Interview: Kevin A. Smith

Dan McAvinchey: Kevin, looking back, when did you first get interested in guitar, and how did you learn and progress as a player?

Kevin A. Smith: I can remember an interest in music from a pretty early age but the biggest catalyst for my guitar playing would definitely be a family friend named Scott Miller. He lives and plays music up in G9 territory. He was the quintessential "cool older guy"
that I wanted to emulate in every way... he was passionate about rock music and guitar playing. He pointed me towards many great players and taught lots of "guitar" knowledge.

I distinctly remember a road trip when I was maybe 11 or 12 and Scott was explaining to me about Gibson and Fender guitars - his influence on me was profound. From there I took a few lessons from a friend's father, picked up things from my buddies who played, and a handful of lessons from a guitar teacher named Frank who taught me "Gimme Two Steps" by Lynyrd Skynyrd.

After that I just immersed myself in learning songs by ear and reading tabs out of guitar magazines to learn some of my favorite licks. Pretty quickly I was writing my own riffs and songs ideas
just came to me so I would just play for hours and hours honing my sound and technique. But my real jump up came when I started recording myself with a little multi-track. At that point I could really hear what I was doing, and hone in on the things I needed to improve. It got me learning about harmony and improvisation and especially rhythm.

Dan McAvinchey: Tell us a little bit about your latest CD "Crux". How did you record the songs for the album?

Kevin A. Smith: "Crux" has been years in the making and has been a real labor of love for me. I own and operate a small commercial recording studio, which certainly comes in handy when it's time to record. It is the lab where I cook up all my experiments and it was here that I conceived, recorded, and engineered everything on this album. I had been compiling songs and song ideas for years and when it was finally time to put it all together I just locked myself away til it was done. Aside from drums on two of the songs, I wrote, arranged, and performed all of the instrumentation on the album.

So, to keep things consistent, my method would usually be to focus on one instrument at a time. I would spend days on drums for the various songs, then switch to guitar to flesh out the parts, then pick up the bass for a while. It was a long and tedious process but I am quite pleased with the result.

I used Cubase SX3 as my DAW and recorded most of the instrumentation direct. For guitar sounds I alternated between my modified early 80's Fender Squier with EMGs (SA-SA-85), a stock Fender American Standard Strat, a G&L Tribute Legacy with Duncans and Dimarzios, and a Line 6 Variax - all run through either a POD, POD XTlive, or Rocktron Chameleon. Bass was a Godin 5-string and a Peavy Cirrus 5 through a Bass PODxt or Sansamp Bass Driver. I programmed the drums using DFH Superior from Toontrack. The drums for "A Walk Across Nowhere" were recorded live at my studio by Greg Dampier (who plays in my live band). For "88" I contacted Marc Norgaard who does "drum tracks via-the-web" - he tracked the drums at his home studio in Maryland and just sent the files to me to mix. I got a guest appearance from my friend Jason Ridenhour who also recorded some bass parts for "88" at his home studio and sent the tracks to me.

Dan McAvinchey: Where did the project name "The Seven" come from? Does it signify anything?

Kevin A. Smith: I feel an acute sense that my work should be meaningful, to myself as an artist, but primarily to the God whom I believe created me and gave me the gift of music to begin
with. When it came time to put a name on my compositions I opted for The Seven because that number carries with it many connotations such as completion and wholeness, it has a hint of mystery and power, and generally has a positive vibe - all things I want my music to be. In my world view everything is spiritual - so I
thought the name of my band should be too.

Dan McAvinchey: What are some of your favorite songs off of "Crux"?

Kevin A. Smith: I tried to include a variety of song types on this record - "Freight Train Proselyte" would have to be my favorite heavy piece. It perfectly embodies my "big, heavy, beautiful, intense guitar-driven instrumental" approach to music. It's got the big groove - and it builds and builds to an explosive climax. When I sit back and listen to that song it just says everything I want it to say.

I also have a real fondness for "Suite P" - it's the longest song on the record and takes the listener on a journey through a shifting landscape. I explored various time signatures and endeavored to make them fit into a unified whole - make them serve the song, not just sound complicated.

"Redemption" sorta takes me out of my comfort zone but allowed me to explore territory that was new to me. A lot of improvised rotary speaker lead bits - some of it got a tad sloppy but seemed to maintain a certain swagger that gave that song a unique vibe. I don't know if I have ever been completely satisfied with a guitar
solo but the main lead break captured a few really interesting moments - both in the texture of the tone and the note choice.

Dan McAvinchey: Do you get the opportunity to play any of the tunes live?

Kevin A. Smith: I know a lot of the guys who do this have a hard time putting together a live package or even finding players that are interested in and/or able to play this kind of music - and I fit in that catagory until just recently. I needed to put together some sort of album release show and called upon the few musicians locally who I thought could pull it off and then brought in a drummer friend of mine who lives in Nashville. The result was a pretty solid performance and everyone involved really enjoyed it - it's amazing what you can do when you surround yourselves with musicians who approach their music professionally.

Just recently we played our second gig which came off even better and are hoping the spring and summer will yield some more opportunities to play out. The set list included "88", "A Walk Across Nowhere", "Metacog", "Redemption", and "Grace" from the new CD. We also did a few songs from my earlier albums as well as Jeff Beck's version of "Cause We've Ended As Lovers".

Dan McAvinchey: What in your opinion is essential for a great guitar solo?

Kevin A. Smith: In my life I try not to speak unless I have something to say. I don't like hearing people talk just because they like to talk, ya know? I try to approach guitar playing with that mentality and to me. a great solo works the same way, like a
powerful and moving speech. Something that grabs your attention, keeps you interested, tells a story, and wraps up leaving you feeling like you got something from it.

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

Kevin A. Smith:That is an interesting question. Seems to me like there are two types that tend to gravitate towards instrumental music. Those people who tend to approach music like a sport (who is better than who, and who can play the fastest, and things like
that) and then the type of people for whom words tend to be cumbersome at times.

While I certainly love to hear skilled musicians play challenging music I tend to fall in the latter category when composing. There are certainly times where words are just too literal - but a melodic phrase can speak in so many different ways. I think instrumental fans tend to have a good imagination. They don't always need to
be told what the song is about but open their mind and let the notes carry them along. I can listen to the same instrumental piece over and over and arrive at something different every time because raw notes are open to a wider interpretation.

Don't get me wrong, I love a well-crafted vocal song and think that well written lyrics are amazing (not my talent!) but words can get too specific for some of us who would rather go to a place no word can take us.

Dan McAvinchey: How has the economic slowdown across the world affected how you personally buy and discover music?

Kevin A. Smith: Not too dramatically actually. Fortunately for me my job requires that I constantly check out new music so it is sorta built in for me. I have all but stopped buying physical CDs now though, but that is more for convenience than economic reasons. I
love having all of my favorite music with me at all times which makes my mp3 player my music source so I tend to download most of my music.

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Dan McAvinchey: Are you using social media sites to promote your CDs?

Kevin A. Smith: Yes! In addition to my web page ( I have a MySpace ( and a FaceBook fan page as well. Got some music on Reverb Nation and just started with Twitter but am sorta limping along there. I have a few vids up on YouTube and I'm planning on really working to get that particular avenue working well. It definitely takes a great deal of time and energy to keep up but the payoff is great. This way of communicating is without a doubt the way of the future.

Dan McAvinchey: If you could do a once-off music project with any other guitarists in the world, who would it be?

Kevin A. Smith: Wow, that is a tough one. I am a big fan of Lyle Workman and would love to have the chance to craft a piece of music with him. Tim Pierce is one of those guys who I think I would just love to sit around and toss out ideas and try to build something new and interesting. I recently discovered Daniele Gottardo - that dude is bringing something new to the table so I think it would be a challenge to trade ideas with him - though I'm not sure I could keep up!

Dan McAvinchey: Are you into any other unusual styles of music?

Kevin A. Smith: Not sure if it qualifies as unusual but I love movie scores; music paired with a visual has so much power. And I love the concept of the picking instruments based on the emotion they convey. This is one area I would love to do more with. Last year I completed my first orchestral score for a short film called "Cornerboys" and loved the whole process of making visual music.

Dan McAvinchey: If you would, please give us an idea of what's coming up in the future for you.

Kevin A. Smith: I'm hoping 2010 will yield much for me and my music - more gigs with the band, hopefully some clinics and teaching opportunities, and an ongoing study of this beautiful instrument called the guitar. I am planning to finish writing and recording a few fusion type tunes that have been on the back burner, continue learning more about that sort of approach. I am excited more now than I have ever been about playing and writing and just music in general.

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Kevin A. Smith of The Seven recently released "Crux" a progressive, open-format, instrumental musical landscape. He worked on song ideas for years before coming out with this debut album, in which he wrote, arranged, and performed all of the instrumentation (aside from drums on two tracks) on the thirteen song recording.

Dan McAvinchey posed a dozen questions for Smith, which the guitarist and studio owner was most enthusiastic to answer. Here's how it went down.