Interview: Stus Rollins

Dan McAvinchey: Stus, you released your CD "Amygdala" in 2013, what kind of feedback have you been getting for it from fans?

Stus Rollins: "Amygdala" has been out since the end of last year and it has been well received. I got some great comments about it. A lot of my fans just say, "Great, keep up the good work." Some like individual tracks like the ballad ("All I Want"). Most of them like the tracks "Metal Head" or "Road To Eleusis". Some just talk about my playing, saying they like my approach or style. "Amygdala" is a guitarist's album really, that's who it was aimed at. It covers many approaches but always with the lead guitar up front center stage. I got a lot of comments on the way the CD was presented with the news bulletins and interview out takes between tracks. The CD tells a story of my influences, since I started playing guitar, from Hendrix to Satriani. I also got some flak for that too, from certain reviewers.

Dan McAvinchey: What gear did you use when you recorded "Amygdala"?

Stus Rollins: Well it was recorded here at Starmaker Studios, which is my home studio. Most of the guitars were tracked through two or three mics, two of them close up to my Diezel 4x12 cab and one room mic. The two close mics were, the SM 57 and a ribbon mic, the Delta from Sontronics. The third mic was a Cactus by Blue. A Diezel VH4 100 watt Head went straight into a Radial JDV direct box. For Some tracks I split the signal though a Radial JDX Amp Di box which gives me a direct in, without upsetting the live sound. I also used a Radial Phazer to phase align the two close mics. This can help create huge tones. The cabling used was Mogami and Monster.

This album was done all in the box, using a Carillon studio system computer. Pentium 3.3Ghz 6 core and Cubase. It's all 64bit now but wasn't at the time of recording. I use mostly UAD software and Waves. My guitars were John Suhr, Ibanez and my own SR1 Owen Jackson. I used BFD drum software and Steven Slate. I had a drummer come in for sessions and we used a Roland Midi kit for tracking. All other sounds and keys were done using Midi guitar the Godin XTSA.

Dan McAvinchey: What are you striving to achieve musically?

Stus Rollins: Music is a journey for life with many passing points and hopefully things will keep on maturing and getting better for me as time goes by. I play every day and I'm always searching for the next best thing in my playing be it a phrase or a lick. Getting things to blend together is normally what I'm searching for. I always have my sound which is the bedrock from where I start. On Amygdala I wanted to peel back the music and leave the lead guitar out there on its own but making sure that the tracks beneath were coherent and musical whilst maintaining that heavy feel I so much desire.

As I was saying before it really is guitar music for guitar lovers, there's no doubt about that, but my girlfriend really likes that album and she always has it on in the car so I must be hitting a few of the right notes. Seriously though I'm striving to reach people who really dig the guitar the way I do and hope to catch some of that thing that makes you go yeah when you hear it. Make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, reach some point of emotion in a fan, that makes it all worthwhile.

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Dan McAvinchey: Regarding publicity and promotion, what do you find is working best for you at the moment, and how much time do you devote to it?

Stus Rollins: That's a good question, I guess its internet radio. Literally, there is nothing like getting your stuff heard and getting new fans. It costs but it works and does generate interested fans who like your music. I also have my own radio station at 365 live "Stus Rollins Guitar Mania" it's a great way to showcase your own music to a fresh audience be it a bit limited but I have six tracks of my own running alongside my other favourite players. Interviews such as this one and getting reviews but this all takes time. I usually spend about four to six hours a week working on PR. Normally the stuff a record company would be doing.

The thing that ain't working is CD sales. It is incredibly hard to get people to buy CDs now with so many other ways to listen to music (Napster and Spotify to mention a few), which is all well and good but they do not consider the artist - and its killing new music. Anyway, don't get me started!

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

Stus Rollins: Firstly its great not to have someone breathing down your neck and having a free artistic licence. I can take as long as I like to write and record stuff, the creative part is the best thing. I can record something and come back to it later work on it some more or scrap it I am in complete control, but when all that is finished and you have a product to sell there is no one to hand it to. Everything has to be manufactured. CD artwork, getting things mastered, printed and distributed. That is a job in itself of course then there's no time for playing which is the reason all of this started, sometimes its frustrating. Then lastly how long will it be before I can recoup the thousands it has cost to get this far and so on.

Dan McAvinchey: When did you first get interested in guitar, and how did you learn and progress as a player?

Stus Rollins: I was about 14 years old when I started to get interested in guitar, my brother would be playing Lynyrd Skynyrd records, listening to John McLaughlin, Zeppelin and Cream. It was a song called crash landing by Jimi Hendrix that did it. I just wanted to know how to make the sounds that made me feel the way that track did. So I bought a guitar from a friend of mine, sanded it down, sprayed it white and got to work. Back then it was just the record player and me learning Hendrix and Jimi page licks. Van Halen he was a big influence. I would spend all day just trying to get the licks right.

I must say that there was not the same communication with music back then, not like it is now. You just type in a name or "guitar lessons" or something into you tube and one is spoilt for choice. In the early days you just had to trade licks and ideas with other musicians and wear your stylus out. It was when I went to London at 17 with a guitar and an amp that I started to really mix with other musicians. One of my first auditions was with Generation X. Luckily all my friends were music mad so I was just soaking it up all the time. Being in bands such as Gen X and doing sessions for the likes of Marquee Studios was the biggest learning curve. When DJs started to take over the guitar in the UK started to take a back seat. One day when I came off tour it was all but over and I got very despondent with the music business. I sold everything apart from a couple of guitars and got a real job.

Roll forward ten years or so and I moved to the countryside to set up Starmaker Studios and got right back into it and of course YouTube was just starting to happen. God's TV I call it. In the time since then I have played more than ever - three to four hours a day at the very least. I had about two years of lessons with Greg Howe and that really expanded my horizons. Recently with Sott Henderson. My progress now is much quicker than in the early days. There is no secret just play, play, play. Set yourself projects spend a few weeks on them and then move on. It all comes together and it is all worth it.

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

Stus Rollins: I am always on the search for new music and the internet is the place to start. Here is a bunch of names that really caught my attention. Firstly it is rare that a player comes along and bursts through with little or no effort due to their unique brilliance and I've got to say the latest of them was Guthrie Govan, a truly accomplished player. More recently though I've been listening to: Alex Hutchins, Allesandro Benvenuti, Andy Wood, Brett Miller, Damjan Pejcinoski, Kiko Lourerio, DC Slater, Milan Polak, Prashant Aswani, Scott Jones, Stratakat, and Travis Larson.

Dan McAvinchey: Does it make sense to consider releasing physical CDs in the future in the age of digital media?

Stus Rollins: Another good question. Absolutely, I would say that is our medium as musicians. Firstly for reasons of quality. How many people do you know nowadays with a good hi-fi system. It is essential for quality listening. Why would we go through all the rigours of recording perfectly if it just comes down to MP3s? The CD is like our emblem, our calling card, a physical representation of our art.

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

Stus Rollins: I guess it would have to be Scott Henderson.

Dan McAvinchey: Finally, what are some of your plans for the future?

Stus Rollins: Last year I supported Larry Carlton for the London Blues Festival and it left me thinking that I must get more touring done. Those gigs in London are just too expensive for a solo artist like me. Rehearsals, transport, hotels - it runs into thousands very quickly. I now live in Lisbon so I will be searching for a band that wants to play my sort of music and get touring. Firstly though, I am already working on my next album, "Magnificent Skin", so I would like to finish that first, then get the music out to the people.

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Stus Rollins is a guitarist, singer, songwriter and music producer from England. He was part of the London rock scene in the '80s and '90s, and played in bands such as Generation X and Driving South. Rollins has also performed with Seal and Larry Carlton, and he owns Starmaker Studios. His latest solo CD is entitled "Amygdala".

Dan McAvinchey recently caught up with Rollins for this e-interview to discuss his playing, his gear choices and much more.