Pat Metheny is one of my absolute favorite musicians. I first discovered his music when I was a young, aspiring guitarist, and I immediately realized there was something different about this guitar master. While Pat obviously had the guitar chops that make every guitarist stand in awe, he never once played a note that did not belong. He is not about licks and tricks. Every note he plays has purpose – to support the composition. Just check out his melodic playing over Tell Her You Saw Me from Secret Story. And who wrote that magical piece? Why, of course, it was Pat himself.
Pat Metheny is much more than a guitarist; he is a prolific composer. He has written for small groups, solo guitar, film soundtracks, and even pop stars like David Bowie. He has received 20 Grammy awards in twelve different categories, and you can bet there will be more. To me, he has been an absolute inspiration, and taught this guitarist that the most important thing about music is the song itself.
Pat Metheny was very kind to grant me an interview through the magical world of the internet. I sent him seven questions in all, hoping he would have the time to answer one or two. He answered every single one! What a gentleman! I could wax on forever about how much Pat Metheny‘s music means to me, but I think it would be better to get straight to his words. Once again thanks so much Pat ! Thanks for all the great music, and for taking the time to talk to At The Hops!
When you sit down to compose the next Pat Metheny project, are you ever torn by what direction you want to go as an artist as opposed to what direction others (be it audience or label) may think you should go?
To me, all the music I have made is all one continuous thing that is very personal. I don’t make a distinction between this period or that period, this band or that band. And I don’t see the end of anything, only beginnings and expansions. Each of the playing environments I have set up over the years are all different versions of my sense of what music can be, what a band can be. When I have a band and I have hired certain musicians to be in it, it is because I feel like they are the best guys to help me realize a certain sound that I have an almost primal need to get out there. And for the most part I feel like each of those areas of interest are still worthwhile. I don’t feel like anything I have ever started has ever ended, everything is ongoing. I could happily play all the music from Bright Size Life right now. It still seems viable – the arguments there still seem valid and worth thinking about. And I could say that about just about everything else going forward. I know there are musicians who go through life kind of like a snake shedding its skin, moving on the next thing and then the next. It isn’t like that for me – it is more a process of addition onto a preexisting structure, like adding rooms and wings and additions onto a house. Everything is connected to me.
That said, I do tend to want to go where the fire is, where there is the most intensity and urgency. I have always had very strong instincts about what that is at a particular moment in time that I have followed faithfully. And without sounding snotty about it, I don’t really care that much about what anyone else ever thinks about anything. I just try to do my own thing and do my best at whatever I am working on during a given period.
Have you ever experienced “writer’s block” and what do you to do to contend with it?
I kind of have the opposite problem – too many ideas, too much music, too many different ways of thinking about things. But music has always been a green light for me, there is alway so much there to think about and consider and there is always something to discover that is worth putting in the form of a song or a form or a concept.
You’re fearless in your musical undertakings, collaborating with many modern artists including Ornette Coleman, Steve Reich, Derek Bailey, and John Zorn to name a few. At times you’ve challenged me, in a good way, to grow and become a better listener. What artists or recordings challenged you as a listener?
For me, there are challenges to be found in just about anything. It might be the way a rhythm guitar player plays 2 and 4 on an R and B record. To do that right isn’t easy. I find musicians and music endlessly challenging and fascinating. For me personally, there are musicians who really made me think hard about things and continue to….Bach, Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Miles Davis…it could get to be a really long list quickly.
What songwriters and composers do you recommend aspiring songwriters to pay particular attention to?
I think that music can come in all shapes and sizes and dimensions. I encourage everyone to recognize that most of what we are exposed to in modern culture is actually just a tiny sliver of what music actually is. I don’t know why the culture at large has chosen such a small subset of possible musical expressions and seems satisfied to make endless tiny variations on those subsets rather than thinking of whole new ways of hearing and being.
You’ve won countless awards including 20 Grammy awards. Do any one of those honors stand out in particular?
I really try to appreciate it, and I do. There are certain honors that are unbelievable to me, that I never would have anticipated or expected in a million years. At the same time, because I do live my life playing so much, I could say it like this; In Bakersfield, I played a gig and I played the best I’ve ever played. I finally got to that solo on that fourth tune that I’d been hoping I’d get to all tour long, I got it. I finally did it. Then the next night we’re playing in Phoenix and it doesn’t matter what I played in Bakersfield. The people in Phoenix don’t care what I played in Bakersfield because tonight, I’m in Phoenix and I’ve got to play that third tune again and I hope I don’t mess it up. My whole life is geared to enjoying stuff while it’s happening and then moving on. If you come to my house you’re not going to see one award or anything on the wall. I really appreciate it. I feel honored and humbled by it all, but my thing is, “Okay, tomorrow is the next thing,” and that’s the only thing for me, what’s happening next.
You’ve done projects with a host of international singers and songwriters like Pedro Azner and Anna Maria Jopek. Any new singer/songwriters catching your attention these days?
I am sure there are many out there that I haven’t heard. I hear people all the time and I go “Who is that? Why isn’t that person famous and this other one is?” There are so many talented people in the world.
Any special collaborations coming up for you on the horizon? (and personally, I’d love to hear you do something with Randy Newman…just thought I’d throw that in there as a fan of both of you)
Randy Newman is one of my favorites. Also as a film composer. I am a little bit back into the zone I was in very early in my career where I just want to do my own things. That said, I have worked with Spanish singers Concha Buika and Estrella Morente on their individual projects over the past year or so. But both were very unusual situations for me. There is a young saxophone player named Logan Richardson who I really admire that I just did a record with that is very special.