Interview with Paul Richards of the California Guitar Trio, by Howie Shih

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Submitted By: Howie Shih

Interview With Paul Richards

This is the full uncut interview I conducted with Paul Richards on September 8, 1995. It was published in The Rutgers Review as part of an article/review of the Sept. 5 Soundscapes show at Club Bene in Sayreville, NJ. Feel free to reprint this elsewhere as long as you give me credit for it and, more importantly, as long as you ask me first. :)

The Rutgers Review: How did the California Guitar Trio come about?

Paul Richards: The basic story is this: Back in 1986, while I was studying guitar at the University of Utah, I found out about these Guitar Craft courses given by Robert Fripp through a teacher of mine. He went to one of the first courses back in 1985 and recommended that I go. The Guitar Craft course is a week long seminar where people from all over the world with different levels of experience, from seasoned professionals to people who haven't played much at all, come to learn to Guitar Craft techniques and principles. I'd say the first week is mostly technical stuff. We do get into some other things...

Review: Well, there's a very philisophical approach to Guitar Craft, isn't there? I was looking through Robert's Guitar Craft columns in old issues of Guitar Player magazine and I still don't understand them.

PR: Yeah, there's some heavy duty stuff there. Guitar Craft is really an approach to study; an approach to a way of being a guitar player. There's a lot more involved than if you went to a normal music school. That way of studying, while valuable, is certainly limited. You can learn music theory and the stuff you would expect to learn at a university but after I came back from the Guitar Craft course I had to leave the University of Utah. I couldn't stand it anymore and I realized that, for me, it was the long way around to getting where I wanted to be as a musician. Robert invited a number of us to go over to England to study for longer periods of time. So I went over to England for half of 1987 and most of 1988. That's where I met Bert Lams and Hideyo Moriya, they had also been invited to go and study, and we played together with Robert and other students as The League of Crafty Guitarists. That was my first experience playing with Bert and Hideyo. We did a number of tours, as the League, through Europe and the States. Around 1990, it became obvious the League wasn't going to be touring anymore. Robert was getting busy with doing other stuff and, at that point, I think he was even thinking of reforming King Crimson, even though it took five years for it to actually happen. So Bert approached Hideyo and myself and asked if we wanted to form a trio. At that point, he was living in L.A. and we moved in with him...

Review: So that's how you got your name!

PR: Right. The main reason we called ourselves The California Guitar Trio is because that's where we were based when we formed the group and it had a big impact on us. We were playing just about every small, weird place in L.A. that you could imagine; little coffee houses, heavy metal bars, The Troubadour Club, My Place in Santa Monica... And that was the basis of our performing together. During that first year we were pretty much on our own. We didn't have much contact with Robert or other Guitar Craft people. It was just our own project and that's when we began to assemble our rather eclectic repertoire.

Review: How do you pick the music you play? Or does the music just come to you?

PR: It happens in various ways. Most of it is just stuff that we want to play. The classical pieces mostly comes from Bert Lams. He's a graduate of the Royal Conservatory of Music in Brussels, Belgium and he does most of the arranging. One of his specialties is Bach's music and that's why you'll find a lot of it on our CDs. Hideyo is the surf guitarist and my background, before Guitar Craft, was mostly from the rock and blues world, although I did study some jazz at the Univeristy of Utah. We also play material that we write ourselves. In the future, I think we'll be playing more of our original material as opposed to now, where it's a mixture of things, and...

Review: You'll start dropping out the covers?

PR: Yeah. Although, for now, it's fun for us and they serve a certain purpose. For example, if we did an entire CD of only Bach fugues, that could get boring after awhile. So to make things more accessible to people who don't love Bach fugues we throw in "Pipeline" or one of our own pieces. The covers have their own function at this point...

Review: To help bring the audience to you?

PR: Sort of. The covers bring an something familiar to the audience in an unfamiliar setting, but there's more to it than that. We use a different tuning, CGDAEG, which is basically based on the C major pentatonic scale. And what the tuning does is make you play thing differently.

Review: You can't play the standard licks anymore, right?

PR: Exactly. So the tuning brings something new to theseolder pieces that we play. Like when we play "Pipeline", which was written in standard tuning, we have to play it in a different way and by doing so we bring a different flavor to it. Also, the tuning allows us to play classical pieces that you wouldn't be able to play on a guitar in standard tuning.

Review: Is there a reason why you choose to play acoustic guitars as opposed toelectrics?

PR: We've done some experimenting with electric guitars, and we may incorporate them in the future, but the acoustic guitar really sets us apart. If we just played electrics then we'd get lumped in with millions of other guitar players. Also the sound is unique. I don't know of anyone else doing what we're doing on steel-string acoustic guitars.

Review: Are any of your pieces improvised?

PR: When were touring with King Crimson earlier this summer, we tried including a section that was completly improvised as an experiment to see where it would take us. Most of our stuff is composed but there's two ways to look at improvisation: There's pieces that start out from nothing which you make it into something or there's times when things go wrong, or you make a mistake, and you build from there. That happens fairly often since mistakes are inevitable. For us, the mistakes our a chance for us to have something new and different happen. Instead of coming to a dead-stop when a mistake occurs...

Review: You try and work with it.

PR: Right. So it's a chance for amazing things to happen. I remember a performance in Argentina that we did with The Robert Fripp Sting Quartet. We were playing "Tenor Madness" by Sonny Rollins and something went wrong and we went into a wrong chord or something. Anyways, Bert just started playing this solo on his own and took off with it and the audience just went wild; it brought the house down. So that's a good example of thinking in the moment and turning what could have been a complete disaster to our advantage.

Review: Can you tell me a little about Los Gauchos Alemenes?

PR: They're four guys who also came through the Guitar Craft courses... Actually, there's five of them but one of them isn't touring with them right now. Two are from Argentina, one guy from Berlin, and two Americans. Their name translates into The German Cowboys. [laughs] And they have a completely different approach than we do. They play mostly original pieces which have a more rock flavor to them.

Review: Who's idea was it to come out and play in the middle of the audience. I'd read that you had done that in past tours and was totally blown away when you just happened to come play where I was sitting.

PR: Yeah, that was lots of fun. It was Robert's idea. We don't do it every night but when it seems to work out we go and do it.

Review: Was that one of the first times that you played VROOOM like that?

PR: That may be the second time. Did you notice Robert counting at parts?

Review: Yeah.

PR: There's some tough transitions in there and they usually have Bill Bruford to cue off of so we use Robert instead.

Review: I read that THRAK was originally a Guitar Craft exercise?

PR: Right. The original version of it is superimposed rhythms of five over seven and there's a section that's just in five. It creates an unusual effect of having those two different rhythms going together like that.

Review: Does Robert's MIDI equipment conk out very often?

PR: The Club Bene show as the first time I'd seen it happen when he first came onstage. Actually, we never did find out what went wrong that night. I've seen it go wrong in the middle of the show and during Crimson shows. It's just that he's got so much complex stuff in there that if one thing goes wrong then the whole thing shuts down. So it's kinda scary. At least you got to hear tell some funny jokes...

Review: Yeah, he handled it quite well.

PR: He's pretty good at that kind of stuff.

Review: Do you think you're gonna stick with Discipline Records or are you possibly looking for a deal with a major label? Or do you want to avoid majors at all costs?

PR: It's not necessiarly to be avoided. It depends on really on what presents itself. Personally, I prefer not to look for a deal and instead, have the record industry come to us. My experience has been when you approach record labels looking for something...

Review: They have some power over you?

PR: Right. And you're in a position where you're at a disadvantage. If you're asking for something from them it's like, "Why should I give this to you?" If we can develop something that they would need then I think that the relationship could work out better in the long run. For now, Discipline has been working really well for us and we're really happy with them. At the level we're currently selling records, we're earning more than we would if we were on a major label because of the way the percentages work out.

Review: Yeah. I've read several interviews with Robert where he said that Crimson would have to sell 500,000 copies on Virgin for him to make the same amount of money if they sold 200,000 through Discipline.

PR: That's exactly it. But if a major label came up to us and offered a great deal we're wouldn't necessarily say no. We're on a major label in Japan, Pony Canyon, and they're helping to finance our tour in Japan with King Crimson in October. Although Discipline is small right now, it's growing really fast and in five or ten years it may be an indie label to contend with.