Q&A with Michael Sheridan

So following on from this week’s review of New York-based guitarist, Michael Sheridan’s new album (Prelude), we have a wee bit a Q&A with the man for you too. Thanks very much, Michael, for taking the time to answer the questions.

On with the show!

What’s your background with the guitar? How did you get started?

Well before guitar I was already into music.  When I was in kindergarden I joined the choir.  There was a girl who I had a crush on who was in it so I joined, then she quit a week later and I was stuck there.  But I was really lucky, the choir program was amazing and I learned so much.  I was 4 turning 5 then, so by the time I was 7 and started guitar I was already around real musicians for years.  I had been begging my parents for a guitar and the summer after 2nd grade I got one and started lessons.  I was only in lessons for a few months and then I stopped those.  After that I taught myself.  In some ways it was harder I imagine but in other ways it was amazing.  There was no one telling me what I could or couldn’t do.  There was no thought of “would this work in competition” or “would this be a good audition piece” It was only “would this sound cool this way”.  Everything was wide open.  Later on when I did go to school I studied with Phil de Fremery and he was just the perfect teacher for me.  Phil doesn’t give a sh*t about the “right” way to do things.  He doesn’t even care what the composer wanted most of the time.  He only cares about the sound and the emotion;  if it said exactly what you wanted it to say.  I love Phil.

 What was the process for coming up with Prelude? 

I remember being a kid and being backstage before shows. We’d be in choir concerts or summer theater groups or whatever and my favorite moment was always when the lights go down and it’s really dark and you’re backstage and you know the crowd is out there waiting for you.  I think that’s the feeling I had in mind the whole time I was working on the album.

What is your personal favourite track on the album and why?

That’s a difficult question just because it keeps changing.  I love the Django tunes.  For a while the first tango was my favorite to listen to but I think if I have to pick, Felicidade is the one I most proud of from a performance standpoint.  “Berceuse” is also very special to me though because Roland Dyens dedicated it to me.

Prelude is your debut album – can you tell us a bit about the recording process? Did you enjoy it? What were your favourite parts of the process? And the least favourite? How long did it take you all up?

Oh God it took forever!  I really didn’t know what I was doing at all.  Thank God for Alfonso Almiñana!  He is a producer from Spain that got ahold of me.  He helped me so much, it really turned the whole thing around.  It took me 3 weeks just to figure out the best place for the microphones.  My favorite part was definitely making the creative decisions.  I loved thinking of the album as a whole, how it would flow, the way people might listen to it.  I remember listening to certain albums in headphones as I was falling asleep, it’s great when you hear all the nuances and deeper things that open up when your mind is relaxed.  I like to think of someone having that experience with my album.  My least favorite part is using the computer, I’m not a huge fan of computers.

What “lessons learnt” did you take from the process of recording the album? What would you do the same and what would you do differently next time?

Well I definitely wouldn’t record it in Brooklyn again!  Street noise was such an issue, that’s really the greatest part of what Alfonso did.  I also recorded way too many takes in the beginning.  I think those early tracks I had like 100 takes of them.  We never used more than 2 or 3.  We wanted a very natural sound without a lot of editing so the editing was mostly for street noise etc.  Next time I think I could get the whole thing done in a week and a half.  Quiet room, I know my mic placements now, 3 takes each and done.

You crowdfunded the album through Kickstarter – well done! How did you find that process?

My brother actually told me about it.  I had never heard of Kickstarter and when he explained it to me it was kind of funny, he was like “It’s for like Dentists and Accountants to feel like they’re involved in something creative.”  I couldn’t imagine anyone just giving money to a stranger.  But my friend Paul and I made the video and went for it.  The experience was not at all what I thought it would be.  People from all over the world go on and contribute to artists they believe in.  It’s an amazing thing to have that support, and I really wanted to come through for everyone.  The Kickstarter staff gave our video a “Staff Pick” which put our video right up front for a while.  That was a huge boost.  Then Andrew York donated to me and a bunch of musicians and guitarists and fans followed his lead.

Any plans for the next album?

It’s almost all I can think about!  Yes!  I don’t want to give too much away but it’s going to be different.  More collaborations.  I think I’ll do most of it as a trio, with a second guitar and bass.  There will be more styles brought in and more original compositions.

What else are you working on at the moment?

This summer has been interesting, I’ve gone back to total basics to reflect on some technique.  I was playing with just too much tension.  I’m also working on a book about certain training ideas and physical issues guitarists face.  Again, I don’t want to give too much away but I’m very excited about it.

What can we expect to see from Michael Sheridan in the next year or so?

This next year should bring a lot of exciting stuff.  I’ve met so many people here in NYC.  Tango players, guys from the gypsy jazz world and some amazing guitarists.  I’m really just soaking up all these different styles and philosophies.  In this next year you’ll start seeing a lot more of that make its way into my shows and videos.

 Is there any chance of us seeing Michael Sheridan performing in the Land Down Under?

Oh my God I would love to!  My wife and I talk all the time about where we’ll go when we leave Brooklyn.  New York is great, I mean it’s just great but if you like being outdoors, the city can be a challenge.  Australia is high on the wish list of places to go.  We love to sail and snorkel and I absolutely love surfing.  Australia seems like heaven.  If I could even come close to breaking even on a tour down there I’d leave tomorrow.

What are your top tips for someone currently learning or thinking of learning the guitar?

That would really depend on what stage you’re at.  In the beginning I think it’s really important to have fun and just play a lot.  Stick with it, you know.  When you decide it’s going to be your career I think it’s really important to work very hard.  Very hard.  When I was in school it was funny because it was always the same 3 people in the practice rooms all the time.  We never saw anyone else there until finals.  Once you actually make it your career then I would go back to advising you to have fun and play a lot.  When you’re very driven and you get to a certain level it’s important to remember to just forget about everything sometimes and just play.

What music (both to play and to listen to) excites you the most and why?

I love gypsy jazz.  I love tango.  I love opera.  But growing up my father listened to Motown and my mom listened to the Beatles so hearing any of that always gets me pretty stoked and everybody in my family loved big band jazz.  My wife is really into Vampire Weekend and I always love listening to that when we’re driving to the beach.  When the weather gets cold I tend to get more into Sinatra and Coltrane type stuff.

Which guitarists do you find the most inspiring or exciting? And other musicians?

Right now I can’t get over Angelo Debarre.  He’s this amazing gypsy jazz player and he’s just so soulful. It’s very cool stuff.  Of course Roland Dyens to me is the ultimate.  I think Roland is the greatest guitarist in the world.  Not just because he plays so well but because his mind is just like lightning fast.  His creativity is a beautiful thing to watch.  Stephane Wrembel is another gypsy jazz player who I’ve always looked up to.  He’s also just an incredibly nice guy.  I met him a while ago at a show and we became friends.  So that’s 3 French guys.  I should really come up with an Australian guy for you….Simon Powis is very good.

For other musicians I’m a huge Sinatra fan.  I always go back to him.  He would phrase something so perfectly but then when you hear an alternate version it’s totally different but just as perfect.  I think because he was so sincere.  Brando was like that when he acted.  That’s always in my mind when I’m playing.  I just try to be honest, I always leave certain places in the pieces for some element of improv, I don’t want it too set or it’ll feel forced.

When you’re not practicing and playing, what do you get up to? Activities with minimal nail damage potential I presume?! Or not, because I note you have a love of basketball!

I love basketball!  I used to do my counterpoint homework in my head while I was shooting freethrows!  I really like all sports, I was a kickboxer for a while, as a kid I played a lot of baseball but my biggest love at this stage of my life outside of music is surfing.  I learned when I lived out in California.  Here I surf down at Rockaway.  I have a 5 mm wetsuit and I surf all year round.  My wife and I sail, she taught me and we sailed all last summer.  Basically anything on the water I like.  I could never live away from the ocean.

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