The Bill Orcutt Guitar Quartet on Improv vs. Structure

Header photos by Christopher Grady, used with permission.

Bill Orcutt
Bill Orcutt performing at Big Ears Festival in Knoxville, Tennessee. Photo by Eli Johnson.

When I arrive from the rain at Roulette, the experimental music mecca housed in an Art Deco concert hall on Atlantic Avenue blocks away from the Brooklyn Academy of Music, I instantly notice two Telecasters and two Jazzmasters left in situ onstage. I then realize that the four amps are faced away from the audience. If nothing else, it's a decent indication that the night of music to follow is going to get fairly loud and hit pretty hard.

Beside the merch table, I'm greeted by Bill Orcutt, the Chuck Taylor-wearing, whitebearded polymath who has been pushing the primitivist possibilities of guitar performance to spontaneous extremes since forming the inimitable Miami noise rock band Harry Pussy in the early '90s. Now based in the Bay Area and with several beautifully fractured solo releases behind him, he's now in town playing a series of shows promoting one of his latest projects, Music For Four Guitars. It's a cycle of gridlocked, all-electric chamber pieces that take the formula fostered by minimalist forebears such as Steve Reich and Glenn Branca to intricate, overdriven new heights.

I follow Orcutt down the stairs and backstage to join the three other members of the all-star quartet he formed to present this music live. Wendy Eisenberg, Ava Mendoza, and Shane Parish each possess their own veteran versatility and vocabulary as guitarists, and when their respective approaches to the instrument coalesce, the result is nothing short of seamless symbiosis. Any seasoned listener can instantly notice how well-attuned they are to each other's nuances.

The Bill Orcutt Guitar Quartet's NPR Tiny Desk Concert, filmed in April 2023.

Wendy Eisenberg has kept up a graceful and seemingly genreless balancing act on the tightrope between improvisation and songcraft since they first emerged this past decade. Currently, they juggle leading their self-described "avant butt-rock" power trio Editrix, the occasional pithy, poetic and forward-thinking singer-songwriter record, and steady jazz gigs alongside the likes of Downtown NYC luminaries such as John Zorn and Bill Frisell. "I more than occasionally conceive of myself as a machine, a guitar operator machine," they once said, "at the same time as I conceive of myself as a machine-operator of the guitar."

Much like Orcutt, Ava Mendoza was also born in Miami before cutting her teeth as an improviser in California while attending Mills College. She gained prominence as the leader of another experimental rock trio, Unnatural Ways, and went on to collaborate with a motley crew of musicians that range from Wilco's Nels Cline, tUnE-yArDs, and the legendary free jazz bassist William Parker. She recently performed on the latter's late-career masterpiece Mayan Space Station (2021)—look no further than that record to bear witness to her kinetic, effects-driven approach to cosmic improvisation.

Athens, Georgia's Shane Parish offers an effortless autodidactic approach to playing that he describes as a combination of "unexpected melodicism, technical whimsy, a nuanced sense of form, and rich timbral variety". In the early 2000s, he led the instrumental prog punk band Ahleuchatistas, a project marked by perpetual evolution, crippled symmetry, and constantly unfolding harmony. After a long hiatus, he recently revived the band with a lineup including Faith No More bassist Trevor Dunn and Danny Piechocki on drums. It was Parish who went through the meticulous motions of transcribing Orcutt's quartets so that they could be performed by other players.

Between soundcheck and doors, the five of us sat in the green room at Roulette. I kept the questions to a minimum and instead, let the Bill Orcutt Guitar Quartet take the floor roundtable-style. The four go deep about the process of presenting Music For Four Guitars live on a run of shows that also included appearances at NPR's Tiny Desk and Big Ears Festival in Knoxville, Tennessee, where all four members performed separate sets throughout the weekend on top of their quartet. They also reflected on the art of guitar improvisation versus intricate composition, adapting to new environments during performance, and their individual approaches to experimental guitar, whatever that phrase may mean.

Music For Four Guitars is now available on Bill Orcutt's Bandcamp, alongside his recently released collection of solo acoustic music, Jump On It.

The Bill Orcutt Guitar Quartet.
Shane Parish, Ava Mendoza, Wendy Eisenberg, and Bill Orcutt perform at Big Ears Festival in Knoxville, Tennessee in April 2023. Photo by Eli Johnson.

Let's start by talking about the composition and production process surrounding Music For Four Guitars. Bill, it's my understanding that you initially approached the project as a work to be played with other musicians before you eventually deferred to playing all four parts yourself?

Bill Orcutt: A friend of mine seven years ago asked me to write a piece for the guitar quartet that he was starting, and I was intrigued but really didn't know how to do it. We went back and forth about whether or not I could write something for a four-string guitar. The conversation trickled out and I never did anything about it, but I kept thinking about making a piece for four guitars. I didn't do a lot of research on guitar quartets… the only quartet music that I really ever listened to in detail was the Bartók String Quartets, which I love, but I couldn't imagine either playing or writing or understanding anything like that.

Skip ahead seven years and I've thought about this thing and occasionally even attempted to do something and it always crashed and burned pretty quickly. And then, I had the idea of doing a loop recording type of thing in Logic and just improvising on top of loops. I would come up with a loop and then improvise another 25 pieces on top of it. I would then take those sections and spread them out to three or four minutes in Logic on 25 tracks, mute everything, and then just unmute four tracks per measure.

That's why the arrangements are so crazy and stupid, it was really built on the computer. It wasn't multi-tracked in the sense of composing a throughline and coming up with another part on top of it—I just had a bunch of interlocking parts and then created the arrangement in Logic with the mute tool. It wasn't really about multi-tracking at all, more about just improvising and then building something out of improvisations on a computer.

Once the album was recorded, Shane Parish went through the motions of transcribing the score. Shane, can you talk me through the act of decoding each part and sitting with the record once it was tracked?

Shane Parish.
Shane Parish performing at Metro Gallery, Baltimore. Photo by Christopher Grady.

Shane Parish: Well, I'm now I think the foremost expert in Bill Orcutt guitar style, aside from Bill Orcutt. (laughs) I had to learn his idiosyncratic playing style, first of all. As far as from a playing perspective, I had to learn how to just execute things with a pick in ways that I don't usually necessarily gravitate towards, because I've been doing a lot of fingerstyle guitar for the last several years.

Rhythmically, I didn't find it particularly challenging to hear each riff. Basically, Bill sent me what he called a "box of Legos"—each of the ideas he had were in separate folders, and then he also had the entire album done and he sent me the individual tracks of each guitar part isolated, so I also had each riff. My first go-through was to transcribe the riff and hit each part without worrying about form or structure of the overall song. Then, he sent me color coded screenshots of the Logic session so that I could see how each part fit in that, so actually he really did a lot of work for me in advance.

It was more time-consuming than it was difficult to absorb. It really resonated with me musically. I learned how to write by hand, because we decided to do this by hand. We explored the option of doing it in a software program, but I tend to write all my guitar arrangements out by hand using hybrid tablature. Bill said, "I like the way this looks as a graphic work of art." So I learned perseverance because I did it in about two-week passes in terms of generating the score, where I just hovered over a music stand with a pencil and made my own tab paper. I have blank tabs for Bill's setup and I wanted to be able to see two or four staff systems. I learned how to use my time wisely.

Bill, you described this body of work as a "bridge pickup record" rather than a "neck pickup record". Can you elaborate on that, and where you draw the line between the two other than your Telecaster's selector switch?

Bill Orcutt: I had done two solo electric records before that and those were neck pickup records. For whatever reason, this record actually had a different view, although there's one track that's neck pickup. At some point I just decided, "Yeah, I'm just going to be treble-y." It sounded better and I think it fit the music better as well. For me, it was my own personal distinction because the last two records have been neck pickup records. I was like, "Fuck it. Let's go to the bridge."

Take it to the bridge!

Bill Orcutt: Take it to the bridge.

Wendy Eisenberg (imitating DJ Khaled): Another one.


When did limiting yourself to four strings become your custom?

Bill Orcutt: That was in the '80s. I was playing drums in a band and I was already a guitar player, but I had a four-string guitar randomly with the A and the D strings missing. I just started writing songs on it, instrumental songs around that format, and a bass player friend of mine who also wanted to be a drummer was like, "Why don't we just do a duo and you can do your four string guitar and I'll play drums?" That was the beginning of that. It just stuck. I don't really feel the need to ever go back to playing six strings.

Are the rest of you playing modified four strings?

Wendy Eisenberg: Four strings, yeah.

Love that, very adapt or die. Among your other disciplines, be it songcraft, software, or teaching, all four of you have roots in free improvisation. In his book on the subject, Derek Bailey generally describes improv as something that is "always changing and adjusting, never fixed, too elusive for analysis and precise description". At the risk of dancing about architecture, as they say, could you try to attempt to speak to your individual thought processes in the act of improvised performance, whether solo or with a sparring partner?

Ava Mendoza: In general, not just this group?


Wendy Eisenberg: Who wants to go first? (silence) Fucking… okay…

Wendy Eisenberg.
Wendy Eisenberg performing at Metro Gallery, Baltimore. Photo by Christopher Grady.


Ava Mendoza: You just spoke up! You're really ready to talk.

Wendy Eisenberg: The way I think about it: there's very rarely a chance in civilian life, you could say, to live in the world of abstraction and all the pleasures of that. When I improvise, I feel like it's the one place where it's accepted to use reference as abstraction, the way it feels when I learn anything. I improvise as a way to metabolize the world. On the other hand, the actual technique of that is basically just being hyper-observant and very quick to react, which has created a feedback loop where all I want to do is make absurd and really abstract references to everything else in my speaking life as well. (laughs) It started out as a way to feel normal in an abnormal world and became just a really abnormal way of living.


Shane Parish: Wow.


Wendy Eisenberg: That's why I make jokes. Thank you for saying "wow".

Shane Parish: Yeah. I could see all that, though.

Wendy Eisenberg: Like it's true?

Shane Parish: Well, just in your personal, non-instrument-in-hand day-to-day life, from what I know of you and our time together on this earth in communication.

Wendy Eisenberg: It feels like a consistent thing for the way that each of us engages with non-verbal communication. We like to make jokes and stuff, but I think that the way we relate to what's beyond words that enters the space of the real is really particular to each of us and is pouring out through how we play. That's a part of at least what playing is for me: it's just an engagement with something that words would necessarily fail at. Because words are usually pretty comfortable for me, even if I'm using them wrong or experimenting with them, they feel more drug-like than functional. When we play music, it's not even functional really… just something cool.

Ava Mendoza: Improvising for me isn't necessarily a different process from any other kind of music like composed music or songs or anything. And for me, any music, whatever the ratio of improvised to structured stuff, it's about energy and it's about intimacy. If you're playing solo, that applies to you and the audience, and if you're playing with other people, that applies to everybody that you're playing with. It's just finding some kind of common ground with the people that you're playing with and a way of communicating and some kind of a good flow together or just a flow together. Improvised music is special in that it doesn't have to adhere to style. You don't have to have common ground stylistically or for your vocabulary, but you can find a common purpose even if you're worlds apart as players. That's what I think is special about it.

Shane Parish: I agree with what they said. And I also think that for me, I always struggled in the space between emptying out and releasing ideas and releasing control and then also wanting to control the situation, because I wanted to say something and communicate. I'm more of a romantic in the sense that I think I tend towards emotional content in my playing and music that I make. I'm always working with materials, I'm not a non-idiomatic player. I mean. I can do that, I think. Maybe I can't. Maybe not. (laughs) "Sir, you're not playing non-idiomatic. You just teased a harmonic minor scale."


Wendy Eisenberg: "That's NOT free, Shane!"

Shane Parish: "Did I hear a little 'Stairway' in there?"

Wendy Eisenberg: Yes, you did.

Shane Parish: Yeah, it's all in there. That's the thing. I'm constantly feeding style to into whatever the creative apparatus here. I love style, but I'm not trad in any of them. But I'm like, "Oh, I really want to play this Bach partita", but I'm not really going to learn it, but I want to just play through it a little bit or spend a week with it and then see what happens when I start improvising or whatever, rock and roll music or bluegrass music." But then, what I like about just free playing is you can still do all that stuff in a context with people who are bringing their own elements to the equation. (pause) And now I will pass the mic to my man Bill O. (imitating Beastie Boys) "Now I'd like to pass the mic…"

Bill Orcutt: I only improvise, really! I was saying to these guys that I haven't really played music that required me to count or anything in 30 years.

Wendy Eisenberg: Bill really hates counting.

Bill Orcutt: I have my own way of counting.

But you did a record that was all counting!

Shane Parish: The Joey Ramone one! Yeah, that's right. (laughs)

Bill Orcutt: Well, I like numbers! So mostly what I do is improvising. But it's like that with everything: I always feel like it's really just about trying to manipulate my own brain chemistry or something just trying to find a thing that makes me feel good. And I tend to play solo probably because I'm only caring about my own brain chemistry.


Bill Orcutt: Not like the audience's brain chemistry or my fellow musician's brain chemistry. But my other thing is always, every record I've ever made is heavily edited. I always think of it like (filmmaker) John Cassavetes, like I'm just trying to act out a scene and improvise in that emotionally, and then try to take the results and turn them into something, which is what this record is. It's all improvised and then put together in the computer.

Totally. Had me fooled.

Bill Orcutt: You know, it was interesting because it was a process. It wasn't like I had preconceived ideas of what this would be. I just had a process to follow. I was telling them about a couple of the tunes and when it was done, I was like, "Whose music is this exactly?" It doesn't sound... It's me, but it was just surprising when I heard it.

Ava Mendoza: I have a follow-up question, actually. So for your solo records, it's all improvised, but then you edit things together?

Bill Orcutt: Yeah, to varying degrees, depending. And my editing process, basically just taking out things that I don't like or that don't fit.

Wendy Eisenberg: Pure editing definition.

Bill Orcutt: Like, "Oh, I don't like that part. Take it out."

That's about as pure as it gets.

Bill Orcutt: But I always think the editing is also improvisation because it's like you do an edit and you produce a final product, but if you started the edit over from scratch, you wouldn't produce the same thing, you would produce a different thing. It's all decisions made in the moment. I don't listen to it over and over again to decide where to edit. I just act impulsively and take out the bits that I don't like. But I'm sure it would be different if I did at a different time.

Wendy Eisenberg: You could do a little record of all the stuff you left out.

Bill Orcutt: I could. (laughs) Or multiple versions, yeah.

Ava Mendoza: I think that the quartet music is... I think we're all saying this more or less, it's improvised in the sense that we can push or pull the tempo or be more behind the beat or ahead of the beat or whatever every night. And that there's room for feel changes and stuff depending on the vibe of the night. I'm also assuming this because we've only played one night, but it's very composed, but it's not like it has to be the record by any means.

Bill Orcutt: No, it's much better than the record.

Wendy Eisenberg: Aw…

Ava Mendoza: Hey, I like that record! That's mean!

Bill Orcutt: Well, when Tom Carter did the liner notes, he said it was like Beefheart ran through some software program, that it was oddly angled. He detected that it was all patched together, so it is great to hear it played live and then that aspect of it goes away. It really becomes played by real people from beginning to end. So it's cool.

On the subject of real people, I remember a conversation you had with Chris Corsano for Tone Glow, in which you mentioned a recurring phenomenon that happens when you play solo: after having a good talk with an audience member before the set, you get on stage and what you play feels like a continuation of that conversation. It got me wondering—and I guess this is a question for all of you—how much does the environment in which you play affect your performance overall?

Shane Parish: I'll answer first, because last night was the world premiere and it was full house and we had to walk through all the people to get to the stage.

Wendy Eisenberg (imitating Eminem): Vomit on your sweater already…

Shane Parish: Yeah, my sweater. I brought my tour sweater… (laughter) And then as I'm like, "Okay, we're going up to take the stage," someone stopped me that I know and started talking to me and it was the warmest conversation. And I felt totally calm after that when I took the stage. But it was also someone I also teach music to. And so he said, "There's no pressure on the guitar lessons, dude." You know with lessons. When you teach lessons, people fade in and out and then they have some guilt about it or something?

Wendy Eisenberg: Oh, yeah. I run into that.

Shane Parish: And I'm like, "Dude, I don't give a shit. Come back in two months when you're ready." But I was just saying there's no pressure about it. I was like, "You want to talk about pressure. I'm about to get up there and do this thing, and everyone's all eyes, it's the first time." But then within the course of two minutes of that conversation, I just totally settled. And then when I got on stage, I told him that and he texted me the next day. I was like, "Dude, after talking to you, I was totally calm when I took the stage. It was amazing." So that's a continuation of a conversation.

Bill Orcutt: Yeah, it's weird to be stuck in this green room as we are tonight. And then you have no contact with the audience and then you walk out and then you can't even see them because the lights are in your eyes. And I've done those shows, but it somehow feels better to be mixing a little bit with the audience and having some conversations and stuff.

Ava Mendoza: You get energy back from the audience, I feel, where it's like they have a role too. They bring a lot. They can bring a lot. And when you're feeling that it really helps the music, and when it's a little more distant or seated or way far away, or they're just really quiet and mysterious, you're like, "I'm not getting energy from them." So it affects the music.

Shane Parish.
Ava Mendoza performing at Metro Gallery, Baltimore. Photo by Christopher Grady.

Shane Parish: Like, "I'm sure I suck."


Ava Mendoza: But the other thing that is cool about these two nights is that they've been in two different rooms. Last night in this small room, Solar Myth in Philly, and then tonight is Roulette, this big open room. When we soundchecked the first song, Bill was like, "Oh my God, it sounds so clean. I can't play." And we were all like, "Okay, let's dirty up our tones a little bit." Last night was a little bit cleaner, and tonight we're all a little bit overdriven, and I think it just suits the room because it's a big open room and it's a formal concert hall to dirty up our tone just gives it that much more grit and interesting-ness. And that's a fun thing to do together.

Shane Parish: I'm glad we had the struggles we did tonight, because that's the question mark.

Ava Mendoza: Totally.

Shane Parish: Like, at least we have had a little experience trying to figure this shit out.

Wendy Eisenberg: The role of the audience is to absorb the highs. (laughter) Front row especially. I don't know, I really like being in the green room zone. I feel like I'm always in a conversation with everybody that I witness—not to be a mystic or some shit, but I feel like an energy transmission all the time. When I get the time before the show to decompress and be in that fancier space, then I feel like my communication with those high absorbers is like, really strong. Especially if I'm playing music like this where it feels almost like a little civilization when we play. So if we're our little civilization and their little civilization, that's also our civilization. If I have the time to just be alone, then I feel better about sharing something.

Ava Mendoza: I feel like we're more cavemen than a civilization.

Wendy Eisenberg: Cavemen are also a civilization, but it's very uncivilized.

You're like a stateless people.

Wendy Eisenberg: Yeah. There's a stompy-ness about what we play, but… I like the sense of communication that's indirect because the more involved they get with people and the more people I get to know, I want to talk to them about their families or something… but if I do that before the show, I'll be thinking about their families. And then I won't be the best servant to the way that the music feels in the room. Because I'll be like, how's their family? Which sounds like I'm trying to be a beauty pageant contestant, but it's actually true. I get really distracted.


Going back to tone, Wendy told me a few weeks ago that as the four of you were preparing for this run, you consulted each other on the desired tone and pedals. I was hoping we could go into your individual relationships with pedals.

Bill Orcutt: Well, Ava has the most pedals of all of us. Maybe she should go first.

Ava Mendoza: I usually use quite a few pedals, but for this project, I've got it down to three, four if you include my tuner. So that's a Blackstone Mosfet overdrive, a little buffer pedal that's just on all the time to make up the gain loss from the other pedals. And then my tuner, and then my volume pedal. With my overdrive off and the buffer on, that's my clean tone. It's fun for me to not have the options of all the other stuff that I usually use. I don't ever really do that, and really fun for me and nice to just work with less options. I like that about Bill's music, that it's four-strings, guitar straight into amp or with one. It's cut down the options.

I'm not that way with gear because I like a huge sonic palette, but I am that way when I write music, I try to get as much as possible out of a little thing. I'd relate to that concept, trying to get a lot out of a little and milk what you have as much as possible. I have three other pedals with me right now that are on my board that I'm not plugged into. I'm just too lazy to take them off my board and rearrange them. So I have a board with eight pedals, but only four of them are in use.

On your usual pedalboard, what would be the centerpiece?

Ava Mendoza: That's so hard… I rarely play with a clean tone, so I always have an overdrive on and that it varies depending on what I'm doing, if it's solo or with a band. The Blackstone overdrive that I have is something that I use a lot in bands. And then solo, I use this JOYO JF-16 British Sound, a little overdrive pre thing. So that's always on. And then I have really intense distortions and fuzzes and a bunch of delays and loopers and stuff.

Wendy Eisenberg: For this, I use an Electronic Audio Experiments Longsword overdrive. My friend Miranda, who does front-of-house sound for Pile, who I opened for, was just like, "I build and work for this company that's amazing. Do you want to play this pedal?" And I was like, "Hell yeah." It's such a good overdrive, and it has a boost channel, it's a dual guy and that's all I'm using. And I have a volume pedal because I'm neurotic and you need one.

But ordinarily, the pedal I love the most is a Boss PS-6 Harmonist. Ideally I would want a board with, like, five. Can you get me a Boss sponsorship? Just kidding. Right now I have two of them. I use one for the waviest, most beautiful chorus in the world because it's like a detune function. Sometimes I'll let them swoop up and down like a budget Whammy. But sometimes, these days especially, I've been really into just letting them be harmonized into a triad, and then just playing eternal triads over everything sounds so good to me. Especially if you swoop it up. I want more of them so I can play all of the things that it's capable of doing at once. It's so gorgeous.

If I want to sound really evil, I'll use a Zvex Fuzz Factory. I have a vertical one because real estate. I also have their Ringtone. That's the one people always ask about. They're like, "What's that thing that sounds like a phone?" Whatever I can get for free or that won't sound bad when I step on it. And if it sounds bad when I step on it, it also has to sound bad when I play through it. And then I'll feel like it's useful.

Shane Parish: I'm using an Xotic EP Booster that Bill gave me, with one knob, a small thing that I step on to dirty up my tone a little bit so I don't sound like... what did you say it sounded like? Do you remember in rehearsal… I brought this Boss compression pedal.

Bill Orcutt: Oh, that.


Shane Parish: To beef up. Just to go loud.

Bill Orcutt: You sounded like Vince Gill.

Shane Parish: Yeah, that's right, Vince Gill. (laughs) I used to be really militant about using no pedals, no reverb. The first few Ahleuchatistas records, I was all about drive straight into the amplifier and I thought I needed to produce interesting sounds with the guitar only. Over time, I gradually gravitated towards having a larger pedal situation, starting with a Boss RC-300 loop station. Honestly, I'm so gear ignorant. I was playing classical and acoustic guitar for so long, so I didn't put much thought into it. Bill?

Bill Orcutt: I don't use pedals. I'm not philosophically opposed to pedals. It's more like an emotional problem for me. But I did go Guitar Center yesterday and bought a Boss BD-2 Blues Driver just because we're trapped into using this backline and you never know what you're going to get. If they have overdriven tones, then it's useful to be able to blend better with them without having to turn a Twin up.

Shane Parish: Plus he gave me his. (laughs) He gave me his pedal and went to Guitar Center.

Bill Orcutt: I just didn't want to hear the compressor again. So I gave him my overdrive and then I went to Guitar Center and bought a Blues Driver.

Wendy Eisenberg: You got a Boss for a boss by the Boss.


Bill Orcutt: I find—if I could do a bit of a deep dive on my own problems—when I'm designing a record cover, I can never do colors. I don't know what colors are. I don't understand colors because it feels arbitrary. Like why this color and not that color? You know what I mean? Why would I pick one color over another? They're all colors.

Shane Parish: They're all the same.

Bill Orcutt: So I always do it just black and white because then I don't have to make a choice. And with the pedals, it's the same way. It just feels like, "Well, why this pedal and not that pedal?" And that becomes, "Why am I doing this?" So I just don't go down that road.

Sometimes gear ambivalence can be a good vibe.

Wendy Eisenberg: My friend once said when I asked him what he was working on, "I'm just trying to make a Roland Cube sound good." I love that because that's power, but not gross power.

The Bill Orcutt Guitar Quartet perform selections from Music For Four Guitars at Roulette in Brooklyn in March 2023.

To close, can we go down the line and talk specifically about the guitars that you're all playing tonight and how they entered your lives?

Bill Orcutt: 10 or 12 years ago, I bought a Telecaster online and just had it shipped to the house, just because I needed a travel guitar that I didn't care about. Now I've been playing it for 10 years, so now I guess I care about it. But I had previously been doing solo acoustic stuff, and that Kay guitar I had bought when I was 19 or 20 off someone's front lawn who was having some kind of crisis and needed to sell their possessions. That's a guitar I had a lot of history with and I cared about. Then you would have to take it on a plane, and then they don't want to let you bring the guitar on the plane and you have to have big fights with people. And I just was looking forward to not having a guitar that if I had to check it, I would just check it and not feel like it mattered. So that's the guitar I'm playing tonight.

Shane Parish: When Bill called me up two years ago and said, "Hey, can I send you some music?" Okay. And then he said, "Okay, let me send you a guitar so you don't fuck up one of your own guitars". And so he sent me a Squire Telecaster, which I used for some duo shows that we played in February to just make sure this feels good before we got to New York and started rehearsing with the whole gang. And so that's what I transcribed the record on, and that's what I was practicing on, and that's what we played those duo shows on. But then it was a little thin toned. So I've been using a Telecaster that I bought at this place called The Guitar Trader in Asheville, North Carolina.

That's a relic frankensteined Telecaster with a humbucker at the neck for beefier tone, and it just looks like it's beat to shit. It looks like Bruce Springsteen's guitar or something. Just, it looks like I've had it since 1973 or something. But it's just fashion, it's like buying ripped jeans. And I just thought it looked cooler also to have this. People always ask me about that, "Man. Now look at that guitar. Holy shit, what is that? You've had that a long time." It's working out.

Wendy Eisenberg: Okay, short saga—a friend upstate gave me an old Tele. It's actually fucked up and a million years old, and not a million years old in a nice way. I learned all this music on that, intending to play it for this band, but it's heavy and it's really decrepit. The vibe is right, but it... And I just didn't...

Bill Orcutt: It looks like a piece of furniture somehow to me.

Wendy Eisenberg: Yeah. It's got a brave face.

Bill Orcutt: You could put a lampshade on top of the neck and it would work.

Wendy Eisenberg: Yeah, that thing is crazy looking. But then it's also weird because this is such Tele music, and I just bought a Tele for the first time ever, after years of wanting to. You turn 30, you become a dad and you want a Tele.

As one does.

Wendy Eisenberg: But I think the stuff that I have to do at Big Ears Festival was diverse enough that I ended up just wanting to take my favorite guitar. My cousin's dad was a collector and he passed away. He didn't even play, he just collected guitars, he was one of those guys. And he passed away when I was just starting to play guitar when I was 11 or 12, and in the whole raft of stuff we had to deal with upon his passing, he had this Jazzmaster. It was a '94 reissue. I've had it basically since I was 12 or 13 so essentially, as long as I've been taking guitar seriously.

It's just really strange to become a Jazzmaster player and gain consciousness as what it means to be a Jazzmaster player when it's just a guitar that you had. It's totally a privilege, but it's extremely weird that now I have to have that history or aesthetic baggage when it's just the thing that I learned "Comfortably Numb" on or whatever. Everyone's like, "Do you like Dinosaur Jr?" And you're like, "Nah."

Ava Mendoza: I am playing a Jazzmaster too, and it's a Fender Custom Shop Jazzmaster that I got as a COVID quarantine unemployment gift to myself. And I was like, "Yeah, it's been a rough year. I'm going to get this guitar." And I got it in the mail. And it's supposed to be especially beefy sounding for a Jazzmaster, the particular kind it is with a mid-heavy Chicago blues-style boost. Whatever is going on with the pickup winding, I really like it, and it just made sense for this music.

My main guitar is a Novo, this company out of Nashville. Dennis Fano is the builder of those guitars. I have a deal with them. And so my main guitar is a Novo that they made for me a few years ago, and that is awesome. And I use it for all my solo stuff, and I'm also bringing it to Big Ears, but it just wasn't the right vibe for this stuff. It's got a P-90 in it and it's just too fat sounding or something. I have a solo set and a trio set with William Parker and Gerald Cleaver that I'll use the Novo on. But with this, I'm playing the Jazzmaster because it has a little bit thinner of a tone, which I mean as a compliment.

Fantastic. That covers it. Any parting words before the gig?

Bill Orcutt: Can I promote my Reverb store?

Ava Mendoza: Do you really have one?

Bill Orcutt: No. (laughter)

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