Interview by Robert Urban for GAY GUITARISTS WORLDWIDE
Gerard Slooven was born and raised in a small town in south of Holland. During his childhood and teenage years I listened a lot to Abba, Queen, Kate Bush, Mike Oldfield, Supertramp, and Pink Floyd. Then he made a very strict turn to synthesizer music - changing his heroes to Klaus Schulze, Kraftwerk, Jean-Michel Jarre, Tomita and Tangerine Dream. He was completely obsessed with this music and whenever he heard a "real" instrument he wasn't interested in it anymore.
Then he discovered Vangelis. This literally changed his life. Now, it didn't matter whether an instrument was electronic or acoustic. If the result is beautiful, who cares? He also heard Jon Anderson for the first time on his collaboration albums with Vangelis. To this day "The Friends of Mr. Cairo" is one of his all time favourite albums. He also discovered Yes What especially struck him about this strange band, apart from Andersons vocals, was the completely chaotic and utterly original guitar work of their guitarist, Steve Howe. That's how he became interested in the guitar. "Steve Howe is the only reason I started playing. For some years he was the only reason I kept playing, but not anymore. He will always be very important to me, though."
During Gerard's studies he played a lot as a street musician in Eindhoven. "I'm probably the only one who ever played Bach music combined with pieces by Steve Howe." After his studies, while in the army, he started to write his own music, Today, he lives in the East of Holland and still plays a lot of guitar, and owns quite a few of them. He writes and records via his ForestSounds Studio - which is also a center for acoustic guitar music (especially for left-handed "southpaws"), painting, photography and much more. His released recordings include Duotoon, Akke and12 Significant Others
- What brand/model/year instrument(s) do you record and play out with?
My main instrument to study and play at home is a hand-built jumbo guitar by Frans van Oosterhout, a Dutch luthier. I don't play on stage these days, but have done that in the past and I always used my spanish guitar for that. That guitar is also built by Frans. I used that particular instrument because the repertoir (classical arrangements of modern songs, done by myself and a female singer) called for a soft and intimite approach. Apart from that: it was my first REALLY good guitar, and I love it very much. I have played frequently as a street musician during my studies, and I used my Seagull S6+ Cedar for that.
On my CD "12 significant others" I used 7 of my 13 guitars. I like to hear a wide spectrum of acoustic sounds on guitar recordings, that's why I used so many instruments.
- what brand/model/year amps & effects do u use?
I have never plugged in an acoustic guitar in my entire life. And I probably never will! On stage, it was always these intimate little concerts, and in the studio I use a good condenser microphone. I kind of like that: I try not to let too much technology seep into the music. Not plugging in is a great way to achieve that! My work and most of our daily life is influenced, almost polluted, by all this technology. Not that that's all bad. It's only that I really like to keep it away from my guitars. They provide me with a place where life is simple, pure and beautiful.
- Any special/favorite instrument tones/effects/approaches/techniques you've used/discovered in recording and/or performance that you really like?
It's nothing special, but I do like to dub guitar parts. I usually play a part twice, and mix it with one part on the left channel and the other part on the right. As I said, nothing special. But I deliberately play the two parts (that ought to be the same) a little bit different. You know, different fingerpicking patterns and such, or replacing a note with the corresponding harmonic. That way, most of the notes are the same and only some of them aren't. They stand out, and they happen left and right, making the recording come to life. It's all over the "12 Significant Others" CD, especially on the track "Wessel".- Who are your main influences as an instrumentalist? Which artists? Which bands? Instrumentalist? Which artists/bands were your favorites in your youth?
My biggest influence, without any doubt, is Steve Howe. He is THE main reason that I started playing the guitar. For many years he also was the reason that I kept playing, but not anymore. I don't try to sound like him anymore, but no other player gets me as excited about the guitar as he does. I saw him at a very intimate concert he gave in Weert, a town in the south of Holland. I sat there staring at him with a stupid grin on my face and did nothing but play guitar for the next couple of days. I also gave him my CD, because it's dedicated to him. I know, it's pathetic. But it made me happy! Another big influence is, would you believe, Vangelis. I know, he plays keyboard, but he brings a kind of mysterious and romantic atmosphere to his work that I frequently try to get in my own compositions. His music is very important to me. Then there is a list of "secondary influences" that is very long: Leo Kottke, Mike Oldfield, Brian May, Steve Vai, and a REALLY good Dutch guitar player called Erik Visser. When I heard his solo CD "Eenmansoptocht", that every self-respecting guitar player should listen to, I constantly thought: "man! this is the best guitar music possible!". That's very special.
- How many different kinds of stringed/fretted instruments do u play? (e.g. - guitars, banjos, madolins, basses, etc) Do you play any other instruments?
I play 6- and 12-string guitar, 5-string banjo, dobro, and some ukelele and mandoline. Apart from fretted instruments, I play the piano, but it's nothing special. Just a way to have fun and broaden my musical knowledge.
- Do you play/compose/record only your own original music? Do you do any other work in music - e.g. teaching, recording session work, hired gun, producing, etc?
Yes, I write a lot of solo instrumentals for acoustic guitar, and have recorded twelve of them. I published them on my first CD called "12 Significant Others". For the CD, I arranged these solo pieces for multiple guitars. On some tracks, you hear 9 guitars playing at the same time. It cost me two years of my life, I nearly went mad putting it together, but now that it's out in the world I'm really proud of it. Apart from those twelve pieces on CD, all of my other music is free, and that includes the sheet music that I produced with Sibelius. I really believe that music should be heard and played my as many people as possible. That music is not anyone's posession. I do believe in and respect copyrights though: if people play any of my music, they should mention me as the composer. Apart from that people are free to do with it as they please.
- Can you tell us about the music scene in Holland as it differs from your impressions of the U.S. music scene?
I'm not really that familiar with the music industry in America. Popular American music seems to boil down to bad female singers and awful, voilent rap music. That is what reaches us through the media. Sorry. The music business in Holland is small, of course, but there is room for a lot of original, small acts. It's easy to go to a pub or small theater and see all these wonderful artists. But I expect that's not different from the situation in America...
I understand progressive rock is more popular in Europe than in the U.S. - what do you think?
I think so. Maybe it's because a lot of progressive rock is about mixing all kinds of different ingredients. The result can be something that you have to invest in to appreciate. We Europeans, and Dutch peolpe especially. like to do that. To learn new things, to broaden our view. Maybe that's it?
- Is there a particular favorite solo or part you played on a recording, or a certain piece of composed music you wrote, that you feel represents your finest work?
Well, there is this part in the middle of my composition "Insignificant Other" where you hear 9 guitars at the same time. It's a solo for classical guitar on top of 4 different rhythmic structures (each structure played by two guitars). I'm very happy with how that turned out. It was hell to arrange and record though, I remember that very vividly.
- Can you relate any special feelings or experiences about being a glbt player in the mostly straight music world... especially regarding your formative/learning years on your instrument?
No, not really. Apart from having a crush on Peppino d'Agostino, because he's so incredibly handsome. And a very fine, original guitar player. But seriously, I have never felt special because I'm a gay guitarist. I do believe that gay men dare to be more creative, and that never hurts while expressing yourself as a musician.
- Any special thoughts on your instrument, and what it's meant to you in your life?
The guitar is obviously very important to me. Being a guitarist is who I am, it's what I am. I have a daytime job, but that's what I DO, not what I AM. The guitar allows me to be the real me. One instrument in particular, the van Oosterhout Jumbo, is very special in letting the real Gerard come out. It's sad but true.
- Any advice for young glbt players?
I'm ashamed, of course, to say this, but it's really: Be true to yourself. But is there ANY gay person out there that doen't know that already?
- What are your current and future musical projects?
I'm working on a very intense guitar recording, with all acoustic instruments, but sounding as agressive and energetic as, let's say, metal music. It's a bit of a tribute to Steve Vai, so it will be full of studio trickery. It's called "Noita ci Nummoc Sim". The latest guitar pieces that I wrote were a piece for my sister, who died early this year, and a piece for my partner, who is now my husband! Oh wait, I wrote a piece during our honeymoon. It's called "Honingmaan" and it represents the movement of water in Lake Garda in Italy, where we went.
for more info on Gerard, visit www.forestsoundsstudio.com
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