Interview: Tristan Klein

Dan McAvinchey: Tristan, when did you first get interested in guitar, and how did you learn and progress as a player?

Tristan Klein: My father is a guitar player. He was a session man for some famous singers in the '60s, then he moved and started a guitar school. But he never gave me any lessons. He just let me make my own way. The house was always full of instruments so I started with the drums and the piano when I was 7. Later on, after my parents got divorced, we moved to a house where playing drums was not possible and the old piano just died so I started to play guitar. I was about 12 when i got my first guitar, an acoustic, then my dad bought me an electric guitar and that was the begining of my obsession!

I used to play every day after school. I was so passionate! Two things hepled me a lot: CDs from my dad's collection, everything from Holdsworth to SRV, and changing gear as much as possible. New sounds always inspired me so much. For the rest, I was just sitting with my guitar and playing an enormous solo for hours. I never used tabs or tried to reproduce licks from CDs... to me, freedom is the key.

Dan McAvinchey: Let's get into your latest CD "Universal Mojo", released by
Grooveyard Records. How did you come up with the concept and songs for the CD?

Tristan Klein: The concept of the CD was simple. Joe Romagnola from Grooveyard Records told me to "improvise within deep blues-based grooves to give your musical expression and guitar language a lot of freedom" based around the strength of strong, powerful and inventive riffage. All,or most, of the solos were improvised. Many of them are even one shot and first takes on the majority of my demo tracks.

From there we had to develop songs from the demo ideas. I record a lot of short samples every year, sometimes for my sponsors (PRS, T-rex and more), sometimes to test some new equipment and configurations, and sometimes for my own personal enjoyment. Joe had the idea to check out all those short sample demo clips and find the potential songs inside. They were just grooves with solos in them so, from there, I had to find themes and build structures to transform them into compositions. Some were easy, some were not, but the idea is great because once again, I had a lot of inspirational freedom and we took the time to experiment. That method is totally new to me but it really worked to fully develop the songs for the "Universal Mojo" disc.

Dan McAvinchey: Where was the album recorded? Did you have a piece of gear or two that you found to be essential when you were recording?

Tristan Klein: I had the chance to record in my downtown apartment in my hometown mostly every night last summer. I can do that because I use a revolutionary Di-Box system called VB-101 from Two Notes, a French company. I plugged my Suhr Badger into the device, first the load box holds the energy from the amplifier, then there's an incredible IR section with many different speaker and mic reproductions. If I had to go into the studio to record my guitars the schedule would just not match with the inspiration.

I also play keys and drums so, for the other instruments, I was able to do it all myself with BFD2 and Logic Pro.. it's really fast and BFD sounds fantastic. Most keyboard sounds are with the Logic native plug-ins. I'm just crazy about the EVP 88!

Dan McAvinchey: What are some of your favorite songs off of "Universal Mojo"?

Tristan Klein: I love the duet "Retro Voodoo Funk Express". The groove is so funky and there is a real musical connection with Greg Koch. The first time I heard his takes, I laughed because it was so brilliant and inventive! My other fave is "Shades Of Blue" because it really shows what is deep inside of me and how I want to develop as a player... fewer notes, less gain, more emotion. The title track "Mojo", with Craig Erickson. features some amazing dynamic guitar interplay. All of the tracks on "Universal Mojo" have a lot of meaning to my head and heart on a very personal level. I'm very proud of this disc.

Dan McAvinchey: What in your opinion is essential for a great guitar solo?

Tristan Klein: Heart and energy! Music is a language, it comes from your soul and your body. I'm not hung up on technique or theory; that's why I love Santana as much as Vai! What they play just comes from the heart.

Dan McAvinchey: How did you hook up with Grooveyard Records?

Tristan Klein: Years ago when I self-produced my first EP, "Rebirth", Joe Romagnola at the Grooveyard contacted me. Since that time, they kept an eye on my work and I think they knew that I was ready to make an incredible new disc. Joe contacted me and we started talking about the new CD with a lot of inspiration and passion for me to go in a strong blues-based instrumental guitar rock fusion direction and vibe.

Dan McAvinchey: Do you get the chance to play your instrumental compositions in a live setting?

Tristan Klein: I did a lot of clinics for Music Man, Suhr, Fryette, and today I endorse PRS guitars and T-rex amps. I think I will continue to play in music fairs for these new partners. I also offer some master classes, plus I'll be playing a spotlight instrumental guitar gig in Paris on the 30th of March with Christophe Godin, a fantastic, well-respected guitar player.

Dan McAvinchey: Why do you think certain music fans prefer instrumental music over traditional vocal oriented music?

Tristan Klein: It's just a question of taste. For my part, I love both. I can switch from Michael McDonald to Guthrie Govan, then go back to Tower Of Power, then Robben Ford. Music is universal with no frontiers which is actually the meaning behind the title fo my new disc, "Universal Mojo" aka Language of the Guitar.

I listen to many forms of music: Tuck & Patty, Seal, Take 6, Al Jarreau, Erykah Badu and the list goes on. A wide range of musical tastes and inspirations that I can draw from when creating music on my guitar. Instrumental guitar is a pure musical art form that hopefully non-guitar playing music fans can tune into and enjoy.

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Dan McAvinchey: Are you using any social media sites to promote your CDs?

Tristan Klein: I use Myspace to promote, but I'm more into Facebook. I use it for both promotion and friendship... I just love it. Old friends coming back from past, musicians that you already know but you never had a chance to talk with them, that's really a fantastic tool. Sometimes I post a little song on my wall, just to see how people react. I have an immediate feedback from a worldwide audience.. incredible!

Dan McAvinchey: Give us an idea of what's coming up in the future for you.

Tristan Klein: I'm already working on the next album and I have a few master classes planned. What I'd really love to do is play at the NAMM convention. I hope the "Universal Mojo" disc will give me the opportunity and exposure to reach more people with my music and guitar playing.

Dan McAvinchey: Finally, if you could do an album project with any other guitarist in the world, who would it be?

Tristan Klein: Without a doubt, Steve Lukather. The man is my hero and I've had the chance to communicate with him, however I don't think that I really deserve the honor to play with him yet. I have a lot to learn on the guitar first! On the other hand, I'd kill to play for Marcus Miller! There are so many amazing players that i'd love to jam with. Let's see what the future brings for me on many six-string musical explorations!

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Tristan Klein is a gifted axemaster from France whose exceptional, sophisticated guitar playing is on par with the best guitarists in the world. Klein offers endless style and class fused with impeccable technique and strong, outstanding compositional skills. The man is an intelligent and talented guitarist who has a lot to say on the instrument and one who is on top of the evolutionary scale for guitar players. "Universal Mojo" is the title of his very first release with the New York label Grooveyard Records.

Dan McAvinchey held this cyber conference with Klein to discuss his early development, as well as the work that went into his latest CD.