BEN ROGERS TRIO
Windfarms Of Your Mind
(Blazz Music)

 

Ben Rogers—by day surf rock guitar hero, by night, Gypsy Jazz and swing guitar protagonist, composer and true fretboard artiste. Compared to Ben’s 2010 CD, the surf-rocking Instrumentally Disturbed, by Ben Rogers’ Instrumental Asylum, the 2011 CD release of Windfarms Of Your Mind serves as an intimate guitar trio affair. Released by The Ben Rogers Trio, Windfarms finds Ben in the company of his Asylum pals Romana Geermans (violin) and Nikki Scarlett (bass/ukulele). Ben cites an early music teacher as the influence behind this return to his swing music roots with the guitarist adding, ‘This is the album I’ve wanted to make for a few years now. It’s a collection of both new and old tunes, the earliest of which is my very first composition, written as a young student of the guitar in the early ‘60s.' Even so, Ben’s stamp as an original guitarist and composer is all over the album, to which he confesses, ‘Some years down the track, I discovered the music of Django Reinhardt, and this has become a strong influence on my playing and appreciation of the guitar. For me Django remains an endless source of inspiration.’ The era may evoke the acoustic swing of Django, but the guitar sound is truly Ben Rogers 2011. There’s an air of musical authenticity here that cannot be denied. Blending steel guitar and a range of other guitar sounds, track 5 “National Banjo” is almost an instro guitar anthem that could work as a folk song as well as a fully fledged, soaring Hank Marvin-esque production. Anyone who dug Ben’s Instrumental Asylum, will find much to admire on Windfarms Of Your Mind. Same as much could be said about track seven, “Laika’s Flight”, which although ostensibly a long and winding drum-less guitar solo, is actually a most interesting guitar trek that would also work as the foundation of a more production laden rock extravaganza. Either way, the diversity of guitar sounds and styles Windfarms makes for a most promising first recorded album by The Ben Rogers Trio. www.BenRogers.com.au



mwe3.com presents an interview with
BEN ROGERS



mwe3: After hearing your new Windfarms Of Your Mind, some fans of your surf-rock albums with Ben Rogers’ Instrumental Asylum might think you have a split musical personality. How would you answer to that and how do you compare your love of surf-rock instrumental music with your rootsy kind of Gypsy jazz / Americana style on the Windfarms album? And is there a story as to how you came up with that humorous CD title?

BR: Maybe I do have a split musical personality, but I just enjoy using stringed instruments to make sounds that express different emotions. Each instrument and band lineup provides a vocabulary appropriate for certain situations. My two current bands are very different, but together they provide scope for me to draw on many years of learning, practicing and playing in various genres and situations.

I love both groups. Instrumental Asylum gives me the opportunity to play with a solid, well rehearsed rhythm section using an overdriven, reverb drenched Fender Strat sound, while The Ben Rogers Trio provides the opportunity to explore a different range of music that is often more complicated. Some of that repertoire is approached in a more traditional classical form rather than the improvisational approach of rock and jazz. However, there is still room for jazz improvisation on some of the tracks where the guitar/double bass rhythm suits that style. Some of my compositions are played by both bands with very different results—for example “Conversations With A Frog”, on the Windfarms album, is also on Reverb Rehab.

I started out learning guitar in the heyday of guitar instrumentals when The Shadows, The Ventures, Duane Eddy etc. were making hit records. From that time it’s been a musical journey through a range of styles, and it was like coming full circle when I got back into the surf-rock thing about six years ago. My interest has always been in writing new material, in whatever genre takes my interest at the time.

The title Windfarms of Your Mind came about when I spent a few nights near a wind farm in western Victoria a couple of years ago. In that few days I wrote a couple of instrumentals that seemed to be influenced by the nearby turbines. One of the tunes had a kind of cyclical pattern, and it reminded me of the pattern of that 1960s song Windmills of Your Mind, with its repeating, canon-like form.

mwe3: It’s just amazing how many rock and fusion guitarists cite Django Reinhardt as a big influence. Hank Marvin and John Jorgenson are just a couple I can think of. Why do you think instrumental rock guitarists also have such an interest and affinity for Django and the whole Gypsy Jazz thing? Hank mentioned to me that it’s kind of manly thing as the Gypsy Jazz guitar is not easy to play.

BR: I don’t see the “manly thing” connection at all. To me Django is simply the most innovative and inventive guitarist I’ve ever heard, and I keep coming back to his music for new inspiration, regardless of the style I happen to be playing at the time. I’ve done a couple of surf-rock interpretations of Django tunes, including his most famous tune “Nuages” (on Welcome to the Instrumental Asylum), and his last composition, the beautiful but somewhat obscure “Anouman” (on Instrumentally Disturbed).

The Gypsy jazz style is not easy to play, but it’s a great form of expression for guitarists who have that ability to improvise over rapid chord changes, and it’s lots of fun. It’s interesting how popular the genre has become in recent years. In the early 1980s when I first started gigging with what we called a “hot swing” quartet in Perth (Western Australia), our band was considered something of a curiosity, as there was only a handful of bands in Australia playing that genre. Now it’s almost mainstream, with thousands of YouTube videos, websites dedicated to Django’s music, mass produced Selmer style guitars readily available, and Gypsy jazz guitar strings available from major string manufacturers.

Also I think that Django’s influence on other iconic players is increasingly being recognized. If you look at a list of guitarists who cite Django as a major influence it reads like a “who’s who” of the guitar world—Les Paul, Jimmy Page, Carlos Santana, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton to name but a few.

mwe3: What guitars did you play on the Windfarms CD and how can you compare the Gypsy Jazz guitar itself and the technique involved in mastering the art form with acoustic guitar and even classical guitar? Sounds like there was also some electric guitar on Windfarms but not too much...

BR: Most of the acoustic guitar parts were played on an arch-top made by English luthier John Le Voi—better known for his Selmer style Gypsy jazz models. I also used a 1938 Gibson L4, and a couple of early sixties Australian made Maton archtops. The electric guitar parts were played on a Gibson Johnny A model, through a 1961 Fender Vibrolux. I used mandolin on a couple of tracks, and Nikki (bass player) played several rhythm tracks on a resonator ukulele.

For the technically inclined, the Gypsy jazz style requires a strong right hand and the use of a plectrum rather than a finger-picking style, and the strings are struck closer to the bridge than with other acoustic styles. This helps to make a treble sound with plenty of attack that cuts through without amplification.

I don’t feel qualified to comment on mastering the Gypsy Jazz guitar, as I don’t believe I’ve done that! I am able to play and write more-or-less in that genre, but there are many virtuoso players, such as John Jorgenson, who have mastered the technique and capture the spirit of the style. I don’t try to master any particular style, but rather just try to develop my own style, incorporating whatever influences I’ve absorbed over the years. Similarly, I don’t have an interest in just re-creating the surf-rock sound, but rather using that genre as a basis for developing our own band sound.

mwe3: Who plays with you on the Windfarms Of Your Mind album, why did you select these players and what were some of the challenges involved in writing the music and working out the arrangements with the trio on the new CD?

BR: The bass player is Nikki Scarlett, who plays electric bass with Instrumental Asylum. On Windfarms she plays double bass and a bit of ukulele. Nikki is also the main composer of one of the tunes, “Le Viaduc.”

Romana Geermans is our violinist, and she is one of those rare musicians classically trained violinist with perfect pitch and the ability to improvise in the Stephane Grappelli style. I composed a lot of the material with Romana’s playing in mind, and it’s relatively easy for the three of us to work together, I usually write out the main melody, Romana memorizes it quite quickly, and then we all play around with improvised sections. Nikki usually works out her own bass lines, and we all play around with arrangements.

mwe3: Two of my favorite tracks on the Windfarms CD are “National Banjo” and “Laika’s Flight”, the latter of which almost sounds like a John Lennon melody! Can you say something about those two tracks and what are some of your personal favorite tracks from the Windfarms CD and what tracks are turning out to be the most popular from the new Windfarms CD among your fans?

BR: “National Banjo” just developed from messing around with my old banjo and a National tri-cone square neck guitar that I have on extended loan from a friend. I came up with three basic parts, and then added acoustic guitar and mandolin to build up some sections. The tune does work without the layering though. I have played it live as a duet with our violinist Romana.

“Laika’s Flight” is a bit more complicated. I’m not sure how I came up with it, but I’m flattered to hear it compared to a John Lennon melody! I wrote it with the intention of it being a violin melody, but then found it worked better as an electric guitar tune. The plaintive melody seemed in keeping with the plight of Laika, the first dog in space, hence the name.

Although we’re selling Windfarms at our gigs and have made it available in the US from CD Baby, we haven’t really done an official release at this stage, so there hasn’t been a lot of feedback yet.

I think that instrumental music often provokes very different responses from different people. With songs you’re telling them a story but with an instrumental you are providing the soundtrack for their own story, and everyone’s will be different. We have had very positive responses from the limited number of people who have heard Windfarms so far.

mwe3: What are your plans moving forward with the Ben Rogers Trio and the Ben Rogers Instrumental Asylum as we move into 2012?

BR: I don’t have clearly defined goals as far as commercial success is concerned. My main interest is writing, recording and having the opportunity to play new music to live audiences. I love to play to live audiences, whether the venue is an inner city pub, a music festival, a café or even a private house. My main driving force is making the music itself. The fact that people enjoy listening to it is an added bonus! There’s such a lot of great music in the world, it’s hard to know the best way to take our music forward. We are fortunate in Melbourne with a vibrant live music scene that provides outlets for most styles, and with great independent music stations (3PBSFM and 3RRR) that support local music and reach a listening audience open to new music. Who knows what 2012 will bring?

Thanks to Ben Rogers @ www.BenRogers.com.au


 

 
   
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