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Brett Garsed is a true guitarists guitarist. For 3 decades now Brett has been tearing up the scene with his groundbreaking techniques, unique voice and his ability to write a great tune. From the infamous Varney spotlight column to arena tours with pop acts, and from session work to fusion shred-offs with Shawn Lane theres not much Brett hasn't done, yet he still remains one of those lesser known heroes of the guitar community. With 2011 seeing the release of Brett's latest work "Dark Matter" perhaps it's time to get that praise he deserves, or perhaps he will continue to be that mystical outsider with a cult following among the greatest players in the world. I recently caught up with the master to chat about life, music and all things Dark Matter, lets see what he had to say.

 

 

 

 

 

Lets start by talking about Dark Matter, seeing as it was released very recently, would it be fair to say that it's the most honest representation of your current musical identity?

 
For sure. My solo albums are an absolute representation of who I am as a musician because I have no other motivation than to express myself without any influence or dictation from anyone else. After years of doing sessions and being a sideman it's the one opportunity where I can just do what I want without anyone else telling me what to do. I make a point of following my own instincts and not listening to other guitarist's music simply because I want the end product to be the most honest representation of what I'm feeling as both a writer and a musician so I hope that comes across to the people listening. I'm incredibly proud of "Dark Matter" as a musician and songwriter and also of the incredible effort that Ric, Phil, Gerry, Virgil and Craig put into it. That album has an enormous amount of depth to it in terms of the writing and the textures that are layered in the recording so it is frustrating that I can't give it the sort of push a more major artist can. I just hope that over time the people that are meant to enjoy it will find it one way or another. 
 
photo coutesy of Ric Fierabracci
 
 
How have you developed musically since your 2002 album "Big Sky"?
 
I feel like my improvising skills have improved, at least in the sense that my phrasing has become more fluent. There's still an endless journey in front of me of course but I feel like I'm heading in the right direction albeit slowly. I do continue to try and improve technically but to be honest, I'm more interested in finding elements that make my ideas more original and for me, having more chops isn't the solution to that. I'm sure it works for other people and that's great but although I do end up with more physical ability I find the end result less musical. I guess I'm just trying to be an original sound and voice which to me is by far the most difficult achievement for any musician. Infinitely more challenging than pure technical ability because it requires original thought and an original concept. Essentially you're trying to forge something out of thin air without the ideas of others to use as a template.
 
 
There are some top notch players on this album, it's great to hear you on record with Virgil (Donati - Planet X, Steve Vai etc) again, and there is your long recording history with bass wizard Ric Fierabracci - what can you tell us about the writing process? Were these tunes written at home? In the rehearsal room? In the studio? etc
 
I do all my writing at home and it happened surprisingly fast. I just start with a blank canvas, usually a tempo of some kind and just try to come up with ideas and let the song form as naturally as possible. It can go in any direction, ballad or heavy and I really like indulging the style of music that I'm involved in so it can be an epic 10 minute tune if it needs to be and can take a huge journey in terms of textures. Then again, I'm really into writing pop melodies so there has to be a hook that the listener can latch on to. If that's there then I think they're willing to stretch their imaginations with the rest of the composition and listen to some more challenging sections. My goal as an artist is to combine a pop sensibility and melodic direction with the improvisation of jazz and fusion so hopefully I'm doing that. 
 
 
For me "Avoid the Void" stands out as the big tune on this record (I remember your first teasing of it a LONG time ago on Myspace!) what would you say are your favourite moments on the album?
 
I really like "Be Here Now" only because it's so melodic but to be honest, there's nothing on this album I don't find satisfying, otherwise it wouldn't be on there. I don't put filler tunes on my albums as I'm not working to a deadline or pandering to any kind of fan base that has an expectation of me. I write songs until I feel I have a solid hour of strong material and that's what the album is. If I feel a song isn't up to par then I chuck it and keep writing until I get something that is. I'll work for days on a melody, solos can be done in 1 take if I'm lucky but the melodies are everything to me so I won't give up on them until I feel they're either perfect for the song or the absolute best I could come up with.
 
 
I sometimes feel like I'm making it my goal in life to introduce the world to your wonderful musical voice - and I hate the idea of someone reading this and thinking "who's this Brett Garsed chap then?". You've been at the forefront of fusion guitar for decades, but have only released 2 solo albums; so lets talk about some of your various recordings.
I guess the biggest one to mention is John Farnham, this must have been absolutely huge for you! (Readers will remember Michael Dolce saying how seeing Brett Garsed on a national broadcast in his youth changed his whole musical life) How did it come about? 
 
I'd been working as a plumber since I was 15 years old and I was about 21 at the time when I decided to take the initiative and send out demo tapes. The first tape went to Mike Varney's "Spotlight" column in Guitar Player magazine. He responded very favourably and put me in the mag so that inspired me to take the next step and send out a resume to various management and record companies. I sent a tape to the Wheatley Organisation who were managing amongst other people, John Farnham and The Little River Band so Glenn Wheatley wrote me a letter insisting I call him which of course I did. He offered me an audition with John to do a short pub tour which I jumped on, got the gig and had a great time. This was in the summer of '85 and John told me he was going to do a new solo album the following year and he and his producer Ross Fraser invited me to be a part of it. After returning to plumbing in between all of this I did the album, then started touring in September of '86. The album became the biggest selling album in Australian history and I'm still working with John till this very day. We'll celebrate the 25th anniversary of "Whispering Jack" with a tour at the end of this year.
 
 
What are some of your fondest memories of your time on that gig? (lets leave out all the strippers and cocaine - you'll deny it all im sure!)
 
Hah hah! No strippers (or at least that I know of!) and most definitely no cocaine. I was raised to be a clean living lad and to be honest, I only tried to play the guitar drunk once and that was at my own 21st birthday and it was awful so out of respect for the audience and my own professionalism I always make sure I have a completely clear mind when I'm playing. Thanks to that I have very clear memories of my years with John and it was truly amazing to be a part of his career, especially when he'd released "Whispering Jack" without any idea it would be the huge hit that it was. We started doing very modest pub gigs and every place was packed with lines around the block every night. We quickly progressed to larger theatres and concert halls and eventually doing 12 nights in 12,000 seat stadiums was normal so it was an incredible experience. We did a tour in 1988 with the 110 piece Melbourne Symphony Orchestra which was just one of the amazing things I've been able to do thanks to working with John Farnham. I could list all the great things here but we'd need a whole other magazine to fit them in so I'm very lucky to have had that opportunity. 
This may sound corny but it's the truth - the fondest memory I have is meeting John for the first time and finding out that he's a very generous and respectful bloke with no ego or pretentiousness and is quite simply one of the greatest singers and performers that has ever lived.
 
 
And if you were to pick one album/track with John where you really shined as a lead player - what would it be?
 
I got to do some pretty wild stuff on his "Chain Reaction" album. He and Ross would let me just go for it which probably would never happen now but it was the thing to do back then, have wild guitar solos on pop songs so I took advantage of it and had a great time doing it. 
 
 
 
Next we should really ask about TJ (Helmerich - Brett's longest standing partner in crime) Quid Pro Quo and Exempt are phenominal recordings, then theres a whole world of fusion on the two Uncle Moe records (with Garry Willis, Dennis Chambers and Scott Kinsey) What are the chances of another record with TJ?
 
TJ and I are both up for it but it's difficult seeing as I now live in Australia and the whole point of us doing albums is that we write together. That's why I do solo albums, so I can express my individual songs rather than present them to TJ, have him give me his songs and we have a mix of our ideas on the one album. We write as a unit or as a band and that's the only way we want to do it. I'd be ashamed to ask him to play my song without having any input into the composition so unless I can get to the US or he can get to Australia it's going to be tough but never say never. I personally can't afford to finance it and I don't think he can either so unless a record company comes up with a budget big enough for us to include a plane flight it won't happen.
 
 
How can we leave out Centrifugal Funk (with fellow Australian legend Frank Gambale and the Memphis monster Shawn Lane)? What can you tell us about that record - and how do you think its holding up as far as fusion shred albums go?
 
It's a great snapshot of where we were all at during that time. It was a huge honour for me to be asked to perform next to Frank and Shawn and I was really nervous that I'd sound ridiculous next to them but I think I stood out as a unique identity thank goodness. I did my solos first which was fortunate as if I'd heard what Frank and Shawn were going to end up playing I probably would have run in terror. I actually played with a lot more taste on the first takes that I did but Mark Varney had me come back and re-do some of the solos because he felt they weren't intense enough which was a shame as we all copped a lot of flak for "mindless shredding" which I don't agree with. It's just a bit of good fun and cutting loose and isn't meant to be taken too seriously. It was quite terrifying to be in a situation where I was playing with everything I had and the producer is going "more, more!" I was used to pop sessions where it was about holding back but this wasn't the place for that. Like I said, it was a thrill to meet Frank for the first time and eventually to meet Shawn who was one of the nicest people I've ever been lucky enough to have a chat with. It was also the first time I'd ever been allowed to simply be myself rather than conform to a producer's idea of what I should play so thanks to Mark Varney for that!
 
 
There really are too many other side projects to mention, Nelson, Kofi Baker, Planet X etc.... but I really would love for you to tell us a little about......The Adrian's Wall record "Caught in the Web" (I do hope this is the first time anyone has asked! - it sits proudly in my CD collection and i've always wanted to ask the story).
 
Wow, you are most definitely the first person to mention that album! I met Adrian Campbell and Larry Groves not long after I'd finished doing the "Whispering Jack" album back in '86. I'm not sure how they found out about me but they needed a guitarist to complete the album so I got the gig. It was really challenging as I hadn't played too many different styles at that time and Larry had to coach me along quite a bit but they were really great people to work with and it was a great experience. There's an acoustic solo on a ballad which I can't remember the name of but I'm very proud of that solo as it seemed to fit the song perfectly. They really let me go for it too which of course was the flavour of the times. 
 
 
Your last instructional DVD was quite a while ago now (2004's Rock Guitar Improvisation) - this DVD has a profound influence on my playing and I recommend it to all our readers. Are there any plans for a 3rd instructional release?
 
Not really as I feel I've covered the most personal and unique aspects of my style and technique. People have asked for instructional stuff relating to improvising but to be honest I'm pretty sure it's been covered by people like Scott Henderson who are much more qualified to teach it than me. I have my own way of getting around changes but Scott has forgotten more about this subject than I'll ever learn so I should just leave it to him. If I can think of anything that would be relevant for me personally to teach then for sure, I'll do another one but I won't do another instructional dvd just for the sake of it. That'd be ripping people off.
 
 
 
The reason you're one of my absolute favorite players is your lack of the typical "Lead guitarists ego". Aside from Centrifugal funk, I don't really recall you having anything self indulgent on a record. You always seem to play for the moment and for song, for me that comes across perfectly on songs like "Drowning" (Big Sky) and "Closure" (Dark Matter) where you pick up a slide. It's funny - you're not a traditional slide player buy any stretch of the imagination, but it makes me smile to see your name pop up without fail in any modern slide tuition material (In fact in a recent Guitar Techniques column 2 of the 10 licks were to show Brett's slide style). How did you get into it, and who are your influences there?
 
Thanks for digging the slide playing and I agree, there's nothing traditional about the way I approach it. I'd really love to do more of it to be honest as I don't actually practice my slide playing, I only get to experiment with it when I'm on the gig. I can play traditional blues slide very well as that's what I grew up with but I just had to take it to another place and try to bring something original to the style as it's in my nature to do that sort of thing with music. I really do try to put my ability to play slide out there and for some reason I'm thought of as an "okay" slide player but I believe I have a lot more to offer than that so I hope it's not too late to change people's perceptions of me and perhaps get a gig where I can really expand it. Once you're labeled as a shredder it's very difficult to shake that and I have no one to blame for it but myself. I believe my real strength as a musician is to be melodic and I feel that my slide playing really expresses that. 
My original inspirations were Rick Formosa from the Little River Band (this was around 1976) and Joe Walsh. Joe is the reason I wear it on my second finger which was the key factor in my developing the angling technique to simulate open tunings in standard. It was only a few months ago that I found old footage of Jeff Beck doing it so he's the man who did it first but he had no influence on me whatsoever, the inspiration for me came from within. The sound I hear in my head as a slide player is the sound of David Lindley but Sonny Landreth has also been a massive influence with his technique of using the other fingers of the left hand in front of and behind the slide. Rory Gallagher is another slide player that I just love and I absorbed everything Rory did for years. You can't talk about slide playing any more without mentioning Derek Trucks either. What an incredible musician!
 
 
So let's have a rundown of your current gear, you have two beautiful signature ESPs (I'm still trying to get one of the blue ones in the UK for a nice price *cries*) but what else are you running amps, cabs, pedals, leads, cables, picks etc etc
 
My main guitar for the last 7 years has been the blue ESP Horizon Custom and I can't see that changing any time soon. The Horizon semi-hollow body that ESP were kind enough to build me is a great guitar and I do use it a lot for recording but the blue Horizon is just perfect so it's difficult to imagine playing anything else really. For the "Dark Matter" album I used a Gibson 336 for most of the melodies, my Steinberger GS which has the Fernandez Sustainer pickup in it, an LTD 7 string for the heavy textures and also my '75 Strat for some of the clean ambient sounds. The main amp was the Bogner Ecstasy running into a Hughes & Kettner 4x12 but I also used my THD Bi Valve for some of the clean sounds. All my pickups are Dimarzios. As far as cables and all that, just whatever is lying around to be honest. I'm not the tone junkie that I should be. I'm still trying to get the playing together before I get too worried about my guitar cables!
 
 
How about you start nagging ESP to take you around the world again? It's been far too long since you were in the UK, or even Europe. Are there any plans in the coming years to go out to other countries? (I almost don't want you to answer this.....)
 
Unfortunately there's nothing planned as yet. I don't want to sound negative as I'm extremely grateful for the career I've had up to this point but I'd always hoped after doing so many things (tours, albums, instructional releases etc) that my career could have reached the point where a promoter would be willing to move me and my band around for a bit of touring but I'm afraid that hasn't happened. I'm pushing the financial envelope by paying for my own albums so touring is absolutely out of the question as I'd go broke within the first week. In the past ESP have been great and in particular, CMI here in Australia who are the main distributors for ESP so I've had a good run with clinic tours. In fact, a lot of the time it was individual schools or stores that flew me around the world so I'm extremely appreciative of that! All I can do is try to release the highest quality music that I can and hope that enough people end up enjoying it that it creates a demand for me and someone out there feels the financial risk of getting me and hopefully my band on a plane is worth it. I'm up for it so we'll wait and see if it can happen.
 
 
I'm always interested to hear who my heroes are really digging - is there anyone on the guitar playing scene at the moment who you really admire?
 
I admire everyone Levi! It would be an impossible list for me to give you as there'd be hundreds if not thousands of names on it. I'm tempted to try but if I start I'd be sure to leave out a whole bunch of names and then I'll feel bad!
 
 
Could you give us a short list of some of your favorite records, and those that have had a big influence on you as a player?
 
A short list?? I'll try! "Dark Side Of The Moon" and "Wish You Were Here" by Pink Floyd. David Gilmour's first solo album. "Blow By Blow", "Wired" and "There And Back" by Jeff Beck. "Live At The Aquarium" by Michael Brook, "Calling Card" by Rory Gallagher, "Deep Purple In Rock", "Physical Graffiti" by Led Zeppelin, Larry Carlton's first 3 solo albums, everything featuring Allan Holdsworth and everything featuring Scott Henderson...I could go on for hours and there'd be some very eclectic stuff on the list. Too many to mention really.
 
Thanks to Laurie Monk fusion guitar has made a HUGE resurgence in recent years, that cant be a bad thing for someone that describes themselves as "too jazz for rock musicians and too rock for jazz musicians" - what do you think the future holds for you? I'm not waiting 10 years for a new record!
 
We certainly do owe Laurie a debt of gratitude as he's a major champion for this kind of music! I do tend to get the feeling that I am too rock for the jazz and fusion audience and too fusion for the rock crowd, otherwise I really should be more well-known by now, especially considering the body of work I've released over the past 2 decades. Lack of finances is the reason I've only released 2 solo albums and that they're nearly 10 years apart, certainly not a lack of desire. I'm completely self-funded so unless I can raise the money I can't do it. Of course, I could use drum machines and play the bass myself but I believe in top notch production and world class players so that people can expect value for money.
 
All I can do at this stage is hope that "Dark Matter" reaches a wider audience as I don't have the funds to promote it the way a more major artist could so it's all down to a bit of luck at the moment. If the album can raise my profile then perhaps I can tour with my band and really start to reach a larger audience. Above all, I'm extremely proud of the songwriting and the depth of maturity in "Dark Matter" so hopefully it'll reach the audience that are out there waiting to enjoy it.
 
Purchase Dark Matter directly from Brett now!