Bob Prince, a/k/a guitapick, has been a member of Macjams since January 18, 2007, although, to me, it seems longer, since his friendly way and neighborly manner (he lives not far from me) is timeless. As is his guitar playing and sense of grace. I also got a kick out of his monicker and asked where it came from…
That’s a good starting point and I’ll be happy to answer:
The true origin of my august namesake: “git a pick” - as in: “I’m gonna git a pick so we can jam”. With the accent on the “pick” or the “git”. I threw in the “u” because that’s what I’m picking…
Unfortunately, up ’till now, everyone seems to be stuck on the pronunciation “guitAH pick”, as though I have a Boston accent. Please let me be perfectly clear: although I love (well… maybe “like” would be more… hmmm.. maybe “don’t dislike” … or…) the fair city of Boston, I do not (NOT) have a Boston accent. I’m a born and bred New York Yankees fan! Pulllllleeeeaaaase!
I’ve thought about changing it to “gitapick” (that’s how it is at iComps - I haven’t been there in a long time) but then I’d want to change my email, etc. So… it is what it is…
Tough year for the Yankees (2008). Are you looking forward to 2009, especially with all the recent acquisitions?
I have to say that I’m a bit disillusioned with the Yanks, as of late. I hung the Yankee ornaments on the wall side of the tree this year. The country’s going under, financially, and they’re signing Sabathia to 161 million. The way they and the city hoodwinked and hosed us with the financing of the new stadium (congressional probe going on as I type). Seat prices going through the roof.
So, I’m not so sure how I feel about 2009. I can say that I’m hoping (against all hope) that they continue with some semblance of their youth movement. Bring back Melky, Cano, Hughes, Kennedy and let ‘em play. I’d also like to see them give Shelley Duncan a real shot at 1st base. He was off the planet last spring. Buying a team will only get you so far, especially in terms of continued performance. We need to re-establish a solid core of players who feel like family. That, in my opinion, is what puts teams over the top. That sense of being a team.
You are coming out with a CD in 2009, though. That must make you feel good…
As far as the CD: I’m very, very happy about how it’s turned out. Big time sense of accomplishment and it’s so nice to hear the music on a professionally mastered CD. I also spent some money on a pro who re-mixed the tunes with vocals. (Except “Foot of the Bed” - I redid that one on my own. No reverb on the vox. Thanks, Lisa.) He really knows his stuff and I’m very happy I did that. All the music has a nice, full, natural sound. I love the artwork, too, beautiful photos with interesting slants to them. CDs are so cool. Colorful little packages with so much inside. I think I’ll buy one for myself.
Working so hard on recording my sounds for the past 2 years is just what I needed. Getting feedback and tips from my friends at MJ has been priceless. I wrote so much music before my daughter was born. Then I wrote a boatload more once she came into the picture. Now it’s time to put it out there. Both recorded and live. I’m back in the music world again, only this time it’s a bit more on my own terms. I wish I could be doing more on the electric guitar, but there’s only so much time to give, in terms of practice and performance. I have to say, though, that it really feels good to be back. It’s work… playing/writing/recording in tandem with a day job. But rewarding and fun. Very much so. Something to do, as they say.
You’ll be performing at the upcoming CD release party, right?
I love the art form: performing. I do all I can to forget about myself and enjoy the music as much as anybody else in the audience. That’s the trick, as far as I’m concerned. I’m looking forward to the CD release party. We’ll all be hangin’ out and loose. Freddy’s is a great place to play. Very low key.
Why did you want to come out with a CD?
I’d never had a child before…and I really wanted to get the most out of the experience. So…when Ava was born, I quit my electric band and my wife and I devoted ourselves to raising her as best we could. Only did a handful of gigs for the next 11 years (ain’t that somethin’). I made a commitment to myself, at that time, though, to continue seriously practicing and writing music. I also promised myself that, once Ava was around age 10, I’d get into putting that music “out there”. Something to come back to, in essence.
Back then, GarageBand wasn’t an option…so I wasn’t thinking much about recording except for maybe a few tunes (and forget about a CD), if I could scrape the money together. But, as time went on, I saw the opportunities that were available for home recording and jumped on it. Taylor Morgan (a guy I’d never met) was nice enough to send me a copy of iLife and I got to work.
After a while, I found out that Alimar (now LMR) had a nice thing going with his indie label, “The Lost Records”. I was all set to work with him…but then I’m sorry to say that he had to close down the operation. I was seriously into the idea, by that point. though. So I worked summer school (I’m a teacher) and made the money I’d need to get the CD done professionally. I knew I could do a good job on my own…but just decided I wanted to have people with more expertise get it done. I asked some of my friends who they liked and they turned me onto Disc Makers and Oasis. I liked them both…but ended up going with Disc Makers.
This has been quite an experience. And it ain’t over yet…
Does being a New Yorker affect your music?
I’ve been here for awhile. I have connections. Lots of friends who play and/or like to check out music. I also think that being in a large city can give you more options (if you’re open to them), in terms of what you’re listening to and playing. Not exclusive to New York, just about being in an area with lots of different people and cultures. In terms of writing, though, I doubt that I’d be putting out a lot of my works if it weren’t for all the experiences I’ve had away from the city. Woods, deserts, mountains, and beaches. It’s important to stay in touch with our sources.
How old were you when you got into playing music?
I was 5, I believe. My folks had given me a green and yellow plastic harmonica, much to my older brother’s chagrin. He drove me out of the house with it (the folks were gritting their teeth, too) and I played in the meadow on the other side of the stone wall where I forgot all my cares for a few minutes. It was my first real experience of melting, musically, into the environment (at least, when I was the one doing the playing).
Any early influential experience that led you to want to make music?
At first it was just something to do. My dad was a tremendous classical pianist who had some jazz chops going, too. He was into all the Russian composers, Beethoven, and Debussy, Ramsey Lewis Trio, Mancini, etc. Always playing or listening to something. I used to sit under the piano while he’d play. My mom had a sweet voice and got me into the church choir at an early age.
I started on the clarinet around age 6 or 7. Was playing in a young person’s Dixieland Band in 5th and 6th grade. I liked that. Piano at age 10. Had a brief period of being a bad boy in the 7th and 8th grade…dropped the clarinet and piano. But the guitar filled in nicely from that point and on. My older brother was a fantastic (and I mean fantastic) 12 string fingerpicker. He gave me my first lessons.
I was sooooo into Hendrix, the Beatles,and the other bigboys back then, too. Huge inspirations. Joni Mitchell and Simon and Garfunkle, too. Then I came home one night after much merriment with my friends, and flicked on the radio. Beethoven’s 6th. My mom had left it at the classical station while straightening up my room. I was totally blown away, remember it vividly. It was a return to my roots. Bridged the chasm between all genres that night and that’s stuck ever since.
How do your classical roots affect your composing, your playing?
Well… unless I’m on the electric, I tend to fingerpick pretty much exclusively. My classical training got me into using all of my right hand fingers, making the melody line stand out or recede, color the notes with different hand positions and locations.
One thing that I really took to heart is the idea of creating a picture with a song. Different lines in the piece are different parts of the picture/story. I’d had that in mind all along, but really learned how to incorporate it when and after I took some composition classes in college.
How often do you return to classical music in order to refresh that source, that state?
I don’t know what I’d do without classical music. It’s my heartbeat. I return to it very, very often. Even when I was playing almost all electric, I would always listen to classical music and made sure to hold onto the technique by practicing it whenever I could find the time.
What are some previous bands/experience, career highlights?
I’ve played with a lot of bands and done quite a few solo acoustic gigs, too. All over the USA except the Northwest. I want to go there, soon, though. Studied classical guitar both in college (University of Arizona) and privately. Years of that. Jazz guitar, privately, for 1 1/2 years. Self taught, for the most part, in rock and blues.
As far as career highlights, I’d say, performance wise: any gig where I/we transcended myself/ourselves (the best feeling). I love outdoor concerts, especially (unless it’s raining or freezing cold…then I don’t love them). I also was the co-writer and performer of a soundtrack for a modern dance piece by Tere O’Connor: “You Baby Goes to Tendertown”. It was performed in Europe and Australia after running here in the USA. Amazing thing, watching great dancers move to the music you’ve written and played.
Work with anyone we might recognize?
Maybe Tere O’Connor, if you’re familiar with the modern dance world. Other than that, a lot of no namers, like myself…
What is your most fulfilling (music) experience?
I love to make up pieces on the guitar. From inception to completion. And now that I’ve gotten the recording thing going…that’s just a wonderful icing on the cake. I put a lot of thought, heart, and time into my tunes and do my best to make sure they’re good little boys and girls. And I can let ‘em be bad li’l babies, too…and not suffer the consequences.
Your most embarrassing moment?
Hmmm… that’s a toughie. I don’t embarrass easily… let me look through my third edition of “Bob’s Book of Embarrassing Moments” - Vol. 10 should do it. Ahhh, here’s a good one… on page 4,376:
I was playing a nylon string gig at this place where the bar specialized in ice cream drinks. I have a sweet tooth and the bartender liked me. By the second set I was feeling pretty jolly. So… I was really getting into this piece, when I reached this part where I slapped the strings pretty hard with the base of my thumb…and the entire bridge came flying off, hitting me flush in the side of the jaw and knocking me clear off of the stool. Almost knocked me out. I didn’t know where I was at first. Lots of tension in those combined strings, you know. Well…I sure didn’t want people to think that I couldn’t take a punch, you know. Never show weakness on stage! So I got up and smashed the rest of the guitar against the wall… (kidding). Anyway, that was the end of that gig. Fortunately, the crowd was very forgiving. They chipped in for the repair. (Good thing, too. I was broke).
What do you do for a “living”?
I teach emotionally disturbed and learning disabled elementary age kids for the NYC Department of Education (pretty “official”, eh?). Grades 3 through 5. It’s challenging, rewarding, and never, ever boring.
How old are you?
If I was in my twenties, I’d give you a straight answer. As is, though, I find that giving my age can give preconceptions as to what I should/shouldn’t be doing musically and who I am, as a person. In terms of public perception of a performer, it’s limiting. Let’s just say that I keep myself in the best possible shape I can and do the best I can from there. Let’s just say that I’m older than dirt and young enough to still enjoy playing in it…
I live in the USA. New York City. It’s a great place to play and hear music of all styles. Live near a big, beautiful park (Prospect Park) where I ride my bicycle a lot. Very inspiring.
What are your musical aspirations/goals?
I’d love to make good money off the stuff I write and play, but I burned out on working towards that at around age 30. It became more important than the actual playing and I ended up not enjoying the art anymore, at that point. Seems like the more I focus on the outcome, the less important the actual creation becomes. I admire people that can handle that dichotomy. I’ve found that if I focus on the immediate, things tend to take care of themselves, in some manner, means, or form, in the long run.
Basically, I do what I can to live by Stanislavski’s concept of loving the art within you rather than yourself within the art. That’s been my mantra for a long, long time. I practice (I love to practice), play, and write a lot and live my life as fully as I possibly can in all areas. Those are my true aspirations and goals.
1) When I was an actor, I embraced the stage. Loved to perform. Not so with playing guitar, for some reason. Especially solo. It’s taken work to get comfortable on stage, musically. But the more I do it, the easier it becomes.
2) There’s constructive criticism and then there’s mean spirited, destructive criticism. I allowed the latter to affect me pretty strongly in my early 20s. Serious artists who I really respected giving me these off hand, cynical, degrading ‘critiques,’ both in terms of technique and interpretation. Although I kept seriously at it, despite the negative stuff, I found that it stuck with me and I was a VERY harsh critic of myself for so long. Beyond perfectionism.
Meeting my wife and then having a child were true blessings in many areas, including overcoming that problem. The birth of my daughter was the true “capper”. I’d spent so much time focusing on myself, before. Got over “me” and rediscovered the beauty of writing/playing from a place of unconditional love. Being a teacher; I was able to come home early, take summers off, and absolutely loved (and still love) bringing up my daughter. I’ve written a lot of music in the past 11 years.
Dealing with the negative also made me appreciate the importance of fostering the love of music in others. A 50 year old who’s not yet comfortable on an instrument needs as much positive support for the small things as a 6 year old. I’m very aware of that. There’s no place for sarcasm or hurting when someone’s coming from a place of the heart.
2) The music industry can suck the spirit out of you if you let it. Although I can and have played covers, I’ve always much preferred writing my own stuff. Either solo or with a band. It’s not easy to do that in today’s world. I didn’t do the wedding circuit, etc, and still tried to make it exclusively as a musician. It was ridiculous. When I got over the “shame” of “selling out” (around age 30), I got a straight job (first was selling tickets for the railroad). I found that I still had time to play and was much more at ease. So the art came easier to me, again. And I had enough money to buy strings (and an amp…and other guitars…and…). I just wasn’t very practical as an artist, at first, and didn’t feel comfortable in that freelance lifestyle.
3) Learning that where you’re coming from with your playing is more important than the speed/accuracy of the notes you’re playing was a very, very important lesson.
How does acting compare to being a musician?
Well…it’s an interesting thing about performing. For some reason I always found acting to be much easier. Maybe that’s because you’re “lurking about” within another person’s concept of a character? A buffer. Don’t really know. I can be a bit of a reluctant performer on the guitar, though. Especially with solo original stuff. But I get into it once I get onstage. Like diving into cold water on a hot day. It’s great once you get in there.
Any current music venues/activities (both on and offline)?
I’ve just finished the CD. Should have it by the 22nd of this month. Lots of writing and recording of new stuff coming up. Started gigging again, too. I’m into MacJams as a place to hang out and exchange music/ideas. Sometimes I’m at iComps - and I’ve got a MySpace page which I’ll be using more, as I get more gigs.
What is your main instrument?
I play electric and acoustic guitars, primarily. Focus on the acoustics the past 11 years (since my daughter was born). Nylon, steelstring, and resophonic. I also play keyboards, harmonica, percussion, clarinet, violin (wonderful instrument) and some sax.
Acoustic Guitars: Rode NT3 and an M-Audio Firewire 410 Interface. Schertler “David” amp for performance.
Electric Guitars: 1957 Strat CS Reissue, 1991 MusicMan Silhouette, 1969 Les Paul Gold Top (modified) (apologies to the purists, but that ax sings) Boogie Mark IIB amp. Lots of effects pedals. E-Bow. Different sounds in GB.
Hoping to get a new Mac, soon… but ’till then:
PowerPC G4 (2.1)
Number Of CPUs: 1
CPU Speed: 800 MHz
L2 Cache (per CPU): 256 KB
Memory: 1 GB
Bus Speed: 100 MHz
Boot ROM Version: 4.4.1f1
How do you record/mix/master?
I need quiet when I do most of my stuff because I’m using a mic. I like to keep the mic angled slightly up to the sound hole of the guitar, about 7 or 8 inches away. Test first to see that I’m not getting any spikes on the interface LEDs, by hitting the loudest part of the tune. Set it that way.
Sometimes I’ll play without headphones and sometimes with, on an initial track, depending on my mood. I like to hear what the sound will be with the effect(s) sometimes, as opposed to dry.
Although I usually have a definite idea of what I want to hear when I start out, I’m always keeping my ears open for something new. Can often find that in “mistakes”.
I will usually do about 3 takes of a tune. Sometimes one will do the trick just fine. Others require editing. Subbing something (large or small) from another take. I had a good friend, since passed on, who was a famous classical violinist. He was sad to say that even he did lots of editing because people just don’t want to hear the same mistake played over and over on an album/CD. It’s different in a live performance…you can play gracefully through your flubs and it’s ok. Ever since he said that, I’ve had no qualms about editing when I feel it’s necessary. Sometimes, though, I’ll leave a gaff in there if it’s working and important to the feel of the passage it’s in.
I’m very picky when it comes to mixing and mastering and getting the balance just right. Spend as much time as I feel is necessary to get it the way I want it.
As far as effects: I like to use minimal reverb (though I do like it), find that I almost always need to roll off some bass (the NT3 seems to like bass), and I don’t use compression with my acoustics. Matter of taste on that last one. My personal feeling is that it fattens up the tone, which I don’t particularly like on an acoustic guitar. Would rather use the volume line to control the spikes.
What, musically, is your strongest point?
Because I don’t practice as much as I used to, I think of myself more as a composer than player. I can’t play some of the classical pieces I used to, at this point. As a player, now, my strength is my fingerpicking. It’s been my major focus the last 11 years. Miss my electric…but I felt the need to make a choice and went that route.
Improvising jazz solos and fills. Although I studied the theory and technique, I just never really got around to practicing it as much as needed to make it natural. Tend to use those past jazz lessons more for writing, now. I get around that weakness by not doing it. Pretty smart, eh? Find someone else to take care of that business. My sight reading’s gone downhill, lately, too…should practice that more. It’s really all about interest levels, choices, and making the time to practice.
Do you recall the first song you ever wrote?
I figured out a version of Greensleeves. That was very early on. Took awhile, but I got it down as I heard it in my head. Very satisfying. I recently added a middle part to it which I posted, here. I also wrote a piece called “Puttin’ it Down” which I could play, with ease, now, but wouldn’t want to assault your ears…
How do you come up with a song?
That’s a loaded question. I’ve just returned to lyrics/singing in the past year or so after a looooong absence (see “Obstacle #2, above). At this point, I write the music first and then add the lyrics. That may change in the future.
How I write my tunes can vary from literally watching the muse move my fingers to slaving over how to finger a passage that I hear in my head but is just ridiculously hard to play. I came up with most of “Tailor Made” while riding my bicycle, during the course of a few days. Music and lyrics. There’s really no set formula. A lot of the time, the sound and feel of the guitar, itself, will determine what I write. Even when I DO use a formula (”hmmm…maybe if I move over to the flatted 5th…? Naaaaah…what about…”), I can still often find some other way of gittin’ them sounds out of the box; like making a cool looking geometric pattern with my fingers on the neck. Things just tend to work off of each other. Like Legos. (I love Legos).The first song I heard of yours was “Butterflies and Dragonflies.” Can you tell us how that song came about?
The story behind this tune is:
I wanted to write something for my in-law’s 50th wedding anniversary and have it ready for performance on the date. Took about a week, and I came up with an instrumental version which I was very happy with.
Now…I hadn’t written lyrics since around age 18, when I was told, in a very “objective critique” by a “serious artist” that what I was writing was trite and meaningless. But there I sat, decades later, guitar in hand, thinking that it might be cool to write some words down and have my then 9 year old daughter sing them. That would melt everyone’s hearts, thinks I. Then, right on cue, Ava came walking into the room.
I started playing the tune (like I really had to…she’d been hearing it, non-stop, all week) and asked her if she thought it could use some lyrics. She listens politely until the middle section comes in; at which point, she sings, “There’s a girl on the side of the ocean”, following the guitar’s melody line, as sweet as can be. I’m not being a proud papa, here…she’s got it goin’. Goes by the alias of “garner_smake” if anyone’s interested in checking out some of her work.
I stop and say, “Wow…that’s nice. How about ‘the shore of the ocean’?”
“Sure…that’ll be fine,” she replies, and walks out of the room, not aware that she will soon be performing this piece in front of a large crowd of people.
I wrote the lyrics that night and we performed the piece about a month later, in a Vermont field on a picture perfect summer’s day. It was magical. I love Ava’s voice.
A couple of months later we recorded the piece at my friend, James Baker’s place. She would only do it if I bought her a manga book (”Fruits Basket”, I believe)…and then only one take (tough cookie, she is). Though the guitar’s a bit heavy during a couple of spots in her singing; we were happy with the take and only did a little bit of “finagling” with it, in terms of editing. She still sings it, occasionally…and we might revisit it, someday. But I really like the pureness of her young voice…it was written, performed, and recorded for that particular occasion at that particular time. So…it’s a keeper.
And that’s how “Butterflies and Dragonflies” was brought into this world.
If you like or love it, then stick with it in some manner, means, or form. Doesn’t have to be 6 hours of practice a day (although you’ll get real good, real fast that way…just make sure you take frequent breaks so you don’t get tendonitis). Stay with it. Try to get in some practicing/playing on a regular basis. Don’t get bent outta shape if you feel stuck. I practice technique (scales/arpeggios/etudes) at those times so my hands will still be strong when the inspiration hits again.
On the other hand, if you need to leave it…either for awhile or forever…then allow that of yourself. Life is large and there are often other things that demand our attention. If the music’s that important to you, you’ll come back to it. If not: Hey… it ain’t the only game in town.
How has your Macjams experience been?
I love MacJams. Very little in the way of pretenses and some serious, serious players / musicians / composers / producers, here. From the beginner to the professionals… there’s a wealth of talent and a lot of people willing to share their knowledge and experience. I’ve learned so much about recording myself here. And my confidence level has increased as well. Great place.
What MJ experience has been most helpful/inspirational?
I’ve made some really nice friends at MacJams. Won’t single anyone out, though. Don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings (”Awwww… Bob didn’t mention me… waaaaaaahhh!”). I’ve learned a LOT about how to record myself and also gained some of the confidence that I needed to return to the stage. Cool people, here at MJ. I think they all know who they are. Cheers!
What MJ song you are most proud of?
Tough to say….but “Then the Rain” is special. Happened in a flash. One of those tunes that kind of wrote itself. Has a lot of meaning to me and seems to have touched a lot of others, as well. I’ve remixed it (EQ, specifically) since and like it even more. Bit more presence. That newer version will be on my cd…but I still like the one here, too. I’m really happy that others do, too.
What is your favorite MJ collaboration/project?
I’ve only done 2. Both were a blast. “Tryin’ to Get It Right” with Ziti and “Triple Trouble” with Hectorious (based on OneSweetWorld’s original melody). I loved doing that one. First electric in so long and it was very, very needed.
How has the Internet changed your music goals, your way of creating music, your time management/allocation, etc.?
The internet can get pretty addictive. I think it’s great, though, for putting music out there and hearing other’s, too. Just a wonderful communication tool. I don’t know whether I’d have gotten this far in creating my cd without the internet/MacJams to spur me on. Probably would be more into my live thing, instead. Which isn’t bad at all…just that the CD thing is new in my life and very exciting.
Is there something the MJ community might not know about you?
Well… I love my family and friends. And my bicycle (I’m very into my bike). I really like well performed heavy metal music. Hiking/camping/good restaurants/the beach…stuff like that. Oh: and I love Paris. Nice city. I like to sketch, too. Very abstract. Used to doodle on the score sheets in bowling alleys, before the computers took over. Learned a lot about drawing there.
Thanks for sharing yourself with all of us.
Thanks for interviewing me, Tobin.