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Vic Rawlings: Hardball

By Published: January 10, 2010
This stuff is true on the guitar also, but somehow I'm more drawn to the guitar as a performance instrument. I've had honky-tonk/country bands, and I love metal and lots of other stuff; I will do that again when the time is right. When I started playing, I remember thinking it was just so I'd be able to control the guitar tones that I had been listening to on record, that it would be cool to learn to be able to make sound happen! So in the very beginning, my attraction was to tone.

AAJ: What is the role of technique in your work?

VR: It is a necessary evil. This is something I tell my students: the real trick of being a skilled craftsman is avoiding things that require a lot of skill. Translated into music, the best sounds are made by people who are not working very hard. This sounds counterintuitive, but there's the irony: real skill lies in intuition and knowing what do to when your sounds don't come out as expected. That's the birth of good phrasing...I try to reduce my use of specialized techniques to nothing. I see obvious use of technique as most often being obnoxious, fundamentally boring and very old-world in the sense that it introduces hierarchies that are easy to quantify. I certainly hope it isn't a talent show when I play. I am always attempting to simplify my approach. I admire players that do not need to rely on any sort of exoticism to make their music happen. If it takes extreme measures to create, there is likely an easier way to do it.

All of this said, I might explain my technique as knowing the materials, the objects at hand—how to position the amp so the right feedback happens, how to wire things so they are easier to work with, what instrument to use to get that sound. I remember working on a soundtrack with a friend back in the '90s. We needed a continuous sustaining sound; I went to do a drone on the cello—big mistake. My friend suggested we use something else that didn't have to stop and change directions, like a cello bow—so obvious! I was so lost in the instrument that I forgot what the music was. I try to remember this moment. Technique is often simply finding the right tool.

To be fair, I did learn a lot of techniques that I use from a rather excellent cello teacher about how to use the bow, so there's definitely technique that goes into making things sound right. Even when bowing the tailpiece or a big piece of metal junk clamped to the bridge, the same stuff I learned—how to hold/touch the instrument to get a big sound—comes into play. But it's also true that someone who wanted to play my instrument and sound like me could pretty much do so with not much difficulty.

AAJ: Or is it work, rather than a form of play? A voyage of discovery or a reckoning with obstacles?

VR: All of that. Good question. At some risk I'll say it's often meditation—a focused time, an attempt to maintain a thought while being open to all of the things that are going on.

AAJ: Does environment form you as an artist?

VR: Hmmmmm—yes. Of course. I could write a book on this.

AAJ: How far do you look into the future?

VR: Yikes! First I hope to continue to support myself as a musician and teacher. I'd love to tour more and teach more students that are dedicated and generally get to spend more time with good people who are committed to doing good things. I try to remain in the present here and now, but I do look a tiny bit into the future—a year or two; beyond that, it starts to feel grandiose.

Selected Discography

Vic Rawlings & Mike Bullock, On That Which is Best and the Best That Can be Done Under the Situation (Fargone, 2006)

Vic Rawings & Mike Bullock, Fall of Song (Chloe, 2003)

N.R.A., untitled (H&H, 2003)

N.R.A., s/t (Audio Dispatch, 2003)

Tim Feeny & Vic Rawlings, In Six Parts (Sedimental, 2007)

Mawja, Studio One (Al Maslakh, 2007)

Mawja, Live One (Al Maslakh, 2007)

Vic Rawlings et al., Refrain (Creative Sources, 2008)

Photo Credit

Photos by Seth Tisue

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