We can say whatever we want or keep on bitchin' about social medias, but one sure thing is that it always makes me discover new awesome musicians. Charlie Rauh is one of them. We finally met last august in Liège, Belgium. Small guitar, small amp, Charlie is a modern troubadour, playing everywhere with nearly everyone, always with his own unique approach that I would put between Susan Alcorn, Bill Frisell and Hildegard von Bingen.
So, Charlie, let's begin with the past: how old were you when you started to play? What are your memories from that time?
I started playing guitar when I was 13. I had already been playing clarinet and alto saxophone for a few years when I asked my dad to teach me to play guitar. Ive always loved my father's music and his playing so that was a big reason I wanted to start. Another reason was that I only played jazz at that point, and wanted to explore different sides of my creativity and musical interests. I felt guitar would be a good vehicle for that. I have many great memories from that period : starting my first band, writing my own music for the first time, playing songs with my dad (I still steal his licks!). When I began playing guitar, it was the beginning of really finding my personal identity.
From then until today, can
you identify some important steps that led where you're now?
When I started playing i immediately wanted to make my own music. I learned by playing along to bands I liked to an extent, but not nearly as much as trying to learn chords and make my own songs. I had many ideas, but lacked the facility to play them on the guitar.
A huge breakthrough for me was hearing Django Reinhardt as a teenager. Ive never been good enough to play along with or learn his music, but his expression and individual style spoke volumes to me. He sparked an interest in being lyrical, fluid, and personal with whatever it is that I wanted to sound like on the guitar.
After I'd been playing for a few years I started using two fingers in addition to a pick, otherwise commonly known as hybrid picking. I liked how that sounded especially when exploring more country and Americana styles that I really loved. I found that playing that way enabled me to move quicker since Ive never been good at flat picking, and also opened up options for chord voicings.
I came across a huge step that has defined my playing style almost by accident in 2010 when I was awarded the Klaustrid Artist residency in Skriduklaustur Iceland. Having never played over seas before I decided I needed a guitar specifically suited for traveling, since my Rickenbacker 330 (my main guitar at the time) was far too big to take as a carry on. I came across the Steinberger Synapse in my search and immediately bought one not knowing anything about it other than it was really small and surely easy to fly with. When I played it though, I absolutely loved the fluidity of the fretboard, the fat neck, the string tension, and the flawless intonation. Ive only played headless guitars ever since. I play two custom built headless instruments by Chris Forshage, and Nic Delisle of Island Instrument Manufacture. The sound and look has become somewhat of my professional trademark now!
I'd like to talk about your practice habits, but also about the balance between technique and creativity; well, anything that comes to your mind.
When it comes to practice, I have always been heavy on the creative and personal with the technical. What I mean to say is that from day one I have wanted to have my own technique built on a foundation of creativity. As a result I have never been conventionally impressive as a guitarist. I can adapt my approach to many styles and I enjoy doing so, but I have never had an interest in running scales and patterns etc.
When I practice I often use these exercises :
1) I set a metronome and improvise freely with one boundary - I have to play consistent 8th notes. Articulation, fingering, picking, all of it is subjective as long as the consistent 8th note stream is steady. I do this to learn the fingerboard and find ways to be fluid and melodic.
2) I pick a pop song I enjoy, and learn it as a solo guitar arrangement. To do this I learn the melody and then figure out how to convey the melody with the song's harmony in my own way. Doing this allows me to be creative, but very focused. I often learn new ways to voice chords in this exercise.
3) I watch a movie or a TV show that is particularly compelling, and freely improvise while I do so. I never play when there's music in the film, rather just play without thought. During these times I come across some my best ideas. Sometimes they are very simple, and sometimes I cant play them at all but I think of them, and then work on them later.
4) My final example of practice is playing nonstop with other artists as a sideman. I spend most of my free time learning other artists songs for my work doing sessions and performances. During this time I find that I really develop new approaches to my own music and to being a guitarist.
You play in so many different contexts than I'd be really curious to know who are your favorite guitar players.
Mary Halvorson - my favorite guitarist. I was introduced to her music through a friend and she has completely changed my idea of what the guitar can do. Her compositions, improvisational approach, and character are a real inspiration.
Don Peris - a brilliant soloist and also guitarist for The Innocence Mission, my favorite band. His melodic approach combined with spacious simplicity have meant so much to me.
Bill Frisell - hearing his music for the first time was huge for me because he tied together the folk inflected minimalist song style that Ive always loved in my father's playing with my interest in the layered emotion of jazz.
Glen Campbell - I absolutely love his playing in every way. His accompanying, soloing, and session work are a massive influence for me. I often try to emulate his fluidity and melodic joyfulness.
Here's the last one: could you give your top ten records and what are you listening to nowadays?
1) "Hello, I feel The Same" - The Innocence Mission
2) "Fragments" - Paul Bley
3) "Violet" - Karen Peris"
4) "The Bird Calls, And Its Song Awakens The Air, And I Call - Sol Seppy
5) "( )" - Sigur Ros
6) "Tookah" - Emiliana Torrini
7) "Disfarmer" - Bill Frisell
8) "Vulnicura" - Bjork
9) "OK Computer" - Radiohead
10) "The Queen Is Dead" - The Smiths
Current listening - Jakob Bro, Aurora, Lana Del Rey, Max Richter, Moddi.