MARK VICKNESS
Places
(Mark Vickness Music)

 

Half of the soulful blues-meets-jazz duo Glass House, California guitarist Mark Vickness grew up on Long Island, but he’s been California-based for the past 40+ years. Times on Long Island and NYC and his adopted mother are memories put into songs on Mark’s moving and quite spiritual sounding 2017 album Places. Though he chose a communal sounding album title, Mark packs a lot of emotion and feeling 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 Mark’s finger-style acoustic guitar instrumentals which, thanks to his track by track notes and photography, makes you feel like you’re really in the places he’s writing about. “Wonder Lake Suite” takes you into the mist-filled tundra of Alaska, while “NYC 2.O” was written on Mark’s 2016 recent trip to the Big Apple in 2016. Most moving track here, “I Must Tell Jesus” is a tribute to Mark’s mother—a religious, African American woman who died at age 99 in 2015. She always sang spirituals to Mark since he was four and—paying a kind of musical homage to his mom—a 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 / www.glasshousemusic.org

 


 


mwe3.com presents an interview with
MARK VICKNESS


mwe3
: 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. That’s 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. I’m thrilled to have it done and to be developing as a soloist in addition to my work with Glass House.

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 true.

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 Cal Arts.

mwe3: Where did you receive your bachelor’s and master’s degrees?

Mark Vickness: BA from Clark in Music. MFA from Cal Arts in Composition. I’ve taught guitar and music theory on and off over the years.

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.

mwe3: 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 Rays”.

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 mother’s 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: It’s 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… period. 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 and over… so much easier to practice with that kind of encouragement!

mwe3: Your daughter Lucy wrote a great poem for Romell that appeared in the Places CD booklet. There’s so many lessons in Lucy’s poem. I’m 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 grandmama’s grace for themselves.”

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). She’s an amazing mountaineer! As Obama said when he visited Yosemite, you can’t 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… a chance 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. It’s very ethereal with the guitarist in the background, roaming the planet in search of places…

Mark Vickness: I have known Teo since he was about one month old when my wife and his mother met at a new mom’s group. Teo is a great musician in addition to his obvious talent for visual art… and photography 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 Lucy’s 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 Michael’s work when I saw Andy McKee play in San Francisco with Michael’s guitars. We first started communicating around getting the G4. I can’t recall when we first met but I have been to Montreal several times to visit Michael. Glass House played a show at Michael’s workshop. I have played a lot of steel string guitars. Michael’s instruments are unique in my experience. My Greenfields are very large guitars. They have an incredible dynamic range but they are also amazingly transparent—meaning 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 baritone—involves 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.

I 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 didn’t 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?

Mark 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. He’s 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 don’t 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: I’d like to get out and play the pieces from Places in 2018. Nothing booked yet. I’m 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. I’m working on new material for the next CD which will be a bit different. I’m 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 Will’s rapping. Hopefully, not two years in the making. In fact, I’m thinking of just booking a studio for three days solid, hauling everyone in and saying we’ve got three days to record everything!




 

 
   
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