Jeff Gauthier: Fiddling with the Future
AAJ: How many of Eric Von Essen's compositions remain unrecorded?
JG: That's a good question. I know there were 110 or 120 and I can't imagine we've come close to recording them all. We've probably come close to recording a third or a half.
JG: I have two of them, actually, a four string and a five string. They were made by a fellow named Rich Barbetta who lives in upstate New York. He still makes the pickups, which for my money are the best sounding string instrument pickups being made right now. But he only made the instruments for a short amount of time. He only made them for under a year and there aren't that many of them out there. I've got one of the very few and I feel very lucky about that, because it's really a brilliant design.
It was designed to have the weight and feel of a regular violin. The upper bouts, the way it meets the arm when you're playing in the higher position, the way it feels on the shoulder and the chin, it's very well designed to feel like a real violin, even though it looks nothing like a real violin. And then also, the sound of the pickup is still the best I've heard, and I'm pretty sensitive about that. The sound of the pickup sounds very much like a real violin which is a good place for me to start if I want to alter the sound at all.
There are a lot of pickups that have interesting sounds, but that's about all you can get of it. The sound is very electric. I prefer to have something that sounds like a real violin, so that when I use it in live performance people know the instrument that they're listening to.
AAJ: Do you use many effects or distortion?
JG: I'm using more and more. My mind has been polluted by Nels Cline. I have some pedals I'm pretty attached to now, and I've also started working with a computer-based performance rig which allows me to alter the sound with audio unit plug ins, as well as being able to make samples and use samples to play back at the same time I'm playing live. I'm working with this to develop some solo stuff that I can use maybe for the next record.
AAJ: Maybe a solo violin record?
JG: I'm working on it. I guess now that I'm telling you, I have to do it. It's always been my intention, and the way the business is going now, we made a big push this year to put out a lot of great music and put out the compilation for our tenth year. In some ways, it pales in comparison to 9 Winds which has been doing this for thirty years, and a lot of great labels out there. Just as a personal landmark for me, I never thought I'd be doing this for ten years.
Next year, we're going to be a little more circumspect. Business is changing. We've been putting out six releases a year for the last few years. Next year we may only put out four releases that are actual physical CDs, and then have a couple of download only releases. The world is changing and we have to change a little to go along with it.
It's getting more and more difficult to sell these CDs. We've tried to compensate in different ways. For instance, Indie Jazz and we put a lot of attention and love into our website because we figure if we're losing 20% every year of the physical sales in stores like Tower Records which have disappeared, the Virgin Megastore in L.A. which has disappeared, we can get these back a little bit through direct sales where we have a smaller margin. We make more on each CD that we sell, and that's worked to a certain degree. And then the sales of downloads has increased, but it hasn't increased as much as everybody expected. It's still only 11-15% of our total sales.
At some point everybody in this business has to start asking the question, how long can we keep selling these things? I know we have an audience, and our point of view has always been, it's our job to find them. So, we're doing a lot of marketing on MySpace and Facebook, LastFm, we have a blog, downbeast.com, trying to hook into some of these networking sites, work with community in a different way to drive more sales to the website where we can do direct sales. But, at some point we'll have to start cutting back on the physical CDs and sit back and see what's next. Maybe it's LPs, there seems to be a resurgence of LPs.
AAJ: You're sounding particularly soulful on the new recording.
JG: I don't really know what brings out certain feelings or moods in a particular performance. I could play those tunes on another day and they would come out differently. A lot of it has to do with the material that I'm working with, if it's a song with chord changes that ask for a certain approach. That's the way they came out at that particular performance on the day we recorded.
AAJ: How long have you had "Friends of the Animals"?
JG: That was written for the record, an idea that I'd been tossing around for three or four months previous to that. It was dedicated to my girlfriend who likes to shop at second hand stores, and there's a second hand store in Culver City called Friends of Animals, but for some reason we always called it "Friends of the Animals." I just worked with the title and some of the ideas to come up with a friendly animal tune.