Interview: Rob Garland

Dan McAvinchey: Welcome Rob, thank you for your time. Let's begin my going back a few years. When you started playing guitar, what were you listening to that influenced your playing and love for the instrument?

Rob Garland: As a teenager growing up in Southern England I was exposed to mostly pop music on the radio but I discovered other bands through a BBC Radio 1 weekly show called The Friday Rock Show that was broadcast at midnight. My friend and I would tape the show and sift through our cassettes the next day then go on scouting trips to the local record shop. The energy of hard rock bands like Van Halen, Queen, Iron Maiden, Dio and Ozzy got me really excited about the guitar. I loved players like Gary Moore, Brian May, Jake E. Lee, Yngwie and Eddie Van Halen. Then came instrumental rock with Joe Satriani, Steve Vai and later Greg Howe. I worked backwards from the (then) modern rock players and discovered guys like Richie Blackmore, Jeff Beck, Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page. Researching where Eric Clapton got his blues licks from took me back to the three Kings (Freddie, B.B. & Albert) whilst listening to Steve Morse and Eric Johnson led me to Albert Lee.

I saw Toto on a late night TV show around the early nineties and Steve Lukather's playing just floored me. His use of jazz harmony combined with a rock attitude and tone had a profound impact. After that I got really interested in jazz and fusion, especially players like Larry Carlton, Scott Henderson, Pat Metheny, John McLaughlin and Mike Landau. I also started thinking more about my tone.

I still remember two defining moments that really made me want to play the guitar. One was Mark Knopfler's arpeggiated runs during Dire Strait's "Sultans Of Swing" which just sounded so musical to me and the other one was Jimi Hendrix bending a string and hitting the pickup selector switch near the start of "Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)". That gave me chills - I didn't really know why, I just knew it was cool! Also the Fender Strat tone on Gary Moore's "Corridors Of Power" album was so inspirational and probably the reason why I still play Strat style guitars.

Dan McAvinchey: Was your latest album "Seven Voices" self-released? Digital or physical media?

Rob Garland: Yes, my E.P. "Seven Voices" is self released mostly on digital formats although it is available on CD through Amazon. The music I write and record under my own name is just the kind of music I'd like to listen to and therefore has no commercial consideration whatsoever, which means it's a bonus if other people like it! That said Shrapnel Records founder Mike Varney told me a few years ago that if I'd sent him a CD of my music 20+ years earlier he'd have signed me to his label, which is rather bittersweet!

Dan McAvinchey: Agreed! So, describe your music style as you intend it to sound when you are recording or playing.

Rob Garland: That's tricky because I move through a lot of genres so it's difficult to label. I suppose I'd describe most of it as instrumental rock with elements of jazz, blues and funk.

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Dan McAvinchey: What was your process when you wrote the songs for "Seven Voices"?

Rob Garland: I wrote 5 of the 6 songs on the E.P. Some of the tunes my trio had been performing live for a few months, others were run through for the first time at a rehearsal just before tracking. The song "Dance Of The Satyr" was a collaboration the rhythm section from my Eclectic Trio: Austin Underhill on bass and Carl Thomson on drums. That song came about from a jam at a rehearsal and we developed it, along with a little help from the cheeky little goat man!

We arranged the title track "Seven Voices" together, which features sections that move between 7/8 and 4/4 so we worked on that one to make the transitions as seamless as possible, which means I don't have to count!

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

Rob Garland: I used to love reading guitar magazines growing up. Everything about them seemed like it was from another world. Keep in mind this was pre-internet so there really wasn't that much information out there about musicians, especially for a kid in a tiny sea-side town in England. I read and re-read every word, even the gear adverts and of course that one from the guy who was always advertising his perfect pitch!

These days it's different because there is so much information everywhere. I still read guitar magazines, but they do often seem to cover the same players. There are a lot of talented guitarists out there who could use the exposure, but at the same time I understand that the big name players help sell the magazines. I do not see a lot of instrumental music being covered in guitar magazines. Years ago a magazine like Guitar Player would have jazz and country columns mixed in with the rock and now there seems to be less diversity, although I must give them credit for putting Guthrie Govan on the cover a while back. There are a lot of amazing YouTube players out there but unless they leave their bedrooms and start making music with other people they are unlikely to show up in a guitar magazine.

Dan McAvinchey: I vividly remember that Perfect Pitch ad as well! For promotion and relationship building, are you using any social media sites?

Rob Garland: Yes, although I'd rather be playing the guitar I realize that social media is a big part of the industry today and therefore I have rather shamelessly embraced it. I have several Facebook pages, a Twitter account, Soundcloud, Spotify - oh you know, all of them! I'm also active on the TrueFire forum and The Gear Page and when I have time, I contribute guitar lessons to those and I write lessons/columns for TrueFire's RIFF magazine. I keep my website ( updated weekly, plus I publish a free e-newsletter (Babylon) with lessons, practice tips, music reviews and an occasional rant which people can subscribe to from my website.

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

Rob Garland: I'd say that working for TrueFire, releasing instructional courses and running my classroom/workshops has been a help raising my profile and also working with equipment companies on endorsements and promotional videos. I go to the NAMM show every year, talk to companies, demonstrate equipment and network with other musicians and that helps build relationships. I am planning on doing more YouTube lesson videos and product demos which helps me to get people to hear me play and hopefully follow me on social media.

As I said earlier I embrace sites like Twitter and Facebook and although some musicians are critical of those that use it for publicity and promotion I see nothing wrong with it. If you don't want to see my videos and lessons simply unfollow me! Playing gigs in a city like Los Angeles can be tricky, because there are so many events and bands playing every night, getting people to regularly come to local shows is a challenge, especially as the music I play is quite eclectic. But I can't complain I make my living from playing the guitar and I love the guitar and music as much today as I did as a kid.

Dan McAvinchey: We love this next question at Guitar Nine. Why do you think certain music fans prefer instrumental music over traditional vocal oriented music?

Rob Garland: I assume a large percentage of music fans that enjoy instrumental music are musicians. Often non-musicians respond to vocals whereas musicians tend to take more notice of the groove, the production and the instrumentation. I feel as though some of the best instrumental music mimics the human voice, such as Jeff Beck's guitar, which is probably why he has been able to cross over to a more mainstream audience. Well that and the fact that he is the Guv'nor! The man just gets better with age. I wish more people could be exposed to instrumental music and I don't mean some jazz playing in the background at Starbucks, I mean really listening to it. People often respond to what they hear the most and instrumental rock or jazz takes a bit more effort and engagement on the listeners part but there is a lot to enjoy there.

Dan McAvinchey: Like most musicians, you probably have broad musical tastes. Other than guitar-oriented music, what kind of music do you like to listen to?

Rob Garland: I am quite an eclectic listener, one day it could be Cat Stevens, the next day Primus! I love jazz and fusion especially saxophone players like Michael Brecker, Chris Potter, Wayne Shorter - Oh man I love Weather Report and Jaco! I'm a massive Joni Mitchell fan, her music is so pure and emotional for me. I never think of the guitar when I listen to it, it transcends all that.

One of my favorite songwriters is Neil Finn from Crowded House, also Shawn Mullins and rock bands too like Rush, Flying Colors and Toto - there's so much great music out there. I love funk too, Prince, James Brown, early Chill Peppers. I'm also a big Frank Zappa freak and even though he played a lot of guitar I think of him more in terms as a composer and a band leader, my favorite Zappa era is when he put together his big band in 1988.

Dan McAvinchey: What's up next for you, what are some of your plans for the future?

Rob Garland: TrueFire released a course of mine this year called "Chord Navigator: CAGED Triads" and since then I've written a follow up so I'll go back to TrueFire HQ in Florida and film that at some point. I love teaching guitar - I split my time between my TrueFire Classroom Guitar Babylon, private lessons in Los Angeles at my studio and also via Skype.

From time to time I do remote sessions for people's recordings. I'm writing music for a few projects and have several band albums coming out later this year with music I've co-written and performed. The trio is playing more shows later this year and we are also working on some new music. Currently I'm filming some new YouTube lessons and equipment demos. I'm endorsed by Bogner Amplification, Xotic Guitars, D'Addario Strings, Moody Leather Straps and Hell Guitar Picks.

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British guitarist Rob Garland has over 20 years of professional experience which has fueled the excellent instrumental music on his recent EP "Seven Voices". Currently living in Los Angeles, Garland divides his time between teaching, performing and creating instructional videos for TrueFire.

Dan McAvinchey hooked up with Garland to talk about early influences, instrumental music passion, and what promotion means to an independent artist.