Think South Africa and you might not immediately think rock guitarists, but South Africa now has their very own man taking the guitar world by storm. Meet Dan Patlansky, a man who was hand-picked by Bruce Springsteen, who rarely has an opening act, to open for him at the FNB Stadium in Johannesburg to a crowd of 64,000 people and has toured with the guitar legend Joe Satriani to great acclaim. Dan has released 7 albums to date with ‘Introvertigo’ being his latest and brings his tour to Europe and the UK in April. We caught up with Dan for a chat about his album, performing and his forthcoming visit to dBs Music Bristol FE...
How did playing guitar all start for you?
“I grew up listening to guitar driven music which was through my parents album collection. Everything they listened to was guitar based from classic rock to Hendrix, Clapton with jazz, funk and soul all thrown in also. The first guitar I had was a nylon string classical type and at that point I was really into bands like ACDC. I couldn’t figure out why I didn't sound like Angus Young on it as a 9 year old boy, I just couldn't work it out, so I lost interest for a bit until I got an electric guitar at about 13 years old. By then I was really into classic rock and very much into PInk Floyd and David Gilmour’s playing. He really got me going and inspired me so much so I think that’s where my musical journey really started. I played in school bands, played in Battle of the Bands competitions here in South Africa, a couple of cover bands playing top 40 type stuff, which wasn't really what I wanted to do but a cool learning experience regardless.”
“At around 16/17 I put a classic style blues band together as I was really into Stevie Ray Vaughan and that made me want to do that full time. I devoted all my time and energy to the traditional blues side of playing which lasted for a lot of years. I broke out of that after a while and decided to throw in some of my other influences leaning back to the classic rock world and I’ve gone from there.”
You learnt your trade from playing a lot of residencies, what has been the benefit been as a player from that?
“That was really like a university for me as when I started down here in South Africa, I don’t know if it’s the same in the UK, the general thing for a band was playing four 45 minute sets a night, now, I don’t know if I can listen to anyone for that long on a night, I don’t know if I could listen to Hendrix for that long right! I learnt tonnes from it in how to perform as if you’re playing for that long, you really gotta try and bring something to the table to keep the audience's attention for so long. It was tough but it taught me how to pace myself through a set and not give everything in the first couple of songs and it had a lot of elements that were really the key to everything for me as a player as you gain stamina as it’s a long time to be on stage man.”
Your new album ‘Introvertigo’ has been very well received by critics and fans alike, what’s the title all about?
“The term Introvertigo is where an introvert spends more than 5 minutes with an extrovert - where you get this dizzy feeling right ‘cos the introvert kind of sucks all the energy out of the extrovert. I don’t think it’s an official dictionary term but it’s definitely a real feeling. I’m kind of an introvert by nature so i’ve experienced the feeling of Introvertigo more often than not with particular people. Being a musician you’re giving all the time but also people are taking it out of you when you have just a 5 minute conversation with them. It just kinda seemed to be a fitting title for the album with the collection of songs I had written as it’s the memoirs, if you will, of an introvert. Music direction wise, over the last 3 albums i’ve done i’ve moved away from the traditional blues, I still love it but I’ve brought more influences in what I grew up listening to and I look to marry them all together. The focus on the last album ‘Dear Silence Thieves’ was very much the song first as opposed to the guitar parts and that’s been the same with this album. I wanted the songs to be right before anything else, before what kind of tone I’d dial up on the amp, what fuzz pedal I would use, it was all about getting the song right so that in it’s most simple form the song would carry itself.”
When it comes to your guitar solos, do you play them off the cuff or do you treat them as a song within a song and compose them?
“The way I like to do it is to record 4 solos in a row, play one and tell the engineer ‘I don’t wanna hear it back’ then play another and so on. Then I will sit and listen to all 4 and see which one is in the direction I want. For the most part it ends up being number 1 or 2 as when you get to 3 or 4 you tend to start overthinking it. Sometimes a solo just isn’t working out so then I will piece together one from the 4 (not digital cut and paste but playing) with the elements that I like but it’s very rare for me to sit and actually compose a solo. As for writing songs, I tend to shelve them if things aren’t working out as it becomes very disheartening. If you're working on them for a few days, you do a rough recording and then listen back to it the following morning and you think ‘What was I smoking yesterday, that’s the worst thing i’ve ever heard in my life!’. If a song is still around that I’m liking by the time I get to the studio, that’s what goes on the album.”
Tell us about the studio you recorded in and the gear that you used…
“The last 2 albums have been recorded in Belleville Studios here in Cape Town. It’s a great studio, there’s nothing like it elsewhere in SA but it’ll also stand up to any others in the world. It’s very much an analogue driven studio so everything we record is on to tape. The compressors, preamps and all that are vintage kind of gear with a lot of the equipment being bought from legendary producer Kevin Shirley . My producer/engineer Theo Crous is good friends with Kevin so he gets to score such fantastic gear to work with.”
“Guitar wise I used my ‘62 Fender Strat for the entire album except for ‘Hearbeat’ which I used a ‘97 Strat on for the slide work. My Doctor Z amp head, an EZG50, which is fantastic and speaker cabinets which has EVM12’s 12 inch speakers in it. I used my live pedalboard which is quite modest I think - a tuner, a real McCoy Wah pedal, a fuzz pedal that was hand made for me by a guy down here and a MI Audio Blues Pro overdrive. Then I’ve got a Klon Centaur (not the real thing so don’t kind carried away!) clone called a Creme Brulee made by Tone Bakery. Man that things great at £70 as opposed to the Klon being over £1000 so that was a done deal! I think a lot of it is to do with the preamps and microphones we go through in the studio, again, one of the reasons I love recording there.”
You mentioned your ‘62 Strat, there’s a bit of a twist in the tale to that lady isn’t there…
“In 2005 I moved to New Orleans USA to live and tour over there, the same year that hurricane Katrina hit. I was there for 3 months before that and when the hurricanes came it was mandatory evacuation, the military where there to get you out. When I left I had to leave my guitar behind ‘cos you had to fill the car up with supplies to live on as we were all being evacuated to Alabama. It was such a sad thing that I wasn’t able to take the guitar with us and I wrote it off as watching the news after and what New Orleans looked like, it was ‘There’s no way my Strat is in one piece after that, it’s gonna be driftwood on the Mississippi somewhere’...
“I came back to SA after a bit of time in Los Angeles where I had picked up a nice Custom Shop Strat, but it wasn't the same as the ‘62, you know you have a relationship to these things as a player. I was playing this international jazz festival in South Africa and the organisers wanted my American band to come over and play with me. So, I picked the guys up from the airport and they had this guitar case with them...MY ‘62 Strat guitar case. It was covered in moss, mould, green dirt - I don’t even know how they managed to get it through customs as it was alive! I think they were too scared to open it up as they didn’t know what state the guitar was going to be in or if there was even gonna be a guitar in there.”
“I open the case up right there at the airport and the only thing wrong was the strings were rusty and little bit of rust on the frets. I cleaned it up, changed the strings and played it that very night at the show. Very fortunate you could say as I had completely written it off.”
You’re on UK/European tour soon, what can people expect or not expect from a Dan Patlansky show?
“What not to expect is any Justin Bieber or One Direction covers! We’re still touring Introvertigo so there will be a lot of songs off of that, some back catalogue tracks also. If you haven't seen a show before, it’s a heavily guitar driven show but at the same time a heavily song driven show. I always leave nothing behind. I try and give my best no matter the day and give it my all as I’m always grateful for people coming out to see me play.”
Now, I’ve seen you play a couple of times so don’t want to spoil anything, but you mentioned you’re an introvert, yet on stage…
“Hahaa! That’s a great question in that it’s the thing I’ve battled with most of my life. I mean you know as a guitar player you’re sitting at home and things sound cool, you’re playing all these licks and it’s like ‘why can’t I do that on stage?’ as it all flies out the window! For the last couple of years I’ve really been working on changing that and it’s all about your mindset, where you are mentally before going on stage. Being an introvert I’ve never found that got in the way as being on stage is a very different thing to being in a shopping mall on Christmas Eve when there’s a million people around, that’s the kind of thing that kills me. Being on stage is a form of expression for me so being an introvert in daily life has never gotten in the way. You know, I went and saw a top sports psychologist a couple of years back who had worked with the Springbok rugby team, famous golfers and all that. He told me that playing guitar on stage is exactly the same as a golfer putting for a million pounds. He showed me ways to prepare my head more as you can be your own worst enemy on stage otherwise. It’s taken awhile to get there but it’s about not really caring about what anybody thinks about your playing when you’re on stage as that’s the time to just play and express yourself through your music. It’s easier said than done, but it’s like practicing guitar, you have to practice your head space too.”
You’re coming in to dBs Music Bristol FE in May to provide a guitar clinic for some of our Performance course students, what will you be passing on to them?
“Back home I run a once a year guitar weekend where 30 people join me, we hang out, jam and when I teach it’s fairly unorthodox so it’s nothing you wouldn’t be able to go online and learn such as ‘this scale works great over this chord’ type of thing, you can learn that anywhere. I’ll concentrate the workshop more on phrasing than note choice, although we’ll get into a bit of that. The big part will be on being able to make music with a few notes in an expressive and connecting way which I think your guys will enjoy and find useful. Looking forward to meeting them all man!”
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