When the Sea Lets Go:
When the Sea Lets Go
AV: So what was it about David Cullen's song Along the Way that hooked you and changed your musical direction so quickly and so completely?
VD: I was in high school and studying music. I had taken theory classes and I was playing with the school jazz band. My teacher, David Watson – who was also a professional touring musician, was expanding my ears by having me listen to various styles of music. I started to learn some classical guitar technique so I was looking for more acoustic based guitar music to check out.
Around that time, I had read an article in Guitar Player magazine about Michael Hedges and Windham Hill Records. It peaked my interest, so I went out and bought two albums – Michael Hedges Live on the Double Planet and a Windham Hill Guitar Sampler. When I got home, I listened to the Sampler first. The opening track was David Cullen’s “On the Way”.
When I heard the opening notes, something clicked in my ears and brain, like a light switch was turned on. I couldn’t believe that this was one guitar, but more importantly, it was the first time that I was less interested in the guitar itself, but rather it was the music composition that I couldn’t get enough of. I remember feeling a physical reaction to the music I found on that record, and all the records by Hedges, Ackerman and deGrassi.
That was the moment that I realized that I wanted to compose. Fingerstyle acoustic guitar would be the vehicle for my compositions because it was like having an orchestra in your hands. I loved the timber of the guitar and it’s endless possibilities with alternate tunings. You could do so much more than a guitarist with just a pick playing a guitar in standard tuning. There was no turning back for me from that point on.
AV: Everyone is familiar with a guitar as a musical instrument having been exposed to them for years but perhaps you can explain the difference between what most of us have heard all our lives and the fingerstyle music that you play, how it's different and why it's more difficult to master.
VD: Fingerstyle technique allows the performer to be his or her own little orchestra. Plectrum guitarists typically play one note at a time, or strum multiple notes, creating a very distinct sound. The fingerstyle guitarist uses four fingers, sometimes all five fingers, of the right hand to play melody and harmony together simultaneously. This allows the player to create, and play their own accompaniment underneath or above melodies, much like a pianist.
AV: I've seen a lot of articles as of late about how the rise of digital music, streaming and MP3's has led to a devaluing of music. In terms of what you and those you work with have experienced in this new digital frontier do you feel that your music has lost some of its intrinsic value in the eyes of those who in times past would have purchased an album or a CD?
VD: Streaming has changed the way people access and experience music. Working with high school students, I can see how a whole generation that only knows streaming. They don’t even download music. If they do occasionally download music, it’s only one or two songs/singles. Younger generations don’t listen to whole albums. Technology has changed the way we interact and listen to music. This for me is very sad. Looking at an album cover while listening to an entire album from start to finish was all part of the experience of connecting to the artist and the music.
For the artist, it is very difficult to make any money from your recordings now. There are artists that do well with streaming, but it’s requires a ton of hustle…and that’s lots of time that could be spent making more music! It requires hundreds of thousands of streams to see any real financial reward. Streaming does get you to the ears of the whole globe instantly, but if those listeners aren’t also buying your CD or download, you’re not going to be compensated properly for your art. And right there is the dangerous part…when an artist isn’t compensated for his or her art, their art is devalued. They are devalued. It’s hard to keep making music/art when that happens.
If you use streaming sites, you can still make sure you support your favorite artists. Buy/download their CD, go to their concerts, buy merch.
I eventually did reply to the email saying that I was interested in learning more about the possibility of recording at IRS, and Will responded to me within minutes saying he liked my music and was interested in talking about working together. We talked via email and set up a time for me to come up to the studio to meet with him and Tom Eaton and see what happens.
The meeting was very much like a job interview. Will and Tom take great pride in the work they do and have very specific requirements for artists that they work with. Luckily for me, things clicked and so began a wonderful professional partnership for me with Will and Tom, as well as strong friendships.
AV: What has each subsequent album you created taught you about your music and where you want to go with it going forward?
VD: I think that it has taught me that I do have my own musical voice. There are countless influences in there, but I think they come out as being me.
I am always trying to write an album of great music for guitar. I am really not interested in the ‘guitar’ part of that statement as I am in the
Going forward, there are other things I would like to try as well. I recently performed some duets live with Heidi Breyer, and we immediately talked about writing and recording a duet album. I also performed in an ambient/improvisational trio called Departure with my good friends Tom Eaton and Jeff Oster. I had the chance to play some electric guitar with that. That was great fun!
I am also contemplating the idea of composing some fingerstyle compositions for electric guitar. We’ll see….
AV: Having just seen you at the Carnegie Hall performance of FLOW, which was great by the way, how do you feel about the opportunities to perform live with Will Ackerman in a situation like this? Do you improvise or play off one another in these situations or do you stick pretty much to the song as written?
VD: Playing with Will is a dream come true for me. I still look up at him on stage during a performance and think…is this really happening?
When we perform together, we are playing duet arrangements of his pieces. Sometimes there is some improvisation, where Will or I will solo… like during Hawk Circle or Last Day at the Beach. Even if there is no improvisation, each performance is different in nuance or expression.
Getting to play these songs in concert with Will is a surreal and magical experience every single time. There is no feeling in the world like creating a musical conversation with someone, especially when that someone is Will Ackerman.
VD: My high school music teacher changed my life. We are still very good friends to this day. Having the opportunity to pay forward what he gave to me is priceless. Watching students have those light bulb moments when they discover their own personal connection to music, just like I did when I was their age… well, that’s what it’s all about.
AV: Thank you for taking the time out and squeezing this interview into your busy and schedule and sharing with your fans your love of music through your answers here. And thanks for a wonderful performance at Carnegie Hall that I was privileged to be able to attend. May your love of music never diminish and may it burn ever brighter in the years to come.