TERRA GUITARRA
Dragonfly
(Earth Sign Records)

 

On the 2013 CD release of Dragonfly, the group known as Terra Guitarra continues to evolve and refine their sound. Featuring guitarists Bruce Hecksel and Julie Patchouli, Terra Guitararra are masters at combining finger style and classical guitar within their mix of instrumental jazz, flamenco, World Music into a brand of music they call “Neuvomenco”. The end result of their fourth album, Dragonfly, is a fluid and sublime instrumental music listening experience that blends everything good about the pan-global popularity of modern day nuevo flamenco instrumental music. Commenting on their timeless guitar-centric sound, guitarist Bruce Hecksel adds, ‘Our style of Nuevo Flamenco music is incredibly blissful to play. The melodies are reflective of the earth’s energy and vibrations.’ Although the emphasis is on intricate Spanish classical and toe-tapping Latin rhythms, the music created by Terra Guitarra is timeless and healing at the same time. Julie Patchouli accurately describes the music of Dragonfly as ‘A spiritual journey of personal exploration and discovery.’ With the CD release of Dragonfly, Terra Guitarra reach a new height in their colorful and rewarding guitar journey. www.TerraGuitarra.com



mwe3.com presents an interview with
BRUCE HECKSEL & JULIE PATCHOULI of

TERRA GUITARRA



mwe3
: Where are you from and where do you live now and what do you like best about it?

BRUCE HECKSEL: I grew up near Minneapolis / St. Paul in Minnesota, went to grad school in Chicago and due to our heavy touring schedule of 200 plus dates a year we call the Midwest home in summer and Florida home in Winter. We have a house on the Mississippi River on Lake Pepin which is incredible for its inspirational beauty. Nature is my musical inspiration and this area has it in abundance, rivers, lakes, streams and diverse wildlife which really allows us to maximize our down time by living in such a nest of creative potential.

JULIE PATCHOULI: I grew up outside of Chicago and after living in several different cities and moving around with music and studies, we currently call west central Wisconsin home. We live in a little town on the Mississippi River. This area is called “God’s country” because of it’s stunning natural beauty. Touring all over the US and playing 200+ performances a year, it is restorative and necessary to have our days off in an inspiring and beautiful place that we can rest and play and enjoy the wilderness.

mwe3: After releasing three albums with Terra Guitarra what kind of musical vibe were you going for on your 4th release, the Dragonfly album? How does Dragonfly compare, both compositionally and recording wise, with your other CD releases?

BRUCE HECKSEL: It really was more of a collaborative project between the two of us and many pieces were composed spontaneously. Picking up the energy of the places we were performing or playing.

This whole project was aimed a little more globally, and since it grew over a years time it takes on the character of a journey, very much like we live our lives interpreting the signs as we go along. Many of the songs on this album were performed and evolved live before recording, instead of the other way around for the first time too. So this album is a very natural emanation for us, it’s much closer to the way we actually perform them than the others which inevitably grow as time progresses.

JULIE PATCHOULI: Dragonfly to me has a variety of guitar styles and compositions that vary from the other Terra Guitarra albums. We had been on the road performing a lot of the pieces from the previous projects adding in songs we were composing for Dragonfly in front of a live audience. So the compositions changed a bit from feeling how the songs fit each night before we got to recording them.

The debut Terra Guitarra album was composed completely by Bruce and I learned my parts to record and perform. The second, The Mother Night, I had been present in more of the composition time, but the core of the songs are Bruce’s. As we came into writing the music for Dragonfly we took ideas and melodies we had both been working on. “The Swan” was a fingerstyle rhythm I was hearing that I brought to Bruce to lay melodies on. We wrote “Janvier” together sitting outside in the winter sun, both sick as dogs with no voices, but wanted to “sing”.

mwe3: When did both of you become interested in playing the guitar and can you give a little background into your early exposure to the guitar as well as musical studies and how your guitar sound evolved into the sound and style featured on the Terra Guitarra albums?

BRUCE HECKSEL: I began piano at 5 years of age and progressed very rapidly winning state contests and the like, until I was 13 and my piano teacher told me I was on the concert pianist track and that I should quit sports forthwith. So instead I quit piano as my impression of a concert pianist at that age was not something I considered desirable and began the guitar shortly after. I grew up in a richly classical music house and was surrounded and involved in choral music and so forth and my blood was fairly brimming with it. I began in rock and punk but arrived at the allure of the acoustic guitar towards the end of high school and college where I gradually became obsessed. I studied with a national fingerstyle champion for a year where I practiced at least 8 hours a day ravenously devouring his repertoire until he dispatched me... declaring me done. I briefly worked with a flatpicker as well, but with that much intensity, the original compositions just started pouring out of me and I joined a group where fingerstyle was getting lost so a began crafting my own style of flatpicking, borrowing from jazz, rock, neuvomenco and even reggae. People like Rev. Gary Davis, Leo Kottke, Al DiMeola, Paco Delucia, Ernest Ranglin, Don Ross and others were my biggest influences. As Julie and I began our own duo we mixed instrumentals with singer songwriter tunes and covered a lot of territory, but just loved world music in all of its forms. So our style really blends numerous influences to complement the tunes that come naturally to us. We try to stay as original as possible and have definitely created some adaptations of rasquedo, a flamenco fingerstyle, to flatpicking so that we’re quite percussive as we play off of each other.

JULIE PATCHOULI: I got interested in guitar from listening to Bruce play. This was about 20 years ago. I was writing lyrics and songs acapella style and had an old balalaika I was playing. I had learned violin at a young age as well as drums/percussion and played trombone, and I really enjoyed the way the guitar sang out the melodies and songs. I started searching out guitarists I could see perform live, and feel their connection to their instrument like Bruce had. Taj Mahal, Leo Kottke, Earnest Ranglin, Ali Farka Toure, Ani Difranco... all masters in their own genres of guitar styles. I have always loved music from around the world, new instruments, voicings, rhythms, expressions. So when Bruce started working on Terra Guitarra compositions it was very interesting.

mwe3: You mention some famous guitar names such as Leo Kottke and Paco De Lucia as big musical influences and there’s a great cover of the John Barry classic “You Only Live Twice” on Dragonfly as well. What other guitar and non-guitar influences as well as other musical influences inspired you early on to want to play guitar and write music?

BRUCE HECKSEL: As I mentioned I grew up in a classical music environment and that is simply huge, as well as relatives living in Mexico and Guatemala. I think that combination really is my backbone but also people like Randy Rhoads and other rock guitarists have had an influence. Govi is one of my favorites and I was an early lover of Tangerine Dream and Brian Eno and Klaus Schulze and a pantheon of New Age artists, especially William Ackerman and George Winston. As you mention the John Barry tune, Mantovani was lurking around a bit of the time as well, and his arrangements are incredibly musical and I’ve heard his records so many times that some of his sensibility has definitely inspired me as well. With the guitar itself the most powerful was the folk-rock of the late 1960s / early ‘70s, Cat Stevens, Paul Simon, Bob Dylan etc. that really made me gravitate toward the acoustic guitar. There’s so much hope and warmth in that era I guess I always wish I could have been there.

mwe3: The sound of the guitars on Dragonfly were impeccably recorded. What guitars are you featuring and performing on the Dragonfly album and what do you look for in a guitar? Some of those beautiful nylon string guitars are quite expensive. Which guitars interest you the most and which guitars are best to record with? What guitars do you record with and what guitars do you travel with?

BRUCE HECKSEL: We have a number of different Taylor steel strings, 6 and 12 and they’re very comfortable and we’re very used to working with their tones. My main steel string is an 814CE which is a jumbo rosewood/sitka combo and it’s quite soulful for leading. Taylor's are great on the road as we’re quite abusive to them with our schedule. For classical I use an Alvarez as its particular tone for what I’m going for is right on the money versus any other instrument I’ve tried. I also use an Asturias when I want a really rich sound but for most of the time I prefer the Alvarez. The beauty of a classical is how responsive they are and how different they can sound but I find most to be too bright and prefer a real even sound that is fairly thick in the upper midrange tonally. I find when recording a classical, that if it’s too loud and resonant it doesn’t sit as well in the mix, whereas a cedar/mahogany type combination works best for me to really pull out the melody. I’ve tried hundreds of different guitars looking for that perfect sound for me, and I’ve pretty much settled for now. But it’s always a pleasure to look.

JULIE PATCHOULI: I primarily play a Taylor 714CE steel string guitar for my rhythm guitar parts on the record. It is a beautiful recording guitar and I tour with one as well. I also tour with an Alvarez acoustic bass and a Goldtone electric upright bass as well as a djembe and percussion instruments.

mwe3: Can you say something about the amazing artwork painting of the Terra Guitarra Dragonfly album? Your artwork, featured on your web site, is both very guitar-centric and very beautiful in its own right. What inspires the artwork on your albums and what artists inspired you to became involved in painting? Are they all done by hand?

BRUCE HECKSEL: Well thank you. I’ve been a painter all of my life as well and my painting style is a highly textured acrylic based impressionism. The idea first came to me for my “guitar landscapes” where every element in the composition is a guitar based shape, when I was thinking about the first album cover for the first Terra Guitarra album. The name means guitar landscape and so it came to me that that’s what I should create. Also Julie had made some watercolors where she had a guitar upside down that appeared as a figure with it’s head bowed to the sun and that opened up the whole anthropomorphic style of guitar birds and people and so forth. Now that it’s out of the box, I’ve produced around 160 paintings in the last two years averaging around 3ft x 3ft. So the paintings are now on their own tours at exhibitions around the country and we bring Giclee prints with when we perform.

Combining the painting and guitar compositions with the a common energy has really been profound for me and continues to evolve rapidly. So I’m painting every chance I get.

JULIE PATCHOULI: The artwork on the albums were created by Bruce to express the full concept of Terra Guitarra. That the land around us is singing and depending on where we travel and listen we hear new melodies new inspiration. The art reflects this beauty and joyful discovery.

mwe3: Can Julie say something about her group, which is called Patchouli. What kind of music is featured in the group Patchouli, when did the group start and how does it compare with the Terra Guitarra sound?

JULIE PATCHOULI: When Bruce and I met back in 1993 we knew we wanted to play music together whenever and where ever we could. Bruce and I were touring in another band, Bruce on guitar from 1993-98 and me on bass ‘95-98 and when that band ended we were ready to start out on our own. Patchouli officially started in 1998.

The sound is modern acoustic singer-songwriter, drawing influences from blues, rock, folk and jazz. It’s lyrically driven versus Terra Guitarra being all instrumental guitar pieces. I come from a poetry background and the songs express themes of love, healing, joy, longing, environmental issues, tolerance, history and the open road.

mwe3: Your live shows are renowned for being quite eventful. What is a Terra Guitarra show like and what is the set list like for the shows? How does the crowd feel when the show ends? I imagine they all leave like they’re floating on a cloud. (lol)

BRUCE HECKSEL: They are definitely something that we love. Depending on the audience we tailor tracks from our 16 different albums to fit who's in front of us. We don’t ever write set lists, we just go with the flow. For us performing is an entirely spiritual experience and it’s straight from our heart chakra to yours. My main goal in playing is to feel bliss, to float in the beauty of sound and ride on the energy of ourselves, the music and the audience. We have always ended by handing out instruments to the audience and involving them. I think our perspective is much more that the audience is affected by us affecting ourselves than any kind of calculated attempt to “act like we’re entertainers” or something like that. So regardless of the audience size I think they feel the intimacy that comes from what is very pure, and they have the experience of someone opening up to them.

JULIE PATCHOULI: We perform live in front of an audience over 200 times a year, so we are over all the details of the shows and tours and once set, we can truly just sink into the performance of the songs. So we are very comfortable and open to the audience. I think that is important since they are ready to listen and yes be transported. My part as rhythm guitarist is to hold it, drive it and create the “Terra” for Bruce to let the melodies of the “Guitarra” soar. We are so familiar with the musical landscapes we are creating that we often improvise depending on the energy of the experience at that moment. One of my favorite things is hearing and seeing Bruce play. The feel, the new places he goes, all continue to inspire me to be my best and go for it as well. The audience reaction to the chemistry we put out is palpable. In addition to dancing, clapping, tapping, and moving to the music I feel the
audience connect into that wave we are all riding in the piece.

I play a porchboard bass with my left foot, which is a pedal type instrument that gives an effect of a bass drum, and the percussive style I play on my guitar gives a “snare” like quality that, together between the counterpoint parts we do, creates a sonic illusion of a drum kit in the music. Many times people have asked if we use a looper or tracks – because they are amazed at hearing that full of a sound out of only 2 guitar players. The answer is NO... this is live music!

mwe3: What are the plans for Terra Guitarra moving into 2013 and beyond? Are you planning to tour, write and record new music for the next album? When is the next album planned for release and are you planning any other activities, musical and otherwise for the coming year?

BRUCE HECKSEL: We are currently composing for the next Terra Guitarra album which could be out before 2014. We’ve got some really great ideas that we’re working on. Writing and recording are really huge favorites for us, the moment of discovery of something new and shaping it into it’s potential is really an exciting process. Touring is also a nonstop affair for us so we’ll be on the road before, during and after, it’s really a way of life.

JULIE PATCHOULI: We are kicking off our summer tour which is primarily in the Midwest with a festival out in N.Y. We have a new CD with our other duo, Patchouli Anything Is Possible, that just released so we’ll be touring both projects. We are already writing new pieces for a 5th Terra Guitarra album.


Thanks to Bruce Hecksel & Julie Patchouli @ www.TerraGuitarra.com and www.patchouli.net

 

 
   
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