“Andrew shares his journey as a musician, why his Gibson J-45 is his go-to guitar, and the effectiveness of sleep.”
Leigh Lim: Hi Andrew! Thanks for being open to do a Q&A! I noticed you have a couple of lyric videos up on your YouTube Channel. Do you like doing them?
Andrew Simple: Yeah, I have some friends that are great at it, so any good ones are made by them. I’ve slung a couple together on iMovie after getting some requests, but you really want to do them right. After Effects, Final Cut, etc.
LL: Can you give a quick summary in terms of how you got to where you are with your playing, writing, and arranging?
AS: I started by wanting to write, and immediately learning the major and minor bar chords on the guitar and then just writing a bunch of songs based on that. I always recommend learning the bar form first, to get a quick win. It sounds good and is a formation you can easily just slide up and down the neck without too much thought. It made guitar seem easier than in really is, but it kick started my writing.
As time went on, I gradually discovered more and about the guitar on my own. As far as arranging, I have been fascinated by the symphony orchestra since a young age, and that always gave me a good sense of the various elements that need to work together to create a piece of music. Prokofiev’s ‘Peter and the Wolf’ probably was the most influential to me when I was quite young.
LL: If you were to put together a ‘learning plan’ or practice pack for someone who has never played, written, or arranged music before, so they could have the capacity to play, write, and arrange music at your level and skill. What would it look like?
AS: Since I have had such a piecemeal musical path, its hard to suss it all out and recommend it to someone. After a few years in the wild, playing in bands, and learning on my own, I did go to college and studied music academically. That helped with a lot of “aha” moments, especially the music theory.
I believe in an individualized plan of education across the board, so whatever the interest is, I say follow it hard however that might look. Music school isn’t for everyone, practicing isn’t for everyone, writing isn’t for everyone, etc.
LL: Would you say it was discipline that got you to where you are now?
AS: This follows from the last question, and its discipline that is key.
If you follow the elements of music that you are interested in, study the greats in that field and soak it in, and then apply it. For me, it was breaking down the chord structures of Stevie Wonder, Beach Boys, Billy Joel, etc. And those artists all made really interesting arranging choices too, so learning from those artists was really important for me.
Guitar was the first “composition” instrument I used, and then I added piano when I couldn’t get all the voicings I wanted, which in turn lead me back to guitar to experiment with alternate tunings.
LL: Do you incorporate alternate tunings when you write?
AS: I like simply dropping the low E to a D. It allows me to get some richer inversions that I can play more easily on a piano.
LL: Were there times when you didn’t want to put in time to practice?
AS: I think deadlines are the only thing that really gets me to finish something when I don’t feel like it. Rehearsing, practicing, etc. If I have a gig coming up where I need to learn new songs or something, just that fact alone forces me to put in the time. Recitals were the same way in college.
LL: What would you advise a songwriter (who has never played guitar before) wanting to accumulate enough knowledge and skill to be able to translate musical ideas using the guitar?
AS: Besides the above, maybe try to build on any knowledge you already have. If you are wanting to learn guitar, and you already know some piano or theory, I think drawing some basic threads together would be good. Such as noting how the guitar is tuned in 4ths, or how the frets are chromatic, like going key to key on a piano.
I also recommend just learning 2 chords so you can dive in and at least get through a song, like Do Wah Diddy or something. Having a quick win like that can fuel more wins, getting more challenging each time, and hopefully learning the theory along the way.
LL: What’s part of your arsenal at the moment?
AS: My go-to guitar is my Gibson J-45. I like the Fishman Spectrum DI for live playing. As far as picks and strings, its Dunlop Tortex mediums and Curt Mangan light strings.
LL: Did it take awhile for you to settle on the gear that you like?
AS: Yes, it did. For instance, I settled on the Fishman DI for live playing, only after having an LR Baggs DI with a separate compressor, and since the Fishman was both a DI and a compressor, it helped lighten the load. You just make those tweaks all along the way. Settling on the guitar was the most significant thing. Once you play a guitar that really is inspiring to play, you just have to find a way to make it yours.
LL: With your Gibson J-45, do you think that what attracted you (and made you think: “I must make that mine!”) was the sound and feel?
AS: J-45’s are just a really nice, loud, balanced brand of guitar. They are famous for it. So when you pick one up for the first time, you go “oh, I see the light!”. But really, their strength, to me, is in their fullness in terms of EQ curve.
LL: Has any of your equipment undergone customisation?
AS: Just in swapping out bridges, and stuff like that, with my guitar guy in Nashville. Nothing major. I have some nice bone bridges on my guitars and ukes.
LL: During a gig, do you keep some notes as a guide?
AS: I’ve written so many songs, I’ve had to use the tablet as a cheat sheet, I admit. Mental notes can fail you, haha!
LL: Were you just “fondly” recalling some gigs when you didn’t have some notes handy?
AS: If you play enough shows, eventually you will have times where you forget lyrics and get lost, etc. So at some point, it’s just nice to have a home base to look at so that you start verse 2 correctly coming out of a chorus for example. Also, once you right enough songs, its just harder and harder to keep them straight.
LL: What is your warm-up / practice routine like?
AS: I don’t think about it too much – I just start playing what I like in the green room or wherever – jamming, etc. You’ll get warm whether you want to or not. That way its not too structured and potentially stressful.
LL: Description of your playing style?
AS: I’m a singer-songwriter, so I rely on fairly basic picking strumming and I used finger-style on a few tunes, flesh, not nail. I am really choosy if I play any solo stuff – I leave the tearing it up stuff to my band.
LL: How about your voice? Did you have to put a lot of hours to get it to where it is now?
AS: My voice really just naturally developed. The hours were put in, but not consciously. Early on I was all over the place pitch wise and dynamically, but [it has] really evened out over the last 3 years or so.
LL: What are some misconceptions about you as a musician?
AS: I think, just in general, musicians get the classic bad rap as slackers or something like that. In my experience, musicians are some of the smartest cats around. Just not getting taken seriously when I was starting up years ago, but that’s to be expected, I suppose.
LL: What’s next for your playing?
AS: Playingwise, I feel like I’m fairly happy where I am. Honestly, I am always trying to find ways to condense, even just writing songs with two strings on the guitar.
LL: Have you been always mindful of ergonomics when you play?
AS: I think bass is harder on the body that guitar, and maybe a padded strap is more important there. With acoustic guitar, I’ve never felt a need to use anything besides a basic strap. Just having good posture in general will spill over to playing music. Since I started on drums, posture was a huge factor in being able to play properly, so I’ve always been mindful of that.
LL: Guitar Maintenance and Storage?
AS: I’m bad when it comes to putting my guitars away…they tend to lay about the room so I can grab them quickly. I get bummed out when I have to open a guitar case if I am wanting to play the guitar, haha. That sounds bad, but it’s true.
All over my house are guitar stands and guitars in several rooms of the house so there is always something to grab. I’m not one of those that cares about keeping the guitars ding-free. Though there are cases, where that is in order. Otherwise, some lemon oil with a cloth up and down the fretboard is a good thing to do regularly for cleaning/conditioning.
LL: Would you recommend buying consumables in bulk?
AS: If you can, bulk buying for small stuff like strings and picks is wise.
LL: Your music has been used a number of times in ads — is that something you are constantly excited about?
AS: It’s a surprising twist in my musical journey – that my songs seem to work well for various film and TV applications. I love the exposure, and it’s just fun.
LL: Do you have a regular schedule of posting videos? (Or it depends on when you think of something to share?)
AS: The latter
LL: Are there certain things you ‘geek out’ about?
AS: I geek out about bird watching and philosophy/logic. That’s pretty bad.
LL: Are you still a big listener of music?
AS: I really don’t listen to much music these days. I’m creating it so much, there’s just not time. Maybe a couple times a week I will throw on an old record, but its mainly to zone out.
LL: Do you go out of your way to discover new things
AS: I think just being in the music business, I hear all the new stuff from various sources naturally.
LL: Where do you go for inspiration?
AS: I think films are heavily inspiring for me. Its such a rich art form, it stimulates on nearly every level.
LL: What helps you focus on your uniqueness?
AS: I don’t guess I focus on uniqueness per se. I just hope I naturally am “me”.
LL: What’s your view about social media?
AS: I’m fairly reluctant about all of it.
LL: What would you do when you need cheering up?
LL: Would you be open to collaborating with other artists?
AS: I collaborate all the time with other artists. It’s a big part of my world.
LL: Are you interested in technology?
AS: I use technology out of necessity. Pro Tools is my go-to recording software on my Mac Pro.
LL: With your videos, are you looking to upload the same kind in the future? Or are you looking to do different things?
AS: Always open to new things
LL: If you were asked to pick from the videos you have, which one would be your favorite?
AS: I like some of the live acoustic ones best probably. That was a fun concert.
LL: For someone watching a video of yours for the first time, what is the message you’re hoping they’ll take with them?
AS: Sure, inspiring others to create is always great. I don’t know if there is a single message, but that’s certainly one of them. If they find something they like and that they can incorporate into their jam, all the better.
LL: What makes your soul sing?
AS: I think just creating music, really. Basic as that!
LL: What do you find is the best way to connect with your audience?
AS: I think the mailing list does a good job of it
Andrew Simple is a singer/songwriter currently based in Nashville. You can check out his videos here and learn more about him here.
Source Material and Notes: The material posted is based on correspondence (October 2014) between Andrew and Leigh. Content has been edited for length, and the final version has been reviewed and approved by the interviewee.
Leigh Lim is a musician based at Sydney. You can find a sample of her music here. To reach out to Leigh, you can do so via this form or a direct message through YouTube. (Curious to find out if she’s your kind of person? You can check out her tweets and personal entries.)
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