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Tom Griesgraber

The San Diego based Stickist and composer takes a moment from his busy touring and recording schedule to talk about a few of his latest projects.

FEATURE AND INTERVIEW BY GREG HOWARD

In the six years since we last featured Tom on these pages, he's been busier than almost any other working Stick player today. Multiple duo tours with guitarist Bert Lams and drummers Jerry Marotta (Peter Gabriel and many others) and Ryan Moran (as Agent 22), openers for the Tony Levin Band, Paula Cole, Adrian Belew, the California Guitar Trio, as well as hundredss of solo shows have kept Tom on the Road in North America and Europe much of the time.

Four CD releases featured several well-known progressive rock musicians, including Jerry Marotta (Peter Gabriel and Tony Levin Band), King Crimson drummer Pat Mastelotto, NS/Stickist Don Schiff and the California Guitar Trio: A Whisper in the Thunder (2004), Waking the Day (2006), Sketchbook (2008) and Live at MoMM (2009) a live recording with Bert Lams from the Museum of Making Music in Carlsbad, California.

Two recent CD side projects have found Tom working in new genres. Rymo's (Ryan Moran of Slightly Stoopid and Agent 22) Structure and Flow explores various world music stylings, with Tom contributing parts on guitar, Stick, bass and synths, as well as co-producing. Also just released is Where is the Song ?!, quirky pop songs with soundscapes and voice-overs from the Italian duo of drummer Andrea Ruta and guitarist/composer Paulie. He's also contributed to the California Guitar Trio's Echoes (2008), and Innig, a pendng release from Italian Stickist Virginia Splendore

As if that weren't enough to keep anyone busy, Tom's also found time to re-mix his debut CD, Agent 22, adding some truly exceptional bonus tracks, and to teach at seminars in Oregon, Vancouver, California, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Allaire, France.

West Coast in November, Europe in December

Tom will be touring the West Coast of the US in November with Bert Lams, Italy in December with Andrea Ruta and Paulie, and will be giving a special concert in January with the California Guitar Trio at the Coach house in San Jaun Capistrano, California. For more about Tom's tour dates see TOUR DATES, below.


Bert Lams and Tom in Sedona, 2009  
photo by Mark Rownd  
"El Prado" original composition
performed by Tom at Club Cefalo in Pittsburgh


For more about Tom's activities, CDs and DVDs please see::
http://www.thossounds.com/
http://www.myspace.com/tomgriesgraber
Tom Griesgraber CDs

INTERVIEW

Greg: In addition to playing solo, you've been working primarily in two different contexts now for years, one as a partner in duet with drums (Jerry Marotta and Ryan Moran), and the other in duet with guitarist Bert Lams. How do you approach these two situations differently?

Tom: I guess the biggest difference is in writing and arranging. When I'm playing just with drums, it's a bit more like playing solo in that I feel responsible to really fill up the areas of melody, chords and bass as much as possible. Playing with Bert some times I need to consciously play less to leave some room for what he's doing. I've had to sort of retrain my left hand a bit in places to not play Stick bass chords, but maybe just bass notes. That leaves room for him to play chords in his lower register. As an arranger, Bert also seems very "aware" of the low bass octave. Maybe because he's used to working in a guitar trio, notes down there jump out to him a bit? In any case, sometimes I wind up staying out of that low octave for a bit of a piece, or even a few whole pieces.

With the drum duos, it's a bit more of a "rock" context, so the more low notes the better. There's probably a tendency to use heavier effects and the synth stuff as well as I always seem to be trying to make my parts bigger to compete with what's coming from the drums. For the past year or so, I've been in a position of having to come up with new pieces for both a new studio album with Bert and one with Agent 22 (w. Ryan). I'm finding that if the Stick ideas seem sufficient on their own, they're probably best placed in the Agent camp and if maybe I'm playing something that feels a little sparse or maybe doesn't have a real melody line, then I see what Bert thinks about them. This past summer though Ryan brought out his didgeridoos to some Agent 22 shows and he's now up to speed on playing those plus drums simultaneously. It's wild and once again kind of a new arranging challenge to work around with the Stick, but we're loving it.

"The Marsh" Tom and Bert Lams
at the Museum of Making Music, 2008


Greg: You and Bert are getting ready for an extensive house concert tour in the Northwest. You've been doing house concerts for quite a while now. A lot of people don't know about this movement. Can you describe it, and why you like doing these events so much?

Tom: This will actually be something like our thirteenth tour together over about five years. It started as something of a side project when I was touring as an opener for the California Guitar Trio. Bert had just done his first solo CD, and I had just done mine. The initial idea was that we would basically tour together as two soloists and the first trips were mostly us trading solo pieces back and forth. It was just a format and a music that we knew wouldn't work well in say rock clubs, especially since Bert was doing all solo Bach pieces.

Now it's evolved to the point where the whole show is basically us playing duo pieces, most of them unique to this group, but we still base our tours around house concerts. We've just found it to be a great way to bring music to an audience in a very direct and intimate setting. We travel with our own sound system, and can set up pretty much anywhere. We've played in living rooms, back yards, community centers, schools, churches, art galleries.... even a wine warehouse and a photo studio where they do product shots for jam!

The events work well for the music because there are generally fewer distractions than in a bar or say coffee shop, but they also work well for us on a practical level. All we really need for an event is a willing host and a space. We've found that if a host simply invites their friends and family, that "word of mouth" promotion goes a lot farther than what most clubs do for an event. Most clubs will typically run a local newspaper ad maybe once a week listing everything for the coming week or month. If you send them posters and you're lucky, they might hang one up. But that's about all you can count on really. The personal invitations of the hosts just letting their friends know about the event goes much farther, especially in areas where we haven't played before. It seems like certain people are more likely to go to a music event if it's in their friend's home too than if it's more like needing to go "out on the town." Also, because we have to plan tours around our other schedules, we often don't start setting up a trip till maybe 6-8 weeks in advance. That's generally too short notice for traditional venues.

I've often felt like the music Bert and I do together is almost like some sort of new "chamber music." It's interesting that music history tells us before there were radios and records, if you wanted music in your home you had to play it yourself or bring in musicians. Now when there's so much saturation in the availability of recordings, the novelty of live music in a home seems to have come full circle!





Greg: You and Bert are finishing up a new release. What's going to be on it and when will it be available?

Tom: There are actually two products heading down the "pipeline." For about a year now we've had a simple little live CD from a show we did at NAMM's Museum of Making Music in Carlsbad, CA. It's just a simple un-doctored board recording that we've been selling only at shows so far, but it's actually being duplicated now as a more proper (though still limited) release. We'll still have this at shows and maybe on my website (which will be new for it).

We're also working on a studio disc as well. Originally our thinking was that the studio disc would be more or less the same pieces as the live disc and that we'd let the live disc go when the studio was done. What's happened over the last six months though is that we have several new pieces for the studio disc and at present it's looking like it will only have about three repeated pieces from the live disc (and new recordings of those of course). The studio disc will be almost all original pieces, with probably one Bach piece and one by Chopin thrown in. It's looking like it will be all duo pieces, whereas the live disc has one solo piece each and three CGT covers. We'll probably make a bit more of a PR push for the studio disc when it's done so it made sense to really try to steer it away from things like CGT pieces although they're great (and a great challenge on Stick!) and establish more of our own identity. This upcoming tour will be a bit of a warm up for us before we spend about a week back in Encinitas working on the album. I "think" those upcoming sessions should be the end of the basic tracking for the studio disc.. but it'll probably show up in the spring.





Tom and Zach at the Pittsburgh Stick Seminar, October, 2009. Organized by Dave Brosky.

Greg: You've been active in teaching the instrument for many years as well, organizing and teaching at seminars in Southern California, and teaching in Oregon, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Vancouver, Allaire, France and other venues. What have you found to be the most important things for new players to realize when they start learning this way of making music?

Tom:This may sound a little strange, but I think you always need to remember that you're playing music, so try to make everything you do sound musical. It's really not enough to just play the right notes, they have to sound good and feel good too. Even if you're just working on an independence exercise or a scale fingering or something, try to make it sound like a "song." Always try to practice with an amp or at least headphones, and not "unplugged." You need to hear the sound you're really producing. And it's great to record yourself too. A lot of the time, what we are hearing in our head can be different from what our fingers are actually producing, but recordings will show you what's really going on and they don't lie (generally).

Most of the time it's probably best to play with a metronome or maybe some drum loops too... something that keeps time steadily. It seems like the more any of us push our "independence level," the more our sense of time can start to waver; we speed up or slow down, or maybe don't divide beats evenly for figures with 8th notes, 16ths, triplets, etc. And of course it's best to have some sort of road map to follow with sequentially tougher exercises or songs. There are a lot of great Stick resources out there now, but for me The Stick Book was a great "road map" early on. That and transferring a lot of my old Berklee guitar exercises to the Stick really helped me get going. Above all.. keep it fun! It takes most of us a ton of time to learn new skills.. but the time goes quicker if you're having fun with it!





In Woodstock, New York. Photo by Jerry Marotta.

Greg: Tell me how you got involved with "Where is the Song?" by Italian artists Andrea Ruta & Paulie. It's quite a departure from your Stick-based format. I checked out the music, and I'm curious how this is going to be presented when you tour with them in December. Will you be triggering samples and synths with your Stick?

Tom: I first met Andrea Ruta in Rome when I was touring as a duo with Jerry Marotta. Andrea is a great rock drummer who plays with I don't know how many Italian artists. We met because we would sometimes do shows as a double bill with Marotta/Griesgraber playing first and The Peter Gabriel Tribute Band (with Andrea on drums) playing second. Jerry and I would sit in with them for things like "Shock The Monkey," "San Jacinto" and "In Your Eyes," and I had a few hurried moments in the car on headphones trying to steal some of Tony Levin's Stick parts to make the songs sound right.

It was a lot of fun and Andrea was a great host while we were in town. He came to California a few years back for NAMM and I reciprocated by playing tour guide in San Diego and LA a bit. He fell in love with Encinitas and wound up writing a piece about it when he started this new project with Paulie. They asked me to play on it and it was all very open ended. I wound up adding about four different Stick parts, plus some distorted fretless bass. The album has a lot of layers and parts, but I think their plan is for us to tour as a trio with Andrea on drums, Paulie doing mostly guitar and I suspect some synths and me on Stick. Like with the recording, their attitude about the live show seems to be pretty open ended.

They actually seem most interested in the Stick as a melodic and maybe chordal instrument, and told me some of the bass parts may just be tracks from a computer. It's possible I may wind up adding completely new parts that aren't even on the record. We'll see.. we have a few days of rehearsals planned in Rome before the first show, but I'll be trying to learn some of the existing piano, synth and bass parts just to get familiar with the tracks I didn't play on. I'll definitely have all my Stick effects and synths at the ready for this one!

Tour Dates

Where
Who
When
More where
More info
Vancouver, BC, Canada
Bert Lams and Tom Griesgraber
w. Jim Meyer
Sat Nov 14
7:30pm
House Concert
for reservations, contact:
jim@jimmeyer.ca
Everett, WA
Bert Lams and Tom Griesgraber
Sun. Nov 15
3pm
House Concert
for reservations, contact:
peter.dervin@verizon.net
425.347.6127
Kirkland, WA
Bert Lams and Tom Griesgraber
Mon Nov 16
House Concert
for information, contact:
info@thossounds.com
Tualatin (Portland), OR
Bert Lams and Tom Griesgraber
Wed Nov 18
7:30pm
House Concert
for reservations, contact:
darinlstewart@gmail.com
503.885.8564
Eugene, OR
Bert Lams and Tom Griesgraber
Th Nov 19
Cosmic Pizza
199 W 8th St
Bend, OR
Bert Lams and Tom Griesgraber
Fri Nov 20
6:30pm
Breedlove Guitar Co. factory
2843 NW Lolo Drive
for tickets, contact:
michelle@breedloveguitars.com
541-385-8339
Upper Lake, CA
Bert Lams and Tom Griesgraber
Sat Nov 21
Tallman Hotel concert series
9520 Main Street
Dinner available before the show at
The Blue Wing Saloon Restaurant
for tickets, contact:
707.275.2245
www.tallmanhotel.com
Santa Rosa, CA
Bert Lams and Tom Griesgraber
Sun Nov 22
House Concert
for reservations, contact:
inancy13577@yahoo.com
707.480.9590
Santa Cruz (Bonny Dune), CA
Bert Lams and Tom Griesgraber
Mon Nov 23
7:30pm
House Concert
for reservations, contact:
Neil: 831-458-2870
Telese (BN), Italy
Andrea and Paulie
feat. Tom Griesgraber
Fri Dec 11
22:00
Caianello (NA), Italy
Andrea and Paulie
feat. Tom Griesgraber
Sat Dec 12
17:00
Roma (San Lorenzo), Italy
Andrea and Paulie
feat. Tom Griesgraber
Sun Dec 13
22:30
Live Mads Music Club
San Lorenzo - Via Dei Sabelli 2
Amsterdam, NL
Andrea and Paulie
feat. Tom Griesgraber
Dec 15
TBC
Anaheim, CA
Agent 22
with special guest Tom Griesgraber
Wed Jan 13
11pm
NAMM Center Stage - Anaheim Marriott hotel lobby
free
open to the general public
San Juan Capistrano, CA
Steve Morse and the Dixie Dregs
with special guest Agent 22
Fri Jan 16
8pm
The Coach House
Discount tickets available
through ThosSounds!
for tickets visit:
www.thossounds.com/store.html
San Juan Capistrano, CA
California Guitar Trio
with special guest Tom Griesgraber
Fri Jan 29
8pm
The Coach House
Discount tickets available
through ThosSounds!
for tickets visit:
www.thossounds.com/store.html
San Diego, CA
California Guitar Trio
with special guest Tom Griesgraber
Sat Jan 30
8pm
Acoustic Music San Diego
4650 Mansfield St
for info call
619-303-8176


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