By Connor Malone
Jacob Burns, an environmental engineering student has been playing guitar for over five years. He believes that both flexibility and adaptability are essential for growing musicians. He is one of many musicians that strive to convey emotions they feel to their listeners. He draws his style from many influences.
“If I were to talk about melodic references, there would be a lot of Derek Trucks,” he said. “Derek Trucks and Peter Green both taught me that it doesn’t matter if you know scales or anything like that. If you know how to play one note and make it mean something, that’s the most important thing. If you can move someone with a single note that’s when you know you’re a good guitarist.”
Burns also emphasized that his music draws on a lot of technique as well.
“I got my bending from Scott Gorham from Thin Lizzy. I would literally practice it over and over again,” Burns said.
What someone does with these influences is what matters, said Burns.
“That’s the thing, you have to take your influences, and you gotta try to re-create them,” he said. “Once you recreate them, you gotta start playing your own music. What you want to hear. So once you have all these techniques, all these riffs in your repertoire, but you need to play what you want to hear, not what you think other people want to hear or not what you think you should play like, blah blah blah. ‘Oh I want to play like Stevie Ray Vaughn.’ No. Play like you. That’s what’s important.”
Burns emphasized the personal connection he has to the music he plays. There are definite feelings and emotions connected to what he plays and to him it’s more about him expressing himself through his guitar than pandering to an audience.
“The ultimate goal for me would be to move the listener in the same way that I move myself. And I’m hoping that it’s pleasing to the listener’s ear as well. That is the ultimate goal to reach.”
Theo Newhall, a 20-year-old music major, produces his music in a slightly different way. He’s been producing electronic dance music under the name GIR (Grimy Interstellar Robot) for about two years. His music is an extension of himself, he said. Because he is dynamic as a person, so is his music.
“I know that every person isn’t just one part–one person is not nice all of the time, or one person isn’t pissed off all of the time. You really see different aspects of themselves.”
When he makes his music, there isn’t a defined goal initially. He lets the music take off with his emotions, and expands upon it. Newhall reminded the music is about the emotions he feels, and he uses the music as a sort of way to empathize with the audience.
“The bottom line with music, though, is all about having a good time,” Newhall said. “Playing shows or whatever, it’s all about having fun. Even if I were to make a dark, haunting tune–even if it makes you cry– you still had fun. The bottom line is that you feel it and you have fun, and you enjoy it and have fun no matter what aspect of emotion you feel.”
An important thing to him is the freedom associated with making music. He loves to experiment with his music in order to express himself but he also ends up finding more about himself in the process. Because of this, Newhall assures that he puts everything he has into every track he creates.
Newhall feels that the young age of the genre makes it difficult for people to fully appreciate. He fears that the majority of EDM is misrepresented by a small portion of what people hear.
“EDM, in general, is such a new thing. Even though it has exploded within the past two years, when people hear the word ‘Dubstep’ they get really jaded. A lot of the Youtube dub step that people are banging is garbage. And then people say dub step sucks. Well no shit, you’re listening to really bad music. It’s all the same and it’s not dubbed well. You really have to take a good look at it and follow the artists and see who’s doing what. It seems offsetting to bring more people into the genre because you sound like a hipster when you say, ‘Oh you need to find the right kind of dub step,’ but when you think about it you have to find the right kind of rock music, the right melody. You can’t tell me you hate dub step when you’re a fan of hip-hop. You can’t tell me that Vanilla Ice is the same as Tribe Called Quest.”
Newhall reiterated what makes this music so personal to him.
“It’s all about finding your own sound. That’s why Skrillex is so ridiculously popular. He made a sound that no one has heard before and he kept it consistent–kept it fresh even while dub step was just a baby. That’s what people can identify with. That’s what makes it fantastic.”
Michael Donovan, another student at HSU, has been playing guitar for six years– along with at least ten other instruments. To this bluegrass player, it isn’t about bragging but about the music itself.
He said what he conveys to the listener depends on what type of music he’s playing.
“First of all, it kind of depends on what kind of a song you’re playing. What I mean by that is if you’re playing a cover, it’s really hard to express yourself. So really if you’re playing a cover you just want to make the audience feel good.”
Donovan claimed that traditional music should be personalized.
“If you’re just playing a traditional song, you kind of want to put your own twist on it. Traditional songs exist through influence. They’re constantly changing,” he said.
Donovan listed Old Crow Medicine Show as an example of the evolution of traditional music.
He also explained that original music is an extremely personal element.
“If you’re playing an original– or at least what I try to convey– at least in the songs I spend a lot of time in– the words really matter to me. The lyrics really matter. Having a lot of intricate detail is a lot of times is what makes music really cool,” Donovan said.
He instantly doubled back and hailed bands like the Black Keys and White Stripes for their minimalistic style. He then stressed that, “Everything is about the balance.”
Story music holds a special place for Donovan. He said funny ones in particular, like the song “Cocaine Blues”, can hold an audience’s attention. To him, they make the listener pay greater attention to the lyrics.
Donovan said, “It’s kind of a throwback to the traditional use of songs–like oral traditions–telling stories and things like that.”
“Things I normally write about would obviously be love–well everybody does that so it doesn’t really make me special. I don’t really have any ‘feel-good’ songs, ya know? I mean just ‘happy lyrics’ about how great life is. I don’t really think anybody want to hear music like that. They want dark, gritty, evil stuff,” he said.
Donovan said that he feeds off of the audience when performing. He loves to see people dance and enjoy themselves. He considers music to be important for everyday life. He pointed to music’s historic use by the working-class.
“Music is not a spectator sport,” he warned, “Even if you have the most boring part, music is only as boring as you make it. Even if you’re stuck playing rhythm or third violins, it’s about as fun as you make it. If you have a shitty attitude about it, that’s about as much fun you’re going to have.”
Donovan said that his favorite thing about performing is seeing the audience have a good time. He just wants people to enjoy the music he plays.
Musicians have their preferences. Many may differ from one another in regards to the emotions they feel and the goals that they share, but all face the challenge of conveying their music to the audience. Getting to know the artist of the music allows the listener insight into what the artist is trying to share.