of the most intriguing instrumental guitar albums released during
2013, Unnamed Lands is a fantastic meeting of the musical
minds, so to speak, between guitarist Bert Lams (of the California
Guitar Trio) and fellow fretboard maven Tom Griesgraber. The
14 track, self-produced Unnamed Lands CD has just about every
possible type of guitar sound on itfrom lush, deep and meditative
CGT type guitarscapes, to a more electric / eclectic type of guitar-esque
fusion sound punctuated by Toms electrifying stick / loops /
pedal and assorted synth / electronica sounds. Their album, Unnamed
Lands is based around the early plight of early American settlers,
exploring American lands in the 19th century in their covered wagons.
From the following interview with Tom and Bert, Tom Griesgraber explains,
'The inspiration for us getting together was I think just one of a
shared curiosity and love for music. We both listen to a very broad
spectrum of music and have something of a common musical language
that I think ultimately puts things like mood, atmosphere and feel
above things like technique or complexity. Of course there are plenty
of odd meters flying about and tricky instrumental parts but Id
like to think they take a back seat to actually conveying a sense
of mood and a story through the music.' Unnamed Lands is
all very Americana at its core, while the all instrumental sounds
allows you to imagine the travails of early American explorers as
you read along, track by track, in the fascinating, detailed CD booklet
and expertly designed album packaging. Bert Lams and Tom Griesgraber
bring a new chapter of 21st century guitar expertise to the fore with
the fascinating sounds of Unnamed Lands. www.thossounds.com/lamstg
an interview with
BERT LAMS AND TOM GRIESGRABER
Can you tell us where youre from originally, and where do you
live now and what do you like best about it?
Tom Griesgraber: I grew up and still live in Encinitas, California.
I guess besides the obvious things like the weather and scenic coastline
what I like most about it is simply all the friends Ive made
over a lifetime here.
Bert Lams: I was born and raised near Antwerp, Belgium. For
25 years Ive lived in the US. I lived in Los Angeles for 5 years,
where I co-founded the California Guitar Trio. Moved to Santa Fe,
New Mexico in 1992, and lived in England from 1996 until 2000. I moved
back to Los Angeles in 2000 and lived in Harrisburg, PA from 2006
until 2012. Currently I live in Jupiter, Florida with my wife and
newborn baby. I never thought Id like to live in Florida, but
now I love it. Its a great place to come home to after long
tours; its a bit more laid back, and I love being close to the
ocean. We live about 1 mile from the beach.
mwe3: Theres a comparison being made between your new
CD, Unnamed Lands as being a cross between California Guitar
Trio and King Crimson. What was the inspiration for the two of you
getting together and pursuing the musical directions on Unnamed
Lands and how do you feel your influences come into play on the
Tom Griesgraber: I dont think I ever set out to make
music in any specific direction. At least not on a project like this
where it can be whatever we want it to be. Most of the pieces on the
album were started through recorded improvisations. The key word there
is started. We just used that as a means to generate initial
ideas, but we would hit record, play for usually about 20-30 minutes,
and then later go back and listen to what had happened.
We might find one or two good ideas, sometimes more, sometimes less.
We would then take those ideas and start trying to connect them together
musically or eventually even to other ideas from other sessions, all
the while re-recording them to hear what was really happening. In
the end we recorded over thirty hours of sessions for what became
this 47 minute album. A lot of time was also spent rehearsing and
playing in the developing pieces and we usually took them out on the
road for months to further play them in.
inspiration for us getting together was I think just one of a shared
curiosity and love for music. We both listen to a very broad spectrum
of music and have something of a common musical language that I think
ultimately puts things like mood, atmosphere and feel above things
like technique or complexity. Of course there are plenty of odd meters
flying about and tricky instrumental parts but Id like to think
they take a back seat to actually conveying a sense of mood and a
story through the music.
Bert Lams: There is a connection between King Crimson, California
Guitar Trio, and our new CD Unnamed Lands: I studied for several
years with British guitarist Robert Fripp, and met Paul and Hideyo
from the CGT during these seminars. We even toured with Robert Fripp
as the League of Crafty Guitarist. The CGT was born thanks to a suggestion
and a gentle nudge by Robert Fripp.
I met Tom at a CGT concert in San Juan Capistrano around 2004. He
opened a show for us at the Coach House. We became friends, and he
invited the CGT to a recording session to play on one of his songs:
Victors Chase. Shortly after, Tom joined us on several
tours, opening shows for us all across the US. During that tour Id
start playing with him during his set, and we had the idea to do a
few shows together, to promote our new solo projects (Berts
Nascent CD with Bach Preludes, and Toms Whisper In
The Thunder CD).
During these small shows together wed trade solo pieces, but
gradually wed play more tunes together. Wed also start
writing a few songs together, and soon enough we had a good repertoire.
We decided to do a CD together, and although we had no idea where
it was going to take us, we started recording our pieces. A lot of
this material was arrangements of some classical pieces, or CGT pieces,
or some of Toms songs. We discovered that the pieces we wrote
together were much stronger and we decided about halfway through the
project to ditch all the other stuff, and only do originals. But we
had to write more; a lot more... so we got together in Toms
studio and recorded improvisation sessions... for several weeks we
recorded for about 6 hours a day. Some of the improvisations we left
untouched, others we worked into composed pieces.
our improvised playing there was already some elements of our love
for melodic lines, a hint of Americana and the Old West, and a desire
to create new sounds on the stick and guitar, using effects. There
was a strong contrast between our pure acoustic playing and the use
of electronic effects. The recordings were intense, but we had a lot
of fun playing together, and though we had no idea of a concept yet;
everything seemed to go a certain way that felt right.
mwe3: What does the title for Unnamed Lands say to you?
Considering the concept of the album, its almost like, hey
look humans, look how far weve come in only 200 years. Dont
blow it! lol The thought of just how hard it must have been like even
200 years ago is staggering. Do you feel we owe those early pioneers?
The ones with the arrows in their backs... Are you guys history buffs?
Tom Griesgraber: I became a bit more of a history buff through
this process which had a very strange start. I was working alone on
a track which eventually became The Prairie Suite one
day. Its a long piece with three distinct sections all with
different moods. I suddenly had this image of a story appear in my
imagination. The strangest thing is that I cant trace where
it might have come from.
It was a story about a group of pioneers in covered wagons moving
westward. Their journey starts out full of hope and excitement under
pleasant surroundings and weather but they soon encounter a violent
storm. During their struggle to keep their animals and supplies together
some of them also think theyre hearing voices in the sounds
of the storm, warning them off the lands theyre passing through.
Eventually the storm moves off and they are left under clear starry
night skies to recover and reflect.
The strange part in this for me was that I hadnt been reading
any books or seen any movies about covered wagons or this period of
history, the idea really seemed to come from nowhere as I was listening
to the track. I tried to summarize it in the titles for the three
sections and at first thought of it as just a story idea for that
one long piece.
When I went to Portland though to work on mixes with Howard Givens,
I relayed the story to him. He got very excited about it and thought
most of the music we had done could be put together as a concept album.
I really knew nothing about that period of history so while Howard
was taking his turn on the mixes, I started researching things online.
In the end I think we spent about three months just going back and
forth on story ideas, titles and track order to pull the album together
as one long story. Howard had also lent me a book of Walt Whitman
poems, and the title Unnamed Lands is borrowed from a poem
of the same name.
While our story is from the perspective of the traveling pioneers,
the Whitman poem focuses more on the Native Americans but is a great
description of how before our society sort of came into place on these
lands, there was already a society in place there.
Bert Lams: Unnamed Lands is the title of the opening
song of the new CD. To me it had all much more to do with a feeling
rather than history. I think we both felt that we were going in unknown
territory when we decided to write by total improvisation. When we
had all the pieces put together after many months, we had no idea
of the concept of the album; most of the pieces didnt even have
When Tom was mixing everything at the studio of Howard Givens, he
read a book by Randolph Marcy, with detailed instructions on how to
make the trip out West in the early 1800s. His book was a guideline
for early pioneers, and talked about what provisions to bring, how
to survive in the wilderness, talk to the Indians, treat snake bites,
set up camp, cross rivers, and what not. Tom immediately called me
and was very excited about this, and felt that there was a connection
between our music and the early pioneers, traveling West into new,
mwe3: Can you also say something about the conception of the
Unnamed Lands album artwork, which is brilliant and brings
a kind of lyrical side to the instrumental nature of the CD. How important
is the album presentation and artwork is to this CD album and your
Tom Griesgraber: I think the artwork plays a major role in
conveying the story. Since the music is all instrumental, it would
really only have the titles of the pieces to try to give narrative
details, while the music hopefully awakens the imaginations of the
listener. But with our friends Jack and Laurent with Milk Graphic
design we came up with the idea of doing a pretty extensive package,
with a twelve page booklet and six panel case. They had the idea to
try to make it look like a diary which I then thought we could use
to tell the story.
booklet is set up as if it was written by one person on a six month
journey in about 1840. The key events of their experiences are written
down in both text and hand drawn images. The writing of the story
fragments was something of a balancing act though. It was my intention
to try to nudge the listeners imagination but not overwrite
it, leaving room for their own creativity to take them on their own
journey while listening.
Bert Lams: We did a lot of reading about this interesting time
in the early 1800s, including the diary of the Mormon travelers
who got stuck in early winter storms near the Donner Pass. We felt
that the artwork needed to reflect an old diary of someone who was
making the trip, and that each piece of music should have its own
story in the diary. Tom wrote the fictional diary entries from the
perspective of one of the pioneers.
All these stories were based on real happenings or things that we
read in books about those hard times. We decided to ask Laurent and
Jaques from Milk Graphic Designs to create the cover art. Both of
them have a love for creating art by hand rather than
on the computer, and they made some beautiful sketches to go with
the diary entries, as if they were made by the same person.
mwe3: Can you tell us about the guitars and other instruments
you play on the new album as well as other gear, amps and effects
that are featured on the Unnamed Lands album?
Tom Griesgraber: I play a Chapman Stick or more specifically
a Grand Stick which is a 12-string version. It has six
guitar strings and six bass strings but is played with both hands
tapping the strings directly on the fretboard. The technique is a
little more like playing piano than playing guitar, since both hands
are playing notes. Since I have the bass strings, Im unofficially
the bass player for our duo, while also sometimes playing chords in
one or both hands and melodies in the right hand. Each string group
gets amplified and processed separately. On the melody side (guitar
I mostly use an Eventide Eclipse for effects, but I also have two
old Boss SE-70s, one on the bass, one on the melody. I also have a
guitar synth setup for the melody strings, and can trigger any type
of synth from both my right hand or from my foot pedals. In some of
the pieces I also came up with simple looped parts to fill in the
texture, sometimes in a rhythmic fashion, sometimes for atmosphere.
Live I use an old Electrix Repeater, but in the studio I just recorded
the parts. One of my favorite additions to the album was a set of
modern Moog Taurus pedals I received just as we were mixing. Id
used a fake/synthetic version for some low notes on the title track,
but when the real instrument arrived it sounded so much better, that
I had to talk Howard Givens into re-mixing the piece so I could include
to really spare no expense or leave no path unexplored on the engineering
side of the recording too. For example, Im a real stickler for
cables, and how different brands can affect recordings. I use Mogami
for every connection, but played around a bit with which Mogami type
to use for each instrument, microphone, etc. Generally for the instruments
I used their platinum line, but sometimes I used instrument cables
I made myself out of one of their bulk microphone cable products.
Different choices for different parts, always trying to maximize the
Bert Lams: I used a Breedlove Voice Auditorium guitar, a Huss
and Dalton and a custom Bowerman guitar. All these guitars are acoustic
guitars with steel strings.
On the early sessions I used a Roland VG 99 guitar synth, and more
recently Ive used a Digitech RP 500 multi effects pedal.
mwe3: It seems like a natural that the acoustic guitar and
Stick would make such great sounding friends! Do you feel that Unnamed
Lands is sonically groundbreaking in certain regards and who else
can you cite as being key to getting the sound you wanted on the recordings?
In the booklet, I see the name Howard Givens, the sonic genius behind
Spotted Peccary. How did you meet Howard? The mastering is also top
Tom Griesgraber: To my ears the Stick and the acoustic guitar
really do share some similar qualities. Bert might tell you that theyre
quite different though. I guess its just a matter of perspective.
The way I approach the Stick, I try to use it with as many different
timbres as I can come up with so it can be something of a sonic chameleon.
I think Id have to leave it for others to decide if its
sonically groundbreaking, but weve actually heard
of some high end audiophile companies using it for their product demos
at trade shows now, so I think thats a good sign! My work as
an engineer usually takes a back seat to my work as a player, but
Ive always been involved with it on every album Ive done,
and dozens for other artists as well. I seem to have something of
a reputation for being detail oriented.
Given how long we spent writing, and arranging (often in the studio),
there was plenty of time to experiment quite a bit. In the end there
was no one way to do things, but I generally chose different preamps,
mics and cables for each instrument based on the song or how we were
trying to perform it. With Berts guitar for example, it always
had two mics and two direct lines, but if we were playing live in
the same room, it might be a stereo pair of small condensers, and
if we werent I often used two large diaphragm mics set to be
omnidirectional. With the Stick, its signal path could start with
any one of about four or five different preamps depending on the sound
I was trying to achieve.
met Howard Givens probably around 2000 when he lived in my area. We
met through local friends and he started inviting me over to the Spotted
Peccary studios. Among other things, he often asked me to help evaluate
preamps he was working on for True Systems, usually by playing a variety
of instruments while he tracked them. The Stick wound up being a regular
test pilot for True Systems P2 preamp, and they
loved having its full range and quick percussive attack to really
test certain qualities of the unit.
Hes remained a good friend over the years and weve collaborated
on quite a few projects now. With Unnamed Lands, I would do
very rough mixes and then sent them to him to give his spin on. I
then made two trips up to Portland to finalize mixes with him. It
was through Howard that we got introduced to the mastering engineer
Steve Hall. Id never worked with him before, but when I looked
at his discography I saw such a wide array of styles represented I
knew hed be great for us, and he really was!
mwe3: What do you find new and exciting in both the music world
and guitar world in 2014 and what other artists do you feel are breaking
new ground in the music world? Any favorite new albums or up and coming
artists you could recommend to the mwe3.com viewers?
Tom Griesgraber: Im a total addict for used CD bins and
probably have about 175 discs right now Ive bought but have
yet to listen to. I tend to favor artists that do what we do though,
meaning play instruments live in a studio, rather than say program
sequences and grooves in a computer.
Ill listen to some of the great producers over and over, and
so Im often listening backwards in history a bit and trying
to learn from what they did. Brian Wilsons recordings in the
Wrecking Crew days fascinate me, and I recently found a box set of
George Martin recordings thats terrific. In more recent times,
I stumbled on to Sara Barellies through Berklee faculty and love the
production on her Kalediscope Heart album.
Ive been working on a bit of a gospel project at the moment,
so Ive been listening a lot to people like The Blind Boys of
Alabama and Sam and Dave. Peter Gabriel is always a favorite and through
him Ive been getting into Bon Iver. On a heavier side I love
Megadeths current lineup. Chris Broderick is amazing. Ive
also been checking out the Lou Reed/Metallica album which is quite
unusual and love Rushs last release Clockwork Angels. Geddys
independence between bass, vocals, foot pedals and keys is really
inspiring to my inner Stick player!
Lams: Though I dont listen a lot to music as I should, since
I am so busy with my own music most of the time, Im a big fan
of Radiohead, the music of Arvo Part, a composer from Estonia, and
a group called Sleepytime Gorilla Museum. I recently discovered the
music of guitarist Julian Lage, and love just about anything he does.
We get a lot of suggestions from friends, colleagues and fans, and
that is usually the music I tend to listen to.
mwe3: Are you planning to bring Unnamed Lands into the
concert halls throughout the world in 2014? Where are you going to
be touring in 2014? What other activities are you currently involved
with as far as producing, writing, recording new material and performing
during the year ahead?
Tom Griesgraber: Were always looking for times to get
together for shows. I think 2014 will be focused on the US, but we
might try to expand that a bit next year. Our next trip will be in
late May/early June and will have dates up and down the west coast.
Right now I have two very different projects Im working on here.
In both cases Im functioning as sort of producer, engineer,
arranger and session musician. The first is going to be the second
solo album for my friend Ryan Moran. He works under the stage name
Rymo and spends most of his time drumming for Slightly Stoopid, but
we also play together still as Agent 22 when things align.
albums are a wild mix of textures and a lot of fun to put together.
Hell come in with rough ideas hes built up with drums,
world percussion, didgeridoo and synths and we start flushing them
out. The grooves can vary from bass and drums house style to tribal
percussion in the same tune. Im also helping put together a
project for two Dominican priests! They call themselves Black and
White (the Dominican colors) and have written music that ranges from
perhaps Gregorian Chant influences to gospel and South African pop
Bert Lams: Well be touring at the end of May in California,
starting with a show at the Museum of Making Music in Carlsbad. During
the year ahead I look forward to more touring with Tom. I am currently
working on a CD with Italian guitarist Fabio Mittino, with arrangements
of compositions by Russian composer Thomas de Hartmann. During the
next months I am really busy touring with the California Guitar Trio
and starting to write music with them for a new CD release.
Thanks to Tom Griesgraber and Bert Lams @ www.thossounds.com/lamstg