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Q&A: Andy James

The guitarist from British melodic metal band Sacred Mother Tongue talks about jamming with Indian guitarists and how his band may tour India soon

Anurag Tagat Jun 03, 2013
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Sacred Mother Tongue Photo: Paul Harries

From left to right: Andy James, Lee Newell, Josh Gurner and Darrin South of Sacred Mother Tongue Photo: Paul Harries

Last week, on his first visit to India, guitarist Andy James conducted a four-city touring guitar workshop, stopping by Kolkata, Mumbai [as part of pro music equipment and gear trade fair, PALM Expo], Bengaluru and New Delhi. James jammed with the likes of guitarists Baiju Dharmajan, Bryden Lewis [from the Raghu Dixit Project and Bengaluru prog rock band Slain], Sanju Aguiar [from thrash/death metallers Devoid] and Nishith Hegde from heavy metallers Albatross and death metal band Reptilian Death. Of Hegde, James says, “The guy is just so scary good, it’s unbelievable. I was kinda scared to jam with him.” The guitarist, who writes instrumental songs as a solo artist and also plays with British melodic metal band Sacred Mother Tongue, added that his band wants to tour India in the near future. The Indian tour, if it materializes, is likely to feature a new bassist with Josh Gurner recently quitting the band to play with djent rappers, Hacktivist.

What was it like jamming with Indian guitarists such as Baiju Dharmajan [former Motherjane guitarist], Sanju Aguiar, Nishith Hegde and Bryden Lewis? 

To be honest, I’ve never heard much Indian metal or guitar players. I’m blown away by the talent India has to offer. Especially Nishith, who’s only, what? Eighteen years old and playing for three years? The guy is just so scary good, it’s unbelievable. I was kinda scared to jam with him, to be honest. But yeah, all the jams have been really good.

Have you done this sort of thing before? Do a workshop and jam with other guitarists?

No, I’ve not jammed with other artists. I’ve had a backing track and usually get people from the audience to jam with me over like a blues backing track or something. There’s usually a lot of audience participation going on, but that’s mostly what I’ve done in schools and colleges.

I’ve done the NAMM [National Association of Music Merchants, Los Angeles] shows, been all over China to do workshops and now I’m in India. This whole year’s been pretty crazy so far. 

Do you think that has something to do with Sacred Mother Tongue really breaking out this year, with the new album [Out of the Darkness] and everything? 

Yeah, partly to do with that. I’ve been doing my solo instrumental stuff in tandem with all the writing I’ve been doing with Sacred Mother Tongue. But yeah, things with Sacred are really taking off now. We’ve got main stage at the Download Festival in the UK coming up in a couple of weeks, and we had the album come out in April in the UK and America. After Download, we’re going on tour with [American heavy metal band] Hellyeah. We’ve got loads coming up. I’ve already started writing for [Sacred Mother Tongue’s] album number three [laughs]. I’ve just a bit of inspiration since I’ve been in India. I’m just writing some riffs, it’s just been good for that.

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How does your solo work compare to Sacred Mother Tongue?

Well, a lot of the instrumental stuff I do is largely on my own with backing tracks. It’s a different vibe playing  live with a band [compared to] playing riffs and songs. It’s a different mindset as well. Playing all the instrumental stuff is quite challenging, because you got so many notes to play. In a band, you get a bit of reprieve from playing solos all the time and you play riffs, kinda rock out a bit. Sometimes, I prefer that [band] over doing the instrumental stuff, but they’re both enjoyable for different reasons.

Did you come across any Sacred Mother Tongue fans in India?

Yeah, there seem to be quite a lot of people who asked me, ‘Yeah now that you’ve come over to India, any chance you and the guys in the band will come over and do a tour?’ There’s definitely a demand for us to come over to India and do a tour. We just have to work out the logistics and get an agent and make it the best show we can make it. I dare say we’ll probably come over and do some shows for you guys.

What did you manage to hear in your time here?

I’ve heard Reptilian Death’s stuff that Sahil [Makhija]’s played for me. I’m thinking of checking out more, but they’re all on CD, so I won’t get to check it out until I go home. But I’m looking forward to spinning that stuff.

I also heard from Sahil that you were a bit unwell earlier in the week.

Oh, I just probably ate something I shouldn’t have [laughs]. It wasn’t all that spicy, but I think it was the kind of spice it was. I don’t know. So yeah, for the first PALM show I was a bit under the weather. I still played and stuff, but it kinda got cut short, cause I felt like I was going to fall over and die [laughs]. But then I went to bed, took some meds, and the last show at PALM was awesome.

It wasn’t any of Sahil’s cooking that got you ill, was it?

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No, it wasn’t his cooking. It was in a five-star hotel, believe it or not. I don’t think there was anything wrong with it. It’s just that it didn’t agree with me.

How did the guitar workshops go? You stopped by four cities, is that right?

Yeah we did. Started off in Kolkata, Bengaluru and then Delhi; Mumbai was the last place, where we did two shows, for the PALM Expo.  I’ve never really been to India. Obviously, there’s the privilege of getting to tour and see different places, so it’s always good to go somewhere new.

The reason I’m here though, is just to promote Laney and ESP. The Lionheart amps are quite popular over here in India. I guess they [Laney] wanted an artist presence to show off the amps.

Guitar lessons and classes are now online for free, but on the other hand, people are flying you down to talk about guitar techniques and skills. Of course, part of the deal is the endorsement, but what do you think is the future of guitar lessons?

Well, a lot of my clinics end up being endorsements for products that I use. The questions are normally guitar tutorial-based  – about speed or how I approach certain techniques. I do a lot of teaching for [guitar instruction website] Lick Library, and my own technique lessons for Guitar Interactive Magazine. But you know, a lot of it goes free and also paid-for. A lot of parts of the world, it’s impossible to pay for [lessons]. YouTube, in that regard, is quite good for people less fortunate but actually still learn to play.

It makes a real difference having that stuff. When I was a kid, I didn’t have the internet. It hadn’t been invented when I was a teenager, so we had books and the odd video at best. The rest was up to our ears and listening to what was going on [in a song] and trying to interpret what was happening. And later finding out through videos and tabs that it was all wrong! [laughs] That’s how I learnt, anyway. I do stuff for Jamtrackcentral  as well. Pretty much all that stuff online is to inspire and teach people how to play directly or indirectly. Hopefully people play and get better.

What kind of questions and queries did you get while conducting workshops over here?

There are the common questions of how do I play faster and how do I play this and that sort of thing. Mainly stuff about guitar and how do you go about writing songs, creating melodies and stuff – all these questions that are virtually impossible to answer, basically [laughs]. I’ve tried my best, anyway. 

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