the right hands, an acoustic guitar can be just as effective as a
sonically propelled electric guitar. Thats very true in the
case of the 2011 CD from NYC-based James Sera. Seras
CD Reality Of The Fantasy is one of the best instrumental
acoustic guitar albums of the 21st century. Even though the millennium
may be only 12 years old, you can hear the ages of musical wisdom
in James Sera and his guitar. You can tell he put a lot of work into
this debut CDespecially the studio sound where Seras guitar
instrumentals are pristinely captured by famous sound man Corin
Nelson in Will Ackermans Imaginary Road studio in Vermont.
With the release of The Reality Of The Fantasy, Seras
blend of new acoustic guitar instrumental music is being hailed as
new ambient, neo-folk and even neo-classical yet whatever genre you
choose to call it, his instrumental acoustic sound takes you on a
scenically sonic guitar journey and brings you home again. Flashing
back to Lasse Englunds 1988 acoustic guitar CD Anchor, I
was thinking there was something quite English or even Scandinavian
sounding in Seras compositional approachthe oceanic theme
(just like Lasse) underscored in the tastefully designed packaging
and James on the desert island painting. For ECM guitar fans and those
who were lucky enough to have been able to hear Englunds Anchor,
The Reality Of The Fantasy is also listening time well spent.
mwe3.com presents an interview
Your new CD Reality Of The Fantasy is really excellent. Is
there a story behind how the CD came about, including how you came
up with the title, and how you ended up recording, mixing and mastering
up at Will Ackermans Imaginary Road studios?
JAMES SERA: Thank you, I appreciate the kind words. This CD is very
special to me, it's very personal and it's the first time I ever put
something out there for people to listen to. This album is a real
learning experience on so many different levels. There are so many
different things and events that inspired or helped shape this album.
Right off the bat I would I have to say the event that really inspired
me to play solo acoustic guitar was Kaki King. I saw her open up for
Tony Levin at the Bottom Line in NYC. I'm not even sure she had an
album out then and she blew me away. I had never seen someone with
just an acoustic guitar and no backing band captivate an audience
like that before. I had always been into instrumental music, but a
solo acoustic guitar instrumentalist really appealed to me not only
as a guitar player or as a songwriter/composer but more important,
spiritually. I felt instantly like an inner calling to pursue this
form of music. To be able to tell a story or convey a feeling or an
emotion with just one guitar, wow! Naturally the music went through
many different phases. At first I played with a pick and originally
I was doing everything on my electric Steinberger Strat. As I delved
into the music more, I became enamored with solo instrumental artists
like John Fahey, Robbie Basho and Leo Kottke. Then of course the Windham
Hill guys like Michael Hedges, Will Ackerman and Alex DeGrassi.
The origin of the title Reality Of The Fantasy is something
I came up years ago when my roommate with a mutual friend snuck backstage
at an Alan Holdsworth concert and my friend asked Mr. Holdsworth if
he had any words of advice for a young musician and according to my
roommate Holdsworth told him "Hope for the best and expect the
worst." I thought that was such an honest answer. I thought wow,
isn't that a reality of the fantasy and that has always stuck with
me. There is a reality to every fantasy in life. Whether it's going
on a date, a new job, going somewhere new. Every fantasy or thought
we conceive has a reality to it and that reality can exceed our expectations
or it can be a lot more painful or difficult than we ever imagined
as well. The Reality Of The Fantasy in essence is the truth.
Not what we tell ourselves to be the truth. It's the moment we awaken.
When it came time to record the album there was no other place I could
even think of besides Imaginary Road studios. The history and energy
of music that has been recorded there. I feel very fortunate to have
recorded this album there.
mwe3: How interconnected was the process of recording, mixing and
mastering and describe your involvement from start to finish. The
CD has a great sonic edge in my opinion.
JS: I would say very interconnected. The energy that Imaginary Road
also played a real important part as well, it was very inspirational.
The studio is high atop this beautiful scenic land in Vermont, that
is just beautiful. The studio itself was built by Will using wood
from the land. There are moments on the album that was made up a few
seconds before the red light went on in the studio.
We did most of the recording in the winter which had such a great
atmosphere, snow everywhere, being in the woods, getting dark early,
it was very inspiring. We did some additional recordings and did all
the mixing and mastering in the spring and that had a very different
vibe to it. The weather was warm, bright colors all around, it was
Of course I would like to say that working with Grammy award winner
Corin Nelsen was one of the best recording experiences I have ever
had. The man is amazing. He is so proficient, hard working and really
an expert on getting a good sound and setting the pace to get maximum
results. But the first thing Corin said to me while I was tuning and
checking the sound levels was "Don't hold back, play as you feel."
I said to him don't worry I'll keep in mind the mics and the levels."
He looked at me and said don't worry about that, you do what
you feel, that's my job is to worry about that stuff." I felt
so good and instantly comfortable with Corin. I can play very loud
and aggressive and the next second play real gentle depending on the
song, which sometimes drives other engineers a little crazy. At that
point, I knew we were here to make a record.
I'm really happy how the overall sound turned out. With the mixing
and mastering Corin suggested to keep it clean and natural sounding.
I don't know what I would have done without him. It was one of the
best recording experiences I have ever had.
The Will Ackerman influence is there but what other guitarists inspired
you to pursue the cutting edge New Age / acoustic instrumental guitar
sound that you feature on the new album and what other musicians,
guitarists and bands inspired you to become a performing musician?
You mentioned that you were also influenced by progressive rock bands
such as YES, so I guess, multifaceted guitarists such as Steve Howe
had a definite impact on your playing and recording.
JS: Although this album is intended to soothe, I think there is some
dark moments on the album that I would consider more ambient in nature,
I tend to gravitate towards the term psychedelic folk.
Ambient music and psyche-folk music can have very dark overtones.
The album is really a reflection of where I was mentally and spiritually
in my life at that moment. My younger brother George who I dedicated
the album to is dealing with an aggressive form of MS.
I have lived my life not believing in myself, I couldn't even play
guitar if someone was in the room with me. I would be so self-conscious,
my mind and my fingers would just freeze. I was really unhappy with
my life and where I was. Between that and my brother, I could not
listen to loud, fast paced, get up type of music. I couldn't sleep
at night. I couldn't clear my mind. So the music that I was listening
to was a reflection of that. I listened to everything from George
Winston a lot of Basho, Fahey, Kottke... Returning by Will Ackerman.
Classical composers like Satie, Glass, Reich, Riley... I got into
a lot of ambient music as well. Pink Floyd has always been a big influence
as well. The way they have that very relaxed, slow, atmospheric feel.
I'm a big Yes fan, Mood For A Day was the first solo acoustic
guitar piece I ever learned on the guitar. I think I was about 14
or 15 when I learned it. Yes has always been a part of my life musically.
Their music has been with me at some very pivotable moments of my
life. When people who maybe are not aware of the genre of solo instrumental
music if they ask me to describe the music on the CD and I know they
know who Yes is, I might jokingly tell them that the album is if Jon
Anderson played acoustic guitar like Steve Howe with a dash of Pink
I think this album should be viewed as one big piece. it has a certain
flow not only conceptually but also for the listening aspect to it
as well. I wanted to create on one level an almost journey type of
listening experience. The conceptual aspect is that it starts out
with the song "Wish" as the introductions and once upon
a time and sets a certain tone as a very dreamlike state.Wish
for me has a very airy, dreamy feel to it. The second song "The
Ascension" is almost is the opposite of Wish, it
has very dark overtones to it, something lurking around the corner
as opposed to the bright feel of Wish and then it goes
back into the story with "Day Of Celebration" which is a
very upbeat feel good song that still retains a very strong emotional
feel. For me that song is like a first dance at a wedding or a birth,
its a moment of love. Track 8 which is the title track is the climax
of the album and then track 9 "Someway, Somehow" sums everything
up and ends the story.
mwe3: Can you say something about your favorite guitars and specifically
about the guitars you played and recorded with on the Reality Of
The Fantasy CD? How about favorite guitar strings and other gear,
effects, amps, etc. that you use to achieve your sound live and in
JS: Everything was recorded on my Adamas guitar. Which has the carbon
fiber top. I love it. It has sound characteristics that gives it a
very unique sound and a feel that is all its own. Everything was recorded
dry with various placed microphones and we did use a direct line into
the board from the guitar. Live is a different situation, I have been
working on my live sound. What's good about being a solo guitarist
is that I can just mic the guitar and plug directly into the PA. What
I'm trying to do is add consistency with my live sound. I'm toying
around with various compressor, delay and reverb units. I just got
an Aural Bass Xciter, I love how it really adds some nice low end
frequency and fullness to the overall guitar sound.
mwe3: Can you say something about your guitar technique? Do you play
mostly finger-style and also do you use guitar picks, capos and what
kind of guitar tunings do you prefer? Do you practice and can you
remember your first guitar?
I like to play with the volume, the duration and the suspension of
notes, I like to play with the tempo. I can be very gentle and I can
be very aggressive on the instrument. I kind of subscribe to the classical
technique where for the most part the third finger handles the high
E string, the middle finger handles the second, the index finger handles
the 3rd G string and the thumb tackles the top 3 strings. I am a firm
believer of practice. I always have a guitar in my hand whether I'm
watching a movie or hanging out and socializing. I also think practicing
has to be broken down into different specifics. Practice scales, chords
and technique for improvisation and to expanded your knowledge. Practice
songs for repertoire purposes, even if they are your own. Practice
song writing, even if it is just creating something that sets a tone
or a mood. Try to create something in a different genre that you normally
don't play...jazz, country, blues, funk, folk, metal, indie, punk...
Try to come up with something that conveys different moods. Something
happy, sad, scary, romantic etc. Create for the sake of creating.
The more you do something the better you get at it, that includes
sight reading as well.
I got my first guitar at the age of seven. My first good guitar was
when I was 11 it was a Guild X-79, that I picked out with my Dad in
a pawn shop in NYC for Christmas.
mwe3: Can you say something about the excellent cover art of Reality
Of The Fantasy CD and who designed it? What does it say to you?
Its great to see you put so much effort into the design and
look of the CD, especially in an era when some artists arent
even pressing actual CDs.
JS: The art work was done by Teri Ann Proschuk. I love the art work.
Teri was really close to the music and had understanding of it. I
think she really captured the essence of the album. Most of the music
we listen to is a collaboration of different musicians and instruments
playing together creating one big unified sound. For me there is something
that is lonely about solo instrumental music, there is also something
very liberating to it as well. I love that it is me playing by myself
on this little deserted island in stormy weather with the raging sea
in the background. I think it gives the listener a glimpse of what
the music or story of the album is all about. The use of the color
blue signifies sadness and storms usually signify struggles or turmoil.
Being alone with a guitar in the vast open ocean, like a spec of sand
in the desert.
mwe3: Music is such an excellent respite from the hard world right?
How about musical therapy, your CD has that therapeutic effect on
people, making them calm and relaxed.
JS: Thank You, the music is supposed to be therapeutic. We live in
this fast paced world. Everything is so fast these days, you blink
and it's gone. So this music is really a nice alternative. I think
people are looking for something that doesn't have all these quick
edits. Something that is hypnotic and yet relaxing. The music these
days can be so compressed and loud. I think there is a real need for
something that is not so loud, fast and busy. Something that breathes
I am a music nerd, so when I'm not playing, I love to see live music.
To me that is one of life's greatest sensations. For instance, to
see Chick Corea and John McLaughlin in a jazz club six feet away from
you is mind blowing or seeing The Kronos Quartet at Carnegie Hall
performing Steve Reich's WTC 9/11 composition... I'm looking forward
to a lot of good shows this year. Van Halen, Roger Waters, Tool. One
of the good things about living in Brooklyn is that there are so many
quality shows for like ten dollars, and all different types of quality
What are the plans for 2012 as far as getting your CD heard far and
JS: I'm trying to get it heard by as many people as I can, I'm learning
as I go. Radio is a hard nut to crack, But I'm in no rush. I've been
recently playing gigs that are mostly rock venues. I think that is
really shaping my live performances and newer material. I have been
busking in the Brooklyn area and that is great. I'm meeting such great
people on the street, at gigs and on the web. It feels really good
when I meet someone or when somebody emails me and they tell me that
they bought the album while I was playing on the street and that they
play it all the time and that they really enjoy it. I believe in this
album and the people who have been buying the album are people who
are not my friends and family, that means a lot to me. It's people
who genuinely like it and listen to it
All I can do is try my best. I think eventually if I keep writing,
performing from the heart and keep improving, I think eventually something
good will come out of it. I've been writing material for my next project.
For me Reality Of The Fantasy is when life hits you in the
face and youre stunned. The next record might be when you decide
to take a stance and decide to do something about the situation...
Thanks to James Sera @ www.JamesSera.com