Interview with Kim Mitchell

Interview by D. Alexander, Edited by Tom Morel

After many anxious emails, I finally got to meet (by telephone) Kim Mitchell. Here's our conversation...

CGPA - One of my favourite quotes from you was that when you were embarking on a solo career and trying to get a record deal in the States, they said "Kim Mitchell, who's she?". Do you feel that Canadian guitarists get due recognition on an international level now?

Kim - Some of them. I think it's got more to do with the bands that they're in more so than the guitarists. If you start to do well in the States as a band then you get recognized. It's not like somebody in the States says 'wow, what a great guitarist, let's do some stuff with him', I don't think so, so in other words, I guess as guitar players go, if you're in a band that's popular, ya, you'll get some recognition, but that's how the big machine works.

CGPA - In light of that, what do you think the future looks like for the up-and-coming pool of guitar talent, do you think it's strong or is it dropping off?

Kim -The world of guitar, to me, is always changing. There's really different players, in groups like Nickelback and stuff like that now, it's all very different, like, when was the last time you heard a guitar solo? So, things have really changed. People are more into composition, more into cool guitar parts, so it's all very good and fine, but as a musician, in order to make your mark, it really is always down to a song, a good melody or a good tune, as far as I'm concerned, it always has been that way. If you're a great guitarist along with that, then all the more better for you and then later on down the line, you can go off and do something on your own.

CGPA - In Canadian Musician, you were quoted as saying that Jimi Hendrix's "Are you experienced" was one of your first albums. Was he a major influence on your playing?

Kim - He was a major influence on just me as a musician. It was, 'Holy smokes, look at what this guy can do', he was just so creative, that's what wore off on me, you know....'hey, I think I'll do some drugs and jam out with my friends too!' Which I ended up doing to see what would happen. I don't do drugs anymore, and I wouldn't recommend it, but in some respects...it really does bust down the walls, because 'hey, anything can go here' and you start to develop your own style. It helps you not judge yourself and let others judge you.

CGPA - On your website, there's some tablature to a couple of tunes and the words 'Kim Mitchell and 'Canadian Rock Icon' seem to be attached a lot. Do you encourage newer players to emulate their guitar heroes?

Kim - I think every musician starting out has some kind of hero. I don't think they should be emulating them as much as learning from them. What's their attitude towards music? What's their attitude towards writing? How's that coming through? Not necessarily picking up their licks, although there's a few licks we all steal or borrow. Personally, I don't get off on guitar players who 'emulating' someone else too much. One of my favourite guitar players is Alan Holdsworth and there's a guy in Toronto in a Fusion band and it's obvious that he lives and breathes Alan Holdsworth. He's so into him and he plays like him, yet it just isn't right. It pisses me off...I almost wanna throw something at him. He's so good, he's amazing, but he's still ten levels below what Alan Holdsworth is and besides, Alan Holdsworth invented that. It's the same way when I go see an Eddie Van Halen copy. So if someone was just trying to emulate me, it would just kinda piss me off. You know...'go find your own thing to do', bring yourself out.

CGPA - Now that you've mentioned Alan Holdsworth, are there any specific players over the years that have really influenced your playing?

Kim - uhmmm...no, not really. I suppose in the very early stages, it may have been a bit of Mike Bloomfield. I sortta got into that a bit. Hendrix, ya. Then later on, the next person to smack me in the head was John McGlaughlan an a whole host of other fusion guy's came along after that, that just pissed me off, like Al DiMiola and all these people that just made me say, 'there's something missing', you know? There's something about John McGlaughlan that's organic and earthy. There's two kinds of musicians. There are ones that are playing from somewhere deep inside and then there's the other guy's that are going 'Look what four years of GIT gets me'. All their music is, is just a vehicle for them to wango. That became very apparent to me when I went to see G3. Steve Vai has something, to me. He gets shredding a bit, but to me he has something scary, a really scary side to him, really intense and it comes out in his playing. Satriani, to me, as good as he is, I'm just not a fan. I don't care how good he is or how accomplished he is or how accurate he is, his music is just a background for him to wango over and I just don't think that should be allowed.

CGPA - Speaking of G3, isn't it Eric Johnson who I feel hasn't gotten his due for being a great guitarist...

Kim - Right, he opened up the show and after, with hindsight, I thought I enjoyed him better than Satriani. He did play some stuff that was a bit hooky and I said 'ya, this is music', and he did do his wanking, but that's what everybody was there to see too, but you're right, I'd go along with you there.

CGPA - When you started out, what was your practice regimen like and are you self taught or did you take lessons?

Kim - I was mostly self taught until I was 21 years old, when I came back from living in Greece. I came to Toronto, not just to join Max Webster which I ended up doing, but I came here to study with a guy named Tony Braden. I did that for a year and then started a band called Max Webster. And Max, within 4 or 5 months was getting really popular, we got a record contract and we started to record. Ya, I would put in my three and a half hours a day.

CGPA - So, did you do things like chord arpeggios and all those technical exercises?

Kim - I did it all, ya, it was starting off with just scales, no sharps and flats, then adding all that stuff, arpeggios, chords, triads, from there I went on to chord melodies and then it all stopped for me. Max took off on tour and I just never got to it. That's when it was just starting to get challenging and interesting to me, it was stuff that I wanted to learn. To this day I still haven't got around to it. I'd love to just sit down and play that chord melody stuff, it's so beautiful. Someday I will.

CGPA - You've been called a 'Touring Machine'. Do you still find the need to practice?

Kim - Ya, I think you do. I don't all the time, other things in life get in the way, but I think it's really important to practice. I remember Segovia practiced pretty well right up until his death.

CGPA - Do you consider yourself to be a technical player, concentrating on technique and form or more of a 'play however and whatever feels good' type?

Kim - I like to try to just lose myself in the music and my best nights are when I'm not thinking about it. But even at those moments, when it goes into a solo, part of your brain is always over in 'Harmonic Land' trying to go 'what notes go here and what notes go there' so eventually you end up going, 'there are no bad notes, just better choices'. Some nights, it's just not happening. Other musicians who read this can take comfort in the fact that lot's of times we come off the stage going "That fuckin' sucked!" or I'll say "Man, I sucked tonight, that was terrible." It just happens.

CGPA - Although some rock guitarists are pretty flamboyant, many performers get very nervous. How do you handle stage fright?

Kim - When that big moment of panic hits, you just try and focus yourself back on the immediate Here-and-Now, your playing, the song, the audience. Just try and focus on the guy's in the band and get in the groove. That's what you kinda have to do.

CGPA - You've played with Alex Lifeson, Steve Morse, Rik Emmett and a host of others. Who has been the most fun or the most intimidating?

Kim - None of them have been intimidating. I think that the only guitar player that's intimidating to me, but one of the least intimidating guy's is Kevin Bright. I don't know whether people have heard of him, he's a guitar player here in Toronto. He's actually our keyboard player's brother. If you're ever in Toronto, go to the Orbit Room on Monday night and you'll see this man. He just comes from another planet. Most of the time when I go see him play, I just come home and just wanna kick my guitar case into the corner. Rik Emmett taught me a great deal one day about song writing that I will never forget. He sat down with me and had a talk with me about song writing and it stuck with me forever. Alex Lifeson is a really cool, different lead player and just a fun person to be around. He's just a great guy to hang with. We toured with Rush alot. The guitarist for Bryan Adams (Keith Scott) is an awesome guitar player. I think he plays that 'pop thing' with Bryan amazingly. There's a lot of talent in doing that, believe it or not. To play those melodic solos. We'd hear him in the dressing room blowing jazz! He's totally awe inspiring. So nobodies been intimidating. I think there's a mutual respect among all of us guitar players...as opposed to drummers who are all stabbing each other in the back..hehehe. I think there's always something to be learned from any guitar player. Even a guy whose been playing only a few years, but they've got something that they do that's kinda cool and so I respect that.

CGPA - When you're writing, do you usually like to do it yourself or with the band? And how do you present a new song to the band?

Kim - I do it myself. I get a CD or tape of just a rough idea with drum machine, bass, guitar, a little bit of keyboard and maybe a scratch vocal. Half lyrics, half done, completely done or not done at all and we just take it from there. Inevitably it changes drastically.

CGPA - Do you consider yourself a guitarist who sings or a singer who plays guitar?

Kim - A guitarist who yells. A guitarist who is a white boy yelling.

CGPA - What are your favourite guitars?

Kim - Well, I've had a blue, mutated strat that I've used for years. It's just a neck off the wall and a Fender shaped body off the wall and inside it are the guts and electronics of a Gibson 347 and that was really thrown together because I had some spare parts and it ended up being my main guitar because it just had some kinda magic to the sound for me. I just plugged it in during a sound check thinking, 'I don't know if this thing's gonna work'. I was playing a normal Strat at the time and I plugged it in and thought, 'Holy shit, this sounds great!'

CGPA - What's your guitar, amp and pedal setup?

Kim - Pretty hack actually. I use a Marshal 2000 dual lead out of the box. I also have a Marshall JCM 800 stock, out of the box. A Marshal 4x12 vintage reissue with the 25 watt speakers. I find those have the nicest mid-range. For pedals, I just have a Super Overdrive pedal, a chorus pedal, a delay pedal and a compressor. So, it's pretty simple. A couple spare guitars. I must own under a dozen guitars, 2 or 3 of which I take on the road with me. I have my electric guitar and a spare and sometimes I take an acoustic and that's it.

CGPA - Do you play acoustic much?

Kim - Ya, around the house. I'm not a real 'camp fire' kind of guy.

CGPA -Are your guitars at home different than the guitars you use on stage?

Kim - Yes. I have just a stock Strat here at home and an acoustic Gibson J45. Once in a while, I'll have my main blue strat at home.

CGPA - Do you have any advice for players who may be stuck in a rut?

Kim - Ya...go to a music store and grab a book. Whether it's a book on weird tunings or a book on finger styles, just get inspired by doing something like that. Or, grab somebody's CD and start lifting it. But I think smoking some dope and changing your address is probably the best thing, hehehehe....take the cat and leave the girlfriend.

CGPA - Our mandate as an association is to promote Canadian guitar players. We also want to provide a central location for guitar players to access guitar specific resources, but also to provide a united voice for guitar players in Canada. Do you feel there's a need for an organization like this?

Kim - Absolutely! I think it's a great organization for us to come to, to chat with, to support, ask each other questions. It would almost be good to see you take it to another level and have a guitarists convention. I know not everybody could afford to do that, but it would be cool to pick a city and have a guitar players convention, where everybody gets together, jams, talks guitar, has seminars, it would be so cool. No awards show. Nothing like that, just kind of a weekend of playing guitar. But most guitar players I know, can't afford to do that. So your thing is a good thing, when people can get into this website and get online and chat. Hey, you could have a live chat, for instance 'March 5, chat with Rik Emmett' for an hour, 'March 10 Kim Mitchell will be on', you know what I mean? That would be so cool. We could just chat away and ask questions. I'd be totally into doing something like that.

CGPA - So can we count you in as a member?

Kim - Sure!

The CGPA is one member stronger and ten times as inspired.

You can get more info about Kim, such as pics, show schedule, biography and tons more on his website!  http://www.kimmitchell.ca

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