A Visit with Martin Tallstrom
by Craig Dobbins
Swedish fingerpicker Martin Tallstrom has become one of my favorite guitarists over the last few years. His originals are well-crafted, and his arrangements are inventive and memorable. He's got a great sense of humor, too. Since my Swedish is a bit rusty, Martin graciously answered my questions in English.
Note: These interviews are usually Julie's department, but this time she actually let me ask the questions.
What's a Martin Tallstrom?
Itīs a medical term used to describe a disorder more commonly known as "chronic ambivalence".
You have a major following on YouTube. When did you first realize that people "out there" were listening . . . and watching?
I first planned to use YouTube for presenting guitar licks and tricks, my website was all about country licks for many years. In 2006, a lot of good things happened in my life. I got to go on the road with a show, by chanceI met Olav Loef, guitar builder, and I was able to purchase the dreadnought "Aurora" from him, I saw Tommy Emmanuel live, I even met my wife-to-be! A pretty inspiring year.
Anyway, after the TE concert, I started focusing mainly on the steel-string acoustic. The first real fingerstyle arrangement I did was for the Procol Harum classic "A Whiter Shade of Pale". This was in 2007 and the video I did quickly got a lot of very positive responses, which was absolutely fantastic, of course! Thatīs when I somehow started to grasp there was an audience out there, with an interest in music, listening.
I know you're a multi-instrumentalist. What instruments do you play?
Well, I donīt know, I call it "cheating." I cheat at squareneck resophonic, 5-string banjo, lap steel and mandolin, I can sort of make them work in a studio setting. Although I sometimes get hired to play lap steel live as well.
I love your lap steel instrumental, "Lonely Road." Tell me about the recording- it has a great feel.
Thank you! It was just a solo thing at first, but I decided to record the steel to a click-track, if I later wanted to add more tracks, which I obviously did, ha ha. It was the first time I used a capo on the lap steel. I have it tuned to an open E, but put a capo (for squarenecks) on the 3rd fret to land in the key of G. I had a lot of fun recording the song, maybe some of that joy comes through.
I record my songs to computer and a program called Cakewalk Sonar Producer via a small Behringer mixer (UB802) and a USB sound card from Cakewalk/ Roland (UA-1G). I use the mixer mainly for its +48V phantom power which supplies my Rode NT2-A condenser microphone.
I recorded the lap steel (a 6-string Supertone, probably from the early 40īs) using a POD XT from Line 6, which is an amp simulator and has a multitude of effects built in as well. I played along to a "shaker loop". The loops I use are so called "ACID loops", with real recordings of real people playing. Itīs very convenient, the loop changes to fit the tempo of the song (sounds good within reasonable tempo changes) and in no time you have a percussive track for the entire song! Am I lazy? Yes! But Iīd rather call it being efficient!
Once I had the lap steel track down, I started playing along with my acoustic guitar. I recorded two guitar tracks using the Rode mic. The song is in G major, so one guitar finger picks G, C, D etc, and for the other I put a capo on 3rd fret and played some picking in the E major shape (comes in after first chorus). I added an electric bass (Fender) and a soft synth pad. The synth is actually from another program called Reason. It is connected via software to Cakewalk Sonar, so that when I press play in Sonar, Reason starts and vice versa. I found a tambourine loop that I added as well. At the end of the song I tried a full drum kit loop, I thought it sounded cool, so I kept it. The drum fills are also ACID loops.
Hereīs an mp3 of the backing track if you want to hear how itīs built up.
Who are some of your major influences and favorite players?
There are so many great players . . . Tim Pierce, Paul Simon, Tony Rice, Brent Mason, Jerry Reed, Tommy Emmanuel, Paco De Lucia, Vicente Amigo, Sonny Landreth, Jerry Douglas, Terry McMillan (yep, I just love the harmonica!) etc etc. And I really like Joe Robinson, what a talent!
We're both Jerry Reed fans. When/how did you first discover Jerry, and what's your favorite Reed tune?
I heard "The Claw" sometime in the mid 90īs maybe, but Jerry Donahueīs electric guitar version. Now, living in Sweden, there was not much of that kind of music around. I later managed to find a "Best Of" CD with Jerry Reed, which included "The Claw" but the rest were all vocal songs. Very good, indeed, but I didnīt know of any other instrumentals until I started using YouTube in 2007.
I like pretty much everything I hear from Jerry, but one song I really love and must try and learn, is "Struttinī".
You have some great arrangements. How do you go about arranging a pop tune for solo guitar?
Thanks, I really donīt know . . . I seem to be drawn to melodies that are fairly simple but with a dreamy, and perhaps romantic, quality, that makes my mind wander. And since I love the sound of open strings, I like to use open tunings, typically open G. That in itself adds a folky touch that I enjoy. And if it fits, I always try to throw in a wee bit of blues. Other than that, itīs mostly trial and error. Not very helpful, Iīm afraid.
You like to "layer" your recordings. Do you hear the finished recording in your mind, or do you experiment with different textures along the way?
I love the process of arranging for multiple instruments, including vocals. When I was younger I did a lot of recordings where I might use over 20 tracks. So, to record a single track of guitar playing still feels very "naked" to me. For some songs I have the finished recording in my head when I start, for the acoustic fingerstyle tracks I typically play along with the basic track and may, or may not, find stuff that works. Lately Iīve been more able to "kill my darlings", so to speak.
I've really enjoyed your album "Acoustics." Are you working on another one?
Thatīs nice to hear. I am working on an album right now, "Summer Breeze". Hopefully it will be released early this summer.
Iīd like to thank you Craig for featuring me and also thank you for the great work you do for fingerstyle guitar playing.
Keep pickinī folks!
Copyright Đ 2013 by Craig B. Dobbins.
Visit Martin Tallstrom 's website.