Guitarist Russ Hewitt Interview

…uncanny ability to write melodies that speak to the soul…Scott Itter, Dr.Music

2016 looks like turning into quite a year for guitar virtuoso Russ Hewitt with his current CD, ‘Cielo Nocturno’, showing all the signs of becoming a run-away success.

Shimmering with the rumba flamenco rhythms and lightning guitar runs that have become trademarks of Hewitt’s distinctive style, the album includes a stellar line up of returning musicians including percussionist Raphael Padilla (Miami Sound Machine, Chris Isaak), drummer Walfredo Reyes Jr. (Santana, Steve Winwood, Chicago), bass player Bob Parr (Cher, Barry White), guitarist Alfredo Caceres (Gipsy Kings All-Stars) and most notably Larry Carlton who features on the delightfully easy grooving ‘North of Home’.

The recording was mastered by Chris Bellman who, in his time, has worked with the likes of Van Halen, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson and Elton John while completing the lineup are guitarist Ardeshir Farah and accordion player Vladimir Kaliazine.

Courtesy of Russ

Guitarist Russ Hewitt Interview >>>

Scott - Hi Russ, thank you for agreeing to do an interview w/ my website Guitarz

Russ - I enjoy checking out your website and keeping up with guitar players I know and learning about unfamiliar one's, so it's a thrill to be on here.
Scott - Give our readers a short but descriptive label for your style of music.

Russ - My style is not true Flamenco, jazz, Latin, Cuban, Spanish or Brazilian but a fusion of all of these, sometimes combined together simultaneously without worrying about what particular rules that go with each style. The song form is that of a pop song i.e. intro/verse/pre-chorus/chorus/bridge/solo with all the variations that go along with that type of structure as opposed to a jazz song which will have the melody, 'head', and then a long solo with repeating the melody at the end. I also use a wide variety of rumba rhythms and odd meters in my songs.
Scott - What is the name of your New Album and why the title?

Russ - The title of the new album is 'Cielo Nocturno' which means night sky. I wanted the title to tie-in with my first album 'Bajo el Sol', under the sun, with a day/night theme.
Scott - What is the thought process for the NEW Album?
Russ - My ultimate goal when compiling songs for a new CD is to avoid having them all sound the same. I take many steps to ensure this doesn't happen, one being not having more than two songs in the same key. After the key signature are tempo, meter, feel and scale. Here’s a breakdown of some of the songs on my upcoming CD: a four-on-the-floor beat using a Cumbia rhythm in Dorian mode. A samba, a Lounge-type melody with a Louisiana “fat back” groove, and a ballad. A Guajira rhythm I learned while visiting Holguin, Cuba. A bossa nova, a 7/8 song in Lydian mode, and a song in a Persian 6/8. There’s even another number that uses a Reggaeton beat. I also take into consideration my other songs, and their keys, so that when the new songs are added to the live set everything fits nicely together.

Scott - What differentiates this album from your other recordings?

Russ - I feel 'Cielo Nocturno' is a nice continuation of what I started with my first two albums, 'Bajo el Sol' and 'Alma Vieja', in terms of adding in new Latin rhythms and time signatures. I was involved in the entire editing and mixing phase this time around as well and I couldn't be happier with how it turned out. I had two guest guitarists on the latest album, Larry Carlton and Ardeshir Farah, which I've never done before. Both are such phenomenal players that it really forced me to step up my game which was great because it kept me on my toes. Ha.

Scott - How do you come up with your songs?

Russ - I usually come up with a concept for a song and then work it out. For example, the song 'Brisa de Monte' is a song that I wanted to be in 7/8 time signature using three different types of rhythms, in the Lydian mode, a bridge section that had unison and harmony lines and a call and answer chorus. Sometimes it's just two ideas that start a song like 'Persian Sky' which is a 6/8 time signature and the Algerian Scale.
Scott - How often when you start an idea for song, does it actually get finished? Is it one song writer or more of a collaborated effort with other musicians?

Russ -  Sometimes immediately, sometimes not for years. One of the advantages of not being on a label is that I'm not on a time frame and I don't have to release something just because I have to. That also works as a disadvantage as you can see how long it takes me to release a CD. Ha. I'll work on a song until I get to a stopping point and then wait a couple of days/weeks to listen back to it. If I like where it's heading I'll continue to work on it off and on or until I get stuck, at which point I'll sit on it until I come up with the part it needs. My song 'Dhanyavad' took 4 years and six re-writes, 'Persian Sky' took 5 years and seven re-writes, 'Serenidad' I've had around since 2005 but the songs 'Presidio' and 'Bajo el Sol' took less than a week. I've had a collaborator on one song and another that the bass player wrote alone but all the others I've been the sole writer.

Accolades are coming from all over the world in forms of press and reviews including two silver medal’s from the Global Music Awards in the instrumental category for the song ‘Presidio’ and album category for ‘Cielo Nocturno’.

Scott - So Russ, tell me a little bit of what you’ve learned about human nature during making this new production.

Russ - With each recording I become more relaxed on letting the creative process take place. Instead of having a hard line on what I want, I'll let the song take shape organically. The advantage of using ProTools is that it allows you to take something out, make a section longer or record multiple takes with great ease. I surround myself with incredible players and they each bring something to the song in ways I would have never thought of. I let the players go with their original gut feeling on what the song needs or where it should go. Most of the time it's spot on but if it's not, then I'll give suggestions or explain the overall vision of the song. What I love about my recording band is that the song always comes first and what would make the song better, it's not about personal chops or trying to show off.
Scott - What are your personal highlights on the new album? Why?
Russ - There's a little personal highlight in each song. It might be something small or clever that isn’t easily spotted by the listener or even a musician, but to me these little highlights are rewarding on a writer or guitar player level. I'm proud of the chord shapes and progressions in the Samba, 'Samba Sao Paulo', and in the Bossa Nova, 'Um Abraco Do Bossa'; the call and answer chorus melody in 'Brisa de Monte'; the key change for the chorus in 'Serenidad'; the different sections that make up 'San Elizario'; the insane picking on 'Persian Sky.' Each song had its own challenges that once overcome, made the song come together.
Scott - I was wondering if you ever hear music in your dreams and turn them into songs?

Russ - There's only been a couple of time where I had a song in a dream but by the time I grab a guitar it's long gone. I do have song ideas pop into my head randomly from time to time during the day and that's a lot easier to grab a guitar and work it out.

Scott - Are you a schooled guitar player or a self-taught guitar player?

Russ - I was fortunate enough to start learning guitar right around the time TAB became popular and widely available in the magazine 'Guitar for the practicing musician' and the publications by Hal Lenard. I even had a friend who had some boot leg transcriptions from Japan including 'Young Guitar' magazine. Unfortunately most of transcriptions were not right, but that's a whole other conversation - Ha! Videos started to become popular as well so I was self taught for a while. I had a great teacher for about a year before I went off to Weatherford college that showed me scales and arpeggios and then I went on to the University of North Texas to get a performance degree in Classical guitar. I figured that if I wanted to make this my career and life I needed to know the language of music and how to communicate it.
Scott - Did You develop your style by concept or by messing around on the neck playing what sounded cool to you?

Russ - My style is just an accumulation of everything I've learned. Now remembering it all is another story. Ha. I started out with the shred guitar scales and arpeggios then moved on to Country, Bluegrass, Flamenco, Jazz, Gypsy Jazz, Smooth Jazz and Blues. I think you can hear bits of all of those in my playing. I spent a good number of years playing music by the Gipsy Kings, Strunz and Farah, Ottmar Liebert, Steve Stevens and Armik among many others in the Nuevo Flamenco style. The producer who was doing my last rock band album heard me with my five-piece band playing that style in a club and wanted to record me after the rock band broke up. At that point I sat down and mapped out some things that I could do that the other artists in the Nuevo Flamenco style were not doing in terms of exotic scales, odd time meters, soloing technique and rhythms. 'Bajo el Sol' was the first songs I had ever written and it gave me the confidence that I could transition into this full time.
Scott - So, what type of guitars do you play and why?

Russ - I'm currently playing a Godin Multiac Grand Concert Duet Ambiance Nylon string guitar. I was always running into problems with getting the right balance of volume with the nylon strings. Sometimes a guitar was bass heavy and you couldn't hear the treble strings, sometimes the opposite was the case, sometimes just one string wouldn't sound out at all; it was very frustrating and even with multiple trips to the guitar repairman I couldn't remedy the problem. I went through dozens of guitars before before discovering Godin which has a chambered mahogany body. The cool thing with the guitar is that it has a Mic-Imaging switch allows you to choose from four different modeled microphone styles and also a Fishman piezo bridge pickup, which shares itself along with the Mic Imaging on the blender slider, allowing continuous mixing of both the piezo and modeled microphone tones.

Scott - What type of amps do you use? Do you use different amps for the studio vs live shows... If so, why?
Russ - I'm currently going direct into the house/monitors from my pedalboard and not using a amp. I tried an acoustic amp for a while but as soon as the sound comes out of the monitor the tone changes because monitors have horns in them. The great thing about the Radial Tonebone PZ-Pre Acoustic Preamp that I use is that it allows me so much control with my sound that I'm able to EQ most of the unwanted frequencies out and in turn have a better tone through the house system. In the studio I always use a mics to record the guitar. To me, there's a 'plastic' sound to nylon string guitars if you plug them in to record. Live is a whole other story because there are ways to limit that sound but on recordings there's not a satisfactory way to do it. There's no way to EQ it out either. By using mics I can get the movement of air to help achieve a warmer/fuller tone.

Scott - Do you have any endorsement with instrument and gear companies?

Russ - My endorsements include Godin guitars, Radial Engineering (Tonebone), Analysis Plus Cables, Morley Pedals, V-Picks, Neunaber Audio Effects, Voodoo Lab, BBF Pedal Boards, Primacoustic, Mission Engineering and DLS Effects. All of these companies have been incredibly supportive of me and my music. I only endorse what I use and each of these companies are vital to my sound, I honestly would use them even if I wasn't endorsed by them.
Scott - How has your guitar playing evolved over the years?

Russ - I think my phrasing and note choice is the only thing that separates guitarists so that is the area in which I've spent to most time working on. A few guitarists have a signature tone and sound but for most part it comes down to what you play and how you play it. Of course technique is a factor but there has to be more there than just that. I've also narrowed what I learn on the guitar to what I can apply to my style immediately. It would be fun learning a crazy Steve Vai tapping lick or a Johnny Hiland country instrumental song but it doesn't really work with what I'm doing now and with only so many hours in a day I don't have the luxury of time like I did when I was younger. I'm also more comfortable with non-diatonic notes and theoretically wrong playing as long as it works and sounds good.
Scott - What are you listening to these days?

Russ - Nothing and everything. Don't you just hate answers like that? Ha. 'Nothing' refers to the fact that I listen to sports radio, Howard Stern or just silence to give my ears and head a break. 'Everything' refers to me  setting time aside to discover new music whether it's a new/old artist or new/old song. I have gigabits of music I haven't listened to yet. The less I know about the song/artist the better because I want the first impression to be nonjudgmental. If something catches my ear I want to know what it is; is it a chord progression, key change, groove/rhythm, feel, etc. It's also learning what not to do and avoid in my own music. If I hear a song and it doesn't have a hook, go anywhere or have a 'pay off' then it seems like a waste of time listening to it.
Scott - I also don't want to forget this... Tell us about any other things you may be in involved in or any special interest besides music that is close to your heart?
Russ - Anything having to do with animals my wife and I are big supporters of. I do stuff locally with the Legacy Animal Foundation which helps people with high medical bills for their pets and Christie's Critters - Celebrating Pets and Animal Rescue out of Palm Beach Florida. I sometimes get more solicitation mail from animal organizations than actual mail because we give to so many various organizations already. Once you're on that mailing list, you're in the system. Ha. Three of our four pets are from local rescues so we'll also pitch in when we receive a email requesting support for a particular animal that got hurt or when they've seized a property that had a hoard of animals.

Scott - I would like to thank you for your time and candor with our loyal readers and keep on fighting the good fight to bring us some awesome music.