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Feature

Aaron Marshal and Nick Johnston

Issue #54

In recent years we have been treated to a new generation of fresh forward thinking and unique players who seem to be carving their own paths through this diverse musical landscape, fusing many styles and influences together to create melodic, emotive, and tasteful instrumental music that appears to appeal to a large number of people in the guitar community.
Sam Bell

In this issue of Guitar Interactive Magazine, Sam Bell had the pleasure of meeting up with two unique artists who are quickly gaining huge popularity in the world of guitar-based music; Aaron Marshal (Intervals) and Nick Johnston. Sam chats in depth with Aaron and Nick about their projects, the current music scene and their creative process when it comes to creating new material and releasing it.

Guitar instrumental music has been around for longer than you might think. The guitar's story in instrumental history began with the advent of classical/Spanish guitar in the 1800s. Fast forward a hundred years, and the guitar was already king. From the virtuosic gypsy passages of Django Reinhardt to the smooth octave phrasing of Wes Montgomery, instrumental guitar was shaping the fundamental styles of contemporary music.

During the 1950s to the late 60s, we were treated to melodic bands like The Shadows and Surf Rocker’s like Dick Dale who took Instrumental guitar music to Pop audiences. At the same time, we had the fiery energies of players like Hendrix, who opened up a whole new style of guitar for the time. During the 70s we get even more Jazz, and Fusion inspired guitarists such as John Mcloughlin, Al Di Meola and Paco De Lucia, who take the guitar even further harmonically. The 1980s brought us Joe Satriani, Vai, Yngwie, Greg Howe and much more who continue to inspire today’s players.

I think it would be safe to say that Guitar Instrumental Music, specifically rock based took a bit of a dive in popularity in the 90s/early 00s, but now thanks to the internet we are seeing a resurgence in the prevalence of instrumental guitar music.

In recent years we have been treated to a new generation of fresh forward thinking and unique players who seem to be carving their own paths through this diverse musical landscape, fusing many styles and influences together to create melodic, emotive, and tasteful instrumental music that appears to appeal to a large number of people in the guitar community.

Two artists that stand out from the crowd in 2018 are Nick Johnston and Aaron Marshal, who were on tour together in the UK late last year and playing to sold-out crowds across Europe. Evidently, today's audience members are just as passionate as ever about this genre, and when it comes to composition, I think it's safe to say the future of Guitar Instrumental is in safe hands with Nick and Aaron.


Nick Johnston

Nick is a Canadian virtuoso guitarist and has been playing since his teenage years, taking huge inspiration from players such as Stevie Ray Vaughn, Yngwie and Jeff Beck. He has a background playing in bands, particularly playing world music which can be heard as a major influence on his earlier album ‘In a Locked Room on the Moon’ and ‘Atomic Mind’. Talking to Nick and listening to his music it is obvious that he is a musician, crafting his art around Melody and Dynamic. His compositions take you on journeys through themes, his guitar is a tool that helps tell a real story.

His playing is incredibly expressive, the focus being on nuance and flow with a very unique sense of phrasing when it comes to solo sections. His songs never sound like a vehicle for showcasing any ‘chops’ instead they have an almost soundtrack type of feel but with more of a striped down, natural arrangement whilst still sounding epic! You can really hear this on his latest release ‘Remarkably Human’. Also, did I mention Tone? Nick likes to keep it simple, single coils and a smooth mid-range heavy amp (maybe some delay and verb) his tone is exceptional and completely lets all the nuance and dynamic come out of his playing, his fast lines are accentuated by this stripped back sound combined with his amazing technique, it sounds very human and real.

A breath of fresh air for the guitar world, he is really the real deal! I can’t wait to hear what Nick does next, he seems to be always writing music or touring which is really inspiring to see and hear!

Check out more of Nick here: https://nickjohnstonmusic.com/


Aaron Marshal

Aaron started out playing in Metal bands, syncopated riffs, heavy drops and pop-influenced melodies are very prevalent in his project ‘Interval’s music. He is a self-proclaimed metalhead, however, he has such an open mind to all styles of music. Talking with Aaron, I found out about his passion for Pop Music arrangement and composition, something we both have in common. You can hear this in his project Intervals; the sound has changed through the years with his first release ‘In Time’ being a lot more riff based, even featuring 7 string guitar at times. The focus is on cool grooves and solid structures but with progressive style riffing that keep the listener hooked in.

He experimented with a vocal release with ‘A Voice Within’ before releasing ‘The Shape of Colour’ which was a change in direction stylistically for Aaron. This album featured a very heavy emphasis on catchy melodies, tasty lines, and pop structures but with a very sophisticated edge regarding arrangement techniques and melodic motif building. The heavy element was still there, but it was more entwined with the groove of the songs rather than having dedicated sections to more riff-based elements in the music.

On December 1st, 2017 his new album ‘The Way Forward’ was released which yet again features the unique style of ‘The Shape of Colour’ but this time with some of the heavy influences coming back with the addition of a slightly ‘New Retro Wave’ influence in terms of sounds he draws from and various musicians he is collaborating with. Aaron himself doesn’t see himself as much of a ‘guitar player’ but more of a musician, which should be the common goal of all ‘guitar players’ however he certainly has chops enough to please a crowd of discerning guitarists. The Intervals live show was something else as well, it’s rare to see a guitar instrumental act that has such a great stage presence. Aaron cares about the whole package.

Find out more about Intervals here: http://www.intervalsmusic.net/


Guitar instrumental music might get a bad reputation because of artists using it to showboat their own ‘ability’ on the instrument without focusing on good songwriting, actually trying to say something, tell a story to the listener that doesn’t just say ‘look how well I can play this mind-boggling phrase’. Artists like Nick and Aaron see themselves as musicians, of course, they are world class players, but the music comes first for them. The focus on melody, structure, flow, dynamic, storytelling and much more are the common thread between today’s young and successful guitar-based instrumental artists. Its drawing people in because they can actually relate to it, people who don’t usually listen to instrumental guitar music are starting to take notice of these unique artists because the music connects with them as music should do. With the advent of YouTube, it has become a far too common sight to see people just ‘proving themselves’ with their music rather than actually looking within themselves to find what they truly want to say. I think the best question any artist can ask themselves when they release something is “what am I trying to say here”. There is no voice in the music to emote a clear message, so make that message clear with your creativity and the human elements of your artistry and ability on your instrument.

Other Artists to Check Out:

Plini:

Even Steve Vai is a fan of Plini! Soundtrack vibes, emotive compositions. Very much a composer and arranger style of writing.

Polyphia:

Blending Modern Electronic Music and Virtuosic Chops. Heavy emphasis on hooks and grooves with a slight RnB influence.

David Maxim Micic:

Very creative and unique musician! I can’t quite put my finger on what he is or does…it is really worth checking out!

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