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INTERVIEW: Jeff Wooton on his debut album, gear and working with some of the world's biggest artists

Daniel Gumble
INTERVIEW: Jeff Wooton on his debut album, gear and working with some of the world's biggest artists

Over the past five years, Jeff Wooton has become one of the UK’s most in-demand guitarists. After joining Damon Albarn’s Gorillaz as lead guitarist back in 2011, aged just 23, he has since gone on to perform on Albarn’s 2013 solo album, while joining him once again alongside the likes of Brian Eno and Nick Zinner of Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs to record in Mali as part of the Africa Express project.

He’s also accrued impressive collaborative credits with the likes of Massive Attack, Can’s Damo Suzuki and Liam and Noel Gallagher.

Now, Wooton is making his inaugural outing as a solo artist. His debut album The Way The Light was released last month and he is set to hit the road in support of Alex Turner and Miles Kane’s The Last Shadow Puppets tour.

But why make the move from much sought after guitar virtuoso to solo performer now? And how difficult has it been to shake off the influences of the esteemed artists he’s been plying his trade with over the past five years.
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Daniel Gumble caught up with the man himself to discuss the writing and recording process, gear and why now is the right time to step out on his own…

 

Daniel Gumble: You’ve spent most of your career to date playing with and for an array of huge international artists. Why release your first solo effort now?

Jeff Wooton: “Well, first of all, I’m grateful to have had the journey I’ve been on so far and wouldn’t have it any other way. I wanted to make a record that would stand the test of time and I wouldn’t have been able to do that early on.”

 

DG: How heavily, if at all, have the artists you’ve been working with influenced the sound of the album?

JW: “Totally, Damon is an artist that pushes artistic boundaries and that’s reflected in this record. He took me to Mali and, again, that changed the way I think as an artist. There’s also an African influence on the album.”

 

DG: Talk us through the writing and recording process of the record.

JW: “Well, I had the songs and was looking for someone I could relate to on an engineer level to create something sonically challenging and pushing guitar music forward and I found that in Mark Howard. The records he’s been involved in all have character and are classics. Once I found mark we both worked in a unique way in some sense. The album was recorded in two houses - one in Manchester and one in LA - and we would set up in a room huddled together almost and capture moments, rather than have a live room and control room where the mixing desk would be. It’s a Brian Eno ideology that we have both come across from working with him before.”

 

DG: I understand you played all of the instruments on the album. Did you ever consider bringing in a band, or was this always intended to be a solo album in the truest sense of the word?

JW: “Yeah, it was important for me to do this record myself without the help of big name musicians. I had to get the first one out the way like that.”

 

DG: Tell us about your set-up. What gear did you uses to make the album – instruments, pedals, amps etc?

JW: “What I use is very simple, guitar wise – probably every guitar player has the same pedals on there board. We would do ‘treatments’ on the guitars after and feed them back in. I think that’s probably where the sonics are. I’ve spent a lifetime dedicated to sonics and creating something unique in my guitar sound. I used a ‘60s Vox AC30 and a Fender Jazzmaster on this record.”

 

DG: How was the album recorded and mixed. Was this done in a conventional studio or ‘in the box’?

JW: “We recorded this album on radar - no computer screen to stare at and has a beautiful and unique sound. And there are only 24 tracks, so it’s very much like analogue but obviously digital. It was nice to work like that. I think with Pro Tools there are just endless tracks, so you end up layering for the sake of it. When you’re restricted with a certain amount you make sure what you put down is needed and also the immortals we know today all worked like that with tape.”

 

DG: How much involvement did you have in the mixing and production of the album?

JW: “I’m not technical in a recording sense, so that’s where Mark comes in. He would show me some techniques - he gave Neil Young a new guitar sound on Le Noise.”

 

DG: How did you come to work with so many big names so early on in your career?

JW: “I just created my music and got out there and eventually it feeds to the right people. I don’t come from any musical background; it was just a matter of hard work, really, and creating music that I wanted to create. It got to the right people and gained respect.”

 

DG: What would your advice be to aspiring musicians?

JW: “Be fearless and create art that stands out.”

 

DG: Damien Hirst is credited with providing the artwork for the album – a pretty big coup for a debut. How did this come about?

JW: “We were fans of each other’s work, I consider myself an artist also and he offered to collaborate. I wanted to find a unique way of giving a record worth again, something valuable. To collaborate with an artist and have an art piece for each track made it something of a statement.“

 

DG: What’s next? Do you intend to pursue a solo career full-time, or will it be back to collaborations again?

JW: “Both. I just want to create as much interesting music and art as I can while I’m on this earth. That’s’ been my intention all along.“

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