitar pieces (I’m horrible at it!) or read some Bach music. I have a long list of exercises that I collect and plan on practising, and maybe one day I’ll get to those.
You’re known to have lightening fast tone changes as regards pedal stomping to highlight aspects of a chord or soloing phrase. How did you develop this?
My pedal work was developed from playing live; it didn’t happen in the studio. It was a necessity to make my songs sound sonically more interesting because I play in my trio mostly and there’s a lot of space to fill. What I’m doing is kind of orchestrating my songs with my effects to give the music more depth. It was all developed from playing live, but the challenge is actually to get the live action into the studio.
What guitar, amps and pedals did you use for Snapdragon?
My Fender 58 and 68 Custom Shop Strats (maple necks both), a John Cruz Masterbuild Esquire Tele (with a neck pickup) and a Gibson Les Paul ‘red eye’ 59 Custom Shop were my guitars. Amps were a Two Rock TS 1, a Two Rock Classic Reverb and Marshall Plexi 50W and 100W. That said, most of the record is the TS1, sometimes mixed with a Marshall. Pedals are mostly my signature Xotic AC/RC/ OZ for lead tones. And for the more bluesy, twangy tone I uses an Ibanez 808. For anything fuzz I used my signature Vemuram OZ Fuzz and a Dunlop Octavia. Leslie effects are from the Root Sim by DLS, while basic delays are Boss DD7 and Memory Man. All other delays and weird effects are the Line 6 M9 or HX plus the looper.
Oz Noy’s Snapdragon album is out now. For more info on Oz visit, www.oznoy.com