The Multifaceted Mike Seal

Alan Bryson By

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AAJ: Amazing! When did you first become aware of Jerry?

MS: My brother Rob got into bluegrass coming out of college, so for me that was leaving high school and coming into college. So my first exposure to Jerry's music was when I was probably 17 or 18, and I was completely blown away by it. If you listen to his solo records, he mixes so many styles of music. He comes from the tradition of bluegrass, and is renowned in that area of music, but his own records reflect so much more than just that style. His influences are coming from Weather Report and all kinds of jazz players, and he takes that back to acoustic instruments, and hearing that was really a mind blowing thing. Of course he's on so many records, it's kind of like the incestuous nature of jazz projects where you'll hear the same player on 15 different projects, and variations of groups. So I really dug that about the bluegrass players too.

AAJ: That's true what you said about Jerry, you really can't fix him to any one particular genre, it's great, working with him, what more could you want?

MS: Yeah, I have to pinch myself.

AAJ: It's got to be a challenge too, here's a guy who's played with Chet Atkins, Bill Frisell...

MS: Just a couple of months ago my buddy gave me a Ray Charles country album with extra unreleased cuts, and he had mentioned to me that he had heard a dobro on one of the tracks. So he called Jerry and asked if that was him, and Jerry said, "Yeah, I'd forgotten about that."

AAJ: I wondered too, he's played with so many guys who came out of the chicken pickin' tradition, so are you into that?

Trial by Fire

MS: I'm in awe of that whole style of guitar playing. I came to it late, so I wouldn't say I'm steeped in that tradition, but it is something that I work on. You known, just getting into Albert Lee and Johnny Highland, and watchin' videos of James Burton and these guys playing and trying to decipher what they're doing is a great joy and pastime for me. I think the expectation for me coming in, it was kind of a trail by fire, I got a phone call from Jerry, and I screened his call because I didn't know who it was. I heard the message and got really excited and called him right back, and he asked me to join his group, and the first gig would be Telluride Bluegrass Festival. A very famous festival for people who love that music. Some of my own musical idols were going on before and after us. As he described it, he said, "Man it will be a trial by fire, because there won't be a rehearsal."

AAJ: Oh wow.

MS: So he sent me an email with maybe twelve songs in it, and I had a couple of weeks to prepare. The bassist who is an old buddy of mine, Daniel Kimbro, helped me out too, and sent me some more of the songs. I also did some homework online. But it was basically meeting Jerry the morning of the gig, and we played through a couple of things at his apartment and then we went to the stage.

So there was very little instruction about how I was expected to play, so I knew I needed to know the songs, and know all the parts, because the songs are comprised of banjo parts that wouldn't be onstage. So you're hearing stuff on the record you know won't be on stage, so there's some deciphering involved to find your right spot because quite a few of the tracks don't have electric guitar. So once he told me it was okay to just be an electric guitarist and not play acoustic, I relaxed and did my best to just be myself and do my best to incorporate whatever I've heard from different styles that would fit.

AAJ: The thing about it is, and I know you're too modest to say it, but I studied the video of that gig closely, and he closes his eyes, rocks his head, and broke a smile, so I think it must be good chemistry.

MS: It's so fun, and he's such a seasoned professional, he's played in all kinds of different circumstances, with all kinds of players, so I think very little would surprise him, but he's there for the fun and adventure. It's a great feeling to be on stage with him.

G Bender Twang

AAJ: I'm curious, have you got a guitar yet with a G bender?

MS: (Laughs) Man I'd love to have one. That's something I always wanted, but haven't got one yet. But you know, the famous Gruhn's Guitar Shop is not far from my house, so you know, maybe it's something to consider for the near future.

AAJ: That's a really cool sound.

MS: Absolutely, I've seen some that have a B and a G bender, but then your guitar's got a full suspension with a strap. Something I'm really intrigued by are players who achieve a pedal guitar sound without a bender or pedal or anything that would aid, but just by bending the strings. I've seen a bunch of different approaches to that, and it fascinates me as a guitarist.

Mark O'Connor

MS: The violinist Mark O'Connor is also a fantastic guitarist. For anybody out there who is not familiar with him, there's a record he does of just all guitar. It's blistering, just scary as hell, because he's already such a talented violinist, working with the world's masters, and then to hear him pick up a guitar, it's just kind of frightening.

Solo Album?

AAJ: Any chance we'll see a solo album on the horizon?

MS: I hope so, I write all the time. I've got everything set up so I can plug and play record. I've got a synthesizer set up so I can get a lot of sounds from it. All the other instruments, there a ton of guitars around, slide guitars. So it's all hooked up ready to play, and all these years I've accrued a lot of demos, but the hard thing is finding the time to do it when you're working with so many bands. And also making a concrete decision about what kind of album I want to make. I do feel like for me my head is kind of spinning, because I do love all kinds of different music, and it's inspiring for me to try and write in those different styles—but it might not make the most congruent record if one track is a jazz track, the next some kind of chicken pickin,' and then a classical thing. So trying to find some kind of unified focus is a prerequisite for doing it.

AAJ: Let's say you won the lottery, and finances were no longer a consideration, what would your project look like?

MS: This is something I love to think about, especially the lottery part. What I've done is I'll have a list on a piece of paper, the players who really inspire me and who I think I might could hire. A lot of them are guys I've been lucky enough to work with, and some are peripheral to those I have worked with. So I'll just write down some people I'd love to have on at least one track. Derek Trucks, Bela Fleck, Jeff Coffin, Jeff Sipe, bass my buddy Taylor Lee, Oteil Burbridge—the list is way too long. Jerrry Douglas for sure. The things is, it's a really weird mix of players. So what I do is write out a master list of people I think I could get for something, if the quality of the music was good enough. Then I'll write out a ten track list, and just sort of group those players together, and try and imagine what that would sound like. Then I'll work on writing some music with that as a focal point.

[Note: his debut album turned out to be a solo acoustic album. It was a very clever and unexpected move which puts his musical gifts on full display.]

Time is the Prize

AAJ: Let's hope you win the lottery! But in a way, you did kind of win the lottery with the gig you've got right now. The other nice thing about it is that Jerry plays in so many bands and combinations himself that you're not in a ball & chain situation where you're touring 250 nights a year doing the same songs every night. So you come together and have fun playing together, but he's got so much going on you have time for other things too. It's great.

MS: Absolutely. I spent the last year out with a kind of Americana band, the Black Lillies. It's a great group and they do very well, I think they've played the Grand Ole Opry 32 times at this point, more than any other independent band in history. They stay on the road for about 200 days a year, so I stayed on the road for ten months with them like that. That was traveling around with an eight man crew in a 15 passenger van hauling a trailer. So elbow room was a premium.

It was a great experience for me, being on the road that much, I thought about Jeff Sipe and Oteil being out with ARU for 200 days a year playing music at such a high level—and it may have even been more than that. Basically they would come home, do laundry and get back out on the road for weeks. My wife is also a professional musician, and she tours in Europe quite heavily. She is going back on the road with Elvis Costello in a week or two, so with her being gone and me being on the road that much wasn't really the perfect thing. The music was fun, but like you said, you're playing the same music every night, and really honing in on one show. So the situation with Jerry is exactly what I was hoping for. So we work about a week out of the month, and then you have the time to be engaged in a lot of other things.

AAJ: That's great. What instrument does your wife play?

MS: She plays lap steel guitar and dobro. In fact, when she was 17 Jerry Douglas invited her to be a part of the Tut Taylor tribute album. So she had a track on there when she was just a kid. She was playing with some really fantastic players.

AAJ: That's kind of interesting, she's playing with Elvis Costello and you're playing with Jerry, and Jerry and Elvis Costello worked together before.

MS: That's right. It becomes a smaller and smaller world, that's for sure.

AAJ: Of course Elvis Costello has worked with so many greats, such as Paul McCartney, Burt Bacharach—I don't know if you've ever heard it, but his album with Burt Bacharach, the songs are fantastic.

MS: Absolutely. Elvis is like Jerry in that he collaborates with so many people with such a wide range of styles. Hats off to him, he puts on a really intense show, as long as he's been doing this, he still goes out and plays for two or three hours a night.


AAJ: Something else I should mention are the wonderful classical music clips you have on your Facebook page. I want to play a piece you did by Johann Sebastian Bach. Could you share a little about how that came to be?

MS: I had played that piece piecemeal over a couple of years, but I'd never worked it up all the way through, so it was just a project. I wanted to do a video to post, because you see so many great videos when you go through Facebook and YouTube, so it's a great inspiration for me just to see what other guitar players are doing. So I wanted to do something like that, Bela Fleck did a great version where he changed the key to fit banjo, and the who's who of classical violinists have recorded this piece, but I hadn't heard an electric guitar piece where it wasn't full on metal distortion.

It was a fun project for me. I did it when I was with the Black Lillies, I had like a five day window to do it, and it took me four days just to memorize it. I really should have given myself more time. I wanted to play it fast, it's faster than the other versions you'll usually hear. Not incredibly faster, but I think I rushed myself a little bit. Also, when I recorded it, I had to be out the door for a tour, I was already late, so I had to rent a car and return it to a different city so that I could finish that recording—I just didn't want to leave without it being done. So the first time I got through without dive bombing was the take that I used. I realized later the audio clips a little bit, and I probably didn't take the time I should have, but hey it was a lot of fun, and it's something that I'll continue to work on and try to clean up.



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