ANDREA BALESTRA
Fine Arts Avenue
(Spleen Records)

 

Interesting name for a record label, Spleen released Fine Arts Avenue, the 2011 CD from L.A. based guitarist Andrea Balestra. With his skillful approach to instrumental jazz and rock guitar, Andrea seems to have settled nicely within the L.A. jazz-fusion music scene. A number of players fill out Andrea's band on Fine Arts Avenue and even hard rock guitar hero George Lynch guests on a track here. Backed up by a solid band, Balestra’s electric guitar work sounds inspired by any and all of the big name instro guitar heroes—from Robben Ford to Holdsworth and Scofield and as such should be of interest to instrumental guitar watchers. Commenting on the CD, Balestra adds, 'The idea was simply to create something that would be very compelling, and use contrast as a tool to help accomplish it. I try to think of an album in a cinematic direction, that way it can go places and be organic at the same time.' One minute moody and introspective, the next hard rocking blues and funky, Balestra has his guitar sound totally covered on the ten track Fine Arts Avenue. In May 2012, mwe3.com spoke with Andrea Balestra about Fine Arts Avenue and much more. www.AndreaBalestra.com email: balestrastaff@gmail.com


mwe3.com presents an interview with
ANDREA BALESTRA


mwe3: Can you say something about when and how you started playing guitar? Who were your early music and guitar influences and can you remember your first guitar?

AB: I started playing guitar when I was fifteen years old. My older brother was the one who had the instrument bought for him as a present. It was a nylon string instrument, as cheap as they come, about 40 bucks in U.S. dollars. It was lying around the house so I picked it up here and there, tried to strum a couple chords, it quickly grew on me to the point it was all I was doing. I’d skip school to practice or jam with friends, even take it with me whenever I’d go out and play on street corners.

As far as early influences go, I listened to a lot of classic rock, especially Jimi Hendrix, George Harrison and Carlos Santana, I loved the vocal quality they got out of the instrument. I didn’t even know you could make a guitar sound like that at the time.

mwe3: How did the Fine Arts Avenue album come together, where and when was it recorded and who plays with you on the CD?

AB: The idea came as a result of a phase of my life where I was pretty much forced to think a lot about music. I had carpal tunnel syndrome in my left hand from over practicing, so I couldn’t play much at all. It was a pretty painful time because it really dawned on me how much I really needed playing in my life and couldn’t do it. But, since listening, reading, and examining art was all I could do for my craft, it really helped me understand better the meaning of the work of an artist.

One day, I was back home visiting family, and I was walking through Maregrosso, probably the poorest neighborhoods in my hometown, Messina. There is a particular work of art that I love right there on a street by the harbor called “The House Of The Puppeteer.” The author, Giovanni Cammarata, built it out of his own home, throughout the span of his lifetime, covering the walls of his house with short poems and statues and mosaics, made out of anything he could find. He’d call the street where he had created that wonder “Fine Arts Avenue”, right there in between the shacks, the gypsy camp, the concrete and the abandoned shipwrecks aground on the shore.

That really got me thinking what this man had in mind when he built that, when he took a look at that desolate place and saw something different and fantastic that wasn’t even there yet. That really made me realize the power of a true creative process, how wonderfully pointless it is from a practical standpoint, and how it is a statement of freedom when moved by a pure intent, and also how producing art really is just an act of love.

So I started writing music with no regard on how it would be marketed, what anybody would say about it, what genre anybody would associate with it, what rules applied. In other words, having only the listener in mind and trying to do my very best to be honest and staying true to each and every emotion that would originate each tune. Titles of the tracks are parts of “House Of The Puppeteer”, the scenery around it or in other cases refer to some of my favorite works of art.

When it came to recording, I would say ninety five percent of the work took place at my house. I didn’t have a budget of any kind so I produced and engineered the record myself. Some of the musicians that play on the record are friends I knew from the blues clubs I played in South Central L.A. , like Bobby “Hurricane” Spencer, Ron Battle and Melvyn “Deacon” Jones. These musicians have made the history of that genre and it was a great privilege to have them as a part of this project. For the jazzier songs, I had my friend Koji Ono record keyboards, he’s just an unbelievable pianist and most importantly manages to extract the most amount of emotion out of every single note he picks, which I believe was perfect for the material. Dario Benzoni plays drums throughout the record, he’s one of those young musicians that can play any style to perfection and he did a tremendous job. I also had two exceptional vocalists come in and use their instrument in pretty unusual ways, Mino Mereu and Brie Widaman. George Lynch just tore it up on “Burn”, that track really has a particular intensity to it, so it was great to have such a master of the guitar add such a unique twist to it.

The album was recorded over the course of three months, between December of 2010 and February of 2011. Recording sessions were very sparse due to scheduling reasons, but gave us enough time to put the right amount of thought into how we wanted things to come out and yet the time span was short enough for everything to come out spontaneously.

mwe3: Musically, there’s a lot of different directions on your CD, from funk to fusion to melodic guitar instrumentals. How would you describe your sound and musical vision on the Fine Arts Avenue CD and can you compare it to your first CD? How has your sound changed over the past years?

AB: The idea was simply to create something that would be very compelling, and use contrast as a tool to help accomplish it. I try to think of an album in a cinematic direction, that way it can go places and be organic at the same time.

Most of my favorite records are very diverse and very organic, for instance Sgt. Pepper’s, The Wall or Houses Of The Holy. There are no consecutive tracks that are alike, and yet there is an underlying tone that gives the work unity. The use of contrast is also remarkable, especially when brought to its extreme, it is very intentional and effective. Some people think variety makes a record inaccessible, but I believe that is a result of underestimating the listener. Each album I mentioned is a milestone in our history and a popular music album at the same time, I believe that is not chance.

To me listeners respond the most to a radical event, loud to soft, melodic to rhythmic, instrumental to vocal, simple to complex. Emotions aren’t containable in an organized spectrum. There is no honesty in cutting out any of your influences at the spark of the creative process.
About my first album, I believe overall that was a less mature work. That is not necessarily a bad thing, the feeling was there and I am proud of that, at the same time my playing was not up to par with my writing in many ways and I feel I have shortened that gap with this latest work. Some people seem to really like my first record though, I think because of the rawness of the whole thing. There is something special about less organized work, incidents have a fundamental role in a recording process and capture the uniqueness of the moment, especially when tracking live and at a fast pace.

mwe3: What guitars, electric and acoustic, and amps are you playing on the Fine Arts Avenue and do you have any endorsements with gear companies? Do you follow all the latest gear and guitar news?

AB: I have many guitars I love, but the love of my life is my D’Pergo Telecaster. It’s just the best instrument I have ever played, period. I can get some pretty unique sounds out of that one. Sometimes people say things about me using a slide or a whammy bar on my recordings, and I’ve never done either. It’s just the Tele...it has something magical about it, I can’t bend like that on any other type of guitar.

I mount Seymour Duncan pickups on it, the STR-1 and the Vintage Broadcaster. I do have an endorsement deal with SD for pedals as well as pickups, with Reference Cables and Clayton Picks and accessories. I have also worked with Bad Cat Amplifiers as an artist and I do play their BC-50 on most of my album.

I don’t look into magazines as much as I wish I did but I do have a lot of friends that keep me updated on more stuff than I can keep up with, it’s really great! Talking about my endorsements, I’d like to thank Alicia Toney at SD for being such a wonderful person and keeping me updated on gear. Also my amp guy, Steve Dikun over in Burbank...that man just knows too much!

mwe3: How long have you lived in Los Angeles and what do you like best about the music scene in L.A. in 2012 and what other guitarists do you compare notes with?

AB: I have lived in Los Angeles for the past four years; it’s really an amazing city for music. There are many hidden treasures here, many cool venues and musicians. People think about it just as a good city for rock music, but it’s actually really amazing for jazz, blues and fusion as well.

There’s are many players here that have contributed to my development greatly; John Pisano is an incredible guitarist and a great mentor, I have learned and am learning a myriad of things from him on nearly every aspect of playing. Steve Trovato is also a big influence on my playing, I have the time of my life playing clubs with him and learning every Tele trick there is from such a master of this instrument. Barry Zweig is definitely another player I look up to, he has an amazing sense for chords and he is one of the most soulful guitarists I have ever heard.

On the blues side of things, Richard Martin Ross and George Dez are definitely my favorite guitarists to play with, and are both tremendous players.

Fusion-wise, Dave Hill is a great inspiration and a world-class musician. I look forward to playing with him on the 10th of this coming month at Lucy’s 51, it’s going to be an awesome night!

I also enjoy talking music and guitar stuff with Francesco Artusato, who’s been a close and dear friend from day one of my venture in the States and is a very unique and talented musician. I’m happy to see him getting a lot of recognition in the world of heavy metal, but I must also say I am thankful to be aware and to witness just how exceptional he is in virtually any aspect of music.

mwe3: Do you have any hobbies interests or causes outside of music and what’s coming up for you musically and what musical directions are you planning to take in the future?

AB: Well, I enjoy reading very much; I titled one of the tracks of FAA quoting a poem by Dylan Thomas. Arthur Rimbaud, Pier Paolo Pasolini, John Fante, Leonardo Sciascia and Ernest Hemingway are some of my favorites.

I am also into movies very much, and film scores of course. I love the works of Sergio Leone, Federico Fellini, Pier Paolo Pasolini, yes, he was just a genius as a director, and Giuseppe Tornatore.

I enjoy traveling very much too. Even though that is just another implication of my work, I really enjoy seeing new things, driving for many hours, listening to everyone’s stories when I’m among people and listening to the silence of things when I’m by myself.

As far as causes go, I’ll play music for good causes from time to time, for the homeless or at a special high schools for kids that had a criminal history a few times a year. If I may be allowed a generalization, they usually make the best audience. I also believe teaching is a cause, as I believe it is for anybody that realizes the responsibilities and the importance of teaching, especially to the youth.

I have many projects for the future, right now I am getting ready, practicing six to twelve hours every day, even losing nights of sleep over it. I’ll be playing live a lot in the next couple months, most of all though I want to get back in the studio within the year and record a new album. I already have more material than I need for it, so it’s just a matter of picking and choosing what I don’ t want to use. One more thing I’d like to say about it is, there will definitely be some exceptional musicians involved in this one as well and can’t wait to get started...


Thanks to Andrea Balestra @ www.AndreaBalestra.com

 

 
   
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