Today I'd like to change things up on the blog here and introduce you to Andy Mowatt.
He's a super versatile young guitarist in the Lancaster, PA area. His many projects require a wide musical vocabulary of rock, blues, soul, jazz, fusion, broadway, country, etc. One of Andy's projects includes playing and arranging for his Steely Dan tribute band
Andy just so happens to play one of my hollowbodies. I recently asked Andy if he would be down for sharing a few thoughts for the blog ... here we go!
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Kevin Chubbuck (KC):
So Andy, we've been friends for a few years now. I was turned onto you from a mutual friend of ours (Adam) who is a big fan of your PA based band Herbie. When I looked you up I was blown away with both your technique and musicality in general for such a relatively young musician. Music careers seem to call many, but choose few. Tell me a little about your early days. At what point do you remember that you wanted to pursue life as a professional guitarist? What sacrifices have you made along the way to pursue your passion?
Andy Mowatt (AM):
Adam and his crew are the best! I'm glad he told me about your guitars one of those crazy nights in Bloomsburg. I took piano and guitar lessons as a kid, but never thought of instruments as more than another toy to play with, like Legos or the Nintendo. In some ways I'm grateful to be a passionate person in general and so I'm likely to get obsessed with any activity I do. It turns out guitar is the one that I'm still in awe over. And more so now, there's an overwhelming sense of not knowing anything about music the more I learn about it. It drives the intense process day in day out. So, I guess I never really thought about pursuing a "career" until college when playing music became a lifestyle instead of just a casual game. And more so, when I was about to graduate, when bills and the reality of day to day things start happening. Everyday I'm learning from others what works and what doesn't work on how to get paying gigs and meet more musicians who continue to challenge me. The career thing is a double edged sword. Art versus business. The business of art, as it is most of the time. I can't say I've sacrificed anything...maybe just a consistent lifestyle. No pensions or job security for me. Sports too... I used to play a lot of sports, but random scheduling makes it hard now to stay as athletic as I'd like to be.
Being passionate about what you do certainly helps you fight through all of the obstacles that hang up less-impassioned people. The cliche "If it were easy, everyone would do it" comes to mind. I can totally identify with your thought that the more you learn, the less you know. Your awareness of what is out there keeps expanding exponentially with each new little thing you learn about. So how do you keep from being overwhelmed with all of the new things you become hip to? Like, how do you choose what to work on and when do you know it's time to move onto something new? I imagine that a productive, disciplined practice regime plays a huge role in further separating the exceptional players from the mediocre. Please give me some insight into how you digest new material and push your playing in new directions. How do you stoke the fire?
I'm not sure what "hip" is. Something just happens when you hear "it". You know what I mean. It's just so fresh and INSPIRING. The sound of "hip" seems to vary from time to time, but the feeling remains. There are waves of Charlie Parker, and more recently Charlie Hunter that I've been bouncing between this year. I can't help but "practice" that stuff. Sometimes brutal/painful/diligent metronome work (feels like work) and other times just playing and letting it fall together over hours a day. I caught myself in a dark park the other evening with my guitar, just woodshedding on my own tune but in the style of Hunter. Technique and feel and fitting bass/percussive/chord/melody parts together as one. I biked over there early afternoon, and before I knew it the sun had gone down, all the people had left and I still had work to do on that guitar. I didn't even notice I was thirsty and hungry and it had gotten cold and dark. That's how "hip" Hunter is for me.
Yeah by hip I mean something that grabs your attention and pulls you in a certain direction. Charlie Hunter is quite amazing - I've been a big fan of his for a long time and love how he has created his own style. I've always thought of him as playing piano on guitar, playing both chords and melody while holding down the bass.
And it is funny how you loose track of time when you are immersed in something you are inspired by. I think it is easy to "work" when you are inspired, but inspiration is often a luxury that is not always available. I've heard a sculptor (who's name escapes me) mention that if he only worked when he was inspired, he would not have finished anything. Professionals know they have to put in their time everyday, inspired or not (hopefully inspiration finds you while you are working though).
So tell me about what you are up to now days? You have been the house guitarist for the American Music Theatre in Lancaster, PA for a few years now. Other projects you have told me about are arranging charts for other theaters, playing cruise ships, sitting in and recording with UZO, Herbie seems to be playing more now days, and also have your own band (Andy Mowatt Trio). You are a busy guy!
For sure! Some days are painful to get through cause you just don't care, but having discipline from the experience of countless "painful" days helps in the long run. I'm preaching to the choir though...
Nowadays, I'm testing out the return on saying yes to every opportunity I come across and working hard even without the reward of getting paid for it; trying to brand my name as a high quality musician on and off the stage. It's hard to stay focused and care thought when a gig doesn't pay in money, but in experience and knowledge for the future. Who knows what's next or who's gonna be on the gig...networking is a bitch haha.
- This past year I've arranged and performed with two theater bands (American Music Theater, Lancaster PA, and Palace Theater, Manchester NH)
- Original 9-piece Steely Dan big band (Andy Mowatt's Steely Jam)
- Arranged the music for a country album (Wess Cooke) due out March 2014
- Recorded with UZO (Demotion of Pluto)
- Arranged my own Christmas album
- Played on several other local albums (thanks for Mike Washkavich and MDW Productions)
- I'm also in the process of writing material for another original album (almost ready for pre-production)
- Rehearsing and recording with Herbie for our brand new album (due out this December 2013)
- Doing clinics at a local college
- Writing tracks for a pop-R&B-soul album for local female singer (Erica Lyn Everest)
- Booking my trio gigs around PA / DE
- Hosting an open jam in town (Lancaster, PA)
- Teaching a few guitar lessons, taking a few guitar lessons, and so on and so on.
I still wish I could go to live shows more often and hang to meet more people. It's a double-edge sword making my own schedule, so I've been trying to leave a full day open every week. I'm impressed you can manage your own schedule with other mouths to feed! I get overwhelmed just sitting down to eat for myself.
Damn, you are busy! And you seem to be doing things the right way. Just getting out to meet people and telling them what you do is huge. Then word of mouth takes over and does a lot of the legwork for you. It doesn't happen overnight, but investing early in these relationships can pay off enormously down the road.
If you did not have to worry about paying your bills, what would be your dream project? What is your biggest goal that you are chasing - your own band?
I'll let you know in a few years how things develop...hopefully on the right path. I should follow in your footsteps and hit the pavement. I have a hang up about shameless self promotion; it feels so weird and/or self centered always talking about myself to people. I should get over that I guess.
My dream gig at this point is playing my own music on tour. I have a killer group that play my originals around the area, but I'd like to stretch out with it. I love to travel so touring is the best of both worlds. Sharing music and meeting people is as good as it gets.
Getting out and meeting people is part of the game. I've struggled with my own "self promotion" for a long, long time. But I've found that if your are genuine in your approach of helping other people, than they will go to bat for you. That being said, I don't look at new relationships with expectations of anything in return. I really enjoy helping people and they in turn appreciate that and may think of me in the future. I think the slimy salesman vibe you may feel when doing this goes away when you are actively listening to what the other person needs help with. Then you come across as offering them a solution to their problem instead of selling them something that they are probably not receptive to or don't need. No one likes being sold to. Listening is huge - just like playing music. Just keep meeting people and establishing great relationships - definitely value quality over quantity. There are so many parallels between your career as a musician and mine as a guitar builder. Hopefully we can learn from each other!
Well, we should wrap up. I really enjoyed this little session and look forward to seeing where your music takes you. Every time I see you play, I'm blown away with how much you grow as a musician. I think you're on the right path, just keep hustling!
I'm glad you said that about helping people instead of selling something to them. I'm not the best at socializing but I've noticed more and more that building friendships is better for everyone. We're all chasing similar passions in various ways, and being helpful to each other is useful for all. It's not often I see people passing up their friends when they need a band (or promo, merch, etc, etc) for some random band they saw on a flyer or email list.
"I get by with a little help from my friends".
I would like to take this time to thank you for allowing me the privilege of building a guitar for you. Building for players like you is what all us luthier's strive for. A higher compliment I cannot think of. I'm truly honored!
So how is the guitar treating you now days? It's been what, 3 years? What was it like to order a custom guitar from a complete stranger? What were you looking for in a custom guitar?
The guitar has been playing and sounding better than ever. I've grown with it over the past three years, playing it everyday. My ear and hands are tuned in with it. In studio sessions, I prefer it over anything else since my intonation is best with bends, not to mention the producer on a recent country album picked the Mousa over an American Tele for every track! I could go on for days bragging about my experiences so far. Everyone else seems to like it too. I'm grateful you took a leap and built this guitar for me. I hope to continue playing it everyday for as long as possible.
Thank you so much for the kind words - so great to hear that the guitar is in good hands. And a big thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to do this little interview with me. Hopefully I can get down and catch a show sometime in the near future. If not, I look forward to your next shop visit when you're up this way.
Best of luck and keep hustlin'.
My pleasure, see you soon.
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