Zervas & Pepper | Interview

Abstract Heart - The Interview by Akustik Gitarre


Hi Paul, the unavoidable question first – how and when did you start playing guitar?

Hi Stefan, Haha, Yes, The inevitable question. I first took up the guitar at age 15, After a seemingly endless wait to acquire one, we didn't have much money when I was growing up. I did eventually got hold of my first guitar, It was a beginners Hohner 'Strat' type electric, My family put their money together to help me buy it at Christmas. Although I used to have to plug it in through my stereo system as I didn't have an amp, It worked... But the sound was pretty bad! I still have that guitar somewhere.

Did you grow up in a musical family, did you have support? Did you had a guitar-teacher or picked it up?

My family are all music lovers. There was always great music playing in the house when I was growing up, a pretty varied collection of genres too. My older brother was very much into German Hard Rock/Prog bands such as Eloy,Jane, Scorpions and Birth Control. My Mother liked the 70's Singer/Songwriter stuff, Cat Stevens, Paul Simon etc. My Sister loved the more mainstream pop music at the time like U2, Prince etc.

As for learning, 6 months before I even ever picked up a guitar I bought a VHS tutiorial video called 'Play Guitar Now'....I watched it over and over, without even having a guitar. I soaked up as much of the information as possible so when the day came when I got my first guitar i could actually play most of the chords in the first position from memory, and knew how to play songs like 'House of the rising Sun' etc, ..Hurt my fingers though!I taught myself from there onward.

Who do you consider as a guitar influence?

There are so many, but I guess the biggest influence on me certainly as an acoustic guitarist would be Joni Mitchell. Her approach to Open tunings, Chord voicings. Her mixture of strumming/picking together influenced me a lot.

What are your early musical experiences, first projects, bands  … Tell us please.

I dabbled with a few bands in my mid teens, just singing at first and then later singing and playing the guitar. A 'punk band called 'Dirt' springs to mind and also an Indie rock band we called 'Murmur'. But neither were serious and were short-lived ventures that lasted maybe a gig or two at best. We made no proper recordings. From age 17 onward I was always performing solo, Small folk clubs and Open Mics. My real interest was songwriting, I started writing songs as soon as I learned guitar. Kath too performed in several bands during her teens and like myself Kath started writing songs as soon as she picked up the guitar. Kath would never call herself a 'guitarist' but she always writes her material using the guitar.

How did you both meet?

Kath and I met at a local open mic night I was running in a great little Music club / venue called 'The Toucan' in our hometown of Cardiff back in around 2003. We were both performing individually as solo singer/songwriters at the time. We enjoyed listening to one another's performances over the course of a few weeks and got talking about songwriting, the bands we liked etc and soon became friends, shortly afterwards we began singing a few choice cover versions of songs we liked together.

And: Was there an initial spark a special moment when you noticed that you have something special here between the two of you musically?

Yes, It was actually that very first moment we sang together, we just gelled together beautifully. I was performing a version of Neil Young's 'Tell Me Why' and Kath got up and joined with the harmony vocals. It was pretty special.

You get lot’s of comparisons the The Byrds or CSN  - can you still take it as a compliment or is it a little annoying meanwhile?

Comparing us to these legendary artists is still a great compliment indeed, these bands in particular have played no small part in influencing our own sound over the years. And for us as an emerging independent act, it cant hurt at all to be compared favorably to the great pioneers of the genre. 

By the way: David Crosby twittered a compliment of nice music and vocals. How cool! What do you think about that?

David is an all-time musical hero of ours, so we were of course absolutely delighted when he reached out and complimented our music, Its an endorsement of the highest order!

By the way: How was working with Crosby’s guitarist Marcus Eaton?

Marcus is a real 'musicians' musician, a brilliant singer/songwriter and a true guitar genius, there's nothing he can't do with the instrument. So It was great having him on-board, he worked on the track 'Miller' with us, did a fabulous job! He's also a lovely and very witty guy, We talk a lot... a good friend.

And. Also working with Paul McCartney's Robbie McIntosh must have been great. How was that?

Definitely, like Marcus, Robbie McIntosh is one of those rare guitar players that just oozes style, tone and killer melody in everything he performs. Not a single wasted note. And his musical CV is legendary so we were thrilled when Robbie agreed to play on the album. He added some serious guitar chops to the track 'Reach Out'. He gave us a bunch of different ideas to work with. We ended up using them all!...The parts just ran side by side beautifully.

Also the press loves you, you have stunningly loads of compliments. Do you have an explanation why everyone loves you? My allegation: You play exactly that kind of dreamy folk music, that everybody loves since the 70’s and want’s to have it again ;-)

Thanks! I guess our listeners do get the feelings of nostalgia when they hear our stuff because we go about creating music in the classic songwriting sense and style. But I also think that whilst they're getting that nostalgia they're also picking up a reinvigorated fresh approach to the format, so its kind of new to them too. We seem have a pretty broad appeal, and that's great.

Your vocal harmonies are so stunning - a lot of practice or a natural thing?

Thanks, Vocal harmonies come pretty natural for us now, we're lucky that the blend of our voices compliment each other. The parts just kind of fall into place and it works. That's not to say that we don't work hard on it though, We're always looking to improve and hone our craft.

How do you write usually songs, what inspires you?

We usually write the initial nucleus/idea of a song separately and then when we have a rough structure in mind we'll get together and fine tune it into a complete finished piece, lyrically and musically. Inspiration-wise anything and everything goes, whether it be fact, fiction or personal experience. We don't put limits on our creativity, however, both of us will generally gravitate towards subject matter that we feel very deeply about whether its something that's going on in the world that alarms us or some profound emotional event. 

What is from your point of view the evolution as songwriters from "Somewhere In The City" (2011) and “Lifebringer” (2013) to “Abstract Heart”?

I think our sound has definitely progressed over the course of our three album releases. With 'Somewhere in the City' we were dipping our toes in the water. It was us trying out the D.I.Y format which we've readily adopted over the years. A tough album to complete. We had all kinds of problems mixing it and getting it release-ready. The turning point came however with the song 'Cigar Store Indian'. It was kind of the 'wildcard' track on the album. A piece we personally felt strongly about but we weren't all that sure how it would be received by our listeners. It turned out to be one of our most popular songs and brought us to a much wider audience.

With 'Lifebringer' we progressed the sound and feel of 'Cigar Store' and refined it. The album became a better representation of us personally as songwriters. Lyrically it was an 'escapist' record with themes of fantasy, travel and extraordinary characters. We had a great time writing and recording it and was real collaborative effort with Kath and I writing more of the songs together, a far more consistent sound for us.

With 'Abstract Heart' the album is our most personal album to date, we feel that we now have the musical vocabulary and skill to express our innermost musings, we can explore such subjects like death and the afterlife and do the subject justice. The years of crafting the sound, pulling albums together and further developing as producers has paid off so we feel we can pull the best performances from our band. We learn something new with every successive album release. 

What acoustic guitars (make, type, year) do you use?

My main acoustics are a 1994 Guild DV-52 and a 2004 Guild DV-6, Both are fitted with L.R Baggs 'Anthem' pick up systems and strung with Elixir 'Nanoweb' strings, I use these for both studio and live shows. They're real work-horse guitars and cope beautifully with the rigors of the road and constant drop-tuning. 

I've always used Guild Instruments, I've never played one I haven't liked.

My other guitar is a Luthier built Dreadnought by Nashville-based artisan Sim Daley. Its a beautiful pre-war style D-28 copy and never leaves the studio, It sounds fantastic!

What attracts you sonically on acoustic guitars, acoustic instruments in general?

The acoustic guitar always been the first port of call for me as a songwriter/ performer, and everything I write starts (and often finishes) with it. Besides its versatility as both a rhythm and lead instrument I love that Its uncomplicated, convenient, and anytime of day I can pick it up and play without the need for amplifiers, leads, effects gear etc, and will always gives me that warm,clear and consistent sound when I want it.

Kath and I tend to write on the road, the further away from home we are is when the creativity is high. So we'll both be working at ideas for new songs, we don't travel without a guitar now. 

Acoustic instruments in general are always great in social situations, They invite listeners to sing/play along and get involved and surely that's what music should be about!

What do you if you are not making music?

Our lives our pretty much consumed by music, we manage our band and run our own record label so that takes up most of our time. But the music does bring a lifestyle with it, so travelling, socializing with our friends, staying up all night and generally misbehaving is what we do best!.