Jayhawks – Tomorrow’s grass is Greene-r
ND: So it was very new wave.
GL: Yeah. Very pop. Very British. I was a total Kinks-Beatles-Stones-Who freak. And we used to write songs, and that’s the first time I started playing electric lead guitar. That’s when I started practicing a lot.
ND: Who were some of your first guitar heroes?
GL: Cliff Gallup, the original Gene Vincent guitar player. And then Scotty Moore, and Link Wray, and a lot of the early rockabilly guys. And then from there, I was always a big Jimmy Page fan — more than Keith [Richards], even. I like Keith, but I like Jimmy even better.
ND: What was the first record you bought?
JG: Pink Floyd, The Wall.
GL: The Monkees’ first album, on Colgems.
ND: What’s your most memorable concertgoing experience?
GL: The first time Elvis Costello played Minneapolis, at the Longhorn. Or the Buzzcocks, or the Stranglers. And I have to say, seeing Nirvana at First Avenue was a great one. I saw the James Gang blow Chicago off the stage when I was a teenager in Toledo.
JG: I just saw Hadda Brooks, this 80-year-old piano player, at Goldfingers in Los Angeles. She plays at the Viper Room a lot. She was around in the ’50s, and she’s this amazing jazz singer and she comes down off the stage and makes you sing with her. Really amazing.
ND: Jessy, you said earlier that there was an immediate musical connection between you and Gary. What do you mean by that?
JG: With every instrument, you approach music from a different direction. If you’re a singer-songwriter, you’re very much in control; you have a certain role. Whereas if you’re playing keyboards, guitar, or violin, you’re more ornamental. And for me, as a violinist, with music that I like, I love to make it sound better. And with Gary, it’s just very easy. With different people, it’s kind of like a communication thing without words, but with instruments. I try to figure out not only how to make the music sound better, but what the person singing wants from the violin….I love when people have an idea. I’m not the kind of violin player who will just say, “This is how I want to play it. This is how I hear it.” I love it when people say, “This is how I hear it, and how about this line here?” So he had great string parts, and great string ideas. He’s a great string arranger.
GL: (Laughing) I’d like to be. It was really fun, because whenever I’d suggest something, she’d always agree and get excited. And then she’d play something, and I’d get excited. Our minds were always in the same place. It was never a struggle. I just liked her choices: They were somewhat odd, sometimes, and kind of dark, and weird. She’s definitely a violin player, and not like a fiddle player. She’ll get into kind of John Cale-y, Velvets screeching things. She likes to get out there. And then she can play very beautiful, classical stuff, or make it sound like “Walk Away Renee” or something.
JG: Yeah, I like to make things sound a little twisted — but within the realm of what I’m doing. Not to go too far out there, but not to always be so pretty.
GL: I tend to write real pretty stuff, and I can be a little rigid in my own writing and playing. So I like to get people involved who will kind of fuck it up a little bit, because if it’s too pretty, then it’s sugary sweet.
ND: To you, what is the distinction between a fiddle player and a violin player?
JG: Well, the fiddle has traditionally been a folk instrument, exclusively. The fiddle came way before the violin; it was used by many different cultures, and in different ways. The music was more of the people. And violin came along as an elite form of music. The idea was taken from the country folk, and they made it into this perfect instrument that was perfectly designed and had to be played perfectly. So a violin player has more of a grasp on scales, chops, and being in complete pitch with tuning. And you have to be really disciplined to play the violin. You have to practice a lot. Even though I practiced all those years, I still have to practice to be able to play right, and in tune. And the fiddle is a little easier, because you’re playing more choppy, and you’re playing open strings. You don’t have to play as well. But then again, there are amazing fiddle players. It’s just different styles. Basically, a violin player can play the fiddle; a fiddle player can’t always play the violin. But that’s not always true, either, because there’s some violin players who can’t break out of their classical thing.
ND: Do you ever see someone like classical violinist Naja Salerno-Sonnenberg and go, “Ooh, I wish I’d pursued this a little more”?
JG: No, because I see my brother. He’s an amazing classical player. When I was born, he was 14 years old and he was already playing at Carnegie Hall. He went to Yale, Juilliard, and Stony Brook. He’s an amazing classical pianist. His name’s Arthur Greene, and he’s really amazing. But the fact that I’m making a living at what I do is really amazing. I also love to write music, and if I were a classical player, I would never have time to write. And that’s so important — to be able to create parts, even to create parts for other people’s music. And if you’re classically trained, you have to play what’s been written already. I’ve never understood that concept of perfecting something that’s already been perfected. I love classical music, I listen to it a lot; I think it’s beautiful and I appreciate it greatly. I’m very happy that it’s part of my style, but I don’t regret at all that I’m not there. I’m actually quite happy.
GL: In the grand scheme of things, music may have been more powerful and more beautiful back then than it is now, but I still don’t understand how you can just devote your life to covering other people’s music. Especially since they’ve all been recorded a million times….[Although] it’s fun to do covers; that’s why we have Golden Smog, though that’s not so much a cover band anymore.