Ewan Dobson is a gifted acoustic guitarist from Canada. After seeing a few videos of Motley Crue and Judas Priest as a youngster, he decided to pick up the guitar and give it a try. He learned the basics and started tackling songs like "Crazy Train" and other popular metal songs. This continued for around six years, until his uncle introduced him to classical guitar. It was at this time when he buckled down and really started to learn and master the acoustic guitar. Ewan studied with Dr. Alvin Tung from the University of Toronto for around six years. After going to local open mic showcases to start introducing his music, Ewan began to compete in regional classical guitar competitions. When listening to some Leo Kottke music, Ewan got the idea to try using fingerpicks on a steel string acoustic. It didn't take long for him to master this technique, and he would enter more acoustic guitar competitions. Ewan wound up winning The Canadian Fingerstyle Competition and secured a record deal with CandyRat Records, which specializes in instrumental guitar music. With all this experience, Ewan began to tour the world showcasing his talented playing, and also began receiving endorsements from many guitar companies. Now that Ewan has produced numerous CD's, he continues to tour and prosper. Look for him to be a playing a city near you on his current 2015 tour.
R.V.B. - This is Rob von Bernewitz from Long Island New York, how are you today?
E.D. - I'm doing great.
R.V.B. - Are you in Canada?
E.D. - Yes
R.V.B. - Well it kind of feels like Canada here.
E.D. - Didn't you guys just have a snow storm?
R.V.B. - Yeah, we had one or two this year but it's about nine degrees out right now.
E.D. - Oh, that's not so bad.
R.V.B. - That's warm to you right? (Haha)
E.D. - It was -20 here today.
R.V.B. - Ouch... are you closer to the New York side of Canada?
E.D. - I'm two hours from Buffalo... on the other side of Lake Ontario is Rochester.
R.V.B. - So what is it, Montreal Canadians or Toronto Maple Leafs?
E.D. - Toronto Maple Leafs.
R.V.B. - (Hahaha) They were on the Island last night.
E.D. - Oh that's right, they did play there.
R.V.B. - So congratulations on your career up to this point. Your guitar is starting to take you all over the world.
E.D. - I seems to be. I traveled to places I never thought I would go and play... China, Japan, and places in Europe. I really enjoy that part of it... traveling and playing.
R.V.B. - Do you get to take in any sights when you are traveling?
E.D. - A little bit. There was a bit of sightseeing in terms of when we're driving in and out of different cities. I get to see the skyline, the entry going into the city, and then the downtown core. As for museums, I'm not really into that sort of thing. I just go in and play. I did some sightseeing in China... I saw the Great Wall and a few tombs.
E.W. - No, that was a mixture of some solo shows and demonstrating a product. There's a brand of guitars in China called Nightwish, and when I play in China, I demonstrate their guitars. They're a Chinese made guitar, so the deal is when I play in China, I play those guitars. There's something called the Shanghai Music Expo, which is sort of like NAMM of China.
R.V.B. - Oh, ok.
E.D. - There's a booth for Nightwish Guitars and I will demonstrate their guitars, either there or on the main stage. As for the rest of the performances, they would be at live houses or soft seat theaters, where it would just be me playing.
R.V.B. - I see, so you toured Europe last year also?
E.D. - Yeah, I played 38 shows in 42 days.
R.V.B. - That's a pretty rigorous schedule.
E.D. - Yeah, it was hard at first, but once I got into it... there's something about once you get into the zone... you just get up and maybe do a little bit of exercise, shower, pack your stuff up, travel, do a show, sell some CDs, Talk to some people, and sleep. Once you get into doing that every day, the days start whipping by very quickly. It's kind of a nice schedule to be in, and before you know it the tour is done.
E.D. - Not too far east. I think the furthest east I went was Nitra Slovakia and then I went over to Budapest.
R.V.B. - The people are real appreciative of musicians from North America.
E.D. - It's more of a respectable job over there in Europe. In North America, it's harder to get respect as a musician with that being worthwhile career. I think it's a cultural thing with the music that I play over there... I do have a fairly good body of supporters, especially in Germany and Poland. It's a nice place to tour.
R.V.B. - Was your family also musical?
E.D. - A bit yes, my granddad played guitar. He was more of a country picker and then my uncle played classical guitar. So there is some on my mom's side of the family.
R.V.B. - Was there a guitar laying around the house when you were growing up? Is that how you got started?
E.D. - Yeah, there was one lying around the house that I think was a gift to my mom from her dad. It was laying around and I would play it, but one of the things that got me into it was seeing some Motley Crue videos on television when I was younger. Also it was seeing the end of Back to the Future part one, where he plays guitar in front of a school. I saw that and a couple of Judas Priest and Motley Crue videos and that got me interested in wanting to play.
R.V.B. - Did your parents like that kind of music?
E.D. - I heard it on my own... they certainly didn't introduce me to it. They were more into The Beatles, Roy Orbison and the Moody Blues.
R.V.B. - I can't fault them for that... it's good stuff (Hahaha)
R.V.B. - So what did you tackle first when you picked up the guitar?
E.D. - The first thing I did was take a couple basic lessons... "Here's the notes, here's how to pick, here's a couple of chords." I remember the first song that I learned was "Crazy Train" by Ozzy Osbourne.
R.V.B. - Great song. Was that on an electric guitar?
E.D. - I did start on an acoustic, but that was to build up some initial strength. About a year so into it, I got my first electric guitar.
R.V.B. - What kind of guitar was that?
E.D. - That was a B.C. Rich Warlock.
R.V.B. - Did it play nice?
E.D. - Frankly I didn't care about that, I just liked the shape of the body. (Hahaha) At the time when I saw it in the store I thought "That's the coolest thing I've ever seen".
R.V.B. - What color was it?
E.D. - It was a snake skin pattern of like a greenish/yellow.
R.V.B. - Do you still own it?
E.D. - No, I haven't had it in a long time.
R.V.B. - Do you still occasionally still pick up an electric guitar?
E.D. - From time to time... not as much. I do have one that I have for just messing around on but no so much because when it comes to playing steel string guitar, the amount of strength and effort you have to put into it to produce a sound on an acoustic... if you put it down and pick up an electric, you'll find that you overplay it. So if I pick up an electric guitar after having played acoustic guitar for a long time, what ends up happening is, I have to totally lighten up my touch and it takes a while to adjust. Otherwise I'm putting way to much power into the picking.
R.V.B. - Right, I could understand that. So you started playing metal at first and then you switched to classical for a while. Did you have a nylon string guitar or did you do that on a steel string also?
E.D. - No that was nylon. I was playing the electric for about five or six years and then I got introduced into classical guitar through my uncle. There was that movie Crossroads that features Ralph Macchio and Steve Vai, and that got me into checking out some classical music. I started doing both electric guitar and classical for a while... I kept them both up.
R.V.B. - Did you have a good classical teacher up in Canada?
E.D. - Yeah, I had a really good teacher. He taught at the University of Toronto, and I think he still does. That was for about six or seven years, that I took private lessons there.
E.D. - There was a little bit there because I was trying to use fingerpicks, which I was introduced to. The sound of Leo Kottke turned me on to using these steel fingerpicks on a steel string. Using those did require a bit of work to transition from using fingernails to fingerpicks. Once I did that, I was good to go.
R.V.B. - How many fingerpicks do you use?
E.D. - The first second and third fingers of the right hand, I use fingerpicks. I have this little container that I bring around that has three fingerpicks and one thumbpick in it. That's my gear for the right hand for fingerpicking.
R.V.B. - Right, now your practice regiment... how often do you practice? Does it vary if you're doing a show or do you stick to a routine?
E.D. - When I can, I stick to a routine. It comes and goes depending on, like if I'm getting ready to tour, then I'll might have to take care of some business stuff or some travel planning. Then for a week or two I may only be doing an hour of two a day. But if I'm getting towards studio mode, which let's just say after a tour, then I'm practicing all the time... which is like five or six hours a day. I practice more leading up to the recording of an album or leaving to go on tour. Once I'm on tour, during the day there's a lot of traveling, you got to do laundry, you got to stay on top of things.
R.V.B. - Is it like autopilot when you're playing one night to the next?
E.D. - When you're on tour, it's pretty much autopilot and I practice less... maybe like an hour at the most and the stage is my practice. It's pretty much the same show with a couple of different songs here and there, but once I get into that zone, it takes care of itself.
R.V.B. - I understand that you entered a lot of festival contests. Was that enjoyable and also a little nerve wracking?
E.D. - There were two types of contests I did that were competitions. When I was younger in my late teens - early twenty's, I did some classical guitar competitions. Then in 09, I did three: The Canadian Fingerstyle Guitar Competition, The International FingerStyle Guitar Competition and the Montreal Guitar Grand Prix. I would say that competitions are good for training yourself to be ready at a certain time. The idea of a competition is basically "You got to play at this time, and you got to play your best". There's no getting out of it. It's kind of like having a deadline to meet. It's training yourself to meet deadlines. In some cases it was nerve wracking, but I think that actually helps because as a touring musician, you're going to be put in the same circumstances, where at perhaps at that moment when it's time to play, you may not be feeling your best. It doesn't matter you have to do it anyway. So that's a good skill to have... being able to play even when conditions aren't ideal.
R.V.B. - Yeah, I gather when you show up to one of these things, you don't know what time you're going to play. I presume you learn on the spot.
E.D. - Yes, it was actually good for me to go through that, because conditions aren't going to be always ideal in terms of comfort.
R.V.B. - Well you obviously did real good because you won a couple of them.
E.D. - Yeah, and part of the reason that happened was because I did it when I was younger. I was use to that "whether you like it or not, it's time to play" and I got some of that into my system... some of that tension.
R.V.B. - So when you finished with these competitions, I gather you said "ok, I'm gonna make a go for this".
E.D. - I first started off going out to open mics, and treating it as training to play in front of people... play my own original music in front of people. After about two years of doing that... that was in 07, and in 09 there was the first competition. That was the year I won the Canadian Fingerstyle Guitar Competition and got the deal to do an album with CandyRat records. That helped get me out there. Those Fingerstyle Guitar Competitions helped get me established to a certain extent, because it got an album out on a record label that specializes in instrumental guitar.
R.V.B. - How long of a process was it to record that album?
E.D. - The first album was actually a two day recording. It was part of the prize for winning the competition. I went out to Trois-Revieres - Quebec and Antoine Dufour was there. He's also a guitarist on CandyRat Records. He's one of the recording engineers on that album. So he kind of walked me through "Here's how the studio thing works". He had been through the whole process before. I went in and just recorded it in two days. There's a certain high energy sound to that first album. It probably has something to do with the fact that I was really tired and I remember just drinking a whole bunch of Red Bulls. There was limited time and there was a lot of music and I had to get it done in two days.
R.V.B. - Right, when you do your writing, do you do it at your house?
E.D. - Yes, Normally I do it at night time. It's usually like three or four in the morning. When I start writing music, it comes in waves... waves of inspiration. It's usually after my schedule flips upside down, and I start sleeping all day and staying up all night. I get most of my music that comes to me between three and five in the morning.
R.V.B. - Do you sometimes put music to a word, or do you add the title after you come up with the music?
E.D. - I usually do the title to it after, or the word that describes it best might come to me while I'm playing it. Although sometimes it can be a challenge to have a sound or a piece of music and figure out what best describes it, or what title best suits it?
E.D. - Well I got a couple of those lying around.
R.V.B. - I'm, saying that jokingly.
E.D. - (Hahaha) I have the original one that I used in the Time 2 video. I wrote inside of it - a little sign, so I know that's the one that I used in the video, so I don't leave it amongst the other ones.
R.V.B. - Is that a Japanese style hat?
E.D. - Originally people were saying it was a Chinese hat but it turned out to be a Vietnamese hat.
R.V.B. - I see. You have a couple of Asian outfits.
E.D. - That was just a series of costumes that I was wearing for the first three albums. I did use a variety of costumes, just for fun. I wasn't exactly sitting down with a marketing agent "Alright, what audience are we going to target here?" I was just having fun.
R.V.B. - It's a good idea and it looked like you were having fun. I know there's a lot of effort of being alone and practicing. Did you ever feel that you missed out on anything by taking on the guitar?
E.D. - Perhaps there was a time when I did, when I saw where everyone else ended up. I mean some of my friends and when I look at some of the situations that some of the other people were in. I was happy with the decision in the end. Although there were times in the beginning where perhaps I would feel a bit lonely, where maybe I should have gone down the family path and just kind of chilled out a bit.
R.V.B. - Once you got music in you, it's hard to get it out. You'll be doing it for your lifetime. Were you surprised on the popularity of Time 2?
E.D. - Not necessarily, Time 2 was just a fun thing that I did, where I took an idea that electric guitarist's had used with a delay pedal... to play things in eighth notes so the delay pedal would echo in between, so it sounds like a bunch of sixteenth notes going on. that technique had already existed but I'm doing acoustic guitar with a thumb that could play the bass and some fingers that could also play melodies. "Maybe I could use the delay pedal and have a bass and melody thing going on." It was like "Oh, cool it works." I did this little short piece, which is like three minutes or so. I didn't put it on the album thinking it would be anything more that "Well that's a cool idea. It's a delay pedal, right on." That's the one that people appreciated the most. It reminded them of trance and dance music and it was also an acoustic guitar that was making the sound.
R.V.B. - Now I know you've done some albums called "Acoustic Metal". Now the general theory about heavy metal is that it's not acoustic. Are you getting the point across on these tours that it can be considered heavy metal?
E.D. - I believe so. I haven't met anyone that says otherwise that's seen it live. Some people just think that it can't be arbitrarily, but one of the things that I did illustrate was... I've spoken with a couple of different sound engineers, who are also guitar players, about the ideas of acoustic metal and I showed them that some of the intervals and chord shapes that I choose which are a mixture of playing a power chord and a bass and maybe some melody on top. The issue is that if I were to add distortion to some of the riffs that I write, it would muddy up the sound and you wouldn't hear the division of the bass and the melody and it would kind of melt it together. That's the problem with distortion... I would have to simplify a lot of the riffs that I would write, in order to make it clear, if I used distortion. With the acoustic guitar, I can actually write certain riffs that I couldn't otherwise have them sound good if they are played with distortion.
E.D. - Yes that does come up in Acoustic Metal 2. I just kind of went with it because when you tune a guitar a bit lower, you run into issues where if you want the action to be close... if you want the tuning to be low, you have to have kind of a middle of the road place in between buzz and action. I've just accepted that there's this middle of the road place where, if I use a pick to do a riff and dig into it, it does have a bit of a buzz but it makes it kind of sound dirty in a way. Especially if it's like a low A on a seven string.
R.V.B. - Yeah, it works very well into it... it appears intentional. It adds a little heavy metal dimension to it, in my opinion.
E.D. - On the last record, I tuned this one particular guitar down to an A for one song... I tuned the E down to an A. For some reason the sloppiness of the looseness of the string makes the buzz, and the type of sharp pick I was using had this really heavy sound to it, and it really came across nice on the album.
R.V.B. - Do you self produce your own videos?
E.D. - All of them, except for the ones that appear on the CandyRat Records channel. I would go to their studio and record them, but there were a couple that I did from home that they released. Basically the last three albums, I've recorded at home.
R.V.B. - What gear are you going to bring with you on your North American tour that's coming up?
E.D. - I'm going to be bringing more guitars this time, because I'm not going to be flying. This is going to be one where I will be doing a lot of ground travel. I won't have to worry about paying $400 to ship four guitars underneath a plane. I'm gonna bring a six string Stonebridge for some acoustic metal, a seven string Ibanez for a couple of acoustic metal pieces. I have a new guitar on the way here... it will be here any day now, by a company called Emerald Guitars. It's a guitar made of carbon fiber. The good thing about that material is that it doesn't expand or contract according to the moisture conditions of the environment. I'll be able to travel to different parts of the world without having to bring the guitar in to get set up or worry about the warping of wood. That one and a 12 string Stonebridge guitar.
R.V.B. - When does your tour start?
E.B. - A week from today is the first show, and that's going to be in Buffalo.
R.V.B. - Buy the time you make it to the New York area it won't feel like Canada anymore outside. (Hahaha) I'll get down to the Iridium to see you.
E.D. - That will be nice. I'm passing through Texas and I know that it will be warm there in April, that's for sure.
R.V.B. - Good luck on your tour. You're a very talented player and keep up the good music.
E.D. - Ok, I'll see you in May.
Interview conducted by Robert von Bernewitz
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For more information on Ewan Dobson visit his website http://ewandobson.com/
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