of the soulful blues-meets-jazz duo Glass House, California guitarist
Mark Vickness grew up on Long Island, but hes been California-based
for the past 40+ years. Times on Long Island and NYC and his adopted
mother are memories put into songs on Marks moving and quite
spiritual sounding 2017 album Places. Though
he chose a communal sounding album title, Mark packs a lot of emotion
into his all-instrumental guitar-based masterpiece. Guest Mads
Tolling contributes violin and viola on a track here with cello
added by Joseph Hebert. Performed entirely by the artist, Places
is the perfect showcase for Marks finger-style acoustic
guitar instrumentals which, thanks to his track by track notes and
photography, makes you feel like youre really in the places
hes writing about. Wonder Lake Suite takes you into
the mist-filled tundra of Alaska, while NYC 2.O was written
on Marks 2016 recent trip to the Big Apple in 2016. Most moving
track here, I Must Tell Jesus is a tribute to Marks
mothera religious, African American woman who died at age 99
in 2015. She always sang spirituals to Mark since he was four andpaying
a kind of musical homage to his moma Vickness arrangement of
the spiritual I Must Tell Jesus showcases another side
of the guitarist's prismatic musical upbringing. The CD sounds excellent
and the packaging, with track-by-track liner notes by Mark, is first
rate. Acoustic guitar fans and instrumental New Age fans will totally
enjoy Mark Vickness and Places. www.markvickness.com
mwe3.com presents an interview with
How did your new CD Places evolve and how do you compare it
with your other music in the duo Glass House? Why did it take so long
release a solo album of your instrumentals and how many albums have
you recorded with Glass House?
Mark Vickness: As I approached 60 I started to feel the need
to contribute original modern finger-style solo pieces to the genre
I had been pursuing since hearing Michael Hedges last show in
San Francisco a few months before he died. While I use similar tunings
and techniques with Glass House, accompanying a singer is necessarily
a very different musical challenge. Glass House has released three
CDs, two EPs, and a bunch of You tube videos. It took this long to
release a solo CD for several reasons. I make my living as an attorney,
the owner of a small litigation firm in Oakland. Thats about
fifty hours a week. I have two teenage children. And then there has
been Glass House. Finding the time to devote to composing and recording
a solo CD has been a challenge. Im thrilled to have it done
and to be developing as a soloist in addition to my work with Glass
mwe3: Where do you live now in California and how would you
compare it to growing up on Long Island?
Mark Vickness: I live in Oakland. I grew up in Roslyn, Long
Island. Roslyn was ninety nine percent white, Jewish, upper middle
class... Oakland is one of the most diverse cities in the country
from every perspective. I also love living in California for its geography,
the Pacific, the mountains, the deserts, the weather... all of it.
mwe3: How did you end up in Oakland? Seems like a dream come
Mark Vickness: My route started with college at Clark University
in Worcester, Massachusetts, followed by graduate school in composition
at California Institute of the Arts. While there I visited the Bay
Area and fell instantly in love. I moved here after graduating from
mwe3: Where did you receive your bachelors and masters
Mark Vickness: BA from Clark in Music. MFA from Cal Arts in
Composition. Ive taught guitar and music theory on and off over
mwe3: What instrumental film scores have you done in the past
and what kind of film music would you like to make?
Mark Vickness: Most of my film work has been for public health
related documentaries. My wife works in public health. If I were to
do any further film work, I would love to work with my son, a budding
film maker. Some of my favorite film composers are Howard Shore, Marvin
Hamlisch and Mark Isham.
How did you start on sitar and do you have a sitar today? Who are
your favorite Indian and World Music guitarists?
Mark Vickness: I was first exposed to Indian music when I went
to Clark in 1974 and lived with a guy from India. I started studying
sitar with Peter Rowe at the New England Conservatory in 1975. I still
have a magnificent concert sitar, which I almost never play. I consider
John McLaughlin and Ralph Towner among my influences with regard to
Indian influenced or World Music guitarists. I have also studied tabla
for years and I play the tabla part on the track Flight Of The
mwe3: Your new CD, Places sounds excellent and I was
reading all your liner notes so, just to follow up with the first
question, a clear highlight is the CD closing I Must Tell Jesus
which you dedicate to Romell Jones, who is the woman became your mother.
I was saddened to learn of by your birth mothers passing when
you were seven. How did you survive that, and your father is still
alive? How did Romell come into your life and how did she come to
raise you and your sister?
Mark Vickness: Thank you. My father died in 1989. My mother
hired Romell to be our housekeeper when I was four years old. Romell
promised my mother she would stay and raise me and she did.
mwe3: Its an incredible story and you also credit Romell
with encouraging you to become a musician. Life takes you in so many
different directions sometimes! So, it must have been a challenge
explaining your mom to the other kids
Mark Vickness: Romell absolutely insisted that I never introduce
myself as her adopted son. I was her son
So the challenge was introducing myself to people in North Carolina
over the years when I would visit Romell
I took care of her
as she got older. Romell was extremely musical with a beautiful singing
voice. She would constantly ask me to play piano pieces for her over
so much easier to practice with that kind of encouragement!
Your daughter Lucy wrote a great poem for Romell that appeared in
the Places CD booklet. Theres so many lessons in Lucys
poem. Im sure just about everyone could take something away
from what Lucy wrote about her Grandma Romell. Do you have any favorite
part of her essay?
Mark Vickness: Lucy is the 2017-2018 Oakland Youth Poet Laureate.
Last night we attended an event where the city unveiled a poster that
will be featured throughout the city. They chose this line from Grandmama:
Her first breath was taken by bigotry yet history shaped
this woman into a gold plated, stained glass sanctuary where thousands
would set foot to taste but one piece of my grandmamas grace
mwe3: You mentioned Michael Hedges in the liner notes as
being one of your big musical influences. What Hedges albums influenced
you and how about other guitar influences that affected you?
Mark Vickness: Breakfast In The Fields is my favorite
Hedges album. Other modern fingerstyle artists that have influenced
me are Andy McKee, Mike Dawes and Don Ross. My musical influences
are pretty broad, ranging from classical composers (Bach, Mozart,
Beethoven, Brahms, Stravinsky) to jazz artists (Coltrane, Miles Davis,
Pat Metheny, Joe Pass to name just a few) to Indian artists (Ravi
Shankar, Zakir Hussain) to singer/songwriters (Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell)
to prog rock icons (Peter Gabriel, YES) to electric guitar gods (Hendrix,
Jimmy Page, Duane Allman) and more
mwe3: What made you want to write music inspired by what you
call Places around the big country and how did you find
places like A Thousand Islands in the High Sierras and
the "Wind River" range in Wyoming? Is there magic in these
remote corners of America and in what ways is there something religious
or spiritual about these destinations?
Mark Vickness: I was looking for a theme for the CD and Places
worked. I traveled to the Wind River Range when I attended a National
Outdoor Leadership School summer mountaineering course in 1974. I
credit my wife with taking me to the High Sierra locations (Thousand
Islands Lake and Bishop Pass). Shes an amazing mountaineer!
As Obama said when he visited Yosemite, you cant explain the
magic of these places, you have to experience it first hand. What
I find spiritual about these places is the same thing
I find spiritual in anything truly beautiful
to be fully present and deeply human.
mwe3: Places features two tracks dedicated to New York
City. Do you sometimes travel back to New York and have you done some
shows there with Glass House? Does the city still have magic for you
and what can you tell us about your working as a doorman while in
college? What part of town did you work in?
Mark Vickness: I am attached to New York City, having grown
up nearby. I do travel there regularly to see family and friends.
We have not performed there. New York has a unique energy I am drawn
to. I worked as a doorman at an apartment building at Park and 71st.
A great way to get plugged in to the rhythm of the City
mwe3: The CD cover art for Places is excellent. Its
very ethereal with the guitarist in the background, roaming the planet
in search of places
I have known Teo since he was about one month old when my wife and
his mother met at a new moms group. Teo is a great musician
in addition to his obvious talent for visual art
and film making, etc. Teo and I have done a bunch of music together
over the years including having him perform with Glass House. Our
families have backpacked together in the Sierras many times so he
knows these places. He is Lucys best friend and really a surrogate
son for me and my wife.
mwe3: What about the guitars you play on the Places album?
You credit guitar builder Michael Greenfield in the liner notes. Do
you play any electric guitars on the CD?
Mark Vickness: One of my favorite subjects! I play two Greenfield
guitars on Places, a G4 fan fret and a baritone. I have had
the G4 for about nine years now. I first became aware of Michaels
work when I saw Andy McKee play in San Francisco with Michaels
guitars. We first started communicating around getting the G4. I cant
recall when we first met but I have been to Montreal several times
to visit Michael. Glass House played a show at Michaels workshop.
I have played a lot of steel string guitars. Michaels instruments
are unique in my experience. My Greenfields are very large guitars.
They have an incredible dynamic range but they are also amazingly
transparentmeaning that you can distinguish individual notes
anywhere on the instrument. This makes it possible to get a rich,
powerful sound out of relatively few notes. Much of the writing in
both "Prince William Sound" and "I Must Tell Jesus"both
performed on the baritoneinvolves three-note voicings yet the
sound is really full. I also play an Ovation double-neck on "Flight
Of The Rays"the first piece I ever wrote for that instrument.
I was inspired to buy this instrument after discovering Ian Ethan
Case on Youtube. David and I did a Glass House show with Ian in Berkeley
and I was lucky to have Ian over to my studio so he could teach me
some of his techniques on the double-neck.
also play a custom made 8-string guitar by Matthew Mustapick on "Wind
River". I string this instrument in a unique way based on my
experience with sitars and sarods. Instead of the lowest string being
a bass string, I string it with a treble string. This gives me several
A- below-middle-C strings in the tuning which makes for a very resonant
sound as these strings vibrate sympathetically with each other.
mwe3: What can you tell us about the way the album was recorded,
for instance were there multiple takes and/or any overdubbing? How
long did it take to complete the Places project?
Mark Vickness: As to the recording of Places, our normal
process was to have me record three or four takes of the entire piece
and then listen back. If I didnt nail a complete take, we might
combine the best sections from two or three takes. There are some
sections of pieces that required overdubbing. The middle section of
"Wind River" and the codas of "Prince William Sound"
and "Wonder Lake Suite" come to mind. I did pull out my
PRS electric to overdub the last two chords on "Prince William
Sound" and for two melodies on the coda of "NYC 2.0".
The distortion on the last chords of "Prince William Sound"
was inspired by my having seen The Who perform in Santa Barbara about
a month before we recorded "Prince William Sound". Pete
Townshend, at 71, still has the sweetest sounding distorted electric
guitar sound ever! Places was two years in the making including
the composing time.
mwe3: You also credit your partner in Glass House, Dave Worm
in the liner notes. How did you meet Dave and how do you write music
with him in Glass House? Does Dave also play guitar and what is the
song writing process like in Glass House?
Vickness: I met David when he responded to an ad for the purchase
of an old Roland percussion pad. Our writing process usually starts
with either a lyric idea or a musical idea and then blossoms from
there. We do a lot of improvising. David was trained by Bobby McFerrin.
He is a great improviser in many styles. He uses a VoiceLive vocal
harmonizer as well so we can get a very large sound between the two
of us. He does not play guitar. Hes a great vocal drummer though.
mwe3: Places has a very dynamic sound to it. How did
you capture or enhance all the dynamics during the mastering session
and what did Reuben Cohen bring to the album sound during the CD mastering
and where was the CD pressed?
Mark Vickness: I give the credit for capturing these instruments
to Dan Feiszli, who engineered and mixed the recording. We used three
mics in close proximity, which I found nerve-racking! Reuben Cohen
is a brilliant mastering engineer with lots of Grammy winning recordings.
He does Bruno Mars stuff and lots of major motion picture film
scores as well. I was not present for the mastering. I dont
know what he does. I think he uses a wand. Dan sent him the pieces
and he sent them back to me mastered and the sound just about blew
my head off. Michael Greenfield said this was by far the best sounding
modern acoustic guitar CD he had ever heard. This is the same Michael
who builds instruments for Andy McKee, Pierre Bensusan and probably
half of the top steel string players in the world and who knows all
their recordings intimately. I was very proud of that. The CD was
pressed at DiscMakers in New Jersey.
mwe3: Tell us plans you have for 2018. Are you planning some
new live shows or music videos and have you given thought to new recordings
with Glass House as well as your instrumental guitar music?
Mark Vickness: Id like to get out and play the pieces
from Places in 2018. Nothing booked yet. Im sure Glass
House will play some shows as well. I have ideas for a few more videos.
Glass House just released our
2nd EP, Combinations. Im working on new material for
the next CD which will be a bit different. Im hoping to combine
old technology with new technology and include my son Will, a very
talented young rapper. So it looks like it will be acoustic guitar,
violin, viola, cello... The same players as appear on Places, with
electronic stuff from my new Akai MPC Live and Wills rapping.
Hopefully, not two years in the making. In fact, Im thinking
of just booking a studio for three days solid, hauling everyone in
and saying weve got three days to record everything!