How Blake Mills changed my life
My name is Jesse Daniel Smith and I'm a singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, producer, and photographer/videographer based out of Montréal & Vancouver, Canada. I've spent my life perfecting how to be an anxious piece of shit so you don't have to and this blog is dedicated to showing you things I know, in hopes that you'll be a happier, more complete person somehow.
Blake Mills is an important person in my life - in fact, I would argue his playing completely changed my entire 10 year perspective on the instrument. When I first came into the above video, I was convinced that my life's purpose was dominating the speedy 1/16th note runs that Bryan Sutton, David Grier, and most importantly Tony Rice were throwing out on a daily basis. At that point I had spent a calendar year forcing fiddle tunes down (despite my brain never truly taking to them) and I was subconsciously in desperate need for a booster of inspiration.
What was special about it?
I was instantly taken by the minimal production on the track, first and foremost. That little slide riff that leads to the drum hits? C'mon - what a perfect palette cleanser for the pure groove that hits right after. The 16th note, staccato stabs on the Wurlitzer leads the way as the musical meter and provides ample room for Joe Dart's syncopated bass-lines. But most importantly, it gives Mills room to do his thing.
What is 'his thing', exactly?
Not playing the guitar like a square, for one. The guitar club is one inundated with pentatonic scales, dad-blues riffs and chubby 11 year olds on insanely expensive PRS guitars being proclaimed as future blues legends, despite those posers never spending a moment in slavery. Here is this weird looking dude playing a Cooderstrat in an open tuning, using a slide in interesting, musical ways and combining it with prodigious touch and feel.
What did I take away from this?
CAGED guitar playing allows you to approach the instrument like a piano, using inversions to express different levels of very familiar harmonic tensions. It also opened my eyes to the effectiveness of thoughtful arranging & production, minimal videography and how much personality you can get from instruments who have seen some shit.