Ahhh, the road. Touring. On the road again. Road Trip! Sounds like heaven, don't it? Keith Nelson and his mates in Buckcherry have seen a few miles of our great American highways from the windows of a tour bus and lived to tell about it. And were pretty sure they're not really tellin us everything, either.
But Nelson did have a lot to say in this revealing Guitar.com interview, mostly about, well, guitar playing. He also talked at length about the experience of working with producer John Travis, about the multitudes of amps it took for Nelson and sidekick Yogi to call up the perfect guitar tones, and about how the almighty rock n roll tour changed their lives. Don't make a fuss, just get on the bus.
Guitar.com: Keith, Buckcherry has played a couple hundred shows in the past 18 months. What exactly happens to a band musically when you go on the road for the first time?
Keith Nelson: I used to get really nervous, way back in the day. I got really freaked out to the point where it would interfere with my playing. And as time went on, you make the transition from being nervous to being excited about going to perform. And not so much in maybe the last two years or three years with this band, but thats the kind of thing that playing over the years has just kind of allowed me to make the transition into now I really look forward to the shows. I really look forward to playing, and it's not really a nervous thing. The excitement that goes on before the show is not like a nervous kind of thing, its more of an excited thing, and I can't wait to do it.
So I think that kind of thing, coupled with playing with some guys you know as you go on as a unit and you play together you become more comfortable, you can almost anticipate what everyone else is going to do. And for me, I play off my drummer a lot. And actually on stage I'm not really tuned in to everyone else as much as I'm tuned into my drummer and my singer. And I'm kind of bouncing in between those two guys. So from my perspective from playing live, I'm almost to the point where I can anticipate and know where they're at. I don't even have to look at them or think about them. I just kind of feel it naturally, at this point.
So I think, from my perspective, that's the kind of the growth that happens. I think as a band we're all just used to playing with each other and all really more comfortable with where were fitting in sonically around each other. Playing together for this long allows you to step back from what you do as an individual musician and look at the overall sound of the band.
Guitar.com: If you think back to when you were in some of your first bands, can you look back and say, Oh, I see where that experience could ve helped me back then?
Nelson: Yeah. But you gotta remember, at that time I was also drinking as much as I could to get up there on stage. So I'd feel comfortable.
Guitar.com: This is when you were playing all the L.A. rock clubs like the Whisky and the Roxy and the Troubadour?
Nelson: Well you know we kind of had a hard time coming up to the clubs in L.A., so we didn't really do that. We played in those clubs a few times, but we didn't really play the circuit. It's not like one would think. It's not like the images that TV has portrayed it to be. For one, when we were coming up, we had a hard time getting shows in L.A., so we would play everywhere else but L.A.
Guitar.com: Because your style was not quite the current fad?
Nelson: Exactly. You gotta remember when we were coming up, swing music was huge, and we were not about to put on zoot suits. You know this was like '92,' 93 well actually a little bit later than that '94, '95, with the earliest incarnation of the band.
Guitar.com: How did the addition of Yogi as a second guitarist change the way you play? Or the way you write?
Nelson: Well it's funny that you say that because it's actually influenced both in that having another guitar player there has allowed me to write songs more geared towards that, although our whole goal the entire time, from the beginning, was to have the two-guitar band. We had such an emphasis on the live show and we still do that playing the songs live really meant writing songs that kind of worked more for one guitar player. So having another guitar player really allowed me to write more towards that kind of style. He's a great guitar player and its a great addition musically. He brings a whole other head to the table. He's a very schooled cat as opposed to my not very schooled kind of thing, and its really nice.
Guitar.com: Does he show you things?
Nelson: No. I don't need any help.
Guitar.com: So he leaves you alone.
Nelson: Yeah, I think maybe early on we had one of those conversations where he was like, "You need to play the diminished third," or something like that. I was like, "Dude, does the fret have a dot on it or does it not have a dot?" I was like, "Don't confuse me with math." So, I think that we have boundaries and we have our own separate styles and it's really a matter of both of us respecting each other in that.
Guitar.com: How do you split the solos? Is it half and half?
Nelson: That's kind of almost where it ends up, but it's not a real conscious kind of thing. It really depends on who's feeling what. There's very little conversation about it. Occasionally, theres a, "Hey, dude I'm feeling left out you know, Give me a running pattern or whatever." Usually, it's kind of pretty obvious. You know we work our parts out. Sometimes we trade off, which I think is the funnest, like on "Whiskey In The Morning." But we just kind of go, "Hey, I'm gonna take this one."
Guitar.com: A lot of players concentrate so much on lead guitar playing that they really neglect their rhythm playing. And when you're in a two-guitar band, you're going to play some rhythm. How do you feel about rhythm playing?
Nelson: I guess if you're B.B. King or Angus Young you don't really need to learn how to play rhythm guitar. But my vision for the guitar players in this band really is two guys that can do both. And we went through the audition process and we were having these guys come down, I swear to you we had almost 40 guys in L.A. come down. No one could play rhythm guitar. All these big swingin dicks that could noodle all over our songs but it s gotta serve the song. I think the longevity in a rock 'n roll band is having great songs. You have to grab the listener cause it's the entertainment business and for a live band like us the shit has to rock. A guitar solo is 20-30 seconds out of a song and you have another three-and-a-half minutes that you have to make interesting. So there's way more to it than just soloing.
Guitar.com: When Yogi came into the band, did that free you up to start doing more open-tuning stuff?
Nelson: No, because I always did that. I mean almost half the songs on my first record are in open tuning.
Guitar.com: Always open G tuning?
Nelson: Yeah. So far always open G. That's really where I'm most comfortable.
Guitar.com: Do you fret in this key? Or do you just play slide in this key?
Nelson: I'm always fretting. I've kind of worked it out. I've kind of got my own technique on it and my own little take on it. I fret, I play solos when I'm tuned up, I play slides all kinds of interesting stuff. I like to slide on it.
Guitar.com: Can you give us a rundown on the actual tuning, in open G tuning?
Nelson: Yeah. You take both E strings and you tune them down to D. And you take the A string and you tune it down to G. And your root and all of that is usually on the low E, which is tuned to D, or the A string, which is now tuned to G. You gotta remember, too, all the low strings are tuned down a whole step, so you can still grab the traditional style barre chord. It's just a step lower.
Guitar.com: And you have a guitar tech to take care of all this for you, right?
Nelson: My guitar tech situation is a revolving door right now. We'll see what happens here.
Guitar.com: Who's your guy now?
Nelson: I can't even remember his name.
Guitar.com: It's been revolving that much, huh?
Nelson: Yeah. I've had the opportunity to work with some really great guys that have been around for a while and they're really the unseen heroes of the whole rock 'n roll show. Having a good tech in your corner is probably what it''s like to be a good fighter and having a good cut man in your corner. I mean guys like Adam Dane, Edward Frances, Bobby Sneck, and Dave Barrera guys like that are just great. When they're working for you, it's fucking on!
Guitar.com: What's been the reason you keep changing?
Nelson: It's really a matter of comfort and confidence. Yeah, it's like any other relationship. It's gotta gel.
Guitar.com: So what are you looking forward to most now? I'm sure youre going to be out on the road for a year, a year-and-a-half?
Nelson: You know I'm really looking forward to taking this music to the people. Showing them that the first record wasnt some sort of fluke and it wasnt some flash in the pan. I mean longevity has really been one of the goals of ours and you do that show by show, day after day. And Im just worried about today, you know Wednesday afternoon and that show, and let's go fucking give it all we got. That's really it. And hopefully we'll wake up at the end of a 20-month tour and well have sold a few records and well get to go make another one, our fan base will be bigger, and I get to keep my job. It's really not about Ferraris, and hookers, and blow it's about the music and, you know, leaving something behind. Yeah.