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Interview with Pete Thorn

Pete Thorn interview

Today I  want to share with you interview with an amazing guitar player Pete Thorn.

Pete is well known as a touring sideman with Chris Cornell, Melissa Etheridge and Don Henley. His Youtube channel has more than 100 videos and you can find lots of amazing gear reviews and guitar lessons there.

Pete is a great guy and it was a real pleasure talking to him.

Enjoy the interview.

LK: Thank you for doing this interview.
PT: No problem.

LK: When did you start playing guitar?
PT: I was 10 years old, so it was around 1980 or 1981.

LK: Did you want to become a rock star right from the beginning or you just played for fun?
PT: Pretty early on I was really into it and wanted to pursue it as a career. By the time I was 14 years old I knew that’s what I wanted to do. It seemed kind of crazy to my friends and my family, but it was all I thought about. I was just obsessed with it. I had nice teachers who had good careers as a musicians and they always seemed like the happiest people to me. They were doing what they love for a living. They may not have the most money, but they just seemed happy and content with their lives. And that made an impression on me.

LK: Did learning guitar come easy to you or did you struggle?
PT: I guess it was relatively easy in comparison to doing other things. I started up violin and that’ tough. Making violin sound good is pretty difficult.

LK: What was the biggest hurdle you had to overcome guitar wise?
PT: Well, it never ends. I feel like you go through stages of learning and then you plateau and get in rut playing the same thing over and over again.  I still feel like there is so much more to learn and I guess that’s the beauty of learning an instrument.

LK: When did you decide to go to Musicians Institute?
PT: It was around that time when I was 14 or 15. I thought it would be great to be in Hollywood and play guitar.

LK: How was it there?
PT: It was a really good year for me. I started in September 1990 and did the full year course.It definitely raised my standards and elevated my idea of what it is to be a really good guitar player and professional musician. They had an organization week there and during this week there were concert every night in their performance hall. The skill level of players was just incredible. I remember seeing Michael Hedges,  he was amazing. He walked out into the room of 700 guitar players and said: “Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce you to the acoustic guitar.” It was pretty bold statement in front of room full of guitar players.

LK: How did you become a session musician?
PT: I consider myself more sort of a touring sideman although I also do sessions, but most of my living is touring on the road. And it was all through the connections. Few of the folks  that I met when I first moved to LA were playing with some of the top artist of the day. I guess it was all through networking with other players and becoming part of the music community in Los Angeles.

LK: Let’s talk a little bit about your practice routine, how has that change over the years?
PT: I go through spurts. My hardest practice is when I am preparing for a tour or working on demos. But I’ve never really had something like Steve Vai’s 10 hour workout. I never did that because I was never so focused. I was amazed by it and  always wanted to be like that, but I’ve never been that organised. Nowadays if I got a deadline to meet, I end up practicing really hard. If I know that I have to put a bunch of songs together, I put a lot of time and effort into it, making sure that when I walk into rehearsal room I’ve done the homework.

When I was younger I learned a lot of songs, I was really into Van Halen and The Who and different rock’n’roll bands. I used to sit a lot with a four track recorder. I recorded a song into it and put it on half speed or three quarters. Nowadays it is much easier. I use the software called Transcribe where you can cancel out the center section and just hear the guitars, slow things down or change keys, it’s fantastic.

LK: Do you have any special techniques for learning difficult parts of  songs?
PT:  The main thing with learning difficult things is to just learn little bits at a time. I can remember back in the days when I was learning Eruption or something like that, I listened to 2 or 3 notes at a time. If you listen to more than a bar at a time, you can’t really get the notes and phrasing right. Sometimes I spend 45 minutes with 2 bars of music to transcribe it accurately. Go slow, don’t take too much and make sure you understand each part. Amazing thing happens in your head when you do that, you start to hear it much better and all of a sudden it doesn’t sound complex or fast anymore.

LK: Have you ever taught guitar?
PT: Yes, my first real job was teaching. I started when I was 16, by the time I was 17 I taught like 35 people a week. When I moved to California I taught a little bit there too. I was also doing a lessons via Skype through company called Study with a Star. I really enjoy doing it and when I get off the road in December I will do some more of that.

LK: When did you start doing gear demos for Youtube?
PT: It was probably around 2007 and  it was really just kind of an accident. I bought an amp from the folks at Suhr– Suhr Badger 18 – and they gave me a really good deal on it. And I thought:  What can I do for them to help out? So I created a little demo of this amp and put it up on the internet. I made sure it is not about me showing off but about the amp. I played simple so the focus was on the amp. And it worked really well. Since then I am doing these demos where I try to demonstrate features and sounds in a real musical context. Now it is a big part of what I do.

LK: What would be your advice for somebody who wants to become a session musician or who wants to do music full-time?
PT: It’s funny because I wrote my latest column for Premier Guitar  on this very subject and it is probably not the answer that you might expect. When I moved away to play guitar for a living, I was very dedicated and I wanted to make it happen. And it worked out. It’s been a long, long road. I had to spend a lot of time away from my family, I didn’t get home more than a couple times a year. At times it was struggle financially. And the biggest regret is not going home and spending time with my family more. Even though it was hard and difficult for me to do because you have to take time off from gigs and put together some money for a plane ticket to fly home, I wish I had figured out how to do that more. If you are passionate about guitar and you move to music center be that London or New York, if you got family, go back as much as you can. Don’t let the time slip by and don’t forget that we are all here for a finite period of time.

And for a guitar related advice: know your strengths and try to capitalize on that. I don’t really believe in being jack of all trades. If you are great jazz player pursue that, if you are great rock player go into that. If your passion is writing music and you don’t care much about soloing, that’s fine, write songs. Figure out what you are and than capitalize on that. When I went to Musicians Institute I thought: If I finish this I am going to be able to play jazz, country and all those other styles. And I came out the other end and was still a rock’n’roll guitar player. And that’s ok.

LK: Thank you very much Pete.

Image courtesy: iaintright

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