--- Paco Hernandez Interview--- 01/Mar/07
Hi Paco, thanks for your time for this interview, first of all, how long have you been playing and what advice do you suggest for up and coming guitarists?
- Thank you very much! Well, I’ve been playing guitar only since 1999, but my musical story goes far beyond that, it began being myself 5 years old (I’m now 25). By the time I took up the guitar, the theory issues, aural skills and composing experience were already developed in a good degree. I was to deal more with the physical/technical issues, although I’ve learnt a lot on theory since I began with the guitar. The best advice I can give is just to play with passion, to have fun with it and to be as musically open-minded as possible. And very important, you must cast away blind idolization at any cost: “This or that guy is a God, unreachable, a genius, etc., and I’m just a humble, ungifted guy,” One must bear in mind that the worst limitations are those we impose to ourselves.
Who were your influences growing up?
- As far as guitar is concerned, Yngwie Malmsteen was one of the main reasons I took up guitar. But not the only one. At that time I was into German metal (Helloween, Gamma Ray, etc) and AOR/Melodic Metal, and I wanted to play the guitar because all those sounds were so cool!! They were like from other planet to me, because until that moment I was into classical/OST/new age music and composing with the keyboard.
But later, although I feel at home at progressive/neoclassical/rock style, I began to discover, enjoy and (try to) learn from lots of new styles, from progressive to flamenco and everything in between. To give some names of people who took my breath away the first time I listened to them (in no particular order): Vinnie Moore, Joey Tafolla, Vai, Satch, Paul Gilbert, John Petrucci, Shawn Lane, Gary Moore, Greg Howe, Pat Metheny, Andrew York, Tommy Emmanuel, Paco de LucĂa, Vicente Amigo, Allan Holdsworth, Guthrie Govan, Rusty Cooley, Jason Becker, Kiko Loureiro, Larry Carlton, SRV, Andy Timmons…you get the idea.
You play more than just guitar, tell us more about the rest of your musical talents, what other instruments do you play and how do you go about writing for them?
- Well, I also play keyboards, but I’m not precisely Tony Macalpine! (Laughs). Before I took up the guitar, I used to play “atmospheric” things and mess around with voicing’s and then explore sounds, chord progressions, melodies and combine and arrange them in a sequencer. At that time, my greatest inspiration were film composers like Williams, Elfman, Edelman, etc, videogame composers as Nobuo Uematsu and Michiru Yamane and musicians like Vangelis. But getting used to do all that made me develop my writing and aural skills and understand theory a lot more easily. Well considered, a guitar is like six pianos with the black notes being white, each one tuned differently and you can only play one note in each one. But anyway, when it comes to compose, I find at home at the keyboard. I tend to prefer legato sounds (Organ, pads, strings, etc.) to staccato sounds (I’m using the classical terminology, by the way). The thing is that I rarely compose from the guitar.
You recorded a demo titled “heaven or hell” can you tell us about the album and how difficult was the recording process?
- Yes, it was my first attempt at trying to record. So it is not a work I did before gaining recording experience… I began to gain recording experience while I recorded it! (Laughs). So today I don’t like the sound, although I won with it the demo contest in Guitarra Total magazine. And the playing, I now can do better. Getting the right intonation, attitude and conviction in recording it’s something you don’t gain unless you have experience at recording; it goes beyond the theoretical or technical studies.
You are also working on a second demo entitled “second opinion” what can we expect to hear from it and how did you go about recording it?
- Yeah, the reasons for recording it are basically the response to the last question. I want to present a better quality CD, both in sound and playing; I want it to be competitive, to have the chance of appealing some record label. I’ve learnt from a lot of errors I did with “Heaven or hell”. One of those was to not being coherent with my gear. I used a Laney VH-100 to record the last demo, which sounds great, but with a bad microphone, an inappropriate room, a bad mixing board and a modest sound card, you can’t do much: it is like a jailed tiger. So in this new demo I’ve only used a PODxt. It’s modest, but it adapts a lot better to my current gear situation; if you use it properly, it can deliver some very good things. Also there are some (decisive) tricks on EQ that you learn little by little as you record more and more.
Instructional DVD’s are a great tool for people to learn from, I myself own a few by select artists such as Michael Angelo and John Petrucci, have you ever thought about making one yourself?
- Yeah, I’ve thought about it. I would cover a lot of little but very important issues that I think that are not focused enough. Most of these DVDs are just a collection of licks, what is cool, but incomplete in my opinion. Two examples spring to mind: sweep-picking and improvisation. Around these matters there are true rivers of ink and e- ink written, and videos filmed, everyone wants to master them, but there are some basic tips that are not clear enough and difficult a proper learning. In the sweep picking realm, there are a lot of little things about the movement of the right hand, the muting and the dynamics that frequently go unnoticed. In the improvisation realm there is too much focus on the harmony aspects (which scale would go well with this or that mode/chord), which of course are decisive, but frequently rhythm and melodic games, like phrasing imitation, question-answer phrasing, syncopation/off-beats, control of dynamics, inner singing…lots of little tricks that can make your phrasing a whole lot more colourful and alive, are not focused enough, if not forgotten. Lots of people think that improvise is like a radar, something like “detecting-Dm7-firing-D Dorian”, and that develop that skill is very important, but people often forget to really listen to the music over which they are improvising; rhythm is as decisive as harmony here. So I think that an instructional of mine would cover that little issues you’ve wish someone would tell you about before! Ways to make your rhythm playing more colourful, tricks for doubling guitars, tips on EQ, ways of working on legato, a clear “deconstruction” of chords, tips for include arpeggios naturally in your playing, clear understanding of the basis of theory and the infamous modes…and yeas, there would be some Devilish Chops of Doom and Destruction (Laughs).
Your playing is very effective, the picking is so tight and clean, the legato is so smooth and the overall textures in your songs adds excitement to the general music listener, how did you refine your playing so efficiently, were you a natural or did you have to work really hard to become what you are?
- Wow, thanks for the compliments! To explain this, I’ll put myself as an example; let’s talk about the infamous sweep picking again. I still remember the night I began to practice it. It was a simple exercise, but it sounded horrible, I couldn’t make it sound right. But the thing is that I began to insert sweep picking licks into my regular playing. First they were very simple, but they ended up being what they are today, which you can see in the video lesson. The trick was to use them in “real”, “living” situations, playing over a BT, over a song, playing live with a band, etc, That, for example, made the metronome practice and theoretical understanding a lot easier for me. Hard work was necessary, but it was in some way diluted in the general fun of playing. ItÂ´s like learning a new language, theory is good and useful, but there is only one way to learn it, that is, little by little, speaking/listening/reading it, maybe having a wonderful time with foreign friends in an foreign land. Surely this will be a lot more useful than lock yourself into a room with a dictionary speaking to yourself…You always can carry a dictionary to the foreign land and check it out once you and your friends go home after the party! (Laughs) So I don’t know if I’m the natural type, but the truth is that my technique has reached an stable point, now I only practice technique when I find something I want to play but I’m not able to (but it’s also true that I play almost everyday). I’m now more interested in composing.
What equipment do you use amplification and guitar wise, your sound is fantastic, do you use many effects?
- Thanks! Right now, as quoted above, I just use a PODxt. Since the guitar is just a hobby and I don’t receive any income from it at the moment, my cash is very limited, so I must squeeze to the max a humble equipment. It’s true that I own a Laney VH-100 (thinking in the possibility of playing live), but, as I said, to record it properly I would need a lot of (very expensive) things. My guitars are an ESP Horizon and an Ibanez Prestige 7 strings... My ESP, thanks to the pull/push switch, works as a Heavy metal guitar, a Super-Strato, a Strato and an acoustic guitar at the same time! (laughs). And I’m not an effects guy, and by that I mean that I don’t like to overcharge the lead sound with tons of effects. But I think that messing around with effects, although I do it very rarely, can inspire you to come up with cool ideas that otherwise would stay in the shadows (see Dave Martone or Vai, for example).
You have a religious sense running through your music, are you religious or do you find it another way to express music?
- Well, I don’t consider myself a religious person, I’m an agnostic: science and philosophy can’t tell a thing about divinity, origin of the world, life after death, etc…these are questions that greatly surpass human understanding and experimenting capabilities. So faith is just a matter of choice. The choice to believe inspire all the difficulties and doubts (I don’t understand why some sectors of Christianity desperately look for hints, demonstrations of God –creationism, for example… this is like looking for a crutch for a lame faith in my opinion). If faith has value is precisely because you maintain it against the wind, no matter if it is the theory of evolution or the Big Bang theory. A true Christian knows that the decisive core of his faith goes above and beyond all that. Science and religion are not opposed in my opinion. Well considered, they only oppose when one of them steps into the other’s territory, be religion trying to explain the world of physics and biology without any data and totally a priori, or science going beyond the empirical data to letting fly the imagination disguised as an hypothesis. Anyway, the thing is that I respect everyone’s decision, but I just can’t make that step…Well, to answer the question, no, the feelings or stories significant to me are what inspire me to compose (Laughs).
You have worked a side project with NEON Knight, what kind of atmosphere is this band and do you find yourself doing more with them?
- Well, as a matter of fact, I’m going to be the lead guitarist for the Neon Knight OSV Project II CD. In the first project, lead guitars are being recorded by Mathias Holm. In fact, I’m right now working on the first track. I find very cool to play with them, because I can focus on the guitar thing. When it comes to my compositions, I’m more worried in piecing all together properly, good chord chemistry and melodies; good arranges, emotional criteria, etc. Since the compositions of OSV come to me already done, I can focus on experimenting guitar things like trying new techniques, sounds, combine 4 o 5 guitar leads, rhythm games, counterpoint… It comes as a great complement to me; when I return to my own stuff I’ve gained experience and developed cool ideas to use!
Final question, what are your plans for 2007?
- I want to finish the recording of Second Opinion and to begin to look for a proper music label. Also to have my website up and running (it’s now in the early make, by the way) and to record more songs with Neon Knight Guys.
Thanks for your time, any closing statement?
- Just to thank you for making this cool interview! Hope you people out there enjoy it and the sweep-picking lesson!