Interview: Ben Sherman

Dan McAvinchey: Ben, how did you get interested in music and who influenced your guitar style?

Ben Sherman: My dad was a professional jazz pianist, and my sister studied classical piano, so there was always music and musicians in the house when I was growing up. In that environment I quickly acquired a passion for music, and after some false starts with lessons, finally committed to guitar at age 12. I started with classical guitar instruction and teaching myself rock and pop songs by ear--it was discovered that I had perfect pitch. Soon I was just having a blast, inundating myself with all kinds of music. Ever since then I have maintained an enduring admiration for any kind of music played with passion, honesty and enthusiasm.

My guitar playing continued on the dual paths of classical and rock for many years, but I continued to be influenced and inspired by a huge diversity of great players--from classical masters like Segovia, John Williams and Julian Bream, to jazz greats like Joe Pass, Herb Ellis and Charlie Byrd, to fusion pioneers like Jeff Beck, Al Di Meola and John McLaughlin, to acoustic wizards like Michael Hedges, Leo Kottke, Chet Atkins, to rock idols like Van Halen, Randy Rhoads, Michael Schenker--the list goes on. As time went on I came to identify strongly with eclectic players such as Steve Morse, Allan Holdsworth, Eric Johnson, Joe Satriani--they reflected my own wide perspective on music.

Dan McAvinchey: What guitars, effects and amplification do you use live, and in the studio?

Ben Sherman: For guitars I play a 1997 PRS custom and a 1974 Fender Strat--a long-time companion. The thing about equipment is it's just a tool to reproduce what I already hear in my mind, but people need to think about doing that--imagine the sound, then use whatever tools are available to create it. Anyway, having said that: in the studio recording my CD I had use of a Line 6 amplifier, which a friend lent me for my sessions. I was floored by the big natural sound it produced, with very little effort! I still don't have one of my own yet, so for gigs I use my trusty Randall 60 watt combo amp. In the studio, the guitar was recorded dry and then effects were added during mixing. For live I have some more old friends--a Korg A3 multi-effects for delays and choruses, and an Ibanez Tube Screamer for major overdrive, a Cry Baby wah, and a Boss CE-2 chorus. It's a crazy-quilt set-up, but I like it.

Dan McAvinchey: What are you trying to achieve musically?

Ben Sherman: I just released my first CD after 27 years of playing. For me it represents the end of a struggle to accept my influences, yet still feel I have a voice of my own. I also wanted to express the fact that I just love to play, and that I love music without borders. Most importantly, I want to create music that expresses my true heart, and that inspires the listener to do the same. Music has that power, to express the inexpressible, and to bring people together to share the experience.

Dan McAvinchey: What are your long-term goals?

Ben Sherman: I've put a new group together, and I'm anticipating having a great time performing, writing and recording new stuff! The importance of collaboration is another lesson I learned late- you don't have to go it alone, and you shouldn't! Magic happens when you interact with others who inspire and excite you.

Dan McAvinchey: What are your most recently completed projects and are you touring at all?

Ben Sherman: I independently released my first CD, titled "First Light" in December 1997. Currently I'm getting the live show together!

Dan McAvinchey: How do you write your music?

Ben Sherman: I have always done demos at home on a 4-track cassette. I have a drum machine and a bass, and I run everything through my multi-effects unit and an equalizer. It took a while to get it all together, but the end result is I can make good sounding demos without a lot of fuss (remember--"it's only a demo!"). Getting inspired, that's the tricky part! I've never been
prolific like some people--for me when inspiration comes it's a blessing, but if I try to make it happen, it's a flop. Again I will say that collaboration has helped tremendously.

Dan McAvinchey: Did you use commercial recording facilities for your last record?

Ben Sherman: For my CD I was fortunate to share the production task with a friend and longtime bandmate, John Such, who operates a small but professional studio in Baltimore. So my first major studio project was a joyful experience--there was no pressure, we communicated perfectly, we were on the same wavelength musically, sonically, philosophically. He provided the setting where a lot of terrific stuff happened spontaneously, as well as giving me
time to dig in and work hard on the details. I could never have imagined it would be so relaxed and fun, and now I would never settle for anything less.

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Dan McAvinchey: Why did you decide to form your own record label and release an independent record?

Ben Sherman: My music is eclectic and thus hard to categorize, thus hard (but not impossible) to sell. Even small record companies like to see a track record before they invest, so I felt it would be wiser to start small and develop my own network of people who like eclectic music, who respond positively to what I'm doing, and build from there. My model in Baltimore is Carl Filipiak, a terrific jazz guitarist who is on his fourth independent album. He started doing this kind of thing ten years ago- with patience and persistence he has developed a great reputation, critical acclaim and excellent sales. At that point, you can choose to continue being your own
boss, or negotiate a record deal from a much stronger position.

Dan McAvinchey: What are the advantages and disadvantages of being an independent musician?

Ben Sherman: If you really love what you do, you don't look at it as advantages and disadvantages. You do what you do because you love it and you can't imagine yourself doing anything else.

Dan McAvinchey: Do you have any marketing or promotion tips for musicians about to release their first independent record?

Ben Sherman: Well there is a wealth of educational materials out there about promotion and marketing (including Guitar Nine!) so I'll go more philosophical: Be honest, be yourself; with so much music available today it's important to define clearly what it is that makes you unique. Establish a clear sense of direction; be focused. Believe in what you do and give it your full, passionate, persistent effort. Make a plan! Treat it like a business! Study, study, STUDY! With the many varied tasks involved in promotion and marketing, ask for assistance! There's no need to do everything yourself, and if you try to you'll lose your focus on the music. There are many talented people in various professions who are ready to give 110% to help someone who is sincere, hard working and has a clear sense of purpose. And finally, remember to have a life, and enjoy the present moment!

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"First Light" is the debut instrumental CD from Maryland guitarist Ben Sherman, a work that truly communicates the sheer joy and enthusiasm that Sherman feels about music. Coming from a musical family, Sherman settled on the guitar as his passion and delved into both the classical and rock genres for many years. This led to Sherman's literal celebration of diversity, in both his guitar playing and his compositional style and he continues to broaden his perspective in music as much as possible.

Sherman documented the path he took to recording his first CD to Dan McAvinchey, and spoke about the importance of collaboration and eclecticism.