Interview: Alex Ehrsam

Guglielmo Malusardi: What is the story behind the usual name for your debut CD?

Alex Ehrsam: I really wanted to have the word "jazz" in the title of the album since the tunes are built on jazz ideas, and yet add something a bit odd to it. I found the word "detox" was sounding quite nice next to it, and writing the whole thing in a phonetic kind of way gives it a cool weird aspect. It's just a matter of the words' rhythm and sound, it doesn't have any kind of meaning, I do love jazz in every aspect!

Guglielmo Malusardi: Why is your face moving too fast to be recognizable in the artwork?

Alex Ehrsam: It was actually a messed up photo from when we shot the material for the cover, but I found it cool so we kept it. It gives it a weird look, and it adds to the atmosphere.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Introduce yourself to the readers.

Alex Ehrsam: I was born in Paris in 1978. I started playing when I was 15 - at the time I was living in Bordeaux. Right now I'm living in Strasbourg. The recording took quite a long time because I developed my playing at the same time. I was quite fed up with playing basic scales up and down, so I tried to dissect the whole process, and I started composing some ideas to practice solos - these ideas later become songs. I worked on finding some nice themes, and also the chords that would highlight some specific notes in the improvisational sections... quite a lot of work.

Guglielmo Malusardi: The instrumental guitar scene seems to swim like salmons against the current. By that I mean, despite the dramatic increase of downloading, more and more young guitarists are releasing their first albums. In the meantime, experienced, veteran guitarists keep composing, recording and releasing music. What's your opinion, and what's your musical goal?

Alex Ehrsam: The fact that downloading is a problem can't prevent you from doing music. And you are right, a lot of guys are actually releasing their first albums, but that doesn't mean they are good or different from what's been done before. You have a lot of metal/neo-classical guitarists shredding 100 miles per hour, that's not really what stuns me.

My plan for the future is to play live shows with my new band. On a larger scale, hmmmm... I guess I want to play better and smarter, find a label, play with great musicians, that kind of thing.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Tell us about your gear.

Alex Ehrsam: OK. I play on a US Fender Stratocaster (1995), I mainly work/play on a Peavey Bandit 112, a very nice tube-sounding amp. My live amp is a Laney VH100R and I'm currently moving from a 4x12 cab to a 2x12 cab, also Laney. I also love Celestion 70/80, it has a nice, dirty sound. I also use the almighty Ibanez TS-9 pedal, always, everywhere I go. And that's it, no effects, for a pure, simple tone.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Can you give us a song-by-song description of "Djaz_Dtox"?

Alex Ehrsam: "Scab Co-worker" (the title is just for the cool sounding aspect; nothing to do with a real character). Probably the most representative of my present style, jazzy heavy funky music. I love that, trying to make a solo groove on 16th notes and be fluid on 16th notes triplets - basic yet efficient.

"Snappy Response". Quite up-tempo; a heavy and simple approach leads to a more complex set of chords. Tough to improvise on! I was quite inspired by the version of "Brainstorm" on the "Gentle Hearts" DVD (Tetsuo Sakurai, Greg Howe, Dennis Chambers).

"Out U Go". I'm really happy with this one, really funky and yet jazzy. A lot of rhythmic lines with the drums, quite challenging - quite Howe/Aswani inspired. The best tune of the album maybe.

"Elevator Shaft". The first Nu-Jazz tune of the album; with a quite strange, dreamy ambiance. The chord chart is so tough to play over; thanks to Christophe Rieger and Nicolas Muller for doing a great job on that one!

"Standard Procedure". The "rock ballad" of the album, well not really, since it turns into groovy fusion stuff, but it's a half-ballad all right. I love the dreamy minor chords at the beginning, without being cheesy I hope. The rhythmic section is quite cool, and it gives me the base I need to groove in my improvisation.

"Fix". Composed at the same time as "Scab Co-worker", it has the same ideas and structure, a sort of an echo of the first track.

"Cold Chill". An acoustic track, quite ballad/Latin-oriented. I tried a couple of rhythmic ideas after listening to a lot of music by the French guitar player Sylvain Luc. Quite relaxing though.

"Decoy Unseen". Another funky fusion tune, pretty cool, with a nice free dreamy intro. I wish I had avoided some shred licks on this one; it lacks spontaneity at some moments. Anyway, I love the theme and the main riff, pretty cool stuff.

"Malpractice". The second Nu-Jazz track, it is actually a tribute to the Capcom video game "Silent Hill 2", going from a very smooth lounge sound to tortured ambiance. I love this one, especially the ending. I piled up many tracks of guitar all playing the same riff to get a huge sound. Massive.

Guglielmo Malusardi: It's more and more complicated for young guitarists to find their own way, avoiding an association with existing guitar heavyweights' styles. How you blaze your own musical trail?

Alex Ehrsam: I really don't care if I'm being associated with this or that guitar heavyweight. I know my influences, I try not to copy them, I know where I want to go musically speaking, and I don't care about remarks or bad reviews. I just play the way I feel, some like it, some don't, life goes on.

Guglielmo Malusardi: You played and programmed all the instruments on the CD, except for one special guest we'll talk about later. Suppose you sign a big record deal for the next CD and you had an unlimited budget - who would you call to play drums?

Alex Ehrsam: He he, wow, I guess Mr. Dennis Chambers; I'd be delighted to jam with the guy in the first place! Yeah, I would totally go for Dennis Chambers.

Guglielmo Malusardi: What about a keyboard player?

Alex Ehrsam: I really don't know, never thought about it I guess. I don't know much about keyboard players, maybe guys like Alex Argento or Bob Katsionis, who are into heavy/fusion stuff - great, great stuff by the way.

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Guglielmo Malusardi: What about a bass player?

Alex Ehrsam: I would go for the great Victor Wooten!

Guglielmo Malusardi: Would you still produce the record yourself?

Alex Ehrsam: I'd like Greg Howe to produce it. He knows the music, and he knows the industry.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Let's talk about your home studio and the recording process.

Alex Ehrsam: I used a digital recording device, the Boss BR-1200, and believe it or not, it's just amp simulation on the record, plus a bit of TS-9 now and then. It's an unbelievable machine, amazing. Also I used the great Boss DR-5 drum machine, of course. As always, didn't use much effects on the solos, just a little reverb, a little delay, and low gain - the best recipe for tone. Some reviews say I'm a bit tight-fisted on effects. For post production, I used Sound Forge; very simple and nice software for a bit of compression and noise reduction.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Did you completely, primarily, or partially improvise the solos?

Alex Ehrsam: Well, there is technique, and there is improvisation. Improv is usually the result of work you've done previously that helps you to handle the music the way you feel, so improv is never 100% real improvisation - well, that's my point of view. As for myself, I have to work daily to maintain a good level of technique, working faster and faster on the metronome. For improvisation, I try to work on playing the exact ideas I have in my head at one specific moment, hopefully in the right key.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Time to introduce your guest musicians.

Alex Ehrsam: Sure, on the bass solo on "Out U Go" is Patrick Chapus, playing totally cool slap/pop techniques - he's very Wooten/Miller/Claypool influenced.

On the guitar solos for "Elevator Shaft" and "Malpractice", Nicolas Muller uses a very jazz yet strange tone, and great improv there - great stuff.

Last but not least, Christophe Rieger creates great sax ambiance, again on "Elevator Shaft" and "Malpractice", I just love it, he does very tough improv on these tracks - amazing!

Guglielmo Malusardi: Do you consider yourself a music listener?

Alex Ehrsam: Oh yeah, I'm a big, non-stop music listener! I love all kinds really, and I'm currently listening to a lot of dark/goth electro (Gridlock, Project Pitchfork, Wumpscut, VNV Nation), abstract hip-hop (dDamage, Buck 65, Dalek, Odd Nosdam) and indus (Bile, Dismantled). A lot of jazz (Steve Coleman, Brad Mehldau, Miles Davis' electric period, Hiromi Uehara) alternative rock (Sigur Ros, Mogwai, NIN), Nu-jazz (Bugge Wesseltoft, Erik Truffaz, Jazzanova, Cinematic Orchestra) and of course the best punk/metal band, Type-o-Negative.
Not listening to many instrumental guitarists these days, except the last Greg Howe (totally kick-ass record), and some Brett Garsed stuff, like on the last Planet X - that killed me, with the total tortured lead sound of Sherinian, that rocks!

Guglielmo Malusardi: Are you involved in other musical projects?

Alex Ehrsam: No, I have enough on my mind with my music, my students and my regular job, that's enough for me right now. After a few shows with the band, maybe I'll do something different, near the end of 2009, Right now, I gotta keep focused.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Finally, what are your future plans?

Alex Ehrsam: Well, as I said before, just play LIVE LIVE LIVE! It's the ONLY way to be noticed, besides having reviews everywhere, and selling your CD worldwide. The guys I'm playing with are totally cool and great players. We are currently working on the tunes, and I hope we will start shows at the end of 2008 or the beginning of 2009. It will take time because the music is tough, but that will be good. I hope to play in Paris a few times and Germany too, and do a few festivals, like Prog'Sud, or maybe the Guitar Day Festival in Milan.

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A double "I" defines the music on this French guitarist's first album: intriguing and intricate. Born in Paris about 30 years ago, Alex Ehrsam started to play guitar at 15, improving his technical skills over the years until encountering the music that changed his musical trajectory... jazz. With "Djaz_Dtox" he enters the instrumental guitar-oriented world scene, showing listeners a great way to put together different music elements, using complex modes and fusion forms.

Guglielmo Malusardi asked Ehrsam to share his thoughts about his new CD and his future plans.