DATE OF INTERVIEW:
24th July 2012
Humble and humorous in equal measure, French guitar virtuoso Christophe Godin subverts and debunks the serious demeanour characteristic of so many of his peers. Instead, the man places as much emphasis on entertaining audiences in whatever crazily jocular form that might take while simultaneously wowing them with breathtaking displays of fretboard virtuosity. With an infectiously zany personality, he's a rare breed and breath of fresh air amongst guitar wizards - taking his art seriously but executing it with a quasi-deranged flair. Exercising his humour/virtuosity amalgam within the context of two trios, Gnô and Mörglbl, the latter outfit released their fifth instrumental opus at the end of June this year, 'Brütal Römance', a collection of rock/metal tunes flavoured with jazzy infusions and funky grooves. Having a natural sounding production that's befitting for its musical fluidity through a jam-like vibe, guitar/bass/drum instrumentations balance out affective expression with technical ability to perfection. Christophe spoke to Metal Discovery about this latest impressive addition to his ever-growing canon of work...
METAL DISCOVERY: The new Mörglbl album, ‘Brütal Römance’, is amazing stuff – how pleased are you with how it turned out?
CHRISTOPHE: Thank you, I appreciate it. Well, I’m very happy with it. For the first time, we really had the chance to do things in the best conditions we ever had. We had time; we had a lot of time to rehearse the songs; we even went on tour in the US before we finished the recording process. We had the time to do a very nice mix and master everything so I’m very proud of that one and, to me, it’s probably the one that sounds the most like what Mörglbl is when you see us on stage. It really sounds very natural…it’s not over-produced but that’s a choice because we want to sound as live as possible. Now, I just hope we succeed in achieving that goal.
(Christophe Godin on track titles for latest Mörglbl album, ‘Brütal Römance’)
"...we went through the Scorpions ballads and, at some point, we had ‘Wind of Change’ that was playing in the background and I was just playing fool with putting things over my head and so we came up with ‘Wig of Change’!"
Mörglbl - promo shot
Interview by Mark Holmes
Photograph copyright © 2011 Sandra Bariller
MD: Yeah, it does sound very organic. I think there are too many over-produced albums these days and that can lose something in the feeling, particularly with that kind of music, so what you’ve done with the production sounds great.
CHRISTOPHE: Thank you, I appreciate it.
MD: A lot of the track titles seem pretty random – is that the case; were they made up randomly or is there a story behind each of them?
CHRISTOPHE: Actually, some of the songs have titles where we’re just playing on words to make something funny, like ‘Gnocchis On The Block’, there’s no story behind this title. But some of them are related to things we have gone through, like ‘Oh P1 Can Not Be’. P1 is a type of visa you must have when you go to the United States; it’s an entertainment visa. When we did the tour for ‘Jazz for the Deaf’, we were rejected at the border because we didn’t have that right visa and we were asked to go back home as there’s a six month process to have this visa. So that title, although it sounds funny because it sounds like the ‘Star Wars’ character of Obi-Wan Kenobi, the idea was really that we wouldn’t get that bloody P1 visa! And so, here and there, there are some titles that are related to stories we’ve gone through. And some of them are just funny, random things we picked up by…you know, after a few drinks!
MD: I think the one that made me laugh the most was ‘Wig of Change’…
MD: I presume that’s completely random?!
CHRISTOPHE: It’s stupid actually…we were drinking and listening to all the stuff of the eighties that I’ve gone through when I was young. I’m the guy who bothers the others with old stuff…I love to play some Scorpions or Saxon or Judas Priest riffs and, for some reason, we went through the Scorpions ballads and, at some point, we had ‘Wind of Change’ that was playing in the background and I was just playing fool with putting things over my head and so we came up with ‘Wig of Change’!
CHRISTOPHE: When you explain it, it sounds really stupid but at the moment it was funny! [laughs]
MD: As you kind of said already, you toured with a lot of the material before recording it so did the songs evolve much through that process before you recorded the final versions?
CHRISTOPHE: Yes, actually, the structures of some songs were a little too long or some arrangements weren’t working efficiently. When we played them on stage we noticed, here and there, things that had to be re-arranged. The overall result is quite close to what was composed in the beginning but it’s just little touches, here and there, that changed; you know, adding some layers of guitar to make it a little more powerful or introducing some dynamics into the song to build up to something a little more ecstatic…a high point of the song.
I believe that, for me, it was a great experience because I could really practice the songs over and over and in terms of when I came to perform the solo sections, I already had an idea of where I was going. All the takes were done in just one or two days. I did just one or two takes for each song and it’s been really comfortable to perform them before and to feel the song and be really comfortable with the songs. It’s a great process. I think we will now, every time we record an album, go on tour, play the new stuff, see how it works and what doesn’t work and, here and there, re-arrange things and then record.
MD: That’s a very good idea, yeah. On the subject of solos, I gather you improvise them the whole time so they change between each live performance. Once you’ve recorded the final tracks, do you then play those versions of the solos live or do you carry on improvising?
CHRISTOPHE: I really like to improvise over and over because what I like about Mörglbl is we’re a rock band but there is some jazz flavours here and there and that’s what I like about the solo sections and it’s the same for my band mates. We try to come up with something fresh every night so if someone comes to see us several times in a row, they won’t get exactly the same show. It helps in really having an interaction with the audience. Sometimes you play for people who are seated, for example, and for people who listen to a lot of sophisticated rock and you tend to play something that is a little more connected to those people. Playing a heavy metal festival, for example, I would go for the pyrotechnics of the guitar hero. So we kind of adapt depending on the place where we’re performing. That’s what’s cool with this band.
MD: Ah, that’s a very cool thing…I didn’t know that’s what you did!
MD: Obviously there’s a high level of technicality on the album through the playing but it sounds very natural rather than forced or contrived so would you say that kind of feeling came from playing the music so much live before you recorded it?
CHRISTOPHE: Actually, we try to play as much as possible with Mörglbl because I think this is really a live band. And this is not proud at all what I’m gonna say but to achieve a high level of technicality and to perform this as naturally as possible, requires that we play over and over and the fact that we play live quite a lot makes us really comfortable with entertaining people and, at the same time, playing things which are a little tricky to perform. That really goes through the fact we are playing live…maybe sixty shows per year and, personally, I do a hundred and eighty gigs per year with all the clinics and everything. This is the best way to keep yourself at a high level of musicianship first and technicality second.
MD: Live, you obviously entertain people with the humorous aspect to the show, but do you try and keep that humour in the studio as well when you’re recording so that helps the feeling of the music?
CHRISTOPHE: In the first stages of the recording process, when we record down all the things, most of the time everybody is just performing in his own studio…actually, we have three stages. The first stage is everybody comes up with a lot of ideas and we put that all together and we try to re-arrange the things everyone’s brought up to make it sound as Mörglbl-ish as possible. Then the second stage is actually composing the songs from those ideas and that’s where we filter what we think is good and what we think is bad; so we just forget about the bad things and keep what we think is good material. And then the third stage is everybody is in his own studio recording things and spending as much time as possible to make it sound as good as possible. The humour is really something that goes with the process of composing but then, when you’re alone at home and you remember the composing process you’ve been through, you keep a smile on your face when you’re recording and you try to capture that vibe we had in the first place.
MD: You’re a player who can communicate a lot of emotion through your playing and it sounds with great ease you’re able to do that, so do you actually feel what you play or is there always a conscious element where you have to think more about what you’re playing?
CHRISTOPHE: Actually, I would compare this to a conversation…playing like talking so trying to be inspired by what’s around you. It’s more something natural than something that’s thought about too much. We try to keep it as natural as possible. It’s really a jamming band because we don’t rehearse a lot; we try to keep things as fresh as possible to keep on being happy playing the stuff and without giving the impression to the people that we are just playing another show and being bored at what we do. It’s all very natural and we’re good friends in everyday life and I think we just keep on having the friendship on stage and it’s just a natural process to keep on playing things as refreshing as possible.
MD: For me, a true virtuoso is a player who can convey a lot of different emotions through their music rather than just having a high level of technical ability - is that something you agree with?
CHRISTOPHE: Yes, because that’s really what we’re looking for. A song has to be a story; it’s not just a display of all the things you can go through. And, actually, there are some songs that are very simple technique-wise. For example, ‘Fidel Gastro’ is a very melodic tune with the guitar doing a singer’s job…the idea is to keep it as melodic and emotional as possible and it has to feel like a singer is playing the guitar. I’m not just a guitarist, you know what I mean? I try to sing through the guitar.
MD: Yeah, definitely. And even over the more technical stuff, like with the shredding and fast sweep-picking you do, you’re still able to inject a lot of emotion into that as well.
CHRISTOPHE: I think you have to find the right balance and that’s the thing I’ve been looking for for years. I think I will never achieve the right balance because that’s the thing that keeps you working on both technical stuff and the expression. That’s really something I’m trying to look for. I’m a big fan of Jeff Beck because that’s the guy who makes the guitar sing and, actually, he is still a very technical player…although it’s a generation of guitarists who were more blues influenced and they were not as shreddy as nowadays guys!