With a fierce sense of eloquent purpose, master guitarist Ewan Dobson appears on world competition stages, international performance tours and major awareness fundraisers. His busy schedule makes him very difficult to pin down in one place, but it is precisely that hyper-drive sensibility of motion and creativity that makes him one of the most intriguing emerging artists today. With a passion for different musical styles and diversified composition, Ewan consistently places himself right at the cutting edge of music. We hope that you enjoy this illuminating interview and draw great inspiration from it.
LBFH: You are an accomplished guitarists in many styles such as classical and finger picking, which both have very specialized followings. When you decided to move into acoustic metal were there any people who tried to sway you from moving away from the styles that you were gaining such high recognition for?
ED: I did not get any particular warnings or specific people swaying me away from metal. The fingerstyle music I play, some of it anyway, contains metal energy within it. For example, “Level 5,” “I Know Your Pain,” and “Disk Read Error” have such energy in my personal opinion. I must admit that playing heavy music is overall my favourite. Due to the different styles I have visited on my recordings, I ended up attracting a diverse audience. “Level 5” might appeal to both a fan of metal, a fan of fingerstyle in general, and a fan of video game or trance music. I gained recognition online due to the video for “Time 2,” and have been asked “why don’t I make more of the same for the same result?” The reality is that the effect of a delay pedal and one guitar can only be done for a short while before it loses its appeal. I went on to play whatever music I was truly drawn to playing. Whatever styles I have visited were enjoyed honestly and reflected whatever inspiration wave I was riding at the time.
LBFH: You are very open about your own diagnosis of Tourette Syndrome, has this condition ever presented a challenge in your professional life?
ED: I don’t necessarily open up an interview or a show by announcing that my high energy levels coupled with what supposedly normal people define as “unusual vocal expressions” had been at one time pegged as “Tourette’s Syndrome” by a professional in the field of psychiatry. Basshunter, a fellow artist and “Touretee,” has stated in interviews where he had been asked the same question regarding Tourette’s syndrome that some people who have this diagnosis are highly creative individuals with an undiscovered talent of some sort. I would go so far as to say that Tourette’s could be a form of energy that if directed into a focused point, could lead to a refined talent such as the playing of an instrument, or the crafting of a great work of art. I would categorize the stereotypical understanding of Tourette’s Syndrome which is usually “a man shouting obscenities in an incoherent manner in social situations where it is not called for” as a “wild undisciplined” version of the energy. I do not believe our current scientific definition of Tourette’s Syndrome fully encompasses what it really is, and I also believe that it will be some time before the current methods of study evolve to a place where an accurate definition of Tourette’s can be discovered.
To answer ultimately, I would say that I have been challenged by the pre-existing notions of what appropriate and expected stage banter from a solo guitarist is supposed to be. I would like to, for my own particular whims and humorous tastes, expand my stage show into an area that one could define as “wild humour.” However, guitar players are generally expected to dispense easily digestible pleasantries mixed with banter that rocks no known boat.
LBFH: With 10 releases under your belt since 2007, you’ve consistently released 1 album per year. How involved are you in the distribution of your own releases?
ED: Canyrat Records distributes Ewan Dobson I, II, II and Acoustic Metal 1 both physically and digitally. I distribute all the others digitally via cdbaby and websites that partner with them.
LBFH: Do you do a lot of long distance touring?
ED: Yes, I have been all over the USA and Canada, as well as 13 countries in Europe. I even ventured as far as China and Japan for two years in a row.
LBFH: Are there special challenges when acoustic instruments featured in live performances?
ED: Yes, if you like to play loud and tell the sound man to crank the monitors, the resulting volume will come right out of the monitor and fill up the sound hole of the guitar creating a feedback loop. Mixing acoustic with heavy requires some parametric equalization designed to remove specific frequencies that are known to offend. In my case, 1075hz and 375hz have to be notched.
LBFH: You give guitar lessons via Skype in between your touring schedules. This is a brilliant idea. Is it a popular service?
ED: It has been catching on. Other touring guitarists do the same thing when not on the road. It gives the people who enjoy my music the ability to question specific areas of songs that they want clarification on.
LBFH: You’ve talked a lot about some of your influences, I was surprised to not find Michael Hedges in the mix His approach to the acoustic guitar was similar to yours in that he saw it’s use in a very different way.
ED: I find that other artists in the field of acoustic guitar have taken more of an obvious influence from Michael Hedges. I was more influenced by Leo Kottke, who Michael Hedges has listed as an influence. Hedges incorporated much more tapping and using the guitar itself as a drum while playing it at the same time. The only percussive technique I use is a basic one, and that is tapping the string with my thumb pick to create a snare drum sound. The artists who truly look up to Hedges as their main inspiration have more of his techniques in their arsenal. I went down the Leo Kottke path more so in terms of technique, mainly using steel finger picks. These finger picks do not work well as a means to tap the surface of the guitar. The resulting sound is harsh and over accentuated.
LBFH: Who were the people who gave you the most encouragement to stay in a field where building a career can be so difficult?
ED: Other artists were encouraging and acted as positive reminders for me to stay focused. Marty Friedman, Jason Becker, and Jeff Loomis were very encouraging and showed a genuine support for my musical pursuits. It is always very inspiring as well as a source of motivational energy to have musicians of outstanding calibre show appreciation for what you do. To find out that artists I admire as brilliant voice respect for what I do, encourages me to work that much harder.
LBFH: How do you view yourself as an artist?
ED: Interesting question. I see myself as the outcome of a journey into a few different styles that combined to form a frankenmusic. It is a difficult question to answer because if I were to try and view it objectively, I would be too aware of the subjective reality to view it in any way other than what it really is.
LBFH: From acoustic metal, is there another jump that your audiences should be on guard for?
ED: I recorded a song recently called “Bhangra Integration Therapy.” It is a mix of acoustic metal, bhangra rhythm, and a slight hint of industrial. I would not mind incorporating more of this into the future music I make. That being said, anything is possible and simply depends on my obedience to whatever wave of inspiration comes over me.
LBFH: When composing, how does the creative process start for you?
ED: Usually my sleep schedule suddenly flips and I become a night owl. A few days into this, I begin to get creative inspirations somewhere between 3 and 5 am. A schedule reversal is not always the case, but has been ever since Acoustic Metal 1. There is something about a part of the brain that can be tapped into after a period of sleep deprivation that is most excellent.
LBFH: Can you walk us through your favorite rig?
ED: My rig is the sound man’s dream. Why? Because it is so simple. I usually go into a Para-Empress EQ, Boss DD-6 Digital Delay (which I use for one song), a Boss Guitar Tuner pedal, and then into an AER Domino 3 Amp. The amp also functions as a direct box which sends a line directly into the main board. In situations where I cannot travel with an AER amp, I use a TONEBONE PZ-PRE by Radial Engineering as well as a Boss Digital Reverb pedal. The reverb pedal doesn’t make an appearance normally because I use the reverb on the AER Domino 3 amp. I would say my favourite sound systems have a sub woofer. It adds a special quality to the sound of the acoustic guitar.
LBFH: Do you record your music in a home studio setting?
ED: Yes. Everything from Acoustic Metal 1 onwards was recorded at my home studio.
Do you incorporate software effects or do you stick to pedals and boxes?
The only effects that are used are added by a sound engineer after the recording the process has ended. I send my dry (reverb free) files over to my engineer, and then he does an equalization adjustment as well as adds reverb.
LBFH: In your opinion, what are the most important elements of success for a musician?
ED: The most important element of success for a musician, is to have a clear definition of success that is in harmony with reality. With a clear definition that reflects the reality of the world we live in, the hard work applied to such a goal is then not done in vain. One of the problems people who strive for success encounter is the realization that their definition of success was built upon things that they assumed existed. Success is how you define it, not necessarily what comes back at you after you do what you do.
I would also say that it is of extreme importance to remain devoted in the same way a disciple would be devoted to his/her master or teacher, to their instrument. You serve your health because a healthy body serves music better than an unhealthy one, you sleep well at night because a tired person cannot serve music as well as a well rested person can, you eat well because a nutrient deficient person cannot serve music as well as a nutrient satisfied person can, you avoid drugs and alcohol for the same reason. To be devoted, I serve all corners of the spectrum to the best of my ability and focus it on the one outcome. It is my belief that full servitude is an ingredient in the recipe.
LBFH: Do you demand a high level of technical expertise from the musicians you work with?
ED: I suppose I do without saying it out loud. I have had the good fortune of working with a spectacular drummer named “Zack Bevelacqua.” For example, after I send him the instrumental version of whatever album we are working on (we have done Acoustic Metal I and II), he composes drums and sends me back a version with midi drums over top of it. This is where I check to see if what he composes fits what I hear in my head. After making a few small changes, he then makes the necessary adjustments and records the album in one go.
It must also be noted that I have also been in the reverse position where high levels of expertise were demanded from me. I have seen both sides of the fence. In recording the parts for the song “Horrors” by Marty Friedman and Jason Becker, I was expected to deliver under a specific set of guidelines. It wasn’t “let’s play according to my taste and feel” it was “let’s play this how Marty and Jason want it to sound.” It was a good experience and brought me out of my immediate comfort zone which was helpful.
LBFH: Do you enjoy the production aspect of creating music?
ED: I see recording music as a separate form of art entirely. Playing live and recording music are completely different. They are two zones that require nurturing in order to get good at. After a tour, I need a few days in front of the microphone to acclimate back into the studio recording zone of focus. In addition, after spending a month or two in isolation recording an album, I must then shift back towards the mode of playing live. I prefer to have a few unscheduled random practice performances under my belt before giving a full show if I have just come out of the recording studio.
They are clearly opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of social setting. The studio is solitary confinement that can begin to drive one slightly mad once you pass the 2 month mark. The stage is a social event where you can “feel” the presence of other people even if you focus entirely on your fretboard. This sensation of perceiving others is something wholly unique to the live performance experience which requires a different type of focus for performance success.
So I have identified that each musical setting (one being performance in front of others and one being isolated recording) has its own need for a specific mental pathway to achieve success in. One pathway is constructed in the absence of others, and one is constructed in the presence of others. Both must be regularly practiced in order to become adept at them.
LBFH: What special words or messages would you like to send out to your fans?
ED: I serve the music faithfully and hope the result of that service is enjoyable to all who come to support my performances.