Primitive acoustic guitar maestro and Thrill Jockey recording artist Glenn Jones will visit the
Button Factory Stage at 909 Islington Street on Saturday, September 15th – hot off the heels of
his performance at the station last Fall, and, even more importantly, in support of his brand-
new album, “The Giant Who Ate Himself and Other New Works for 6 & 12 String Guitar.” The
following is a conversation between Mr. Jones and WSCA’s own, Christopher Hislop. We’re
beyond ecstatic to welcome Glenn back to our stage!
WSCA: Let’s talk about your latest release, “The Giant Who Ate Himself and Other New Works
for 6 & 12 String Guitar.” What were your goals for this effort? What excites you about its
Jones: My only goals are to record solid-ish versions of new songs and to frame them in such a
way that they feel like they’re ostensibly of-a-piece and belong on the same album. The process of doing that is always exciting to me, because, though I know what material I’ll be laying down before I start, I have no idea what shape the album will take ultimately. The title, the sequence, the segues, the cover, the notes — that’s all stuff I discover after I’ve recorded everything, and there are always surprises.
WSCA: Have you learned any new tricks over your years of making records that inform the way
you approach the studio these days?
Jones: No new tricks, but at this point, I know what works for me: I don’t record in a studio; I
work with people who I like, who understand me and are willing to humor me.
So a shout out to my partners: Laura Baird chooses the location for the recording of the album,
engineers it, and provides advice and feedback along the way; Matthew Azevedo mixes and
masters and isn’t shy about giving me advice too, and Josh Pfeffer does the layout and design of
WSCA: What led you to the guitar initially? What are your earliest memories of developing your
“voice?” Was it difficult or did you find it fairly effortlessly?
Jones: I begged my dad to buy me a guitar after hearing Jimi Hendrix’s Axis: Bold as Love, which
had just been issued. I was 14. The guitar was a new Harmony; it cost 48 dollars and came in a
cardboard case. Nothing about learning to play was effortless for me, then or now. These days I can just about find what I hear in my head, but it’s not easy and I toss out two or three pieces for each one I
keep. The hardest part is finding one’s voice, which took me years and years – I was in my 30s before
I felt like I’d written something that was mine and no one else’s. And then having found my voice, the challenge became finding ways of breaking out of what I know so I’m not repeating the same ideas or going over the same terrain.
WSCA: In general, why music? Why do you seek it? Why do you create it?
Jones: I play because I have to. I play every day. I’d play even if no one listened or cared. Maybe
it’s a form of biofeedback or something, but my music is how I relate to myself.
So much of life is us at our worst. I feel that music — and all art — is us at our best.
WSCA: You’ve been at it for the better part of five-decades now. What keeps it interesting for
you? What fuels creative inspiration?
Jones: Ye gads, has it really been that long?! (It has!) What keeps music interesting is the same
thing that keeps life interesting, its unpredictability, its challenges, its beauty, its surprises.
WSCA: What did John Fahey do for you on a personal and professional level? How did his
artistry inform your own approach to music?
Jones: John Fahey’s music, which I discovered when I was 17 or 18, was the first I’d heard that
didn’t depend on the song form or on lyrics or on a band or on a lot of expensive equipment or
on training. One person with a modestly priced and readily available instrument could, if they had the will
and imagination, spin tales, evoke emotions, take you somewhere. John was the trailblazer. I was incredibly fortunate to get to know the man. We’ were friends for about 25 years. Jack Rose is the other person without whom I wouldn’t be doing this. He brought me with him on what was my first solo guitar tour, of the US, the UK, Europe and Canada. His love and complete dedication to the so-called “American Primitive,” or “Guitar Soli,” style inspired me.
WSCA: What’s the state of contemporary primitive style guitar? There seems to be a
resurgence of sorts with young players such as Daniel Bachman, Micah Blue Smaldone, Marissa
Anderson and others…
Jones: Earlier this year I co-curated the “Thousand Incarnations of the Rose Festival,” a three-
day celebration of American Primitive, held in John Fahey’s hometown of Takoma Park,
Maryland. We brought in guitarists and banjo players from all over the country, and a couple from
overseas. The festival was built on the back of a double LP that I produced and wrote a 5000-
word essay for (also called The Thousand Incarnations of the Rose), which gathered together
some of the first-generation players in this style — Pater Walker, Peter Lang. Max Ochs, George
Stavis, and Harry Taussig. Every one of them also played the festival, along with some 20 younger players, such as Daniel Bachman, Nathan Bowles, Joseph Allred, Rob Noyes, Marisa Anderson and others. That’s a lot of players, and all mainly playing the same instrument, yet the festival never felt boring or repetitive, as virtually everyone has their own approach, their own voice, their own journey from wherever they started out to wherever they are today. The “movement,” if it can be described that way, is very healthy!
WSCA: A lot of the artwork on your records has a consistent familiarity to it. It’s fun, inviting,
and imaginative. How does that aspect come together?
Jones: Well, you gotta put something on the cover! I happened to pick century-old postcards of
anthropomorphized animals and insects and plants playing guitars and banjos.
WSCA: What’s the making of a great show? What do you hope for when you set foot onto a
stage? Is it weird propping yourself up there in front of a roomful of strangers and just “going
for it,” or do you find comfort in soundtracking an evening? Maybe there’s a bit of both
sentiments packed in there…
Jones: The success or failure of show has more to do with the overall vibe than anything else.
There’s always the possibility that I’ll play like a bum (and I have!) but, generally, if the folks I’m
playing for are receptive to feeling something, or are willing to travel some ways with me, if I’m
not worried about the sound or technical issues, I can usually lose myself in what I’m doing and
kind of disappear. I don’t play by rote and I don’t play anything I don’t care about. If I’ve gotten as much as I can get out of something, and eventually that will happen, I retire it. I find that if a show is good for me, more often than not, it’s good for listeners.
WSCA: You’re headed back to the Button Factory Stage here in Portsmouth. What can folks
expect this time around? What do you appreciate about the prospect of a true “listening
Jones: I don’t want to jinx anything, but my experience there last time was super-positive and
I’m looking forward to coming back. (Thanks for inviting me!) The fact that I’m sharing the evening with Allysen Callery is the icing on the cake. She’s a terrific singer / songwriter, a fine guitarist in her own right, and someone I’ve been sharing stages with for nearly 10 years. I always enjoy hearing her perform.
WSCA: Does the exploration of the acoustic guitar haunt you or heel you? Perhaps both?
Jones: I’m not sure my own music haunts me – I’m maybe too much inside it for that to
happen. But certainly the work of Fahey, Rose, Basho and so many others haunts me,
WSCA: Why would a giant eat himself and should we intervene and offer a bowl of pasta instead?
Jones: John Fahey is the “giant” in question. Certainly he’d never have turned down a bowl (or
five) of pasta. But the title alludes to the fact that there was something kind of self-consuming about John. I think of John when I think of that Dorothy Parker poem:
“My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends —
It gives a lovely light!”
See you on Friday!
For tickets and further information please visit www.wscafm.org/shows. Special guest Allysen
Callery will open up the evening, which will begin at 7pm.