10 questions for Greg Koch: “Think of improvising in terms of building a conversation rather than just talking”

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He’s Milwaukee’s hottest guitar export and fusioneer deluxe - but how will Greg Koch deal with the 10 questions we ask everyone?

1. What was your first guitar and when did you get it?

“The first guitar I owned was an Applause acoustic - the entry-level Ovation with a plastic back, or whatever those things were made from. I purchased it with the proceeds of my paper route in eighth grade and so I would have been around 12 years old. I remember I learned an A chord at the second fret from my buddy across the street and going back and forth with the open strings playing what I thought was an effective rendition of Cocaine!”

2. Suppose the building were burning down, which guitar from your collection would you save?

“I have a ’53 Telecaster - that would be the one that I would save. I don’t really have much of a sentimental attachment to guitars in general, but I always wanted a real, honest-to-goodness vintage Telecaster and I finally got one. So now it’s here, if the place is burning, I’m grabbing that one.”

3. What’s your oldest guitar?

I always wanted a real, honest-to-goodness vintage Telecaster and I finally got one

“The Telecaster would be it, although I do have a ’55 refin Les Paul as well, but the Tele takes the cake. The Les Paul was, as far as we know, a factory refin and it’s kind of a transparent cherry. It’s beautiful to behold, I got it from the owner of Wildwood Guitars - he was selling some of his own collection… it sounds unbelievable.”

4. When was the last time you practised and what did you play?

“I would say this morning at some point I picked up the guitar and started playing. I can’t remember what I played, though. I think I just played one of my tunes - played the chords a little bit and started improvising. Nothing’s set per se, I kinda have a loosey-goosey practice schedule, which is a combination of improvising, maintaining my own repertoire, practising other people’s tunes and learning new stuff.”

5. When was the last time you changed your own strings?

“Just yesterday! I always change my own strings. I change one string at a time and I tune it up to the rest of the strings and yank on it until it submits and then I go to the next string. I find that useful on Strats because I like a floating tremolo and they’re temperamental, but I have found just that simple technique to be very effective.”

6. If you could change one thing about a recording you’ve been on, what would it be and why?

“You know what? I don’t obsess about that stuff. That’s what was so refreshing about the Toby Arrives record. It was live in the studio, we played the stuff and we were done. So I kinda have an attitude of ‘what happens, happens…’”

7. What are you doing five minutes before you go on stage and five minutes afterwards?

“Sometimes I’ll be noodling before, but most of the time not. Usually I’m securing whatever beverage I’ll be consuming - my dual attack is sparkling water and coffee or some kind of espresso-fuelled drink - and then away we go. But that’s about it, I don’t really have a routine. Afterwards, you know, I’ll get among the people quick, especially if we’re touring with the band I’ll get out and sign stuff and hang out. So nothing too ritualistic, it’s pretty much on the fly.”

8. What would you play on an acoustic around a campfire?

In the case of improvising, it’s just a matter of telling the story and not worrying about that little voice in your mind

“I’d just do a kind of blues thing… I have a tune of mine in mind. Either that or Cannonball Rag always seems to work. That’s probably one that would be towards the top of the list. As opposed to Kumbaya!”

9. What aspect of guitar playing would you like to be better at?

“I keep on learning more about playing solo guitar. For years on end I was always the one that needed to play in an ensemble. Later in my guitaring I came up with a repertoire of solo things and I continue to work on that. And there’s room for improvement, whether that means reworking a standard, doing my own songs or doing some cooler folky stuff or alternative tuning things - just being able to play a meaningful set of solo guitar, whether it be on acoustic guitar or electric.”

10. What advice would you give your younger self about the guitar if you had the chance?

“Particularly in the case of improvising, it’s just a matter of telling the story and not worrying about that little voice in your mind saying, ‘Oh, I’d better do something flashy here or I’ll lose people’s attention…’ [laughs]. 

“If I’m teaching a Skype lesson or something and people say, ‘I always play the same things over and over again,’ I say it’s not about licks - that’s like having a verbal vocabulary where you have some excellent words that are very descriptive but if you threw them in all the time no one would care. So instead I say what you’re about to play should be influenced by what you’ve just played, so think of it in terms of building a conversation rather than just talking.”

Greg Koch’s latest album Toby Arrives is available now via the Mascot Label Group’s The Players’ Club.

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