Photo by Lori Sky Twohy
Adam Aijala takes the time during Jerry Week, after jamming with Phil Lesh for two nights no less, and graciously talks to us about Northwest String Summit, Terrapin Crossroads and more!
After two nights at Terrapin Crossroads and a festie stop on Sunday night, Yonder Mountain String Band’s six string man gives us some of his time and many of his words. The results were a treat. This is part one of a two-part interview.
Jam Bands Online: How are you this evening?
Adam Aijala: I’m pretty good, I’m pretty tired. We had a late night and an early rise today so I just got home actually.
JBO: I heard your flight was delayed and I know you must be pretty tired so I’ll try not to take too much of your time.
AA: It’s all right. (laughs)
JBO: Tell us about your eleventh year at string summit. What are your plans this year?
AA: Well, for me personally, pretty much (laughs), I’m not doing anything outside of Yonder so my duties as a musician are just to be there every night to play and I’ll be there during the day as well. I am gonna see some old friends who are out there now, so I am really looking forward to that. My wife is coming so I am super psyched….I don’t know, you can’t say enough good things about that place. I love doing that festival, I love our fans. It’s just a great spot. Always good music and just good friends, family and fans. It’s awesome!
JBO: If you don’t mind I would like to ask you a question for my son who is also a guitar player..
AA: Oh nice!
JBO: He would like to know, as would a lot of aspiring guitar players, how did you develop your touch guitar and flat picking style.
AA: I have to say a lot of it is Jerry, you know, Jerry Garcia. I played guitar for many years before I really ever took solos. I started on electric guitar and I felt a lot more comfortable just playing rhythm and the little bit of soloing I did was just like bluesy stuff, tectonic stuff influenced by Led Zeppelin and Jimmy Page and Jimmy Hendrix and that kind of stuff when I was first playing, but Jerry really showed me. He had such a melodic sense, that his playing kind of steered me in a more flat picking realm. I mean…he could flat pick and even though it was an electric thing, mostly I was able to learn some of his stuff.
I never studied anyone specifically. I didn’t really learn other people’s licks for the most part. I will do a Jerry one if we are playing a Dead song because its apropo, you know?
It’s kind of just from playing a lot, and I think it probably developed. I mean, when I listen to the stuff from when the band first started until now it’s evolved a lot too. Because a lot of bands, when they first start a band, are already competent musicians but we all kind of learned onstage, you know? In front of people, but I wouldn’t advise that. (laughs)
But that’s kind of what I did, I mean I didn’t really know a lot about flat picking before I met the guys in the band. I am sure I am influenced by them to a large extent…those guys, Jeff and Dave. I don’t think I sound like them necessary, but maybe some of the way we phrase things and Rhythmic stuff I think definitely we kind of rub off on each other. (laughs)
I don’t know if I answered your question but, I never studied anything specific, so I got my style by just playing a lot.
When I first started trying to play fast…solo fast, I would learn it and play it really light…as light as I could and really try to get that motion. Then when you get more comfortable you can dig in a little bit more, but you still want to be light with your left hand. You don’t really want to push down on the frets too hard because then it’s harder to move fast when you have to expand that extra energy to push down a little bit further. Once you get used to picking a little bit more, you don’t have to push down on the fret to get the sound you are looking for.
JBO: Speaking of Jerry Garcia, you know its Jerry Week, and you just got to play with Phil Lesh at Terrapin Crossroads, PLEASE tell us how that was!
AA: I mean it was so awesome. obviously we are fans of Grateful Dead, and three of the four of us were really into them, Jeff was pretty young into them, I didn’t really get into them until high school, um… coinciding with things like weed, and things like that (laughs). I was into heavy metal and other heavier stuff before that, but….. It was so cool! It’s just cuz…I never get star struck, we have met a lot of people through the years and I have never been like “OH my god, that’s so and so” but a part of me was just like Holy Crap! Think about all those bootlegs that I had and I used to just play the hell out of them and just be like alright! I mean that Eyes of the World from 1974 where Phil does that bass solo right before they start singing, I mean that’s him standing right there! I was definitely geeking out inside but on the outside I was keeping it together. It was so fun!
And you know Ben played with us….there were two bass players on stage the whole time. And it was awesome. Because Ben has a really…he’s very rhythmic and he has a very strong attack. And it’s simplified, for what we do it kind of has to be. When he solos obviously it’s not simple but when he is playing what he is supposed to be doing in any given song, it’s pretty basic. And Phil’s just the opposite of that. I mean he’s all over the place. He is very melodic and he is playing a different register. He has six strings on his electric bass. The two of them played really well together. I mean Phil even said, he was like “man!” He said some really nice things about Ben. Like “That guy is strong, he’s good”. He said (I think), “It’s the most fun I have had with another bass player!” Although he did say “I will admit I don’t do it that often.” But they were having a blast! So it was cool and they were right next to each other. It was definitely cool.
And he was super nice! I mean REALLY cool! And the whole place, I mean, that place Terrapin Crossroads, Great! Everyone who works there was super cool, the food was awesome! The experience was ALL positive. And you know when Phil says “Don’t be a stranger” or “We won’t be able to do Wharf Rat but we’ll do it next time” you know what I mean? (laughs) So we are going to do it again obviously!
JBO: Speaking of Jamming with other people, you and Ben do Mabon every year. How is it different collaborating with Ben Kaufmann (Yonder’s Bass player) now that he has moved to California?
AA: It’s definitely harder. I mean it’s harder for him probably than for me because him having to come out here and rehearse means less hang time with his six month old boy. Mabon has really become something special to us and hopefully a lot of people will come to it and see it. I personally look forward to it every year.
We did a show in March in Aspen, Ben and I did one. That was excellent, it’s totally different. I like the sit down atmosphere. I think it’s cool to mix that up as opposed to the crazy party. You know people get pretty loose at Mabon. Which I don’t begrudge at all, I want people to do what they want to do. But for us, it’s nice to play a bunch of different instruments and let Ben play some other instruments too. And new songs! We have a drop box and Ben just made a folder and we can just drop songs into it, like covers and stuff that we are thinking we might want to play. Because we try to mix it up every year with just a hand full of repeats.
Stay tuned for part two of our interview of Adam Aijala where we talk Sherriff Saga, Song inspiration the Kinfolk Celebration and more!
For more information about Northwest String Summit: http://www.stringsummit.com/
For more information about the Kinfolk Celebration: http://www.bluegrass.com/kinfolk/
For more information about Mabon: http://www.bluegrass.com/wildflower/schedule.html
For more on Terrapin Crossroads: http://www.terrapincrossroads.net/