"You know, Tony, that's it. We spend all those years playing, to finally be ourselves."
You most likely do not yet know Lars, or his work if you are an American reader. If you're reading this in Norway, you've probably been enjoying Haugen's work since the early nineties. On January 31st, Six Strings and The Truth will be released by EMI Norway, and hopefully available to American listeners via iTunes. Here is the official video of Landscapes, the album's first single:
I spoke with Lars yesterday at some length about a great many topics, but we started with his new record.
Lars Haavard Haugen, "I have been thinking about this for many years, to record a solo guitar record. I worked on my writing and playing for a long time, and finally felt that it was time. I began recording this in January of 2007, and worked on it between tours, records, and my other work as a producer and session player."
"That is probably due to the fact that we recorded it in my studio, using basically the same equipment throughout, the same rhythm section, and mostly the great engineering of my partner at the studio, Lars ( he laughs, and doesn't give a last name, and I forget to ask). Lars handles all the technical end so as that I can focus on writing, and playing the guitar.
"We cut the record mostly live, though I did on several tracks record the guitar separately, mostly to utilize our large room, and play very loudly, utilizing various microphones and techniques. Sometimes, on tracks such as The Drone, I played in the control room, and recorded the amps in our room to capture a huge sound."
One listen to The Drone and you will instantly hear what Haugen is saying. Utilizing a Jerry Jones twin necked 6 string/baritone, the opening of this tune is as big a sound as I've ever heard captured, as if Haugen had channeled John Entwistle's huge bass tone, and combined it with his own unique guitar voice that evokes everything from Brett Mason to Jimmy Page, but always manages to sound like Lars. The man has his own unique presence, quite apart from his influences.
"Back in the seventies, my brother returned home from studying in America, and he brought with him many American albums. I was taken by the Dixie Dregs. They greatly influenced my playing (I was in my teens at the time), and the way they changed directions within tunes really stuck with me. I have tried to incorporate that into my work. I like to keep things interesting for myself, and the listeners."
Haugen also mentioned Albert Lee, Brett Mason, and some other seminal pickers as early influences. Certainly their influence made an impression on not just Haugen's playing but also on Lars' guitar choices:
For those unfamiliar with the Tom Anderson Guitar Works magic, here's a few words from the maker:
"To be able to consistently deliver this mystical tone, Tom Anderson Guitarworks created the Hollow T Classic. The hollow chambered body nurtures a healthy fullness without giving up the twang factor. In their July 1993 issue, Guitar Player Magazine conducted a monumental guitar test. They called it “Tele Visions.” The banner on the cover of the magazine read “Shootout! 32 Telecasters & Tele Copies Rated.” They compared 32 “Tele”-style guitars from all different manufacturers. The winner was the Tom Anderson, Hollow T Classic. They concluded their write up of the Hollow T Classic by stating, “In our humble estimation, it just doesn't get any better than this”—very nice of them to say so," Tom Anderson Guitar Works.
Haugen adds, "I also used my PRS David Grissom model which I enjoy playing a great deal, a Collings L-35 that I used on parts of The Drone, and the Jerry Jones double neck with the baritone neck on the bottom, and six string on top."
"Ha, there is no tremolo bar on the album at all! All the bends are just bends as I played them," He said with a rather large grin, "I am a big fan of Albert Lee, and especially of Jerry Donahue, do you know of him?"
Then it was my turn to laugh. Jerry Donahue pops into my life from time to time, I have worked with Jerry on several occasions, and he is a dear friend of my editor, and of course, I have enjoyed his playing since his days with Fotheringay, and Fairport Convention. If I'm not mistaken, I think I also consulted on some early beta testing of the Whirlwind JD-1 preamp pedal that Donahue designed.
Lars continues, "All of the notes are my bendings. I love pedal steel, which I play some, and have always sought to emulate, and integrate pedal steel bends into my regular guitar work. It adds to the expression."
Urban Twang (Slight Return), is destined to become this year's big guitar instrumental track. Classic in the same sense as Cliff's of Dover, Surfing With The Alien, and dare I say, the Santos and Johnny classic, Sleep Walk. Yes, it is that good. Its melody, poignant, and heartfelt will remain with you - expect to be humming its refrain for some time.
I first became familiar with Lars through his relationship with 65 Amps. He had attended an amp unveiling party just prior to NAMM ( a few months, actually), and their attention towards him garnered my interest. I asked him about how he discovered 65 Amps:
"Then, I came to America with this dealer, and I had the opportunity to go to the NAMM show, where I met Dan Boul, Peter Stroud, and Myles Rose, all very great guys. So, for a long time I was using the Marquis, and the Royal Albert as my main stage amps, always in tandem. They offer very different sounds that when combined make a huge tone.
"But now, I have changed my live rig over to a Monterey 22 watt model, and a Tupelo 20 watt. This is to reduce my stage volume which had become just too loud. The Monterey is very warm, and has great bottom, and the Tupelo is brighter. I have had to adjust to having less headroom due to the lower wattage, but they sound fantastic together."
Haugen says, "No, I use the channel switching. Unusual, because this is difficult for many amplifiers, but with 65s it works very well. They sound great."
Actually, 65 Amps don't employ conventional channel switching, but rather they employ their unique proprietary Bump technology - from 65 Amps website:
"The Monterey is designed with the purpose of delivering classic American amp tones with a greatly enhanced vocabulary that extends across the Atlantic to Britain. The Monterey can go from classic warm and hot American tones to a wide palette of modern, rich boutique distortions at the flip of a switch.
"All of this is done without the normal sacrifices that one associates with classic American amps. The bass response stays tight and composed throughout the tonal spectrum of the amp. Distortion is robust, complex and unhampered by the normal shortcomings of traditional circuits. This means: no flabby low-end, no shrill top-end; a pleasant, detailed rendition of your favorite 6V6 vocabulary with many new voices, American and British, added.
"The Monterey employs our trademarked Bump™ control. The Bump™ control is a much more effective alternative to traditional channel switching. The Bump™ allows the user to both gain-up and re-slope the amp's tone stack allowing much more midrange to flow through the circuit; thereby gaining up the entire amp naturally and not inducing false preamp gain that creates fizz and buzz. The end result is the effect of having two amps in one."
"I used an Empress Tremolo pedal on the track Closing Time, I like its sound, and it has a tap feature that I really like having available to me to use whenever I like!"
Haugen plans on playing some festivals, and shows around Europe throughout 2011 to promote Six Strings and The Truth before he reconvenes with his regular band of the last few decades, Hellbillies, a Grammy winning act in their home country of Norway.
Hopefully, Six Strings and The Truth will awaken American audiences to the talents of Lars Haavard Haugen. He has succeeded in recording a truly great guitar instrumental record, and that is a mighty feat. So often, guitar records are the result of a player's ego, as opposed to a result of their creative gift. Haugen has proven the exception, and produced a record for the listener, one that will stand up to repeated listening and may be destined to become a guitar instrumental classic.
Lars Haavard Haugen is a great guitarist, of this there is no question. His playing is tasteful, chops laden, and his tones are superb. He also has developed great compositional skills, and his songs are just that - not just frames on which to hang a thousand cool licks (which he does have), but memorable tunes that are full of great imagery, and emotion. As I said in my earlier review of Six Strings and The Truth, you should hear this record not for Lars' sake, or because I said so, but rather because as a listener and lover of music - You Deserve To Hear Music This Cool!
Thanks to Lars Haavard for his generosity and time, to Libby for her expert editing, and to all my friends who may happen upon this. Namaste.
Friday, January 21, 2011
Sunday, January 16, 2011
David Hayes? Myles Rose? You may ask, just who are these fellows?
Myles Rose may well be America's guitar amplifier guru, having served many years at Groove Tubes as a designer, head tech, product development specialist, as well as being the co-author and technical editor of the Groove Tube Amp Book. After this distinguished service, Myles became a consultant to such amp builders as Dr. Z, 65 Amps, and many others. Mr. Rose is also the moderator for Guitar Player Magazine's online technical forum, Ask Myles Rose. When not running his current company, Guitar Amplifier Blueprinting, Myles can be found almost daily feeding homeless families in Los Angeles, and blogging eloquently about their plight.
Myles continued to say, "His work on restoration is not restoration at all, he takes things to the next level. Think of the Petersen Automotive Museum, where you see cars from decades ago in conditions exceeding that which they were in when they were originally driven out of the factory. David's Fender-style amps are always way above what was factory produced.
"I thought it was great when David started a slant on his own take on the classic amp circuits adding his own twist to things. All the magic of the past with a lot of new magic that fits into the total picture."
David's designation perfectly describes the amp head. It is basically a cloned, updated circuit of a 50s era Fender Tweed Deluxe with the power of a newer blackface Fender Deluxe. It encapsulates all of the tones found in the amps used by such luminaries as Keith Richards, Ronnie Wood, Neil Young, and Billy Gibbons on so many great rock records, but adds the horsepower necessary to drive a band on a loud stage. David says this amp probably is pushing 30-40 watts when peaking. I will add that it is a very loud 40 watts.
I have already discovered that within this gorgeous red Tolex cabinet several brilliant single channel amps reside. I started off using the amp as shipped, with a NOS Philips 5U4 rectifier tube. This produced the tone of the gods, a corpulent and clear voice that sagged wonderfully, producing tones that, depending on which guitar I used, would range from a very Stonesy rhythm tone with a Fender guitar, to a picture perfect ZZ Top grind when I utilized my Les Paul.
This amp made me realize that I had to play up to its expectations, and not the other way around. Most generally, a player will play through an amplifier and try to coax the sound in his head to come out of the speakers. Not so much with the Hayes. It instantly made me try to play as well as the amp sounded. The tones were exactly what you visualize in your mind's eye, and it simply asked that the player play. This amp is an instrument in its own right, as much as any guitar.
Incidentally, when I removed the rear panels to replace the tube, I was astounded by the neatness, and the beauty of the amp's interior. I have never seen more artful work, nor careful attention to detail. The beautiful point to point wiring, and the careful braids that had been tied were not only precise, they were also gorgeous.
The amp still retained the ability to clean up when the guitar volume was reduced, still maintained the subtle nuances of the player's right hand, and still asked me gently and kindly to be a better musician. And, it is unquestionably loud enough to be a commanding voice on any stage short of Metallica's. While it is loud, beefy, and forceful, it probably wouldn't be fair game in the metal realm, but for any other style of rock, blues, country, or jazz - I cannot imagine a more toneful amplifier.
Myles says of Hayes's builds, "His one off pieces are works of art, and use top notch components, and an attention to detail of workmanship that is second to none."
David Hayes is a fiercely devoted man. He is relentless in his pursuit of guitar tone, and his desire is to build the best amps possible, one at a time - strictly to bring out the best in the music.
"I try to use the best quality parts that are available, such as transformers, resistors, and capacitors, and I am in this for the music and the guitar player more than I am for the money," said David Hayes.
When asked why his name was relatively unknown, and unseen on the pages of the industries many great publications, David had this to say:
"As for how I remain out of the pages of magazines, I turn down offers of free advertising and interviews, which is also why I haven't become a factory type builder, mostly because I want to stay small enough that I don't have to have anyone else building my amps like so many other amp companies. You see I care more about my amps being "My" amps so I can control fully each and every build and kinda choose who I build for and try to make the amp fit the player. I care more about music, tone and quality than I do money!"
David built two BF-5E3s. I have one, and he kept the other. I have heard a great many single channel amps over the years, and can honestly say that this amp sounds better than any other I have heard. David's words are not marketing rhetoric, they are his heartfelt mantra.
Not knowing the Hayes story, I asked David how he came to be an amp builder/restoration specialist. The tale he tells is straight Hayes - classic, rustically elegant, and to the point.
Hayes Amplification is a small company, dedicated to one thing only - building great amps, one at a time. In addition to his classic remakes, and updates on legendary Fender amps, David also has built a series of Hayes Plexi's, including a recent delivery to one of rock and roll's greatest guitarists, Steve "The Deacon" Hunter. Hunter is, of course, the guitar star who played the lead licks on Aerosmith's Train Kept a Rollin', and wrote and recorded the classic intro to Lou Reed's Sweet Jane, with his cohort Dick Wagner
I asked Steve Hunter about his Hayes Amps, and he took time out of his busy schedule to tell me this, "The first thing you'll notice about Dave's amps is the workmanship, especially if you get to peek inside the chassis. It's a work of art. But, no matter how pretty things look on the inside, the amp still has to sound great. And Dave's amps do. They just plain sound great. Warm rich tone without ever being too harsh which is precisely the type of sound I always look for. Not excessively loud but they always manage to hold their own in just about any situation. Excellent with pedals. A true tube amp in every way, that will respond to your playing."
"I actually met Steve on Facebook. He liked my amps right away, we became friends and talked quite a bit about amps and music. At first I didn't make the connection that this was actually The Steve Hunter, "The Deacon of Rock & Roll," and one of my heroes on guitar that played with Alice Cooper. He had been one of the people that I considered a guitar god since I was 17 going on 18. I loved the song Eighteen, so this was like a dream come true, and such an honor to be doing anything with this man (who is one of the most humble, down to earth, nicest people I have ever met in my life). Now, Steve has two Hayes amps - the Plexi, and the first "Purple Hayes," which is an amp that was built just to please my friends, who had said that with my name I just had to build an amp and name it that. I took my Tube Master "LIL JENNY" head with a 2X12 cab that was designed for Joey Thigpen, which is called the Hayes Tube Master LIL JENNY JT212. Anyway, I took this amp and made some changes in it to give it a little more growl, a little more punch, and a quicker breakup so it would be more aggressive and fit the name Purple Hayes!"
When I said that David is devoted, that is exactly what I meant. Sadly, several years ago, the real "Lil Jenny," was felled by a massive stroke, and David has added the job of full time caretaker to his resume. In addition to his work load of amp building, repairing, and restoration, he cares for his wife in every sense, and her recovery is always his first priority. That may be why Myles Rose had this to say:
Even in speaking with Patrick Selfridge at Mercury Magnetics (the makers of the best guitar amp transformers on the planet), what was said about David Hayes was half amp worship, and half praise for the man, and probably a good place to wrap this up.
Patrick Selfridge said, "David Hayes is building some amazing amps. He is not building simple vintage clones like so many builders, but instead is making amps with his signature tone. David really sweats all the details, and it shows with the end result every time. We here at Mercury Magnetics are very proud to be a part of helping David shape his tone amp by amp. Most of all, we are proud to be associated with a great person on top of it all!"
It would be unwise of me to not thank David for allowing me to write about his work, as it would be to not write about what is the best amplifier I have ever played, let alone owned, The Hayes Amplification BF-5E3, my Little Red Corvette.
Wednesday, January 5, 2011
Six Strings and The Truth is the rarest of records, a guitar based instrumental album that doesn't have you running away in tedious boredom at any point. In fact, it makes you rather glad that his brother Aslag, the lead singer of Lars's day job of the last twenty years, Norway's country rock legends Hellbillies, chose to take some time off.
Hellbillies. Why haven't we heard of them? Well, the main reason is that the fellas sing in the dialect of the Hallingdal region of their home in Norway. Funnily enough, if you take one listen (and you will) to any song by Hellbillies, I believe you'll know what the song is about, the band being just that good at conveying emotions, and meanings via melody. They put me in mind of Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers, or maybe The Band - they are that good. They suffer no comparisons - I'm guessing they are The Eagles of Norway. Aslag Haugen has a beautiful and telling voice, and Lars is as a good a right hand man/guitar star as has ever picked up the instrument. Don't listen to me though, go straight to YouTube and fire up any Hellbillies track and you'll be a convert, a fan.
Filled with somewhat familiar tones, and sounds, Lars's first outing as a solo act will have you reigned in with a great combination of familiarity and uniqueness. Kind of like reminiscing with a stranger. Haugen plays with a wonderfully relaxed passion that keeps you on the edge of your seat without hearing the anxiety that most instrumental guitarists display. He's not saying, "Please love me," but rather, "Don't you love this?"
Before I get into the tracks I have to mention some gear issues. Haugen came to my attention this summer through connections with two of the absolute best instrument builders in the world. Dan Boul whose 65 Amps power Lars's tones, and Michael DeTemple,and his amazing guitars, which I believe are also utilized. You'll see 65 Amps displayed proudly in Hellbillies newest videos such as Denne Red. I'm not certain which guitars, and other instruments Lars is playing here, but he seemingly has a penchant for Paul Reed Smiths, Les Pauls, and other classic guitar styles. His tones are immaculate, and always very well chosen. He covers a tremendous amount of territory across the record, stylistically speaking, and always chooses the appropriate tones, avoiding another misstep that entraps so many instrumental guitar records.
A Walk in the Park starts things off, and it moves at a brisk pace that draws you in, and will have you toe tapping and wishing that Eric Johnson's records were this song oriented. Eric is brilliant, we all know that, but he often loses listens with his sheer technicality and sophistry. This is more accessible, and I use Mr. Johnson as a point of reference, not in any disparaging sense. The rhythm section percolates solidly behind Haugen as he calmly takes us on a brilliant tour of his chops, and musicality. If there were still real rock radio, this would be this year's guitar instrumental hit single. He plays so damned well that you almost don't notice his dizzying technical skills - the ending will have every guitar player scrambling to the woodshed. It is an instant classic.
Urban Twang retraces some steps, being the title track to Hellbillies 2001 album. I initially wondered why Haugen had chosen to go back over the past, but quickly realized that a decade later, he has taken the song to a new level of emotional immediacy. Its poignant and bittersweet melody evokes an instant memory of a love, perhaps lost, and not soon to return. There is a militaristic, and funereal bent that brings to mind a million lost soldiers and their loved ones. That is certainly just my take on the beautiful melody, but is that not the point of a piece of instrumental music, to take the listener on an emotional journey? Too many musicians have forgotten this in the race for chops supremacy, but Haugen reminds me that music is made to move the listener. His notes and melodies pop out so sweetly that a tear comes to my eye. Midway through the tune the mood changes to a more uplifting and positive forward movement, maybe remembering the good times of the past before he returns to state his eloquent case again at the end. Lars puts on a twang bar display on this one that is on par with Jeff Beck's, and I don't mention this cavalierly or casually, but with studied respect, and awe. This is magisterially majestic - a masterpiece.
If an American guitarist had recorded the title track, Six Strings and The Truth may have been called maybe Three Yards and a Cloud of Dust. This hard charging number gets to the goal line after pulling out every trick in the coach's repertoire. Telecaster masters such as Bill Kirchen, and Redd Volkaert come to mind, as Haugen pays tribute to the art of American roots guitar playing, before going into a bolero of jazz/rock pop - how's that for genre bending? Well, that's as best as I can describe it using the tools at my disposal. It has great chops, great tones, and stunning musicality. He even conjures a little early Rush in towards the end before driving out of town in his hot rod Lincoln. Another mind-bender.
Haugen pulls out the acoustic weaponry for All Alone, and again he has mastered the ground he chooses to cover. This tune is wistful, and dreamy. Filled with great imagery, and melodic invention, he treads carefully between composer, and guitar star. Technical wizardry is on display in spades, but never at the expense of the song.
Speaking of songs, Landscapes comes in sounding the most of any track here like his band Hellbillies. I can literally imagine what brother Aslag would be singing over this Haugen composition. Hellbillies tunes are always melodic, and well thought out, and this is no different save for Lars filling more space with his tasteful, and lyrical chops.
Heavy tremolo is saved for the end, and I'm guessing it is born of a 65 Amp, as Lars Harvaard Haugen rings out his first full length solo album with another example of why I feel he is one of the best guitar players most of us have not previously heard of. Beautiful motifs jump in an out of this one, at a stunning rate, and it is evident that in the twenty years that Hellbillies have been producing hits in their native Norway, Mr. Haugen was thinking about maybe making himself a record.
So there it is. This is going to be a very hard record to beat for 2011, whether instrumental or vocal. I am rather given to raving about what I like, and I make no apologies. I am not a critic - I am a fan, and a friend. I do not write about that that I do not love, but damn, I do love this record and would all but beg you to buy a copy. Not for Lars, not for me, but rather for you. You deserve to hear music this good.
I will try to follow this up with an article on the gear Lars used for the record, and his thoughts on its making, but I feel a certain sense of urgency in getting the word out about this, the first great record I have heard in 2011.
Great thanks, and congratulations to Lars Harvaard Haugen,