Jon Gomm interview
Posted by Guest Writer on Thu, 14 Jun 2012.
Jon Gomm is a highly talented acoustic guitarist from Blackpool, who plays in a visually spectacular percussive style, seen also in guitarists such as Michael Hedges and Andy Mckee. Jon started off at a young age, with just a guitar and a dream. Advancing through playing in cafés, clubs and as a session guitarist, Jon went on to study jazz guitar at Leeds College of Music.
Today, Jon has shared the stage with world-famous guitarists including Mckee, Tommy Emmanuel, Nick Harper and Bob Brozman. However, Jon can hold his own alone; Using just his hands, a plectrum and the body of Wilma, his guitar, he coaxes out all manner of percussive sounds, and then weaves this into his playing in such a way that would put a drum line to shame. On top of this, Jon's bluesy vocals cement him in place as perhaps one of the world's best one-man bands.
His song 'Passionflower' displays his unrestricted command of the instrument. Uploaded to YouTube, the video went viral and now has over 2 million views, and has been retweeted dozens of times, including by comedian Stephen Fry.
Much like Andy Mckee with his song 'Drifting', your song 'Passionflower' took off on YouTube. Did you ever expect the song to go down like this? Has this largely affected your popularity, or has it been more of a one-time burst of fame?
I'd been playing the song live for a few months before I made the video, and people were really loving it at gigs, so I had an idea it might be popular. Plus the guitar playing is really visually interesting in that song, so it's great for a video experience. It's been a slow build for me in terms of how many people know about me - the video success has been a boost but not the be-all and end-all. A 10-year overnight success!
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Many acoustic guitarists discuss classic rock and metal bands as part of their influences; Through your teenage years, you played classic rock on electric guitar. Do you find that the influence of these kind of bands come through in your style? Are there any important lessons to be learnt from such bands that you've carried over to solo acoustic guitar?
I love rock music for sure, I have played in bands of all kinds from metal to jazz. I don't think there needs to be such a boundary between acoustic and electric music, and it really bugs me that in people's minds the word "acoustic" means something quieter, gentler, more folk-y. Especially when those people are musicians! I hope to open people's minds a little with my music.
Both of your albums have been released on your own label, and you've spoken out against playing big chains of venues and such over various ethical issues; What do you mean by this? How has steering clear of the 'mainstream' labels affected your career as a musician?
It means I have a stable career: I can control it and choose my own path. I don't have huge expenses to pay out to record labels so I can travel and play - I tour all over the world, and have been doing that for some time now, whereas I know some very famous musicians who have major label deals who have barely left the UK. A label has to invest huge amounts into "breaking" a different country for them to make it worthwhile; I can just go.
You wrote a piece on Gibson, ('Gibson Guitars Pleads Innocent, I Disagree') on their illegal use of endangered wood for their guitars. With the type of wood, the sound, etc, an important point to consider when buying an instrument, what can environmentally conscious guitarists do to avoid negatively impacting the environment we live in? What are your experiences with guitars made with more sustainable woods, or more generally, made of less conventional materials?
The easy answer is: buy used. Buy something old, that's the get-out. Just ask the question - before you buy a guitar, contact the manufacturer and ask where the woods come from, and what checks they've made. Electric guitars use huge amounts of wood, and I guarantee a Les Paul made from sustainable mahogany will sound absolutely no different from a Les Paul made from Indian rainforest mahogany.
Some of your songs are technically incredibly complex, and yet you manage to sing and play at the same time, as well as using all manner of percussive effects. Are you at a level where you can 'play anything', or do you have to work hard to keep up with the more complex ideas you come up with?
I am constantly writing things I can't play! To me, that's half the fun. I don't ever want to fall into one style based around my technique - that's the "virtuoso trap" - you stop trying new things, and your music all starts to sound the same because you are writing around the way you play.
Your playing consists of every trick in the book, stemming from a wide range of influences - Is there any one routine or source of information that helped you build your technical ability? If you've ever considered teaching, what one lesson would be most important to pass on to your students?
I always tell people to listen to as big of a range of music as possible. Think geography, and history. Listen to music from China, Macedonia, from the 1920s, from the middle ages. I have always been really curious. I am no expert in baroque music, or Mongolian pop. But I know what they sound like, and I have stolen ideas from both!
You always perform with your one guitar, Wilma, who has been modified for some of your percussive effects. Do you keep a backup guitar handy when performing, in case of technical difficulties? Have you ever wished for another guitar (or more complex guitars; Harp Guitars, more strings, etc) for a different sound? Would Wilma be okay with this?
I don't take any other guitars on tour, she's pretty reliable! I don't really wish for another guitar - I kinda have a thing about just getting as wide a range of sounds from one guitar as I can. If I start using a harp guitar, or a ukulele or mandolin, I might as well just get a band and make the sounds I want that way, rather than by trying to do all these crazy things with just one guitar!
You allegedly turned down an offer from Oxford University to study music academically; Obviously, studying music academically isn't necessary for all musicians, but did you find it helped you where you may have struggled or otherwise been unable to progress in your career? Is there any advice you'd give to musicians considering full-time courses in music?
I don't think academic music education is essential, and I think people can get different things from it. I would really recommend learning to read music, just because there's no reason not to. It can not hurt you! It's great being able to read music a little, it can help organise the notes you are playing in your mind and make them easier to play. But the best training you can have is to listen to stuff. Turn off your radio for a month, pick a genre of music you know nothing about, and listen!
Jon Gomm has a website (http://www.jongomm.com/home.cfm) upon which his music is available at choose-your-own-prices, as well as tabs and chords for a selection of his work. Gomm's music is also available on his YouTube channel (http://www.youtube.com/user/jongomm).
Jon is constantly performing live, with UK dates booked, including June 17th at Grassington Festival and June 28th at the Loughborough Acoustic Club. Jon will then return to England in Autumn for more live performances, including a series of dates on the Guitar Masters Tour alongside Andy Mckee and Preston Reed.
When not drumming on his guitar, Jon Gomm supports several charities, donating 10% of the money from selling his music to The Happy House children's home in Watamu, Kenya, and Steps, who provide support for people affected by club-foot.
- Article by Dan