Every now and then an artist comes along whose music reaches out and touches the soul of all who hear them. Virtuoso guitarist, singer and composer Vicki Genfan is among those artists. Drawing from folk, jazz, pop, soul and world music, Vicki is redefining ‘singer/songwriter culture.’ With a mastery of the acoustic guitar that borders on pure alchemy, audiences are mesmerized by the waves of sound Vicki creates with just two hands and her voice. Using 29 alternate tunings and the percussive technique she calls ‘slap-tap’, you’ll find the addition of her pure, expressive vocals that dig deep and stir the heart to be the perfect accompaniment on many of her songs. Our in-house interviewer, Charlie Doom, sat down with the very-talented Vicki Genfan for a Fireside Chat to discuss, among other things, her new TrueFire guitar lessons course, 3D Acoustic Guitar, which is a dream come true for we apprentices and enthusiasts of the emerging and exciting new style of slap-tap acoustic guitar.
1. If you weren’t a musician, what would you be and why?
Wow, hard question right off the bat! That question feels like you asked, ‘If you weren’t a human what would you be and why’. I was born this way and I can’t quite imagine it any other way. Now if you’re talking professional musician – that’s another story. I’d love to be a DJ (that’s not a musician, is it?) simply ’cause I love the idea of weaving music together, taking an audience somewhere, hey- wait a minute, sounds just like a musician. OK I’ll try to think outside of my own box here…I love the field of holistic healing and have an alter ego career as a Polarity Therapist and Sound Healer. I’d love to take that work further and study all kinds of multi-cultural methods of figuring out how we humans work, get hurt and can heal. Places where the body, mind and emotions meet and greet one another (so to speak).
2. Honestly, how many hours a day do you practice?
Honestly, it depends on the day. Sometimes none. Sometimes 1, 2 or 3. I’ve never been a ‘woodshedder’ in the traditional sense. I play for hours when I’m having fun. That’s sort of practicing, it encompasses practicing, but it’s not like hard core practicing. That I do as needed; before a gig, with a new tune, prepping for the Superstar Competition, etc. It’s a fluid thing.
3. What are you listening to lately?
Hmmm… lotta NPR Radio. Mostly talk. I go through phases. Spend a lot of time in the car (my car doesn’t have a working CD player). Most radio sucks (to me). Actually, I found this video recently and was just thrilled, so you all should go listen to her – Theresa Andersson.
4. How would you describe the music business today?
Like a caterpillar becoming a butterfly; whole new creature. The old form is crumbling and a new paradigm is in the making. It’s exciting. Folks like me and you can really do our own thing with enough motivation and determination. We can get to millions of people without a record contract.
5. Stranded on a desert island, which guitar would you take?
The new Luna Vicki Genfan signature model built by luthier Gray Burchette. I’m still learning all about it, it’s giving me all kinds of new music! Plus, it’s a Jumbo and could probably double as a raft if I needed to float somewhere.
6. Should world leaders learn how to play guitar? Why?
Sure. Everyone should play guitar. It’s an amazing way to express yourself, anywhere, anytime. World leaders certainly need this.
7. Let’s talk about what’s going on with you right now, your new album, and what’s next?
New CD – UnCovered – it’s been a whole lot of fun making it. I collaborated with 5 other artists, 4 from Europe (Susan Weinert, Christina Lux, Kerstin Blodig, Sally Barker) and Trina Hamlin from NY. We recorded mostly in Germany, mixed in the states (and on a few airplanes)… it’s a celebration of great songs and really wacky arrangements. It features a bunch of incredible voices and guitarists. A lot of ‘Vicki’ style guitar playing on it. Some of the artists we covered are Sting, Seal, John Lennon, Seals and Crofts, Young Rascals, KT Tunstall….and more! What’s next is to spread the news about the new instructional guitar course for TrueFire, 3D Acoustic Guitar! I’m psyched! Also next is to go into retreat somewhere and write a whole bunch of new music. It’s time. The overall plan is to spread my music as far and wide as possible. I love to travel and to expand my circle of friends and supporters. It’s an honor to play music for a living. I hope to keep on keepin’ on for a long time!
Questions submitted from the TrueFire community.
8. How did you prepare to win Guitar Player magazine’s Guitar Superstar competition? – JoBo72
Very carefully! First of all, I made sure I knew as best as I could, what they were judging us on: technique, uniqueness and performance. I knew that my piece would be about as unique as any piece could be. I knew that if I could relax and enjoy myself while playing, my performance would be really good. The thing I needed to prep for was going to be technique. The biggest stumbling block with Atomic Reshuffle is that my right hand can become very tense by the time I play the very last lines of the song, and if this happens I will totally fumble and screw up the ending. My strategy was to start about a month ahead of time and put in small bits of time whenever I could throughout the day. I would practice challenging lines and sections of the song super slowly and quietly. This enabled me to get the passages down and in my muscle memory correctly while being relaxed. (This is so important!) Simply put, that is how I prepared – and I believe it worked!
9. How did you develop your technique, where did it first start? – Guitarkillah
My technique really came together gradually over more than 25 years of playing, writing, tuning and exploring. Maybe the biggest factor was that I was never discouraged from doing my own thing. I followed the impulses and curiosity that I always seemed to have. I followed and explored tunings and sounds that made me happy…. I was drawn to open tunings as a teenager after hearing Joni Mitchell. But I didn’t learn her songs…I began creating my own collection of tunings. I love percussion and I am a very strong rhythmic player, one of the key facets of my style. Hearing the sounds that ring out when you tap or strike the harmonics and playing those very rhythmically as percussive patterns became enthralling to me. I found that a deep well of sounds, moods, colors, and tones would reveal itself to me with each new tuning. I kept following the muse…more tunings, more percussive ideas and patterns. ‘How do I keep this musical? How do I use these techniques to accompany myself as a singer without the guitar part interfering?’ I kept asking questions like this and kept refining the techniques… and coming up with new ones. Sometimes a technique comes when I have a sound in my head or a rhythm idea in my hands that wants out, but I can’t get it out accurately with what I know. Necessity is indeed the mother of invention.
10. It seems like more women are starting to play guitar, do you agree and why do you think that is? – giggle_axe88
Well I think two things are happening – first, more women are out in public playing guitar, more visable, there are more avenues now to be seen and heard than ever before (youtube, myspace, etc.). Secondly, I think we are breaking some old stereotypes regarding women being able to play. The more women that are out there doing it, the more role models there are for young girls and women to see and emanate. It’s a good thing!
11. On reinventing – how did you approach the songs you recorded for Uncovered? – sam_playsguitar
I wanted these songs to be born again, so to speak. And I wanted to infuse them with the creative juices from myself and each collaborator. I love what happens when you bring in another artist/arranger/composer to this kind of situation, because you are co-creating something so unique and new and unpredictable. I chose to collaborate with 5 artists who I really loved and respected – all in different ways and for different reasons. I wanted the process to be organic and spontaneous. In most cases, we didn’t do much prep before the recording sessions and we just sat down and worked it all out right there – tempo, mood, tunings, stylistic approach, who would do which parts, etc. I think the results speak for themselves. There’s a really broad palette of styles throughout the CD, but I think my guitar work is the glue that holds it together. I think it’s a really entertaining collection of songs and arrangements.
12. And finally, any words of wisdom for your fans and fellow pickers?
You can never know it all. Follow what you love. Push the envelope. Always come from the heart. Work as hard as you want to and then be happy with yourself for that. Don’t compare yourself or your playing to others. You are unique. Period. Enjoy that!
Don’t forget to check out Vicki’s new TrueFire guitar lessons course, 3D Acoustic Guitar, which is the very first comprehensive study program to pass on the technical skills and insight that are requisite to master the slap-tap acoustic guitar style. You also might want to check out the official website of Vicki Genfan.