Interview: Jill Yan

Dan McAvinchey: Jill, how old were you when you first got interested in guitar, and how did you learn and progress as a player?

Jill Yan: I was eight years old when I first felt attracted to it, but I didn't actually start to play until later, I don't really know why. I think it's when I saw the AC/DC movie "Let there Be Rock" and I heard Van Halen that I really knew I had to start. At this time, I just tried to play a little bit, but it was like a hobby, you know, playing a few chords and that's it. I became more involved into it when I discovered the instrumental-rock and fusion. I remember the first time I listened to "Blue Powder" by Steve Vai, I asked myself, "Is this guy playing the same guitar that I do, I mean a piece of wood with some strings on it?"

At that point, I became more "obsessed" with guitar and started to take lessons. I played in a few bands, tried different styles of music, but I felt I needed to deepen the subject: I then flew to Los Angeles, California and spent one full year studying there at G.I.T. with great teachers such as Scott Henderson and Joe Diorio.

Dan McAvinchey: What King of gear do you use to get your sound?

Jill Yan: My main guitar is a Vigier Excalibur, for effects we have a Bad Horsie wah-wah, two tubes screamers, a Boss compressor for clean sounds, Eventide H3000SE and a Rocktron Intellifex for reverb. The amp is a Hughes & Kettner tube 100.

Dan McAvinchey: What are you striving to achieve musically, particularly on your last CD?

Jill Yan: Compared to the first CD, I tried to vary the tunes more and except for a song called "Dog's Way", I tried not to put in too many different parts. I think the hard part when you are composing is to try to be as diverse as you can, but without losing yourself. It would be easy to do a record with a rock tunes, a blues one, then a Latin one and so on. For me, it's more interesting to try to focus on what I do, which is basically a mix of heavy and fusion.

Dan McAvinchey: Why do you think certain music fans prefer instrumental music over traditional vocal oriented music?

Jill Yan: I really don't know, since I like both. I don't hear the music differently if it's instrumental or with vocals.

Dan McAvinchey: Do you get the opportunity to perform your original music in front of an audience?

Jill Yan: Sometimes, not too often. The problem is I don't fall into a category. It's either too heavy for the jazz stages, or without vocals for the rock stages so everybody is telling you how great and cool is your music but at the same time, they tell you it's not for their club or audience. I think it's a shame, because the few gigs
I did were really appreciated by the public. At each show, people came to see me after the gig, and asked me lots of questions. At the same time, I had some great compliments from people who don't play music; they tell me that when listening they could imagine a story and/or some images or movies in their mind. For me, that's the highest compliment I can get. Maybe, that's the beauty of instrumental music, when listening to it, you can imagine or feel whatever you want.

Dan McAvinchey: How do you feel about guitar-oriented magazines and how they are currently covering instrumental music?

Jill Yan: I don't know, since I do not read them anymore, but it's certain they don't help instrumental music or artists - unless you are Vai or Satriani.

Dan McAvinchey: What went into the decision to release your records independently?

Jill Yan: To be able to record the music I hear in my head. Nobody else was interested, so I did not have a choice.

Dan McAvinchey: What do you now find to be the advantages and disadvantages of being an independent musician?

Jill Yan: The advantage is you can record and/or play whatever you want. The disadvantage is you have to do it all by yourself, and you don't have any help for promotion, and you have to pay for everything.

Dan McAvinchey: From a publicity and promotion standpoint, what do you find is working best for you at the moment?

Jill Yan: The only publicity I have is from guitar oriented web sites with reviews, a few radio stations (both Internet and "normal" radio stations) and, of course, Guitar9. Unfortunately, like I said, it's quiet difficult to play gigs to promote your music - here's an example: I went to see Allan Holdsworth in a club in Switzerland. At the end of the gig, I spoke with the club owner to see if I could play in his club. So, without even listening to my music, the guy said I could not play in his club because I was not known, so I said to him, okay, what I do to get known. His answer was, "You have to do more live shows!" So, what can you say, except, "Thanks for the information."

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Dan McAvinchey: Have you heard any new guitarists that have really caught your ear in the past couple of years?

Jill Yan: No, but I'm really not up to date, and I'm pretty sure that all the guitarists I listen to are well known.

Dan McAvinchey: What's up next for you?

Jill Yan: I will try to get a few gigs, anything I can do to promote my new CD, "B4". In the music field, I'm going to start a jazz duo playing standards with a friend of mine (this can maybe evolve into a trio and/or quartet) and we're talking about making an instrumental CD with Pascal Alba (the bass player who played the solo on "Ab & Co"). I have some gigs with another band called the Red Hot Minute where we play only Red Hot Chili Peppers covers. And last, but not least, I have enough songs to record my third CD. Lots of fun to come.

Dan McAvinchey: Finally, if you could do a once-off album project with any guitarist in the world, who would it be?

Jill Yan: Without any hesitation: Allan Holdsworth.

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Swiss guitarist Jill Yan has already released two independent CDs: "Guitar Garbage 1.2" (2001), and most recently, "B4". Both are examples of Yan's heavy groovin' instrumental guitar music. featuring creative song construction and hard-edged solos.

Dan McAvinchey recently caught up with Yan to discuss the life of an independent musician, and the difficulty of getting live performance opportunities.