May 25, 2024

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Interview with Andres Roots: Keep making better and better music

Interview with an ungrateful, impolite, dull, unhuman, drawn creature, as if guitarist Andres Roots. An interview by email in writing. – First, let’s start out with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music. How exactly did your adventure take off? When did you realize that this was a passion you could make a living out of?

Andres Roots: – I was born and grew up in Tallinn, Estonia, which was still part of the Soviet Union then, so “music of the decadent West” wasn’t readily available there. But Tallinn was so close to the border that we could pick up Finnish radio and television, so I would tune in and tape the weekly blues and rock broadcasts, and that’s how I learned about the music. That, and my Dad’s record collection – he had some Stones, some Beatles, Louis Armstrong… He also had a nylon-string guitar so that’s what I started out with; what inspired me to pick it up was hearing the 1990 AC/DC album “The Razor’s Edge”.

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In 1993, my father took me to see John Hammond, who was plaing a solo acoustic set at the FiESTa jazz festival in Estonia, and that’s when I knew what I wanted to do with my life. The first time I performed in public was in 1995 in Denmark; I ended up spending my tuition money on a guitar in Copenhagen, moving to Tartu and starting my first band. As for realizing I can make a living out of it, I still can’t quite believe it – I guess we all have our Aunt Mimis, who famously told John Lennon: “The guitar’s all very well, John, but you’ll never make a living out of it.” I’ve been lucky.

JBN: – How has your sound evolved over time? What have you been doing to find and develop your own sound?

AR: – I guess I started to find my own voice around 2002 when I switched from standard to open tunings and slide guitar. Not knowing where the notes are anymore has been very liberating!

I have been switching back and forth between acoustic and electric guitars from the start and I do enjoy playing both – as long as I get to play the music that I want to play. I suppose I’m more into music than I am into guitars, and I do believe the sound comes not so much from the instrument or the amplifier but from the mind and soul and fingers of the player… Or the attitude of the player, to paraphrase Miles Davis.

JBN: – What routine practices or exercises have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical proficiency, in terms of both rhythm and harmony?

AR: – The first thing is always to listen – to records, to the people you’re playing with, to your own playing. And allow yourself to occasionally explore your instrument without having a particular goal in mind… Then if you find something that you like, work at it – when it comes to rhythms and technique, it’s not enough for you to know how it’s done, your fingers must know it, too. If you’re up there on that stage and start thinking about what comes next, you’ve already missed it. At the same time, every room is different, every audience is different and every band is different on any given night – thus the tricky part is remembering to play what you hear, not what think you know.

JBN: – Have you changed through the years? Any charges or overall evolution? And if so why?

AR: – Yes and no – I don’t think my tastes have changed much, I still listen to Muddy Waters and Johnny Shines, Miles Davis and Django Reinhardt, Deep Purple and the Who… One change is that even though I started out as a lyricist, I much prefer instrumental music these days – somehow the words just seem to get in the way now. My wife’s been saying the same thing, so it could be a sign of the times, or it could be that I’ve simply heard most of the variations already, or maybe they just don’t make them like they used to… I mean, I can’t wait to hear the new Bob Dylan album – he’s still got it!

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JBN: – In your opinion, what’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?

AR: – You need both, but it’s soul that makes it work. For me as a listener, it doesn’t matter how many notes you play or how elaborate the compositions are – if the music doesn’t grab me emotionally, I lose interest.

JBN: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; are you okay with delivering people the emotion they long for?

AR: – I don’t do requests, if that’s what you mean, but it’s a two-way relationship for sure. It’s silly to say good audience/bad audience, good performer/bad performer, but naturally if a connection is made between the listener and the artist, they can both give more and get more out of the experience. I trust we all do our best every night.

JBN: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of standard tunes are half a century old?

AR: – I’m not entirely convinced that that’s the problem – music you’ve never heard before is still new to you, right? What I feel more acutely is that music in general does not seem to be that important to people anymore. What can we do about it – keep making better and better music, I suppose. Even if it doesn’t solve the problem, we’ll have something worthwhile!

JBN: – John Coltrane once said that music was his spirit. How do you perceive the spirit and the meaning of life?

AR: – I think Coltrane was onto something there.

JBN: – If you could change one single thing in the musical world and that would become reality, what would that be?

AR: – It’s probably best to just sit back and enjoy the ride.

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JBN: – Whom do you find yourself listening to these days?

AR: – In addition to those already mentioned, I’ve been listening to quite a bit of Davy Graham and Robert Jr. Lockwood these past few years, and I’ve recently bought my first Sol Hoopii album – Hawaiian music from the 1930’s that is just incredible. Plus I’ve been sort of rediscovering the early Grant Green albums, too…

JBN: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine: where and why would you really want to go?

AR: – To London in the Swinging Sixties to see the Yardbirds with Jeff Beck and John Mayall with Peter Green, and the Stones and Hendrix and the Cream…? Or maybe the Mississippi Delta in the 1930’s to catch a glimpse of Charley Patton and Willie Brown and a young Son House – but that would be one perilous journey.

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Interview by Emmanuel Bolton

Barikada – World Of Music – ANDRES ROOTS – Tartu Lockdown (The House Arrest EPs)

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