Style isn’t the thing one should be interested in, the only thing that matters is what individual story someone has to tell, no matter what language he uses.
mwe3: Can you give the readers a little background into where you’re from, where you live now, what you like best about it, and some of your background in the guitar world and music world, including when you started playing and studying guitar and music and when you decided to become a recording artist?
MARNIX BUSSTRA: My hometown is Amsterdam, for a long time now. It’s a very nice city to live in, with a relaxed atmosphere and a lot of art, theater and music all year round. I was born in the eastern part of Holland, but moved to Aalsmeer with my parents when I was very young. Aalsmeer is a small village near Amsterdam, so actually I have lived in the same area for about 40 years now. And I’m still enjoying it!
My father was a fanatical jazz lover. He was always listening to Oscar Peterson, Errol Garner, Clark Terry, etc. My brother Berthil, two years older then me, was a very talented pianist and together we grew up with the music of my father’s choice and later our own kind of music: Earth, Wind & Fire, George Duke, Herbie Hancock, Brecker Brothers, etc. I started playing the piano when I was 7 years old, but it turned out it was not my instrument. I tried other instruments too, among others drums and trumpet, but found the guitar when I was 13, starting with classical lessons. My heart was of course into jazz, so I switched to the electric guitar soon. But the technical basis of the classical lessons was there. I still have a ‘classical left hand’. I never use my thumb for bass-notes, like a lot of jazz guitarists do…
After high school I went to the Conservatory of Hilversum, but never liked it there. I was into my own music, and never felt any support doing that. So the conservatory was a bit too conservative for me. I stopped after two years and developed my own playing, got really interested in Indian classical music and started studying the Indian sitar. Indian music is all about melody, which helped me a lot in developing a very precise feeling for melody, which is very helpful when you improvise and when you write music, so that was very inspiring and educational.
After that period I listened to modern classical music a lot, did a course, and wrote some pieces in that style, among others for saxophone quartet. I especially liked Bela Bartok, I listened to his six string quartets about a hundred times. It’s amazing music and a very good training for your ears, because of the very complex harmonies. Again, very inspiring and educational.
mwe3: You mentioned that your new CD Sync Dreams is your most personal album so far. How so and in what ways has your recorded sound and guitar vision of the guitar changed, improved and evolved over the years and where do you find inspiration when you write your music?
MARNIX BUSSTRA: Sync Dreams is my most personal album so far for a few reasons.
The compositions are all mine and are a culmination of everything I learned and developed. All the compositions are very compact and specific in sound and idea, and are all what you call ‘playing-pieces’. So they are not difficult in structure, but, as a good jazz-composition ought to be, are just simple starting-points for the band to go on an adventure.
It took me some time, but I finally found my ideal guitar-sound. And in the setting of this album, with these musicians and compositions, this sound works at its best.
The recording sound of the album, all credits by the way for my good friend and technician Norbert Sollewijn Gelpke, is also exactly how I think an album like this should sound. I tried a lot of different approaches over the years, such as working with natural acoustics… Very interesting, but in the end not working for this kind of music, but the approach we work with now, mainly using analog systems, is exactly how I like to do it.
These last years, I made recordings with the Buzz Brothers Band, together with my brother and pianist Berthil and the Mike Mainieri/Marnix Busstra Band—both bands with ‘shared leadership’.
Sync Dreams is in every way the product of my imagination, no concessions made whatsoever. So, everything fell in place and all together makes this definitely my most personal album so far.
mwe3: You released Sync Dreams in 2013 after recording several albums with Mike Mainieri. What was it like working with Mike and how long did it take to write and record Sync Dreams? How does this album reflect your approach to writing and recording guitar instrumental music and can you tell us who plays with you on the CD and why do you call the CD Sync Dreams?
MARNIX BUSSTRA: Working with Mike Mainieri was/is a great experience. We definitely ‘found’ each other in our shared taste of music and especially in our compositions. He’s also a melodic writer and we love to play each others pieces. He’s an extremely experienced player of course. He worked with almost everybody you have ever heard of, he even played with Billy Holiday! He has so many great stories to tell. Actually I think he should write his memoirs, that would be very entertaining to read, for sure… Of course I still love to play with Mike. We have plans to arrange another tour for 2014/’15 but it’s difficult to plan things, simply because he lives in New York and I live in Amsterdam.
This time I wanted my next project to be with all Dutch players, also to make things easier to organize. There are a lot of great musicians in Holland, although it’s always hard to find the exact right musicians for a project like this, simply because what I wanted to do was quite specific.
So I sat down with drummer Pieter Bast, he also plays in the Mike Mainieri/Marnix Busstra Quartet, and I wanted him to be in this project as well, and together we discussed who would be the most suitable for this new band. I already wrote the compositions, therefore I knew the most important thing for me was that I wanted lots of freedom and interaction.
And I’m sure we made the right choice. Bass player Arnold Dooyeweerd is a veteran, very experienced with free concepts, and pianist Rembrandt Frerichs is relatively young, but very open-minded and has a great musical instinct… He has a very ‘playful’ approach to the music.
The name Sync Dreams tells something about what happens on our best moments when we play with this band. It feels like getting together in a synchronous reality, a reality that the four members of the band experience and interpret each from their own perspectives.
mwe3: What guitars were featured on the Sync Dreams and how were certain guitars and amps selected for different tracks? Tell us about the amps you prefer as well as other instruments you play including the sitar and bouzouki. Also what is your choice in string and other guitar related gear you require?
MARNIX BUSSTRA: My main guitar, love of my life, is a Gibson Howard Roberts jazz guitar. I have used this guitar for many years now, and I don’t think I will ever change to any other type of guitar ever. It’s a kind of in between a Gibson ES-335 and ES-175—a bit more tone then the 335, and a bit more sustain then the 175. I use Joe Barden pickups, Elixir strings (011), Dynamic Arc Ultra cables and a simple effects pedals set-up: - Ibanez Hand Wired Tube Screamer - T-Rex Replica delay - TC-electronic chorus (to make it stereo) - two T-Rex Room Mate reverbs And the amps I use are two Bogner Duende 112. I also play a custom-built electric sitar from a guy in Germany, Günter Eyb.
On Sync Dreams I used this whole set-up for almost all the tunes, also for the electric sitar in “Earth Tone” but without the Tube Screamer, of course, which also goes for the ‘clean tone’ tunes “Small Truth” and “Desolation”.
Another instrument I use is an Irish 8-strings bouzouki, the brand is Fylde. I use it in another tuning, so it sounds more like an Indian or Eastern instrument. On Sync Dreams it was only used on “Peasant’s Party”. The bouzouki was recorded acoustic. Live I use an AER Compact Classic amp.
mwe3: Some have compared your guitar sound to that of John Scofield. How do you feel about that comparison and what other guitarists were inspiring and influential in forming and building your own guitar sound and vision, both then and now and why? Were you influenced by both rock and jazz guitarists?
MARNIX BUSSTRA: When a jazz guitarist plays with a distorted sound, the comparison with grand master John Scofield is easily made. I definitely have another sound, rounder and darker, compared to his, but I can understand the comparison. My sound has got nothing to do with, for example, the sound of George Benson or Wes Montgomery.
The main thing for me, when I developed my sound, was that it should have a big ‘singing’ quality. I’m definitely a single note player. Sometimes I think I chose the wrong instrument… maybe saxophone would have been more suitable (lol) and my fixation on melody, also caused by the Indian years, makes the ‘singing quality’ of the sound the main thing for me. So for me a classic jazz guitar-sound hasn’t got enough sustain to be ‘singing’, but a real rock-sound, I love the old sound of Santana for example, is too heavy for jazz, especially in an acoustic setting as we have on Sync Dreams. So it took me a long time to find the ideal sound, but I’m very happy with it now.
mwe3: Do you still practice the guitar or is most of your time spent writing and recording? How can practicing the guitar improve not only your guitar playing but also your writing and interaction with other musicians? How else do you try and improve your playing and writing?
MARNIX BUSSTRA: You never have enough time to do all the things you want to do in music, that’s for sure. What I have learned is not to try all things at the same time. So when I’m in a writing mood, I write, and when I’m in a practicing mood, I practice. But in the end, it’s all the same thing. Sometimes you practice and you’re playing a weird scale and you hear a melodic idea for a song in it. And sometimes you write a song with difficult chords to improvise over, and then you have to practice that.
But I stopped having the idea that I always have to improve my playing and writing. To be honest, I even think that’s a dangerous thing, especially in jazz, always trying to be better. It’s not sports, it’s a language you use to tell stories! When you have found your language as a musician, just concentrate on telling as much beautiful stories as you can, and don’t try to learn all other possible languages… it’s impossible, and a waste of time. For me, I know that I’m not an extremely virtuosic player but I can play my instrument good enough to tell what I want to tell, and that’s good enough for me.
mwe3: Holland has such a rich history of jazz, rock and guitar centric music. What is the jazz and rock music scene like in Amsterdam and throughout Holland and who are some of your favorite Dutch musicians, including vocalists, guitarists, groups and how about favorite musicians from other European countries? Do you feel that there is a difference in sound and style between American and European jazz artists, and how do you feel about combining jazz and rock?
MARNIX BUSSTRA: There are indeed a lot of very good Dutch musicians, and that’s something to be proud of. But I can be a bit jealous at the jazz-scene of for example Norway, because it has its own signature. Holland hasn’t got that… Maybe we are known to be a country with a lot of good musicians who know how to play, but I don’t think we have a specific Dutch signature.
There are some very good jazz-guitarists in Holland, very virtuosic guys like Jesse van Ruller and Martijn van Iterson. A very good and open-minded trumpet-player is Eric Vloeimans, he can play really beautiful. And I love the sound of a country singer from here, her name is Ilse de Lange. So yes, there are so many good musicians here…too many to mention.
To be honest, I do think jazz is in the end American music. There are very good individual players from Europe and other parts of the world, but the big story of jazz, and the development of the music, lies in America. What you can call ‘typical European jazz’ is nothing more then a footnote. I have always been proud to be reviewed a lot of times in Europe as an ‘American’ kind of jazz musician.
Combining jazz and rock is not an item anymore, maybe only for very, very old jazz-purists. Jazz always absorbed other music-styles, from classical music to musical to rock ‘n’ roll to rock to funk to world music to house to computer-loops to anything… Style isn’t the thing one should be interested in, the only thing that matters is what individual story someone has to tell, no matter what language he uses.
mwe3: You come from a very musical family. Can you tell us about your family and your playing and recordings with your brother Berthil, who you work with in the Buzz Brothers Band? I understand you have toured Asia and Europe with Berthil. What was that like and how would you describe the musical chemistry between you and Berthil? Also what other artists are you currently working with or that you would you like to work with and / or produce in the future?
MARNIX BUSSTRA: My brother Berthil is two years older than me and is a brilliant pianist. He is a specialist on the Fender Rhodes, he’s unbeatable on that instrument. We grew up together and discovered all the great music together, so we have a very strong bond. When we play together, it feels totally natural.
For the Buzz Brothers Band I wrote a lot of tunes through the years, always in mind it’s for that band. His taste of music is a bit different then mine, so I try to write music in a style we both like; funky with a lot of ‘space’. And it works like hell, we tour a lot in Asia and people are crazy about our music over there. The interaction between the band and the audience is really special, we always have a lot of fun!
At the moment I’m very happy with the bands I’m working with, I’ve got no specific dreams about ‘playing with that guy or this guy’. We’ll see what comes along…
mwe3: What plans do you have for the remainder of 2013 and what would you like to accomplish next with your music, recording and guitar playing?
MARNIX BUSSTRA: In September/October I’m touring again with the Buzz Brothers Band in Asia (China/Philippines), and after that period I will be playing with the Sync Dreams band in Holland. I also work with my wife Karin Bloemen, she’s a famous singer/theater performer in Holland, and we’re developing a new theater show for the coming season. I’m busy right now writing new compositions for it. One of the things I like to accomplish next with my music is to come to America with one of my bands. The reviews of my albums are always very positive in the States, so I do think people will like my music over there…