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Will Kimbrough

A Conversation with Will Kimbrough (continued)

PM: This EP here is a particularly warm record, I think. And David Henry had quite a lot to do with this disc, did he not?

WK: He did, yeah. I mean, only one song was started at True Tone, which David played on. But I just had a hunch that it would be a good thing to bring him. And I'm working on a new record right now. I won't be around for some days, I'll be touring. But we've started. We've got a CD with six songs on it that's in process. We're going to make a new record.

PM: What a civilized and talented guy David Henry is.

WK: He is. And I really love that he is just so relentlessly musical. He likes to try things using music first rather than effects and technical productions, things I find are predominant particularly in indie rock right now. And that's fine, there's great stuff. But there are a lot of the same sounds you hear that are due to the type of microphone or the type of compressor you used, or the type of gear that someone is using, equipment on the music--and of course, the way people play, too. But you hear sort of the fashion of current sound.

PM: Yeah, it's kind of software heavy, yeah, it's sound heavy.

WK: Yeah. Quite honestly, most of the stuff I started--I did the vocals and guitar and banjos or whatever on my laptop at home. So it's ironic that it's the most sort of old analog sounding thing I may have ever done, but it's actually done on a powerbook with Protools.

PM: [laughs] Well, it takes a talented guy to record into his laptop and sound like a Nagra. [A superior old school tape recorder for field recordings and the like.]

WK: Yeah, well, and you can use it just like a tape machine as well. That's primarily what I do. I know how to edit and things like that, and I know how to use effects. But for the most part I wanted to just record the guitar and vocal at the same time life, and then keep the overdubs at a minimum.

PM: Right. So when you record guitar and vocal at the same time, how do you mic that? What mics do you run to your--

WK: I have like four mics in my house, and two of them are Russian condenser mics that I bought at Guitar Center when I was thinking about buying a laptop for recording, and saving up my money. And I saw them on sale for $100 apiece. And I have two Shures, a [SM] 57 and a 58. So I really just have standard cheap stuff. Then I have a pop filter that I put in front of the vocal mic and a boom stand. And I get pretty close to it. And usually I'm sitting in a squeaky chair. You can probably hear it on the record.

PM: [laughs] I think that's fantastic that everybody--"Hey, you like that record? That's two 57s and two Ruskie mics. There you go."

WK: Yeah. Then I have--the other Russian is a small condenser, and I put it on the typical somewhere like six inches off the guitar at about the 12th fret, see how it goes. Sometimes I do two mics, I do the 57 on the body and the condenser on the neck, and then just record. I think the song "Godsend" was actually recorded on Tommy Womack's 4-track cassette recorder, which I borrowed.

PM: [laughs] Fantastic.

WK: And then I transferred it--and of course with that I used dynamic mics, I used the Shure mics on that because it doesn't have phantom power. And I have a cheap ART mic preamp I think I got from Kim Richey at some point. She had bought it to try to warm up the sound of her acoustic guitar; it's like a tube thing you run through.

PM: Right.

WK: I use that sometimes. I use that and a little Alesis compressor. I mean, it's stuff you get for 40 bucks on Ebay.

PM: Really? I mean, that's definitely all 40 dollar Ebay stuff, and I think that's amazing.

WK: Well, cool. And I learned a lot. One of the things about David Henry that's always so inspiring to me, number one, of course, it's just the work that he does, the quality of work. But I think you said it well, he's a civilized person. He's a good person, and he's very talented.

PM: He's a very evolved person.

WK: Yes, he really is. And I just love to be around him and work with him, because work gets done, and it's good.

PM: So did he cut all his tracks over at True Tone, or did he bring his cello over to your pad sometimes?

WK: I went over there. I wanted to hear--I was paranoid that my tracks would sound terrible once I sort of put it up into the light of professional scrutiny. I liked the performances, but I didn't know that I would like the sound. I couldn't tell anymore. At the time I had some Radio Shack speakers that I bought on Ebay, because I heard that--what's his name--John Leventhal had used them to mix a record.

PM: What, those little black Realistics?

WK: Yeah, the little Minimus models--

PM: Yeah. Those are great little speaks, if you can find some that don't have speaker rot by this time.

WK: They're sort of his Auratones, they're sort of his crappy speakers to hear more like what the real world is going to hear. So I bought some of those and a power amp. So I had my collection of $40 things.

PM: [laughs]

WK: And then I went over to David's, and we listened. And I said, "These are the songs I'm thinking about doing." And as each song would roll by he'd go, "I don't think we need to re-record this." And really the three parts of what I do are, first, the creative part, that trusts the gut instinct in the first take. And then there's the paranoid "It can't be any good, I did it at home on my own." And thirdly, there's the guy who owns his own label and has to come up with all the money to do this stuff. So a part of it is like, "Are you sure this sounds good, because if it does, I like that it was the first take of it. I don't want to redo things unless they're messed up." But that also saved me like half a day in the studio. Yeah, mixing, I mean, that's probably boring facts. There could be more interesting things to say. But the truth is I put out my own records, so the bottom line is always there. And that's not why I recorded it at home. I recorded it at home because I was inspired at that time, and I had the gear to do it. And one of the things I love about David is he's a connoisseur of having no gear.

PM: Really?

WK: You go into his place, he doesn't have a big rack of vintage tube stuff with blinking purple lights on it--which I love that stuff. Believe me, when I go to places that have it, I love the vintage gear. I love it! I covet it and I want it. But he doesn't have it, and--

PM: What's he got?

WK: He has a--I think it's a Studer board, which would have gone with the Studer tape machine back in the eight-track days, like in the early '70s. And so that's his analog sort of link to the digital world.

PM: Is he a Protools guy or a Nuendo guy?

WK: He's a Protools guy. But he has an Apogee analog to digital converters, and that really makes a big difference in his sound.

PM: They're amazing, I hear.

WK: A good sounding clean board, analog kind of vintage board that goes into really good converters, and then also back out converting it digital to analog so that when you hear it back you're hearing it more true to form, and then you can manipulate the sound, EQ and compress it more correctly. You're not going to mix it and then take it to the mastering lab and have the guy go "Wow, listen to all that extra booming bass."

PM: Right.

WK: But really, you go in there, and there's a computer and this small board that's about the size of your stovetop. And then there are just a couple of pieces of gear in a rack like basic compressors, not expensive stuff, and basic microphones, very minimal. But it sounds great. So I like that, because there's not stuff to get in the way.

PM: That's interesting.

WK: I have found myself at places that had lots of gear where you'd end up spending half a day trying out different mics on the guitar amp. And it's kind of like, well, you know what? It's pretty much going to sound like it sounds.

PM: Yeah, right. Just put a 57 in front of it, please. [laughs]

WK: Yeah. So I love to experiment, but I really think sometimes that's for people with a budget or people with a lot of gear at home. And I experiment at home. Malcolm Burn, who makes records Emmylou Harris and Daniel Lanois has been known to say, "Give me a 57 and a 4-track, and I can make a good sounding record." I'm not decrying owning good gear, because Nashville is a town of people with fantastic home studios. It's also a town of mind boggling great studios, at least the ones that are not closed down, you know, the big great old rooms. But here we are in the day where you can do your laptop recording and you can get a comment from Rodney like, "Oh, you've got your Townes Van Zandt song." Or--referred to "Yellow Mama" as your Carter Family song. So I'm pleased.

PM: Yeah. And Townes would probably have approved of a collection of $40 things to make the recording.


PM: How long and how much have you been touring with Rodney?

WK: This last year was a very minimal amount of touring. But I've been playing with Rodney since The Houston Kid came out and Steuart Smith got hired away by the Eagles. At that time I think it was 2000 or 2001.

PM: Oh, really? That many years already?

WK: Yeah, yeah. So I've been doing it for a while. And last year I think I played less than 10 shows with Rodney, or maybe 10, something like that. The rest were my own.

PM: How has that gig and that relationship with Rodney changed you and changed things for you?

WK: I've learned from everyone I've worked with, and there have been some brilliant people along my path. I learned a lot from Kim Richey and a lot from Todd Snider in particular, as far as people that I've worked for hire with. But Rodney is at a different level--he's sort of found a place of his own. He's a little bit like a Kristofferson figure, in that he's a writer's writer and then he's a star, at some point was like sort of a popular star, but chose this artistic path. And also somebody that just has a lot of good humanity in them, and you can just take that in spades all day long.

PM: And it seems that he's been very supportive of you as a person and a songwriter and a solo--isn't that right?

WK: Oh, yeah, very giving and open, and not living based on his fear--or at least as little as possible.

PM: Playing as well as you do, it's interesting how you seem to incline away from your own records being any obvious platform or demonstration of that, but rather all about the songs.

WK: Well, I think I'm a songwriter who happens to be able to play lead guitar. And I've done a lot of rocking and rolling in my life. I've played in bands from age 12, and never ceased to be in some sort of situation in a rock 'n' roll band.

PM: And you were always playing lead guitar in all those bands, right?

WK: Yeah. So I've done a lot. And I kind of like it. I mean, the other night I played a gig, Saturday night, playing this club, and it was like 50 million guitar solos. People seemed to like it. But I don't really listen to records like that. I more listen to music, not just songs, you know--I listen to a lot of African stuff where I don't know what the words say. So I'm listening to--studying stuff with African roots, soul music and gospel. I've kind of studied up on the blues a lot--not that you can ever finish learning that. But I've sort of moved--I don't know if it will make any difference in the way I play, but it's sort of like learning a new language or attempting to learn some phrases without phrase books. But I play with African music, which is full of guitars.

PM: Full of amazing guitars.

WK: But to answer your question, I think I like music, but I don't like guitar solos. I love guitars and I love to play guitar, but I sort of don't listen to other guitars as much as I did a long time ago and I learned a certain amount of the vocabulary. And then you need to hear some other instruments and hear some other... Well actually I'm listening to African guitars. They have a whole different tone. It seems like their hands are different, the whole way they hit the thing.

PM: Yeah. And of course you make records like a producer, not like a guitar player.

WK: Right. As a guitar player, I'm always trying to push that envelope in a solo. But listening as a producer is different. I was working with Jimmy Buffet and Jimmy ran into Roger Waters from Pink Floyd and wound up having lunch one day with him, and then dinner with him another night. And I think because I was with Buffet, you know, Roger Waters deemed it okay to talk to me. I mean, it was just interesting when you meet someone in that circumstance, they kind of like lean in and go, "So what do you do?" And we had a conversation. And he wanted to talk about Neil Young a lot. And then he was talking about editing all those David Gilmour guitar solos. And of course those are some of the epic rock guitar solos of all time.

PM: Sure.

WK: With Hendrix and Jimmy Page and all the other people. But those really long, drawn out Dave Gilmour things had a huge influence on me. And I never really even bought those records--but I didn't have to. I grew up in the '70s.

PM: True. It was everywhere.

WK: Every party, by the end of the party they had Dark Side of the Moon playing and you're trying to get a girl to make out with you.

PM: [laughs]    continue


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