Interview: Alex Ehrsam

Guglielmo Malusardi: In our previous interviewm when you had released "Djaz Dtox", I asked you about your music goals for the future. Your answer was, "I guess I want to play better and smarter, find a label, play with great musicians, this kind of thing."

Well, let's start with the second goal...You did find a label! Tell us about Shredguy Records. In a time of there being virtually no business in selling records, they gave you a great chance to release your second album.

Alex Ehrsam: I got lucky I guess. I first did my second album, the mixing, the mastering, and so forth, then I sent it out to quite a bunch of serious labels. I got picked up by Mike (McDowell) at Shred Guy; apparently Mike was interested in adding a "fusion" flavor to his rather "metal" guitar-oriented label, and my sound seduced him. It's a serious label; my music is represented on a lot of websites and e-stores, so it's really cool for me. The label keeps releasing new albums, it's getting more and more exposure, so that's really sweet.

Guglielmo Malusardi: You gave the CD the same title as an classic Pink Floyd released. But there are dots after each letter, so I don't think you just wanted pay tribute to a legendary band.

Alex Ehrsam: No, not really, I love Pink Floyd, but no connection here. I just thought it would summarize the whole album, real groove is what really comes out of It. I just thought the writing dot-by-dot thing looked nice. I'm more into it as a spelling effect than any real meaning. For example, on my first album, the songetitles I chose are more about rhythm and sound than just simple meaning. Though I love David Gilmour, no problem, who wouldn't!

Guglielmo Malusardi: Talking about the process of composing, when did you start to write and how long did it take before you completed the entire track list?

Alex Ehrsam: I started writing around February or March of 2009. I goofed and redid a lot of stuff up through the beginning of 2010, in order to have all those tunes solid and harmonious to the ear, to avoid the "one year gap between songs" effect you might otherwise hear. I listened to it a bit in my car, going quickly from track to track, and it sounds quite coherent I think, in sound and music.

Guglielmo Malusardi: What's your main source of inspiration when you compose?

Alex Ehrsam: I've been listening to a lot of pop and hip hop these last two years. I'm back to listening to jazz and ethno jazz, so it should influence me in the next few months I guess. I listen to people like Pink and Kasha too, you know the good old intro/verse/chorus pop thing, I really composed "P.U.L.S.E." that way, like a "normal" song, with a bridge, which is a long, solo, improvisational sequence.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Compared to "Djaz Dtox", you turned to a more "Greg Howian" style in your sound and playing in my opinion. Was this your idea, or perhaps a suggested direction by the label?

Alex Ehrsam: No, I contacted the label only after finishing and mastering the CD. No, it just came out that way I guess, Greg is really... in my blood so to speak. It's just the way I play, I never really tried to pick up his style. I tried to play "Jump Start" a long time ago, and it went like, "Wow, that is so hard!" I'm not listening to instrumental guitarists anymore, so it's just the way I play, so good for me. I saw Greg give a master class in Bordeaux recently, and I had a gig the next day, so I talked about him to people at that gig, and I was really... well, "hot blooded" at that moment. He really changed the way I look at the guitar, thanks so much Greg!

Guglielmo Malusardi: As in the "Djaz Dtox" interview, I would ask you to describe for us (from a technical and inspirational point of view) each track.

Alex Ehrsam: With "Proximity Triggered", I tried to create a cutting fusion environment, with a Mixolydian tone, roaming around A tonality, having it a bit bluesy and more rock. Yeah, this one is pretty "Greg Howian", as you said above. Amazing work from drummer Olivier Wilhelm.

"Hollow Input" is more intimate piece with a minor 9th chordal structure. I tried to make a funny modulation with minor 9th chords, plus take advantage of great bass lines by Anh-Quan La - a very free-spaced atmosphere on this one.

"Short Notice" has a bit more rock'n'roll vibe to it - the chorus has a Todd Duane feel to it. The dark, bluesy notes on the bridge are a bit misleading, but well, that's the point, I guess. Rock'n'roll fusion.

"Round Trip" is a straight-up feel groove right away. Very sweet, mellow melodies, held up by abstract, jazzy, Major 7th chords. The chorus sound of the rhythm guitar gives a great push to the whole harmony.

I never tried a full-on blues tune before so here it is... "Lush". I found the theme while teaching a student, and it developed into a one-hour jam. Nice vide to it - funny to get out of the old pentatonic on these 7th chords.

On "Time Sensitive" we tried to have an intimate conversation between bass and guitar, Really nice; composed this whole piece in an hour, and Anh-Quan Le's ideas just fit perfectly with my chords - sort of a Michael Manring kinda thing.

"Heat Signature" has very slow, heavy, hammering riff, and the theme that follows is kind of a hip hop thing on the guitar. Very nice chorus thing too, breathing I think, great to play this one live!

"Smooth Operator" was another flying kind of ambiance. It features a funny bridge in 12/8, which came out while working on some backing tracks one day. I though it would fit nicely, and it did, nice main theme, the mellow kind.

The line in "Side Step" was found at 3 AM one night. I woke up to write and went back to bed; nothing revolutionary, but I like that weird jazzy break and all. Another nice bridge/solo section with cool chords - again minor 9th chords - love those babies!

Guglielmo Malusardi: Was the music written in advance of recording, or did you allow plenty of room for changes and improvisation?

Alex Ehrsam: The album was quite "written", yes. I usually find many ideas that works well together. I might leave some space for improvement, but it's usually quite thought out, though I changed quite a few things working with Olivier and Quan. So it all comes out to about 75% of written material and 25% of last-minute and out-of-nowhere magic.

Guglielmo Malusardi: The CD has a real live vibe. Did you record some stuff together, or did you track it separately?

Alex Ehrsam: No, it was recorded separately, yet we did loads of takes to have the "perfect match" between instruments and sounds. We took our time to find best sounds, so it sounds quite like a vinyl record almost, I like that. It's all the mixing and mastering that gives the album a "live" feel. It sounds a bit like some 1970's record really, I like that it sticks with the music - the next album should be a bit more "cold" and studio-like.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Tell us about the gear you used.

Alex Ehrsam: Still on my US Fender Standard Strat 95. I'm playing Peavey and Laney live so far, though I had endorsement proposals recently on some brands, so I might change my gear soon. Dean Markley 9 42 strings, TS9 ibanez, MXR chorus and Boss Digital Delay. My pick is Dunlop Jazz III, but it's really far gone and used, so now it has a Jazz II shape!

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Guglielmo Malusardi: As a real musician, you can't wait to bring your music live to the stage as much as possible. Tell us about your live band, and the gear you use on stage.

Alex Ehrsam: We have been playing since June of 2009 - Olivier Wilhelm on drums, Anh-Quan Le on bass and Thomas Gutehrle on guitar, I'm using a Laney VH100R and Peavey Bandit 112 on stage. We usually play in small clubs, so I usually don't push the volume that much.

Guglielmo Malusardi: So could we consider the third of your 2008 goals (playing with great musicians) as accomplished?

Alex Ehrsam: Yeah. Really we have great chemistry on- and off-stage. The music is really cool, we have our reflexes playing live, so that is great. The last gig was really amazing. We can easily insert improvisation in the middle of songs, we just have to look at each other and its good.

Guglielmo Malusardi: You're actually in the middle of your "P.U.L.S.E." tour, any kind of feedback from the dates so far?

Alex Ehrsam:So far, it's been a bit difficult. My music is really a "weird jazz guitar" thing to people. It's really aimed at musicians and curious people, so we've had bad experiences with some audiences. We also had great, great gigs especially the last one, where we were paid good money, and had people asking for encores - that's just cool!

So we just keep going, trying to play in as many places as we can, yet it's not that easy. The live gig business is quite odd. Specific styles are really dominant in France, and blended genres still come across as oddities. As Allan Holdsworth put it, "Too jazz to perform in rock venues, and too rock to play in jazz venues." Ha ha, anyway, let's keep pushing the music!

Guglielmo Malusardi: Usually guitarists, before fame and fortune, are including cover songs in their repertoire. I saw Paul Gilbert live two times in his last European tour, and he include no less than four covers in his set list! Do you include cover songs played in your own style in your shows, and would you do it if you were Paul Gilbert?

Alex Ehrsam: No, not really, I'm not into cover songs. I'm not really good at playing other people music. I'm OK I guess, as much as I need it to teach guitar to people, but my guitar style is really rooted, and I usually find myself doing my hybrid things when working some Kirk Hammett solos for a student! So, no covers - or maybe some Radiohead transfigured in my style?

Guglielmo Malusardi: We're back to the first of your 2008 goals, to play better and smarter.

Alex Ehrsam: I really feel I'm playing smarter, I'm trying to slow down and find the best notes on every chord, and in every key possible. I'm working with a lot of different backing tracks in all genres to be able to adapt quickly and effectively. I tried to look more and more into arpeggiated forms and into making my playing as fluid as possible. I'm trying to use my ears as much as possible, using arpeggios, breaking up scales and working every tonality possible. It's a long, long process, but apparently I'm progressing.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Finally, what do you have on your agenda for 2011?

Alex Ehrsam: I'm available for online lessons (spread the word!). I'm writing my new album, I'm composing, and I'm teaching nice, cool people that actually show me I suck within some musical domains! I'm hoping (crossing fingers) to land some endorsement deals, so that should open some new horizons for me.

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Here we are for the second time with Alex Ehrsam. Three years after his first CD "Djaz Dtox", followed by intense live activity with his band, Alex has released his second album "P.U.L.S.E.". It was delivered under a new record deal with Shred Guy Records, one of the most active guitar-oriented labels.

Guglielmo Malusardi recently interviewed Ehrsam, where they discuss the new project, and review goals he set back in 2008.