San Coulson is a virtuoso guitar player from the UK. In the 1990's, Sam caught the excitement of the Grunge movement, and when he heard Nirvana, he decided to start playing the guitar. He spent hours in the woodshed (his room) and became a really talented player. After posting videos of himself performing various songs on YouTube, he began getting many hits and views. One of the people who caught a video was American guitarist Paul Gilbert of the Mr. Big band. Paul invited Sam to be an instructor at one of his "Great Guitar Escape" workshops. This eventually led Sam to join the Progressive Rock giant UK band Asia. Sam appears on Asia's "Gravatis" album and its subsequent tour. Sam has just released a solo CD entitled "Electric Classical". It's a 10 song collection of challenging classical music transformed to electric guitar. I recently inquired about the album with Sam.
R.V.B. - Congratulations on your new CD release "Electric Classical". Did you have these 10 songs picked out right from the start or did you work on one at a time as you started the project.
S.C. - Thanks so much! With Electric Classical I picked one song at a time, learned it and then recorded it. Some of the pieces are old favourites of mine. I've loved classical music well before I started playing it. I really enjoyed learning these pieces, each one is like a mini guitar lesson for me!
R.V.B. - Playing classical music on an electric stratocaster is unorthodox... it's usually done on a classical guitar with nylon strings and a wider fretboard. Did this give you any extra challenges?
S.C. - I think sometimes it's harder to finger certain chords on the strat, the wide fretboard on a classical guitar makes that much easier. However I really prefer the longer sustain of the electric guitar. Also to get the right tone on a classical guitar you need long fingernails on your right hand and that drives me crazy haha!
R.V.B. - What kind of amplification did you use for this project?
S.C. - You know I didn't use a single real amplifier, every single track is using amp modeling from a BOSS GT10. It makes things much easier for recording and I think the tones you can get with modeling these days are totally parallel to the real thing.
R.V.B. - Who were some of the people who helped out with this CD and where was it recorded?
S.C. - I recorded and mixed all of the audio. A friend of mine, Sunil Joshi did the artwork. He is an incredible photographer! Daniel Earnshaw and all the guys at QEDG management turned the project into a reality, they are all really awesome people!
R.V.B. - Which composers are your favorite? Did you choose any songs that weren't meant originally for guitar that may have made it more of a difficult task?
S.C. - I've always loved playing Bach pieces and he pre dates the guitar! Fernando Sor is another keen favourite of mine and he wrote specifically for the guitar. The Bach Prelude that makes up the chordal part of Ave Maria is particularly tricky, in fact I had to change some chords slightly to make it work for me.
R.V.B. - What made you start playing guitar in the first place. Who were some influences where you may of said "I want to do this also?"
S.C. - I started playing when I was around 16, at that time I was really into Nirvana. That was some of the first music I learned how to play. Jimi Hendrix was a huge influence also, I loved his bluesy soloing so much. I remember listening to his cover of Johnny b Goode and thinking how much I would love to be able to do that.
R.V.B. - What kind of training did you have? Can you give a description of some of your teachers and how they may have helped you along?
S.C. -I'm mostly self taught. I did have a guitar teacher for a little while, he showed me some scales and how to play a few songs. The vast majority of my learning happened in my bedroom jamming to CDs and backing tracks. My parents got me a subscription to Guitar Techniques magazine, that was really awesome!
R.V.B. - How did meeting up with Paul Gilbert change things?
S.C. - The first time I met Paul face to face was at the NAMM show in 2010, he is an incredibly kind man and one of my all time favourite players. He invited me to teach alongside him at his 2012 guitar get away in upstate New York. That was an amazing honor. And of course it was Paul who recommended me for the ASIA gig.
R.V.B. - Did you meet Steve Howe when you were asked to join Asia? Did he give you any advise when you joined or were you handling the task as a self prepared guitarist?
S.C. - I actually only just met Steve for the first time this year. we had a quick chat backstage at a Yes show. He was a real Gentleman, I'm very honoured to be playing his world famous licks and riffs!
R.V.B. - Do you have creative input as far as new material with Asia? How did the writing process go on the album "Gravitas"?
S.C. - When we recorded Gravitas I sat in the studio with John and Geoff and they told me what the chord progressions where. Everything was already written. John and Geoff have an amazing way of writing and I think that's a huge part of the ASIA magic. Saying that, when it came to the guitar solos they just let me go, that was awesome! I feel that I get to my stamp on the sound that way.
R.V.B. - How often do you practice? Do you have a daily regimen?
S.C. - I often have a guitar in my hands more hours of the day than I don't. I've been a full time guitar instructor since 2009. It's awesome! I love being a teacher because it helps me progress as a player day to day.
R.V.B. - Have you done any extensive touring yet and to this date what are some of your favorite live performances?
S.C. - I've been doing tours on various levels since 2007. The ASIA shows are always a lot of fun. I think some of my favourites were in Japan. It's an incredible country to tour and they really love rock music over there!
R.V.B. - Are you going to support the new album with any live shows?
S.C. - I'm open to the idea of touring Electric Classical but I don't have anything planned just yet.
R.V.B. - With all the great classical music out there, could you might be considering a follow up album eventually?
S.C. - Yeah! Electric Classical Volume 2 would be great! I also want to do a Rock album next year. Exciting times!
R.V.B. - Do you ever use a Gibson? The promo picture looks as if a pickup is missing in one strat... is that correct?
S.C. - My parents bought me a Les Paul when they saw how serious I was getting about the guitar. I toured it lots in the early days but it's retired in my studio now. I'm a strat player through and through these days, I love everything about them! The guitars in the promo picture each have 3 pickups. the left one has 3 Seymour Duncans and the right one has 2 Fender humbuckers and a single coil in the middle, maybe that's the one that looks like its missing one?
Thanks so much for the interview!
Interview conducted by Robert von Bernewitz
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