Thomas Blug - A Profile
(23 Feb 06)
Eric Vandenberg: Thomas, what are you currently up to ? Are you working on a new solo-CD, and what other projects are you currently involved in ?
Thomas Blug: At the moment I´m quite busy doing clinics worldwide. In the last 2 months I was in Portugal (playing with a Top 40 band), in Prague, Vienna, Birmingham, Moskow and Shanghai... Next week I will do some clinics in Japan. But I´m constantly writing new songs... Some are instrumental, others might end up with vocals. Therefore I´m also checking singers, since my own vocals sucks! ;-)
I will also mix a live album of recordings that i have done with my german singing 3 piece Rocktrio "Dreist". After our first Studio CD I felt that this band needs a live CD to capture the spirit that only happens on stage... It´s quite an intensive energy we share in that band! And it features also some aspects that i can´t express in my work with my instrumental band.
I am also about to plan the next tour for my instrumental band for April/May. I already have the cover-idea for my next Cd with that band very clearly in my head plus a couple of songs for the next album...
Man, i need more time to do all that – but i have to tell myself: slow, bit by bit! take your time...!
EV: Your most recent release was the "Guitar From The Heart" live album. Can you tell us a bit how this came together, and how it was recorded ?
TB: This record was a dream that I had for a long time. Finally I put together all my best friends (and I think the finest musicians) with whom I've worked with a lot over the years. This is my band now! And I love the guys...!
The good thing about the band is: it always feels like yesterday once we start playing, even if we have not played for a couple of months! We share the same spirit. And this makes every band member secure and happy.
EV: I am interested to hear how the Thomas Blug Band works. I know that the musicians in the band are some extremely busy guys, so I am wondering how you guys prepare for shows and recordings. Do you send them recordings for them to prepare etc.
TB: The band gets a CD with a selection of songs. We also speak about what would be a great set, or I come up with new ideas that I want to try out. I always put ideas on CD, even if it is not perfectly arranged. But in that way we have already some clear idea of the directions in which we can go.
Before a tour, we take about 2 days of rehearsal to test ideas, new songs or new arrangements. But there´s always a lot of freedom for every player. So we sometimes go wild on rehearsals, but we always find a way to stay within the concept. We also played gigs with no rehearsal – and it was great! The band is just sooo goood!
EV: Is the band involved in the song-writing process, or do you write the songs all by yourself and then tell them what to play ? How much input does the band have on how a song turns out to be ?
TB: By now, most of the songs are written by myself. I know the band is quite happy with that. I wrote a couple of songs with Raoul ( Walton ), the bass player. Maybe I will spend some time with Thijs since he played me some ideas that he thought would be great for me. I also feel that Thijs has some ingredients that would make my music different. I will check this out for the next album... And maybe we will use a different writing and recording process. But I always have a clear overall picture, not with all details, but a big picture before I do an album. Only if that spirit is there I start to record an album. Sometimes it takes some time, sometimes even years... You have to know when the time is up to go for the next CD.
EV: Congrats again on winning the "Stratplayer Of The Year 2004" award ! How did that come together ? Was that like a contest, or did you not even know you were considered, and just got a letter saying "Congrats, you´ve won" ?
And how did it make you feel ?
TB: In 2004 Fender announced this competition in music magazines in Europe. At first, I thought "What do I have to do with that ?". But I told a friend of mine about it. He insisted that I have to take part. O.K... So I sent in a song as everybody was asked to do – and 2 weeks later I got a phone call from Fender Europe, telling me that they wanted to invite me over to Arundel/England to take part in the finals for the competition of the 50th birthday of the Stratocaster.
So they sent me a ticket – and when I arrived at the hotel I met all finalists: Pontus Borg from Sweden, Miki Birta from Hungary, Olivier Wursten-Olmos from France, Paul Rose from England and Marcus Deml, the only guy I knew before, from Germany. We had dinner together and a lot to talk about...
The next day we were taken to Arundel Castle festival. Paul Carrack and his band were playing and then we were on. Every guitarist had 5 minutes to play a song in front of the audience and a jury of I think 11 people.... So, what can I say, I gave my best, the English rain stopped (I was told this afterwards) and the audience and the jury liked it!
Playing a Strat since I picked up the electric guitar, this award makes me a bit proud after all these years... ;-)
EV: You´re working as a sound designer for Hughes & Kettner. Could you elaborate on what is involved in that ? What do you work on, and how do you do that ?
TB:Before I played the guitar, electronics were my first hobby. I have a bit of experience, but I´m not a great technician. I understand the logic and magic behind the amps.
In collaboration with Bernd Schneider, the senior R&D technician of H&K, I designed and voiced almost every Hughes & Kettner amp. We talk about a concept first; what we expect, what kind of controls we want.
Sometimes the marketing or sales department inquire for a certain product in a specific price range. Then Bernd and myself discuss how we could realize it. Bernd creates a loose design and shows me his first results. I make my comments and then we go into every detail... Like how do the tubes overdrive, changing EQ behavior, testing different transformers, speakers, tubes and so on. It is like cooking: first a mix of raw potatoes and carrots, then we add some spices and then we put it in the oven with extra cheese tweaking it until it tastes/sounds great!
EV: I know you´re playing a lot of workshops right now. I have seen a couple of your past workshops, i.e. at the Musikmesse. What can a guitar-freak expect when he attends a Thomas Blug workshop... do you play a lot of songs, or give away a lot of exercises, or...
TB: First I like to play to inspire the listener! I enjoy playing! In between songs, I make comments about what I play. When people ask, I show them how I do specific things. Like what scale I use, and why, rhythmic stuff, phrasing or whatever makes it special. And of course the sound, and how to get it. To me sound is a source of inspiration! It is not only the amp – it is also the way you use the amp in combination with your guitar, and not to forget: your fingers! Well, I like to demonstrate all of this...
EV: What are some of the most common questions you get at those workshops ? And are there certain problems that you see among the young players who attend, like a common problem that you notice about all of them ?
TB: A typical question from younger players is : "How did you manage to get that fast?" But i am not even that fast! I know so many players that play even faster or more complicated.
But I can show them a couple of exercises that they can use to develop speed. Others notice how much attention I pay to developing the right tone. Then I show them how I use the pick and my fingers and the volume control. I always make my comments about the things they forget about: Intonation and phrasing. I make them aware of things , so they will listen to themselves and other guitar-players in a different way.
EV: You´re selling your albums as downloadable MP3s on your website (Guitarplayer.de). How did you get into that, and do you think it´s a good idea for independent musicians to set up a store like that ?
TB: To be honest, i get more money from selling CDs. But i can tell that downloads are getting more and more. When I set up my website I thought of how someone can get my music as simply and conveniently as possible. So i contacted several platforms.
Since I have worked for major companies in the past, I know how they work. Their system is not designed to deal with smaller numbers. For my kind of music it makes more sense to go direct. It is more work for me, but it works! And the platform is there: internet plus live playing.
EV: I remember an old interview with you that I read, where you said that you played at some trade-show, and while the other presenters there were shredding like crazy, you relaxed and played some Gilmour-type stuff, melodic things. How is it today at trade-shows. Is it still the same ?
TB: Today I see more different styles: Rock, Shredding, Blues, country... And more and more guys play (white) vintage Strats.... ;-)
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