At a young age, music stirred emotions within me that were initially confusing, leading to…
Welcome to the Strike a Guitar Chord Podcast Episode Number Six and in this episode we have a great musician and a great guitarist by the name of Thomas Lorenzo Fernandez.
With Thomas we will talk about his musical journey, his approach to arranging, composition and amongst other things we talk about the musician’s life in general. I am also asking about his project working in the bush and connecting with the land here in Australia. If you like what you hear and what you see, remember to subscribe. Enjoy
Thomas, welcome to Strike a Chord. I am very happy to have you on this podcast and it’s a complete pleasure.
Your Musical Journey and Inspiration
What I wanted to have a chat with you today is about how you started the musical journey.
And what really inspires you as a musician, and I know that you’re a great arranger as well. I just wanted to pick your brains as well on that but what I’m going to do first is I’m just going to hand it to you a little bit. Let our viewers know who you were and and what you do.
Thank you very much for having me today on your show and first of all I must say congratulations on putting together such an interesting podcast where you are showcasing Australian talent and also helping the community in a way that we all need nowadays, especially with the way the market is going. It’s a pleasure to share with you and with your listeners.
The Guitar Curse
Yes I’m a guitarist and I was cursed as a guitarist as a kid. Something happened, I suppose it happens to all of us at a certain age where the demon of music comes along and says you, and from there on we can’t stop playing until we die.
In terms of my bio, once a demon struck me with the guitar, hit me over the head, I started playing and actually…. I was looking at one of your posts and saw that Manolo San Lucar died yesterday.
Manolo SanLucar ( My First Inspiration)
As a kid, one of the first times I got excited about the guitar was because I was listening to one of his songs. I didn’t know it was him but later on I did find out. It was just impressive, his articulation, his groove, his expression. And I said, I want to do that, so more or less I’ve never been able to play as well as him, I’m halfway there but maybe in another lifetime.
So I did start playing here in Australia but when I was about 14, my family, well, they decided to go back to Spain and I had no choice but to follow them. So I had to go with them and went to Barcelona. In Barcelona I just kept on studying music, developing, interacting and playing all I could.
Berklee College of Music
In terms of Education I finished my studies at the Conservatory, then I went on to Berklee College of Music, I did my degree there and then I went back to Spain and completed my Masters in Music education. This is all just knowledge.
Musician and Guitar Teacher
I’ve dedicated half my time to education, please check out my online guitar courses, sharing with people the way to use knowledge for expression. It’s not knowledge like, look what I can do, it is knowledge that allows me to connect with the feeling and share it with others and express it through the guitar. So that’s been my goal in music.
I was working in that field in Europe, in South America and the USA, and also at the same time performing, composing, arranging and releasing albums.
Arranging and Orchestration
So in terms of education my main goal as an arranger was to publish a textbook that I was commissioned to write, by the Spanish Society Authors, called SGAE. It took me about seven years to put together a book on arranging and orchestration.
Arranging and orchestration studies were always focused towards the big orchestras but this book teaches the small midi musician with small bands to sound big.
Arrangers generally focus on the lead or what is behind the lead and very little on the accompaniment. But in other styles of music, other than jazz and classical, we have a lot of accompaniment, afro-based groove or mediterranean based groove, so I applied the traditional knowledge to the accompaniment. All that took me about seven years and the book is now out there.
The Beatles and Paul Mc Cartney
So I was working in Spain, I was touring all over Europe and I went to teach also at Paul McCartney´s School of Music. I was teaching there on and off for a few years. I got hired to teach the people in Liverpool how to write Beatles songs because they all knew how to sing and play them well, but they were not skilled in the harmonic concepts.
As a Spanish musician, I had to learn it all so I went over there to share the knowledge. It was pretty amazing and especially from that point of view of getting the local musicians, the working class musicians, the means to achieve their maximum expression, to put it together and do something worthwhile for them in society.
Why are you a Musician
You perform to be able to share your enjoyment of life and music with others so that’s what keeps it together.
The person who is also going to enjoy the music is that person who is not a musician. Therefore it has to be explained in a way that the person can understand. Now, people are not stupid, you can explain to them the most complex things on the planet, you don’t have to keep it simple, you can do whatever you want to, but it has to be articulated in a way that a person can understand it.
For example, don’t play a million things at a time, there’s no way anyone is going to understand that. I can’t understand it so space it out, it’s just logical, take it easy, create a groove, explain it slowly, give everybody time to breathe, if there’s just too much going on.
The Focus Point is the Listener
Don’t be selfish, share with others, use space, use silence. The focus point is the listener. But if we play thinking of the listener, the person, it’s chaos. If you’re thinking if the listener is going to like it, it doesn’t work.
It’s like if you go home and you’re going to cook something and you’re only cooking thinking about “ let’s make sure that my cousin or my wife likes this”. No, you cook it with love and you share it and generally everybody will like what you do with love.
Guitar Energy on Stage
So true generally, well for me what keeps it together is the energy. You have to provide good energy on stage. I think if you play the guitar for the people you have to engage with them, you have to give them that energy.
Now sometimes you get into your own world, you’re so much into your guitar playing and into your music that you forget that you’re playing for someone in an audience and from a life perspective.
I think sometimes you just need to provide really good energy, so that is the first and foremost, not forgetting that you’re playing for people.
If you’re playing guitar with someone else on stage that collaboration is also very important and that can be very special. When people are having fun on stage and they’re projecting really good energy, that’s for memvery important, maybe the most important.
Expression or Sound
Yesterday I was driving to Sydney and I was listening to ABC classical and somebody said people enjoy the sounds of this and that. I said you’re nuts, people aren’t listening to the sound, people are listening to the energy, to the emotion, to the expression.
Just because I get a very clean sound is somebody gonna enjoy it more? No, it doesn’t work like that, it’s the energy. The energy is like the beam we’re using to transmit the emotion, so it is energy.
You’re right about that, there’s nothing else. So as good performers we have to be able to supply that energy with logic.
Music and Energy
Valentino, imagine that the energy is already there and all we have to do is tap into it, and just make it flow.
You mentioned the word magic. Magic is like okay, we’re in sync when we’re playing and it’s got nothing to do with drugs or alcohol. It’s got nothing to do with the sound, it’s that energy, that flow and we’ve got something that helps us join all our emotions together which is the song.
Music provides this type of engagement beyond any other type of life experience or artform?
I think so and I totally agree with that because you can see the expression on people’s faces when they hear music, you can see their emotion, you can see how they react to it.
Music is More Than Theory
Do you notice we’re not talking about chords or scales, left-hand technique, how you position this or that on the guitar?
That’s the point of this whole podcast, to chat with musicians. We tend to play with musicians a lot and we interact while we’re playing but once the gig is over or once the rehearsal is done, everyone goes home and that’s it.
We lose our character of how we react with each other as musicians and this is why I did this podcast to learn more about the musician as well. To see how they are as people, how do they live as musicians in their normal life. What are their thoughts, it’s not always gigging and recording.
The Musician is a Different Species
I think it’s very interesting to come from a mindset of a musician because we’re just different from everyone else. We’re a different species.
When we play the guitar we’re producing music but our life is also musical. That means every day we wake up and the same thing we do with the guitar, we just do it with life.
Music for me is about expression. And, we’re not talking about that we’ve got that huge library of information, hundreds of songs, chords, progressions and melodies. We are talking about how we live during the rest of the day. It’s how we sleep, talk, love, our perception of what is correct or incorrect, our ethics in life, music is a form of existence.
Is Music only Fun and Games
I’m not saying that we’re special at all, I’m just saying that as a musician we see reality in a different way and we adapt to it.
Reality doesn’t have to be this or that, it can be this, it can be that, it probably isn’t that or it probably isn’t this and that’s why sometimes it takes a long time for a musician to go through the composition and arranging. We are very open minded and we understand perfection is a blockage for creativity.
We are talking about having a good time but we do have to state that we spend hundreds of hours working on things every day. We study every day, we struggle to actually get that right expression. Our income is extremely low and we’re actually putting more hours into it than any other profession.
The Goal of Musical Expression
That’s why I’m saying that the devil hit me over the head, sort of like, you’re going to¡ suffer the rest of your life so it means that we’re all day connecting with that need to create to express. It may be good or bad I don’t know, for me the result means mental well-being.
That’s a reality, we spend hours looking for a sound and if we don’t look for it we’re going to feel sick. It’s not like we’re smiling, it’s like this feels horrible, this is the most frustrating thing on the planet like and we have to stop that frustration to go forward, and repeat and repeat that damn game and it reaches a point where that’s it.
There’s no other way, the more we know, the more options we have to choose from until we find it and then we go looking for something else.
The Creative Process
As a musician we have to learn that all this journey is with a lot of anguish, a lot of anxiety, a lot of depression, it is an existence that we have to be able to flow with to enjoy that process of giving birth to something. I generally when I get to that point I take a half an hour and fall asleep.
Even a bit of a bit of a grapa, something for a bit of a reward you know. And it’s funny that you mentioned that it does take a lot of energy and you do need to rest because you burn yourself out.
To Compose is to Discover
I think that when we compose we do not discover but find what already exists. It’s already there, we just say, okay, it’s not that, it’s not a seventh chord, it’s not a major, it’s not a ninth, it’s got the third, it’s got the third octave higher, it’s not this chord, it’s actually a II-V, it’s actually a substitution, it actually is from a modal interchange ,fourth chords but no…. after trying it all it’s not that, it’s silence.
I think that’s a bit of the beauty of it. You learn and you learn a bit about yourself every time. You can’t dive too deep into it. You have to maintain yourself more as a spectator.
How we Listen to Music
I was mentioning the concept of melody because as human beings we generally have the capability of listening to one melody at a time, with Bach we can go on to two and three. But we do not have the capability of being able to hear more than three melodies at the same time. Well not yet, maybe in the future. These melodies are independent and require three instruments, playing three different things.
But as a guitarist there are two areas we can focus on: the melody and the accompaniment. You can accompany with one note, two notes or three notes at a time and silence.
You can accompany the melody more horizontally, more independent or vertically.
How to Play Flamenco Guitar
As a flamenco guitarist we should not play independent melodic lines as in a Bach composition but rather focus our playing on the melody or on the accompaniment but not both at the same time.
When you listen to Paco de Lucia you will hear one only constant melody and one focus, which could be the melody, the bass line or rhythm, the previous harmonized or not.
The result is that of very clean melodies, very clear bass lines or melody in a low register and when he does groove, it’s just pure groove, it’s like a drummer.
Afro Music is More Horizontal
Afro music is different in terms of groove, flamenco is vertical, it has one melody but afro music and latin influenced afro create constant ostinatos that allows us to layer things on top.
Flamenco does not, flamenco’s vertical. There are no layers because traditionally it was just one guitar and a bit of palmas. But the horizontal playing is sort of coming this way if you hear what’s going on now.
If you listen to horizontal music, groove-based music, in generic terms it produces a trance based upon repetition. No instruments are actually overpowering the other, it’s more like a journey. In Flamenco it’s like a smash, like boom boom boom. More vertical and less groove.
But when you do a groove in afro based music, in order to reach a climax it takes time. I have seen bands like Maceo Parker where it takes them about a couple of hours before it sort of starts building into this climax.
The Flamenco Climax
In Flamenco it takes 10 seconds. It’s vertical playing, it’s like a smashing big band all the time, and it is rhythm. Flamenco is not made for horizontal groove, it’s more vertical.
This does work well with one guitar and maybe two. The masters can do this incredibly well but the rest of musicians as when you bring in more instruments such as the cajon, bass, piano, it doesn’t work.
They have to incorporate the jazz idiom, the afro idiom and arranging, where the melodies and roles are clearly defined and separated, playing all in more of a horizontal manner and it’s not so explosive anymore.
Your Aboriginal Dreamtime Stories
You did a journey on your own with your solo guitar concerts based upon an aboriginal dreamtime story. I actually watched it and I found it really amazing.
What inspired and brought you there?
I’m actually doing more now. I’m doing one more hour of music with the Aboriginal Community here in Wollongong, with the Darahwal people.
I spoke to the elders, I had quite a few interviews and they agreed on what I was doing which is basically playing guitar and expressing creation stories.
What took me there is that we’re born in Australia, and Australia’s got something different. You have a group of people that have been here for a long time and they have more experience. They know, they can pinpoint directly what is different.
I Hear Music in the Bush
I love to walk, so when I walk through the bush I hear music and in Australia I hear very interesting music, it’s soft, it’s not aggressive, it’s spacious.
The real idea was that if this continent and the people who have lived here for thousands of years have found symbiosis, how about if I start listening to their stories explaining the same things I hear.
The country has music in it and there are people here that have reflected this music, that talk about the country and actually been living here for a long time.
With the story of the land I understand the land. In a way it is a concept of belonging, the land tells us a story.
I listen to it and I can now see the magic in the air, the beauty, the connection to Mother Nature and what we’re missing.
So that’s what inspired me to bring to life with music existing dream time stories that talk about the fundamentals of existence and religion within nature.
For example we are in a continent where animals do not have hooves, kangaroos don’t, koalas don’t, it’s all soft padded, they are sweet and soft.
The continent is extremely aggressive and it’s very harsh but at the same time so spacious. So the music is an extension of Mother Nature and I am able to use these Aboriginal stories to further give purpose to my existence.
This is where I was born and I spent my childhood walking through the bush and now I want to talk about it and hook up with people, the Aboriginal community that were brought up next to the Spanish Community as there is a connection.
At present I am finishing the music for a story of how the Dharawal people arrived in Illawarra.
The beautiful thing about the Dreamtime story is that it’s the foundation of an understanding of existence. Traditionally the story was told, sung and danced. The listener learns and remembers. It is a deeper learning than how we learn at schools.
The Guitar Teacher The Guide
It’s probably similar to what you do as a guitar teacher when you put your students in a place where they can learn things and discover things themselves. I put the students in that predicament to get those instincts of playing music with someone that you haven’t played music with before, seeing how you connect.
We all need to be guided right to discover things. Teaching is actually putting the student in a place where they can learn. It’s not like throwing them the information because they won’t learn it, you have to create the situation.
I always think about how I can make this different for the guitar student. Just to let you know I offer both Sydney and Wollongong Guitar courses at my School.. It’s not just about learning this piece or showing them the time signatures, it’s getting them to discover things for themselves to let the student learn. It is more satisfying when the responsibility falls on the student.
One thing I wanted to ask you about is your journey as a producer. You’ve accomplished quite a bit and you’ve worked with some big people. You’ve gone to Berklee and you’ve worked with people such as Alphonso Johnson and major producers as the Paul McCartney experience.
How did you find working with them?
It’s the easiest thing on the planet, the better the musician is, the easier the process. They are quick, on time and respectful. It’s the antithesis of what I was expecting but again the better the musicians the easier it is to accomplish, to finish things, to work together and to sound better.
It's Easier to Work with Good Musicians
If you’re going to record with somebody that is not at the top, are they going to memorize the music before going into the studio and have it all organized? No.
Are they going to give their best in the studio and not worry about the money? No.
Are they going to ask you how I can do it better for you? No.
Are they going to give you all their support, are they going to guide you and say I think you should be going in this direction and also do it with love.
They try to help you understand as they’re teachers, friends and they love everything you’re doing as a musician. So it’s an incredible experience where they’re so good that you feel very alone when you’re playing. Nobody interferes so that’s the experience I had of playing with the best musicians.
Where you go into the studio and they have your music memorized, nobody’s asking about money because we’re not talking about commercial music. Everybody wants to do the best job possible so the piano player wakes up early in the morning and does a yoga session to make sure that he goes into the studio and he’s ready for you. And he will be on a diet that day because he wants the best performance.
I had one of the best bass players in the world who actually re-wrote all my music. He asked for suggestions before getting into the studio.
The Better you are as a Musician the Easier Life is
This is what happens with a good musician. So the better I become, the easier life will be.
This has jumped into me from a young age as when you play with good people with a good musician you become better and not only in the playing but in the way they approach what they do. As you said they’re on time, they’re prepared, they give a bit more guidance and they’re focused.
I’ve taken that in since I was a kid, so I always make sure I’m on time, prepared as much as possible and always make an effort to be a bit human. There are a lot of musicians out there that tell you here’s the piece, here is the chart, it’s horrible, I’m not like that.
I’m also open to criticism as well. If something’s not right, tell me and we can change it. That’s the whole essence of playing the guitar with people and playing with good people.
When we played the guitar together I was totally amazed like damn Valentino knows it better than me. I gave you a song and you had it all memorized for the live concert. You made suggestions and comments on how to move it and that’s so comfortable, it’s so nice.
Maybe we’ll do it again one day. It was a pleasure that night, a pleasure to play with you. It was good to play on that level and being such different musicians that we had the same mentality, the same sort of goal, the same sort of thinking.
I enjoyed it thoroughly because it actually challenged me a little bit as well. You pushed me out of my comfort zone, a little bit, which is always good, but yeah I enjoyed it thoroughly.
I thought you were bored as it took you a few minutes to learn what it took me a month.
A Musician's Life is a Hard Life
It’s time consuming to be able to put together so much effort and the economic rewards we have to be careful with that because we put a lot of effort into it and the money that comes out of it is very little.
To be a musician is very hard but if you’re a good musician like yourself you can do it. You can do a good job in very little time. It’s all about being capable and time management, especially when you’ve got a few projects running.
I’ve over committed in the past and it’s not a very good experience and not a very good place to be in. As musicians we’re always trying to be in different projects but you can’t over commit yourself because you probably won’t do a 100% job.
You’ll get run down and you might ruin some relationships along the way.